Lara Croft celebrates her 20 years in style
It would seem that I've spent the whole year playing Lara Croft's latest outing, Rise of the Tomb Raider.
I first played the sequel to 2013's rebooted Tomb Raideron Xbox One last year, Microsoft having an exclusive on the game. I then played Rise of the Tomb Raider on PC, first with DirectX 11, then DirectX 12 and finally with a multi-monitor set-up courtesy of NVidia Surround and one of their thumping-great GTX1080 cards.
Now it's the PlayStation 4's turn.
I'm going to get all sentimental here. Whilst I'm not one to take sides in the XB1/PS4/PC battle, Lara feels at home on PlayStation. It was Tomb Raider, back in 1996, that convinced me to buy a PlayStation, which in turn rekindled my love of computers. I owe Lara Croft and PlayStation rather a lot.
Don't get me wrong, by the time Tomb Raider Chronicles came along the original PlayStation's graphic looks ghastly compared to a PC at the time. And the less said about Lara's only PS2 outing, Angel of Darkness, the better.
It was Crystal Dynamics' Tomb Raider Legends, Anniversary and Underworld on Xbox 360 that reinvigorated the franchise; at least enough for the Tomb Raider reboot.
With Rise of the Tomb Raider's year-long XB1/PC exclusivity, PlayStation fans have had to wait a rather long time to step back into Lara Croft's boots. I can tell you right now, the wait has been worth it.
For the PlayStation 4 release, fans get the 20th Anniversary Edition of the Rise of the Tomb Raider. This means all of the DLC is included on the disc. There's also a bonus story, set in Croft Manor, which can also be played using a PlayStation VR.
Yes, this PS4 release is the definitive release of the game, content-wise, but is still beaten, visually, (and as you'd expect) by the PC version, but there's not much in it.
Rise of the Tomb Raider continues Lara Croft's story after her return from the island of Yamatai, the setting of 2013's Tomb Raider reboot. This time Lara returns to her ancestral home, Croft Manor, to continue her father's quest to find the lost city of Kitezh and unlock its secrets of immortality.
It was this search, and the resultant professional ridicule that was seemingly the catalyst for her father's suicide. Against the wishes for her father's partner, Ana, Lara sets off to Syria and, following the first clue, on to the frozen Siberian tundra, where most of the game is set.
Crystal Dynamics seems to have taken on board complaints from the last game's lack of actual tombs. This time Lara spends a considerable amount of time underground.
The gameplay is slick and exciting. Fans of the originals may feel that it still lacks the spectacle and that the puzzles are still a bit weak. You definitely feel like you are being led by the nose when, back in 1996, you'd spend an hour or so scratching your head.
Replay value is added via the customisable Expeditions mode. Here you can replay levels of the main game or create your own missions using perks and equipment options added via Expedition cards. You can even play a community created mission. With dozens of expedition cards, obtained using in-game currency earned whilst playing or purchased in store, there's an almost endless amount of expeditions you can play.
This special 20th Anniversary Edition contains all the additional content from the season pass. This gives players access to the special Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch mission, with Lara investigating a Soviet-era experiment into biological warfare.
A new expedition scenario, called Cold Darkness Awakened has Lara taking on infected zombie-like enemies. This was also included in the original season pass.
Exclusive to the 20th Anniversary Edition, Blood Ties is a standalone sequence that can be played normally or in virtual reality via PlayStation VR. Exploring the dilapidated Croft Manor in Blood Ties, is an interesting diversion. There's not much to it, just some mild puzzle solving. Mainly find X to proceed through Y, that sort of thing. But it does add to the rebooted Lara's backstory.
The inclusion of a PSVR mode for Blood Ties is a nice bonus, but the otherwise exquisite visuals do suffer in VR. Movement is controlled, by default, using the teleport method, common in VR experiences. Players with strong stomachs can opt for the free control mode, but be mindful of the risk of VR sickness as you walk about the mansion.
The package also includes another expedition scenario called Lara's Nightmares. The unlit Croft Manor plays host to a challenge whereby Lara is under siege from an army of undead ready to ambush her as she makes her way through the family home. There's plenty of frights as the zombies attack you from all angles. It's probably a good idea that this mode isn't offered in VR.
This rounds off an incredible package that truly honours twenty-years of gaming's favourite heroine. Rise of the Tomb Raider 20th Anniversary Edition on PlayStation 4 is absolutely fantastic value. Whilst it's a shame that we've had to wait so long to play it on PS4, it's great that we get the complete experience to enjoy in one hit.