I’m not ashamed to admit that I felt a real twinge of regret when I first learned that Rise of the Tomb Raider wouldn’t be coming to PlayStation 4.
After all, I had such a blast with Crystal Dynamics’ incredible 2013 reboot/reinvention of the franchise – though I felt there were plenty of improvements to be made. Oh, and the fusty old purist in me simply believed that Tomb Raider not appearing on PlayStation was absolute heresy.
So I waited (not being one of those fancy city slickers that can afford more than one console), secure in the knowledge that one day, Lara would return home where she belonged.
Thankfully, rather than just chuck us the same game Xbox gamers had over a year ago, PlayStation 4 has been treated to Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration – an anniversary edition with all the bells and whistles, previous DLC, and a bevy of new extras.
Of course, this special version is also available on Xbox One and PC, but it’s a bigger draw for those who definitely won’t have played it before now.
Was it worth the wait, PlayStation gamers? I’m happy to report that the answer is a resounding yes – if this is an adventure you missed the first time around, you’re about to discover not only the best Tomb Raider since the days of the PlayStation One, but the definitive version of it.
Considering this game has been out for a while now, I intend to keep my review focused on the new content – though for the uninitiated, I’ll give a very brief run down regarding my thoughts on the main game/story content.
Like 2013’s Tomb Raider, Rise of blends Uncharted style set pieces and action with thoughtful Metroidvania inspired exploration, and a pleasing sense of item based progression.
Rather than throw us into an open world in the traditional sense, we’re given what I’d term ‘pockets’ of openness, each strung together by linear shootouts or platforming challenges, each usually ending with lots of explosions and death.
It’s the open areas full of secret items, side quests, animals to hunt, and challenges to complete that really stand out in this game, as well as the numerous optional challenge tombs, each filled with tricky traps and devious puzzles to solve.
As such, it can at times feel like a bit of slog going through the more linear sections – I often found myself rushing through just to get to the next area or return to the previous area to find new secrets with upgraded gear.
Still, the combat is inventive and fun enough to make sure you never get too bored, whether you prefer to put an arrow through each enemy’s head from the shadows, or run in guns blazing.
Mercifully, rather than ask us to run back and forth between these connective sections, you’re usually able to fast travel between various points on the map thanks to the campfires generously littered throughout the game. It’s here that you’re also able to upgrade skills and weapons thanks to a pleasingly robust progression system.
The story is a relatively underwhelming affair, but is carried by Camilla Luddington who gives a fantastic performance as Lara Croft – on display not only as a resourceful one-woman killing machine (and often smartest person in the room), but also an actual character with flaws – something we need far more of when it comes to women in videogames.
The new content is where we really get into the 20 Year Celebration aspect of the game, and everything included makes it an absolutely essential buy for fans of Tomb Raider. On top of starting the game with all of the DLC and add-ons that eventually came to Xbox One, we also get some awesome new content – think of this as Game of the Year Edition Plus, basically.
Let’s start with Lara’s Nightmare, AKA ‘zombies mode’ since it’s easily the weakest aspect of the new content. Unless you’re cursed with a terrible short-term memory, you’ll remember that I mentioned earlier in the review how combat, while mostly fun, is the least appealing aspect of the game.
It’s a shame then, that this mode throws you into a nightmare in which you make your way through Croft Manor, avoiding or killing zombies while looking for three skulls to destroy.
While combat can get wild in the main game because you’re encouraged to use the environment, Lara’s Nightmare doesn’t allow such creativity, instead forcing you to use the same old guns over and over – you can change things up slightly with a number of cards which can be equipped for various in-game effects, but beyond a few goes, this mode really isn’t all that.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Blood Ties, a much quieter affair that trades combat for slow-paced exploration and puzzle based progression – everything the franchise has always excelled at, in other words.
To give too much away about Blood Ties would be a dick move on my part, so I’ll just say that it’s something every fan of the franchise is gonna absolutely adore, as we’re afforded a chance to explore Croft Manor and uncover secrets, Easter eggs, and plenty of insight into Lara’s past.
Not only does this mode call back to several retro adventures for Lara, but the peek we get into her family life lends a tragic context to the events of the main game – it’s truly fantastic stuff.
This mode also makes use of the new PlayStation VR, and is honestly one of the best experiences I’ve had with the headset. Listening to the rain pounding all around you as you turn over items in your hands, searching for clues – I felt like I was physically in Croft Manor, which is a lot more than most VR games have managed to do to me so far.
In addition to all that, there are number of fantastic polygon perfect skins to unlock that recall Lara’s earlier days, as well as a co-op version of the excellent Endurance survival mode, making shooting dear and falling in death traps way funnier than it ever should be.
Then there are opportunities to replay chapters of the game with various game-changing stats (I’m a fan of big head mode) and the chance to compete with friends for the best times and high scores.
There was already a shit ton of stuff to do in Rise of the Tomb Raider when it first came out. Now, Crystal Dynamics have managed to cram another 20 year’s worth of history in with beautifully packaged extras. If you enjoy getting your money’s worth, I can guarantee you’ll be playing this one for weeks.
I don’t know how else to say it, so here it is: This is a worthy tribute to the First Lady of gaming, and one of the best action adventure games you’ll play this year. You owe it to yourself to experience Rise of the Tomb Raider.
Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.