If you’ve been following Crystal Dynamics’ series of add-ons for Rise of the Tomb Raider — which culminates today with the release of the game’s 20 Year Celebration edition — you may have noticed a trend. While the studio blended a wide variety of mechanics and genres together in the full game, it focused on a particular element for each piece of downloadable content.
That continues with Blood Ties and Lara’s Nightmare, the two new expansions in Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration. Both of them bring Lara Croft to her childhood home, Croft Manor, but in very different ways.
Much of Rise of the Tomb Raider is spent exploring environments like Syria and Siberia, and Blood Ties takes that element to the extreme: This hourlong add-on is nothing but Lara walking around Croft Manor, à la Gone Home. There’s no combat of any kind; the story is the focus.
Rise of the Tomb Raider players may remember that Croft Manor made what amounted to a cameo appearance in the game: In an early cutscene, Lara returned there to reunite with Jonah, and had an important book stolen from her during a break-in. (Blood Ties is available only after completing the main game’s Syria chapter, which is followed by that cutscene.)
Lara inherited the property after her father’s death, but in Blood Ties, she receives an eviction notice from her uncle. It seems that Lord Croft left no written will, so his daughter may have no claim to the English country estate in which she grew up. Her only recourse is to scour the old mansion for some evidence proving her right to the property.
Croft Manor has seen better days — rainwater is pouring in through a gaping hole in the Grand Hall’s skylight — and some areas are blocked off by debris from crumbling woodwork. But it’s more fun to explore a dilapidated mansion, anyway. As Lara finds childhood drawings and other relics from long ago, it feels like she’s uncovering bits and pieces of her own past and rekindling a relationship with a man whose obsession with work made him a distant father.
There’s one aspect of Blood Ties that’s exclusive to the PlayStation 4 version of Rise of the Tomb Raider: The add-on is playable in virtual reality with the PlayStation VR headset. (While the DLC is also out on Windows PC, a Crystal Dynamics representative told Polygon that VR support will be available only on PS4, at least for now.)
“I think that this was a great fit for experiments with new tech,” said Chris Johnston, associate brand manager at the studio, about the story-based content that comprises Blood Ties. The key word there is “experiment” — VR isn’t a bad way to play the DLC, but it doesn’t add much to the experience.
Blood Ties offers two different ways of getting around in PSVR. You can simply use the DualShock 4 controller to handle movement, as usual — an option that wasn’t available during my demo but, in my experience, can cause nausea. In the other control setup, you hold L2 to aim Lara at a point in the environment and press R2 to teleport her there. (VR games like nDreams’ The Assembly use this method.)
I had no problem with the movement scheme, and PSVR does offer some neat immersive elements, like aiming your flashlight with the DualShock 4’s motion controls as if you’re actually holding a flashlight in your hands. But you spend most of Blood Ties doing things like picking up items and reading documents, and the pop-up interface for those exercises is essentially unchanged from non-VR mode. You can rotate objects using the gamepad’s motion controls, but it’s finicky; documents, meanwhile, just show up closer to your face.
While Blood Ties is a short, contained piece of exploration-based storytelling, Lara’s Nightmare is the polar opposite. It’s a replayable horde-style mode in which you have to kill endlessly spawning waves of zombies in Croft Manor.
You start in different locations throughout the ol’ haunted mansion. Your goal is to find and destroy three floating skulls, and then head to the Grand Hall for a boss battle with a giant skull who seems to be Lara’s pesky uncle. One of the skulls is located in an area that is inaccessible without a key, and the key also spawns in different spots.
Oh, and you only have one life, so if you die during the boss battle — like I did — you have to start from the beginning.
Lara’s Nightmare throws a few different zombie types at you. Along with your basic shamblers, some of the undead don helmets, while others hold shields that force you to aim for their knees. But the most annoying zombies are the ones that run at you with a bomb in their hands — or at least, they’re annoying until you drop them among a group of their undead buddies, blowing up multiple zombies at once.
I don’t care for zombie modes in games, but I enjoyed Lara’s Nightmare more than I expected to — even if the game’s controls and the lackluster weapons you tend to get aren’t particularly suited to stressful battles with the undead. You can watch the first five minutes of my Lara’s Nightmare playthrough below.
Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration, which also adds co-op play to the previously released Endurance Mode DLC along with a new "Extreme Survivor" difficulty, is now available on PS4 for $59.99. Players who own Rise of the Tomb Raider plus its season pass on PC or Xbox One will get the 20 Year Celebration content at no additional cost.