For some PlayStation owners, the past year has been an excruciating one. The timed exclusivity deal for Rise of the Tomb Raider between Square Enix and Microsoft was initially a hard blow, but one that was ultimately softened a few months later by the arrival of the exquisite Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.
Still, for all of Nathan Drake’s charms, he’s cribbed rather a lot from Lara’s treasure map, and it’s Lara who remains one of the most beloved videogame characters of all time. Rise of the Tomb Raider was easily one of 2015’s best games, and the transition to PlayStation 4 has brought with it a host of included DLC, as well as an exclusive extra mission enabled for the fledgling PSVR.
The VR rendition of the Blood Ties storyline makes up the main portion of the Sony exclusive content – it’s a freebie with the 20 Year Celebration edition on PS4 – and it’s safe to say it’s a compelling addition to Lara’s backstory. It sees you searching through Croft Manor in an attempt to find your Father’s will, with you making your way around the near-derelict building whilst reading documents, listening to Dictaphone tapes, and examining pictures and artefacts along the way, as you try to prevent your Uncle Atlas from taking the manor away from you.
You’re offered two control schemes, starting with Comfort mode which it recommends you play standing. In this mode you can teleport rather than freely move, and holding down the left trigger brings up an arc which you can angle and position by moving the Dualshock 4, placing a transparent Lara before pulling the right trigger to make the jump. The mode is intended to stop you feeling any motion sickness and I certainly had no problem with it.
Free mode, on the other hand, grants you free movement as in a first person shooter, though it’ll only do so once you’ve got used to the comfort setting for a short period. The oddly gliding movement you have here is controlled with the left analogue stick and I can readily imagine that those more prone to motion sickness will struggle here.
I actually found matters improved by walking on the spot while I made my way around, with the added motion of your head making the experience feel more natural. Of course it recommends that you sit down so perhaps I shouldn’t condone this method. It seems to me though to be the lack of natural head movement that causes the problem.
Searching through Croft Manor while a storm rages outside is certainly atmospheric, and it was nice to gain some insight into where Lara is and where she’s come from. It’s a backdrop that Xbox One gamers have also been privy too, but not with the immediacy that PSVR provides.
Entering the dark corridors and using the Dualshock 4 as a flashlight is a wonderful use of the technology, though the graphics on show in PSVR can be rather rudimentary at times when you get close to them, as are some of the artefacts you find in your wanderings. It’s still remarkably effective at conveying a real sense of space, and opening a low cupboard that you physically have to crouch down to look into feels utterly remarkable. Just try to remember you can’t reach out and support yourself on it as you do so!
Continuing the main game’s emphasis on the discovery of narrative elements, this extra mode builds back into Lara’s personal life, her mother and father’s relationship, and her Uncle Atlas’ immense dislike of both her father and the resultant scandal that his sister’s choice of partner caused. Whilst it’s undoubtedly interesting, particularly if you’re a fan of the previous games, it’s hardly a thrill-fest. However it is atmospheric; from a crack of lightning as you enter the shuttered West Wing to set you on edge, to making your way through the damp, darkened and partially dilapidated cellar.
Beyond the VR enabled mission, the overall 20 Year Celebration release is largely unchanged from the season pass-equipped Xbox One version of Rise Of The Tomb Raider, and much of the time I was unable to differentiate between the two, though there are a few visual upgrades in the new PS4 version. There was some occasional stuttering as cutscenes transitioned into gameplay, but I’d be hard pressed to remember if this was present in the Xbox One version as well.
Both releases are hugely attractive – there are multiple moments where the landscapes dazzle – and they sit alongside both a genuinely engaging narrative and a continuation of the enjoyable revised Tomb Raider gameplay. Head over here for our review of this excellent game from last year.
In Rise of the Tomb Raider 20 Year Celebration, PlayStation 4 owners can safely take ownership of the most complete version of the game, and for those with PSVR, the Blood Ties mission provides a personal and compelling piece of the revisionist Croft backstory that feels genuinely unique.