It’s reasonable to posit that the first wave of PSVR experiences fall into two distinct brackets; those which are an afterthought and those which aren’t. With “Blood Ties”, the PSVR compatible expansion that shipped with Rise of the Tomb Raider two weeks ago, it’s clear that Crystal Dynamics first foray into PSVR is one that sadly falls into the domain of the former rather than the latter, even if its heart remains in the right place.
A world away from the globe-trotting, physically adventurous activities that typically define Lara Croft’s escapades, the roughly hour-long Blood Ties side story instead takes place solely within the chilly, abandoned confines of Croft Manor, with Lara carefully sweeping through its derelict husk in pursuit of various artefacts and journals that prove her heirship to the mansion.
Note: Screenshots taken from in-game footage do not represent the quality when viewed with the PlayStation VR headset on.
Available to players once they arrive at the first basecamp during the Siberian Wilderness level, Blood Ties can be played either in third-person or first-person (the PSVR functionality is actually optional – which somewhat speaks to the notion of it being an afterthought). In terms of control, there are two different types of movement schemes that developer Crystal Dynamics allow you to choose from in Blood Ties. The first and default, prefers to have you using DualShock 4 analogue sticks to teleport around the place or move directly to specific objects, while the other, allows you to utilise the controller to both free move and look around as you see fit.
The problem is that both methods of control feel reductive. The first method essentially breaks the feeling of immersion completely through its forced use of teleportation (no human can move like that – at least in this century), while the second, invariably results in an uncomfortable queasiness that soon turns into something a little more stomach-churning if you persist with it for any span of time longer than a minute.
A bigger problem with Blood Ties, and one that definitely underlines the lack of care with which this add-on was brought kicking and screaming into VR, is that the UI hasn’t been optimised for VR at all. Like, at all. You see, when you’re trotting about House Croft, all the menus and pop up screens haven’t been adjusted to take into account the viewing perspective of first-person virtual reality. The downside of this is that when you’re parsing through dusty old tomes and on-screen information pertaining to some ancient trinket, such text instead feels pressed right up to your face rather than being properly immersed into the world at the proper, measured remove from the perspective of the player that it should be.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some good things about Blood Ties when played in VR. The quality of the visuals for example, is high; boasting an array of detailed textures, great lighting, superb shadows and a wonderfully defined look that appears miles sharper than similar fare such as PSVR horror effort Here They Lie. Additionally, there is also a palpable atmosphere to wandering around Lara’s old family digs; the long disused and mistreated interior of the mansion telling its own story as a chamber of long forgotten glories that have now been consigned to the annals of history.
Look, this is not the Tomb Raider that you know and love and arguably there are far better implementations of VR than this. Furthermore, for folks looking to immerse themselves in the lore of Tomb Raider’s third rebooted continuity, there is sadly only very limited appeal in slowly wandering about Lara’s old stomping grounds. A missed opportunity.
Overall, I’d score the PSVR section of Rise of The Tomb Raider with a 4.5/10.