Reviewed on: Playstation 4. Copy supplied by publisher.
Crystal Dynamics’ managed to do something very rare with its reboot of one of the most beloved series of all time. It’s 2013 Tomb Raider not only managed to reboot the series with a very successful, gritty and more realistic design for Lara Croft, but it managed to do this whilst also delivering a great game in the process. The reboot took basic elements of the Tomb Raider series and slapped in mechanics ripped from more recent titles like Uncharted to create a new look for the series that managed to bring it into the modern market.
Now, some 20 years after the first game wowed gamers everywhere with its then unique gameplay and 3D world, Rise of the Tomb Raider is celebrating the series long run, and also brings the sequel to Crystal Dynamics’ reboot to the PS4, now freed from the exclusivity deal with Microsoft.
What we have here is essentially the exact same game Xbox One owners have had for a while now, along with all of the DLC and a couple of new extras thrown in to entice those who have already played the vanilla release, and also to celebrate Lara’s two decades of adventuring.
If you’ve played the game already on Xbox One you’ll know the story here (we also previously reviewed the Xbox One release). Taking place some time after Lara’s harrowing island adventure seen in the 2013 game, we see Lara trying to continue the work of her late father. He was searching for an artefact that legends say could grant immortality, and we begin our adventure as Lara is hot on the trail. Thanks to some flashbacks and memories we learn not only about how Lara ended up in the freezing depths of Siberia, but also about her family past. Indeed, much of this game is about Lara’s history, and it underpins this new incarnation of Ms Croft’s with a new back story.
Eventually the game returns to the semi-open formula of the previous release, and once you arrive in Siberia proper, the game’s non-linear approach begins to take hold. Much like a sandbox-style game, you’re free to pick whatever missions or side quests you wish, and can explore various locations at your own pace. In Metroidvania fashion, there are areas blocked off until you acquire specific gear, and so backtracking is needed to fully explore the world and find every secret.
This approach is enforced much more here, with various hidden challenge tombs strewn around the various areas. Often these are hidden, meaning you need to hunt for them, and some need specific items before you can access them. Once you’re in, you’re treated to a small-scale puzzle dungeon of sorts, each of which rewards you with a codex that grants specific ability boosts, such as faster climbing, better bow skills, and so on.
For the rest of the game you’ll be taking on enemy soldiers and other foes as you progress the story and hunt for Lara’s eventual goal. This reveals more about Lara’s past, and it delivers more of the same well-crafted gameplay we saw in the 2013 release.
Like the previous game, Rise of the Tomb Raider is just as much fun to play, and Lara is a breeze to control, even in the most difficult obstacle-scaling situations. The controls are great, and it’s easy to utilise all of Lara’s skills and abilities. It’s a joy to play, and combat is also good, with a great mixture of ranged and melee action that’s seamlessly mixed in. Ranged can be a little sluggish, but it’s still decent for the most part. Being stealthy is a viable option too, and Lara has a good range of skills to use here, including the use of distractions, long range silent take downs thanks to her bow, and some vicious melee executions if she’s up close. It’s all good stuff.
The core story of the game is also pretty good, and it’s interesting to see how this incarnation of Lara has developed, and how her past intertwines with the current adventure. The actual story isn’t that long, however, and if you ignore the side quests you’ll breeze through it in a little under 7 or 8 hours. It’s also not that difficult, even on the higher difficulty settings. Luckily this edition of the game comes with all DLC, including the Baba Yaga quest, which adds a little more playtime to the main story (but is still optional).
Accompanying the story there are also the challenge modes, including the other piece of DLC, Cold Darkness Awakened. This sees Lara return to the Soviet installation to deal with a new, zombie menace.
That’s not all, though, and the existing DLC isn’t all that’s been bundled in. This 20 year celebration release has a surprising amount of new content too. The main thrust of this lies within Croft Manor, which is now fully explorable. As well as being able to simply wander around Lara’s family home, there are two new game modes that take place here.
The first of these is Blood Ties. This is essentially Tomb Raider does Gone Home. You explore the manor examining and picking up objects to help Lara find evidence that she’s the rightful heir to the manor in order to stop her uncle Atlas from taking it from her. There’s no action here, just an hour or so of calm exploration and simple puzzle solving as you listen to a whole raft of recordings from Lara, her family and others. There are plenty of nods to past games here, such as the recollection of Lara locking the faithful family servant, Winston in the freezer, and it’s a surprisingly intriguing and heartfelt tour of Lara’s past, and that of the games. This mode is also playable using Playstation VR. Sadly, I currently have no access to this, but the Gone Home-style experience should fit VR well, and will no doubt enhance the mini-story if you have a VR headset to play it with.
Lara’s Nightmare is the total opposite of Blood Ties, and locks Ms Croft inside the manor against waves of zombies. It plays similarly to Call of Duty’s zombie modes, and Lara has to find better weapons and locate goals to survive the nightmare. It’s good, but it does highlight the game’s slightly weaker ranged combat, as getting precision shots just isn’t fluid enough.
Also added to the game is the new difficulty level of Extreme Survivor. This increases the difficulty and removes checkpoints, and requires materials to light camp fires. There’s also a co-op expansion to the endurance mode, so you can team up with a friend. This alone can add some decent longevity to the title.
Finishing up the package are all of the previously released costumes and weapons, and a large amount of expedition card packs that can be used in the game’s challenge modes. It quite the collection, and as someone who missed out on the initial Xbox One release, I found this package to be an impressive one.
The core game is, in my opinion, better than the 2013 release with more actual tomb raiding and elements that make the title feel much more like a Tomb Raider adventure, and the additional content adds a lot of extra gameplay to the admittedly short story.