Last year’s masterful entry in the Tomb Raider series, Rise of the Tomb Raider, will make its debut on the PS4 on October 11th after nearly a year of exclusivity on the Xbox One. (Full review here.) In November, those who have saved enough moola for the new PS4 Pro will be able to experience Rise of the Tomb Raider with an unprecedented level of visual clarity: 4K resolution and smoother framerates.
There’s a bunch of new content included too. Co-op will be added to Endurance mode, pairing Lara up with Nadia, a character introduced in the Baba Yaga DLC. This is a first for the series. (Although the Lara Croft dungeon crawlers already offer co-op thrills, they are not officially ‘Tomb Raider’ titles.) There's a new story mode, a zombie mode, and more, like the ability to utilize PSVR. Bottom line: This is not merely a port to PS4. (Ahem, Dead Rising.) This is as much as reason to celebrate Tomb Raider as the upcoming book that will look back on the last 20 years of the series.
Above all that (at least for yours truly) is that new single-player story add-on, Blood Ties. Set at Croft Manor, Lara must explore the dark, unused mansion to discover childhood secrets and procure documents to secure her birthright for the home itself.
There’s something kind of perfect about having a level set in Lara’s childhood home on a Sony console since the long-running series made its debut on the original PlayStation in 1996. Back in the day, those PS1 entries would feature Croft Manor as an end-game level or an unlockable bonus, but recently in the reboot of Tomb Raider (since 2013) Lara hasn’t had a lot of downtime to hang in her expensive digs. (Although Rise of Tomb Raider did feature a cutscene at her apartment, that’s all it was.) With Blood Ties, or at least the twenty minutes I’ve played (it’s said to be over an hour), Lara has truly come home, both narratively and literally, on a PlayStation.
For non-PlayStation owners the good news is that all this content except for the PSVR feature and the 4K patch will be available for Xbox One owners who purchased Rise’s season pass, so yay to that too. Back to the PS4, I was able to sample everything except the 4K visuals, since Square-Enix didn’t have a PS4 Pro dev kit.
Here are my impressions on Blood Ties, "Lara’s Nightmare” zombie mode, as well as the PSVR and co-op demos:
One of the best aspects of this modern Tomb Raider series, since the reboot in 2013, has been the humanization of Lara herself. From her friendship with Sam and Jonah in Tomb Raider (2013) to her need to persevere over enormous obstacles, both mentally and physically, Lara feels more like a real person than ever before. It's fitting then that Blood Ties focuses on delving deep into Lara’s past, namely the environment she grew up in and, through old recordings, the budding romance between her father Richard and her mother Amelia.
Fans know that her father was the one that inspired Lara to become an explorer herself. His mysterious death has been a driving force for her, but as far as her mother, well, not too much is known beyond her disappearance when Lara was very young.
Blood Ties essentially is a solitary fetch quest with players reading journals and listening to audio diaries of various family members while investigating the manor—a place that appears to have been abandoned for quite some time. (Cobwebs in the main hall? Rain leaking from the ceiling? Get servants on that, Lara!) The plot centers on Lara being evicted at the end of the week unless she can find her father’s ledger that will stave off her uncle Atlas from taking over her childhood home.
Along the way there are some nice audio flashbacks with young Lara learning about tomb raiding in a place she and her father called “the basement of despair.” (Adorable.) As adult Lara comes across a family portrait of her and her parents, she notes that she never liked dresses. Will wonders never cease? Away from the climate challenges of snowbound Siberia, Blood Ties looks to be exactly the kind of bonus DLC any fan would like. I can’t wait to finish this when the game is released.
Blood Ties PSVR
This is a VR version very much in the vein of Arkham VR that I tried at last summer’s E3. I was Lara in first person mode checking out the library study of the manor, tasked with finding a lighter and breaking a code that would open the late Richard Croft’s safe.
Like most VR, movement is extremely limited with players pointing in the direction they want to explore via a virtual Lara icon that pops up by using L2 and then R2 to confirm the destination. You can then look all around and hit square to interact with items much the same as you would in the normal non-VR version. It was fun enough, and I’m sure if I get PSVR I’ll try it again, but like Arkham VR this still reeks of a ‘demo’ than an actual game. Still a fun bonus, I suppose.
This uses the new level from “Blood Ties” but in a zombie mode with Lara fending off wave after wave of spooky creatures while trying to destroy nine floating skulls. The tension gets higher as ammo and weapons get scarce just like they do in Call of Duty’s similar undead excursions. Gameplay-wise the cramped corridors works great for exploration in Blood Ties, but can get awkward trying to kill monsters so quickly.
Putting player’s survival skills to the test, Lara and Nadia must, um, endure the cold Siberian climate and ward off starvation while working together in a brutal wilderness. Like Don’t Starve daytime is the moment for gathering resources while nighttime ups the threat level with wolves and armed Trinity soldiers.
Interestingly, everyone plays as Lara so your teammate is always seen as Nadia and vice versa. Apparently, per the Crystal Dynamics, everyone in testing always wanted to be Lara. (Makes sense to me.) Like the previous Endurance mode, co-op will also feature leaderboards. If you’ve played that mode you know how this plays; if not, the emphasis is on merely surviving until a chopper comes to pick up Lara and Nadia. One addition is that now players get up to three lives whereas without co-op one life was it. I’m not sure how much time I’d lose, but this did mark a very different vibe than Blood Ties.
Bells and Whistles
Speaking of making the experience harder, there will be an “Extreme Survivor” mode now. This difficulty setting for the main game ratchets up “Survivor” with all checkpoints being being removed so the only way to save is by lighting campfires. (Yikes.) In addition to all that I’ve one over already all the previously released DLC will be included too: Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch, Cold Darkness Awakened, 12 DLC outfits, 7 DLC weapons, and over 35 Expedition Cards.
Finally, one of the last and by far coolest bonuses had to be when Crystal Dynamics’ rep Reilly Brennan showed off the new skins that can be played in any mode. The best was getting to play the single-player campaign as the original low-polygon Lara Croft from the 1996 original. Pure bliss. All in all, I walked away from Square Enix’s LA office anxious to dive back into Rise of the Tomb Raider.