Rise of the Tomb Raider came out on Xbox One last year, and although the game received much critical fanfare, it was also the centre of discussion in many ways. Microsoft had entered into an agreement with Square Enix for timed exclusivity on Xbox One despite the series' long links to PlayStation. Sony quickly retaliated with Street Fighter V in February, and thus the purchased exclusivity of third-party titles seems to have once again gained a foothold in the industry.
PlayStation 4 owners have waited patiently for the game ever since, and now it has finally arrived in the shape of Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration Edition, and as a thanks for their patience, Crystal Dynamics has stuffed the package full of extra content.
If you're not yet familiar with Rise of the Tomb Raider on other platforms, it's an epic action game played in the third-person, where you, as the iconic Lara Croft, enter a number of semi-open areas in order to find the source of eternal life. To do this, she must hunt, search for gloomy burial chambers, upgrade her gear and explore her surroundings in sandboxes around this world. This is then an extension, or rather an expansion, of the ideas that the original Tomb Raider reboot from 2012 was built on.
Lara is not in the best shape when we first meet her in the beginning of Rise of the Tomb Raider. She is still struggling to understand the paranormal experiences she had in the first game, and trying to console herself, she turns to her late father's exploration of the supernatural, in particular the source of eternal life. Diving further into the narrative would spoil it for many, but if you have yet to play Rise of the Tomb Raider, you can certainly expect an intense and well-told story. The characters surrounding Lara are quite well-played, keeping in mind that they are secondary characters, and are thus not subject to considerable development. Lara remains the star, and she is performed brilliantly by Camilla Luddington, who once again delivers voice and body to the character. Lara, like Nathan Drake in Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, is a character full of flaws and imperfections, which results in gripping drama. The dialogue is well-written and well executed, and thus the plot moves quickly and delivers a classic spin on the old Indiana Jones-inspired story.
The same compliment does not, however, extend to the dull and monotonous organisation, Trinity, and its leader, Konstantin. His character is about as interesting as the label on a tin of food, and it would have suited the game to have a more interesting antagonist, a more human character, to oppose Lara. However, Trinity and Konstantin don't hold the story back from being interesting, so we're not too worried.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is all about the coupling of the action-oriented and linear section with the open areas, where you can explore and feel free, and the game achieves this balance perfectly. You get the Uncharted-inspired moments, where the graphics, mood and suspense are overwhelming, but these moments often lead to a bigger sandbox, where Lara gets the chance to explore her surroundings. This happens a number of times throughout the game, and precisely because the balance is spot-on, the transitions are quite smooth.
In the linear sections, the primary concern is to take cover and shoot, and although these sections are quite epic, the mechanics are simply not as well-developed as in the Uncharted series, and after having played Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, Rise of the Tomb Raider seems to be a little behind.
It's in the open sandboxes that the game really comes into its own. Here, Lara can use the crafting system to make special arrows, hunt animals, and find the special Challenge Tombs that are one of the best new additions to the formula. The game contains nine of them, and they bring some of the more puzzle-oriented design back to the series - an addition most welcome. Furthermore, you can also spend your time upgrading your gear and collecting items. When we reviewed the Xbox One version, we thought that the collector's items had a tendency to be overwhelming, and the same still applies. Some of the collector's items even unlock other collector's items, which is taking things too far.
The more open a given arena is, the more fun it is to make tactical choices and work out a strategy for how Lara is to handle a specific challenge. It is more entertaining to sneak around, neutralising enemies one by one, because Lara is quite weak if the enemies get a chance to surround her, and this makes you more attentive.
When you are done with the main story, have completed the various Challenge Tombs and given up on the collector's items, you can even replay missions via Time Attack, Score Attack and much more, and if that's not enough, the 20 Year Celebration part includes tons of extra content. First, we have the two content drops already on Xbox One and PC, which are supernatural expansions called Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch and Cold Darkness Awakened. In Baba Yaga, Lara needs to find the notorious witch, and in CDA she needs to fight zombies. Both are quite fun albeit brief distractions, and they work fine as entertaining extensions of the main game, but neither contains the greatness of the story campaign.
The package also includes two versions of the expansion called Blood Ties. In this fascinating expansion, you actually get to explore Croft Manor, where another mystery lies. Here, Crystal Dynamics have again focused on the most charming aspect of Rise of the Tomb Raider: Lara herself. By letting her explore her own history in the family's home, as a character she develops in an interesting way. It both acts as an insight into the family's past while also being a nice personal journey that Lara is sent on. Blood Ties is a terrific addition, and one fans of the series will certainly appreciate.
In Blood Ties Nightmare, you also get to explore Croft Manor, but this time the house is overrun by zombies... again. It lacks the depth that the regular Blood Ties expansion offers, and even though it's possible to play co-operatively with your friends as you would in Left 4 Dead, this is not the game's primary strength. However, there is also a new Endurance feature where you and a friend must explore Tombs and survive at the same time, and here the puzzles and cooperation makes more sense in the context of the game.
Even though the game actually came out last year, it is still among the most beautiful titles on this generation of consoles. There is an incredible sense of detail in the different areas, and Lara reacts to all of it. Just as in Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, there is a density in the complete visual experience when both the grandeur and the attention to even the smallest details are combined to form a frankly exquisite visual experience.
Overall, Rise of the Tomb Raider is just as good as it was when it was released a year ago. The fact that the game is now available to PS4 owners is in itself a delight, and now that the package includes all the extra content, we are looking at quite a bargain. However, it's still the main game that attracts. Sure, in the linear sections the gameplay mechanics are not always equally interesting to play with, and some of the features (such as many of the collector's items and Blood Ties Nightmare) seem a little superfluous, but this does not stop Rise of the Tomb Raider from being among the best action games to land during this current console generation.