Rise of the Tomb Raider VR, Blood Ties preview on PS4

It’s somewhat fitting that Rise of the Tomb Raider finds itself making a running-jump onto PlayStation 4 in 2016, seeing as how the venerated action-adventure franchise is marking its 20th anniversary this year. After spending the past 12 months or so snuggling up with Microsoft’s Xbox One, Lara Croft’s latest outing almost feels as if it’s coming home after a lengthy excursion to some exotic location; after all, Tomb Raider has remained synonymous with the PlayStation brand ever since its inception two decades ago, even if there’s been some egregious hiccups along the way—we’re looking at you, Angel of Darkness.

Hands on with Rise of the Tomb Raider: Blood Ties

PSU was lucky enough to grab a couple of hours hands-on with the latest build of Rise of the Tomb Raider, which arrives on PS4 with an assortment of bells and whistles, chief among which includes PlayStation VR functionality and a new Endurance co-op mode. We strapped on our hiking boots, grabbed our dual pistols, and got stuck into the action.

lara croft looking at picture

First up is Blood Ties, a brand new DLC chapter that sees the voluptuous archaeologist receiving a letter from her mean-spirited Uncle Atlas, who wants to reclaim ownership over Croft Manor. Lara’s not going to give up without a fight though, and obstinately refuses to budge until she figures out exactly what happened to her mother. This involves you snooping around her lush abode, picking up key items, examining clues, and generally poking about in places that would have your late father turning in his grave.

Croft Manor is a sprawling estate, and while there’s no combat involved in Blood Ties, there’s more than enough intrigue peppered throughout the game to keep you immersed as you uncover hidden passageways, lost documents, tape recordings of deceased family members, and much more. There’s more to it than just nabbing everything you see; Lara can examine each object and sometimes garner more snippets of info if available, leading to some interesting discoveries. Naturally, we won’t spoil any of the cool stuff we came across, but colour us intrigued.

The Rise of the Tomb Raider VR experience

We also got to try the mode with PSVR, which accentuates the already-moody atmosphere tenfold. Indeed, there’s something satisfying about taking in the sights of this grand manor as a storm rages outside; it’s just a shame we weren’t able to delve deeper into the estate, as there’s surely more secrets to uncover.

Conversely, Lara’s Nightmare is a zombified, gun-toting action romp where you explore an undead-infested Croft Manor that is pretty much the antithesis of the methodical, narrative-driven Blood Ties. And it somehow works, too. Yes, every man and his dog seems to chuck a few zombies into the mix these days, but Rise of the Tomb Raider at least make them seem like a genuine threat and not inconsequential fodder. The main objective here is to track down and destroy three skulls, all the while fending off the undead inhabitants. As you might expect, the tight corridors and estate rooms make combat quite a challenging, and it’s not hard to get overwhelmed by lurching undead while trying to make those crucial headshots count.

exploring through office

Zombies come in various forms too. Aside from your standard shambler, there’s warrior undead with shields, lumbering chaps wielding TNT, and rotting husks with helmets on. As such, you need to adapt your strategy when battling the zombified hordes; enemies with protective can’t be neutralized as easily as the bog-standard enemies, requiring you to cap them in the knee before finishing them off with a well-aimed melee. It’s gripping stuff, and certainly does a good job of keeping you on your toes.

Finally, Endurance had us teaming up with a buddy to guide two Crofts around the shivering, freezing siberian wastelands. Your goal? Survive. Obviously, this is easier said than done, as there’s more than enough hazards working against you, and that’s beyond the pugnacious wildlife you’ll encounter. Supplies are limited, so you’ll need to explore as much as possible while gathering resources such as firewood, food, and other essentials so that you don’t freeze or basically starve to death.

Sadly, the 20-odd minutes we spent with Endurance mode wasn’t really enough to see all the nuances of Rise of the Tomb Raider’s co-op antics, though it nonetheless provided a tantalizing glimpse at what’s to come. There’s definitely something gratifying about teaming up with a partner to avoid traps, revive each other when needed, and battle against attacking enemies. There’s more beyond just trying to avoid becoming a human popsicle though; challenges sprinkle an extra layer onto the proceedings, which see you having to complete mini-tasks as you explore in exchange for valuable items.

lara walking through croft mansion

Oddly enough, we couldn’t figure out how to exchange resources with each other, which is something you’d think would be instrumental in surviving the harsh climate. Still, the bread-and-butter gameplay that resulted in such a successful reboot back in 2013 remains ever present here; snapping into aim mode is seamless, weapons give off a satisfying thud, while climbing is as free spirited as ever, with Lara latching onto scaleable surfaces like a limpet to a rocket at low tide.

Providing the main campaign holds up (and there’s every reason to believe it will, just look at the reviews of the Xbox One edition), Rise of the Tomb Raider should be a stellar way to celebrate 20 years of one of gaming’s most iconic characters.