Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration
- Street Date:
- October 11th, 2016
- Reviewed by:
- Tyler Treese
- Review Date:1
- October 10th, 2016
- Game Release Year:
- Square Enix
- Crystal Dynamics
- ESRB Rating:
- M (Mature)
Digital PS4 20 Year Celebration edition reviewed using a standard PS4. The PS VR content has been reviewed as noted. The PS4 Pro mode has not been tested.
Originally released in 2015 as a Xbox One exclusive, 'Rise of the Tomb Raider' has had a pretty busy 2016. First came the release of the game's downloadable add-ons, 'Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch' and 'Cold Darkness Awakened,' and then the title was ported to PC. Now, almost one year to the original game's release, Crystal Dynamics is bringing their third-person action game to PlayStation 4 with the previously released DLC, and several new additions, including the 'Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration' content. The '20 Year Celebration' includes a narrative-driven mode called 'Blood Ties,' a zombie-themed shooter called 'Lara's Nightmare,' online co-op for the survival mode, and more.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
With 2016 being 'Tomb Raider's 20th anniversary, it's great that another audience gets to finally play 'Rise of the Tomb Raider.' Its timed-exclusivity on Xbox consoles caused a lot of discussion last year (and frustration for PS4 players), but clearly good things come to those who wait. I say this because the '20 Year Celebration' edition contains all of the released DLC, and some brand new modes in the $59.99 entrance fee. Now that the game is finally finished, it's time to take a look at the complete offering.
When I played 'Rise of the Tomb Raider' last year, I wasn't left with a particularly positive impression by the end. While Crystal Dynamics had made some smart choices to help the sequel feel like a step forward from a gameplay point of view, it had an underwhelming story that lacked the heart of the 2013 reboot and a pretty horrid last few hours. Those issues haven't been rectified in this port, but it does contain considerably more content than the Xbox One version did at launch.
Before I dive into what's new to the PlayStation 4 version (and is also getting patched into the other releases), I have to say that it was very interesting taking a look at 'Rise of the Tomb Raider' after having played 'Uncharted 4.' In some aspects, the two third-person action titles seem to be the polar opposites of each other. While 'Uncharted 4' has a very personal narrative with a payoff for every character involved, 'Rise of the Tomb Raider' has a story that doesn't particularly have much to say at all. It was also interesting for me to realize how much more I enjoyed actually play 'Rise of the Tomb Raider,' as its encounter design is rarely just a massive mob of enemies (although this does start to happen later on when the game starts to bog down).
Instead, I found myself enamored with how many ways I could go about each combat scenario. 'Rise of the Tomb Raider' does a fantastic job with incorporating stealth into its action, and while it's nearly necessary, I found it highly satisfying to pick off one soldier after another and clear an entire section without being noticed. The actual combat is also varied, as I could craft different types of arrows to use (ranging from fire to poison) and this makes it much more engaging than its contemporaries.
Upon replaying 'Rise of the Tomb Raider,' I also had a newfound appreciation for its open-world design. I never really took the time to explore on my first playthrough (since I was busy trying to save the world and all that jazz), but this time I went out of my way to find the game's hidden tombs and collectibles (which contain pieces of lore). These puzzle-themed areas are spread all throughout the game's sizable world, and are a great change of pace from the core chapters that mostly revolve around combat. While I wish they were incorporated into the main story, I'm glad I finally got to experience them as they ended up being one of the highlights of the experience.
Another surprise that 'Rise of the Tomb Raider' had in store for me, was that I was really impressed with the writing. No, not in the main campaign (which routinely has Lara passing on picking up enemy firearms for literally no reason), but in the additional content that has been added post-launch. I very much enjoyed playing through the 'Baba Yaga: Temple of the Witch' expansion, which tells a self-contained story about a single family's hardships, and even found the premise for the 'Cold Darkness' DLC (which deals with mutated Soviet soldiers) to be rather intriguing.
Most of all, I was absolutely blown away by the 'Blood Ties' addition that is new to the PlayStation 4 version (which is also compatible with PlayStation VR). Taking place before the events of 'Rise of the Tomb Raider,' it has Lara searching for her late father's will after her uncle is trying to take the Croft manor away from her. Lasting about two hours, this add-on is completely free of combat, and instead focuses on exploration, puzzle-solving, and storytelling.
A lot of the story is told through reading journal entries from Lara's deceased father, and it's absolutely heartbreaking at points. Hearing Richard Croft describe how he met Lara's mother, and how they quickly fell in love was far more interesting than anything I had seen in 'Rise of the Tomb Raider's campaign. Plus, I absolutely loved exploring the mansion's hidden hallways (because of course there would be some), and the challenging puzzles that made me look through documents to find solutions. The strength of the writing really has me hopeful for the next entry in the series, as I feel like Crystal Dynamics has the ability to do something special now that the writing is starting to match the gameplay in quality.
While 'Blood Ties' is a combat-free addition that forces players to think, 'Lara's Nightmare' is the exact opposite. This trippy action scene has players battling against hordes of zombies in the same exact location that 'Blood Ties' takes place in. These undead foes spawn in constantly, and it's up to Lara to explore the house and destroy several demon heads to end her nightmare. I found this mode to be absolutely awful, and it's by far my least favorite part of the game. The zombies don't make for an interesting foe (they just tend to walk or crawl toward Lara waiting to be shot), and I didn't find the combat nearly as fun as the satisfying stealth gameplay isn't here.
The final new addition is cooperative online play. This doesn't impact the main game, and instead takes place in the game's 'Endurance' DLC. I had to work with my partner to survive the rough wilderness, make sure we didn't die from freezing or starving, and to accomplish a bunch of optional goals such as finding artifacts. Despite being skeptical of a survival mode being fun in 'Rise of the Tomb Raider,' I found myself pleasantly surprised. I ended up having a blast, and having a partner makes the 'Endurance' mode a lot more enjoyable since it's a lot easier to take down a massive bear with two players than by myself. This is a really interesting direction for the series to experiment with, and I definitely prefer this type of multiplayer to its predecessor's competitive deathmatch.
20 Year Celebration
In addition to 'Blood Ties' and 'Lara's Nightmare,' other new content in the '20 Year Celebration' edition includes a new difficulty setting called 'Extreme Survivor' that makes it so the game can only be saved at campfires, a new outfit inspired by 'Tomb Raider III,' and a 'Classic Card Pack' (that can be equipped in the game's several side modes) that allow players to play as classic Lara Croft character models. All of these are nice bonuses, even if they aren't as big of a drawing point as the new modes. (With the exception of PS VR support, this content will be available on the PC and Xbox One via the Season Pass or a $9.99 upgrade fee.)
PlayStation VR Support
'Blood Ties' is also playable in PlayStation VR, and it works pretty well there. Crystal Dynamics presents the player with two different control schemes: comfort and free. Comfort had me moving Lara by teleporting around the environment by holding in the triggers of the DualShock 4 and then aiming where to make her stand. I found this totally fine, even if the teleporting completely breaks the immersion. The other control scheme is free mode, and this has the player using the left stick to move Lara around and is similar to how 'Here They Lie' controls. From there it plays exactly like the non-VR version of the mode, except players view everything from first-person. It's not exactly made any better by this inclusion, but it's a good excuse to pop into Lara's manor once again and examining the objects in a 3D space is a fun novelty.
Those familiar with 'Here They Lie,' will remember that many PlayStation VR owners experienced motion sickness due to a disconnect between the perceived motion and the physical motion. I didn't run into any of these issues in either that game or 'Rise of the Tomb Raider' in VR, but everyone's mileage will vary. It's great to see that Crystal Dynamics included two separate control schemes, so everyone can enjoy playing it.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
I remember being blown away by 'Rise of the Tomb Raider's opening sequence last year, as Lara climbed an icy mountain, and it's still a sight to behold a year later. Having said that, I was a bit disappointed that some aspects of the game didn't look better given a year's worth of patches and being on a more powerful system For example, the footprints in the snow look pretty terrible as they look like Lara is walking with a brick attached to her foot (although it should be noted, that the title will be receiving a PS4 Pro update which should improve these rough edges). It's definitely a step below 'Uncharted 4' in terms of visuals, but I still was constantly impressed by what Crystal Dynamics had to offer here. The 'Baba Yaga' DLC in particular has some tremendous artwork and a unique locale that had me constantly taking in-game screenshots.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
'Rise of the Tomb Raider' features a fantastic soundtrack composed by Bobby Tahouri. Impressively, his score always manages to heighten the tone of each scene. Frantic chase sequences are made more intense by upbeat music, while more somber moments are accompanied by slower tracks.
On the voice-acting side, Camilla Luddington once again stars as Lara Croft, and she does a fantastic job delivering all of her dialogue. The same can be said for the other voice actors involved (with Philip Anthony-Rodriguez being a particular standout), as they all deliver good performances despite the game's script not really taking advantage of all of the groundwork it sets.
There is really a staggering amount of content in 'Rise of the Tomb Raider.' The core game is filled with hidden tombs to raid, collectibles to find, and side-missions to do after the linear story ends. That alone can keep players entertained for many extra hours, but there's also the game's endurance mode (which can now be played in co-op), 'Croft Manor' to explore, and the randomized 'Cold Darkness' DLC. On top of all there is a 'Score Attack' mode that allows campaign encounters to be played again. That is a ton of content, and it would take dozens of hours across multiple modes to see everything that Crystal Dynamics has packed in here.
While I found myself a tad bit underwhelmed when playing through 'Rise of the Tomb Raider' last year, I'm thoroughly impressed with how much has been added to the game since then. Each piece of DLC has added something unique to the package, be it online co-op or an excuse to battle hordes of zombies. Some of it definitely meshes with the 'Tomb Raider' formula better than others, but the amount of variety is appreciated. There has never been a better time to experience Lara Croft's latest adventure, and the great writing found in 'Blood Ties' makes me excited for the next entry in the series.
- Online Co-op
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