Feature

What’s It Like To Explore Rise Of The Tomb Raider’s Croft Manor In VR?

by Jeff Cork on Oct 10, 2016 at 05:00 AM

Rise of the Tomb Raider was one of my favorite Xbox One games last year, so I could think of worse fates than playing it again on PlayStation 4. As much as I looked forward to diving back into the campaign, I decided to prioritize the new content, which is focused around Croft Manor – including a chance to visit the iconic location in virtual reality. It’s definitely seen better days, but getting to walk around its halls is still a thrill.

The Croft Manor content is split into two discrete experiences, Blood Ties and Lara’s Nightmare, and while Blood Ties supports the PlayStation VR headset, it’s not required. You can also download it on Xbox One, but you obviously won’t be able to play in VR.

Blood Ties is a story-driven adventure, which offers a relatively brief but interesting opportunity to check out the home where Lara grew up. Her father died without leaving a written will, and her uncle is making a claim on the property. That simply won’t do, so you have to conduct a search to find some kind of documentation that will let her retain the family home. There’s no combat in Blood Ties or any opportunities to flip around the place like you may have done in the past. Instead, it’s more akin to a point-and-click adventure, where you have to scour your surroundings for clues and items necessary to fully explore the manor.  

I played through the entirety of the Blood Ties adventure in VR, and checked it out for a while later on a traditional display. While the content is identical between the two formats, the difference in presentation is striking. Ordinarily, you explore the halls in a behind-the-back view similar to how you play the rest of the game. In VR, you’re seeing it all through her eyes, in first person. Seeing it in VR spoiled me; the environments felt comparatively flat and dull on a TV.

Players have a couple of different control options in VR. With the default controls, Lara’s feet are firmly planted to the ground, and you can move your head around to peer into cabinets or underneath tables. Pulling a trigger calls up a ghostly version of Lara, which you can position and rotate around in the world before warping to the new location. There’s also a free-roam mode, which the developers clearly don’t want most people to use. You have to select it in the options menu by holding down a button – after reading some warning text about motion sickness. I have a pretty high tolerance for VR and motion, so I didn’t think much of it. After walking around for a minute, I started getting woozy and swapped back to the default. Other people may have different experiences, but I’ll stick with that.

That’s not to say it’s perfect. The illusory nature of VR is tough to maintain considering some of PSVR’s shortcomings. The game encourages players to look around and absorb their surroundings, but the controller loses its mind when you aren’t in the camera’s relatively narrow field of view. That can result in moments when you can’t move, or where the entire world shifts around in a nauseating attempt to correct itself. Even though camera placement can be fussy, the benefits of checking it out in VR make it worth trying it out.

The puzzles aren’t particularly tough to solve, thanks to Lara’s helpful voiceover and the map that points out where you need to go next. Walk up to a locked door, for example, and you’ll be told that you need a master key to unlock it. Even though she’s at home, Lara still can’t help but pick up relics, documents, and other items. While some of these collectables have historic importance, many of them are simply personal items that have sentimental value relating to Lara’s childhood and her parents. 

You learn a lot about Lord Croft through diary entries and other documents, and it’s a bittersweet tale. Blood Ties provides additional context to the campaign, and I’d recommend that players who haven’t played through the main game make a point of checking it out as soon as they can – it unlocks on the 20 Year Celebration edition after playing through the first section of the game. Additional relics will appear in the manor after you complete the campaign, too, providing another incentive to revisit the place.

Lara’s Nightmare (which cannot be played in VR) takes place in the same halls and rooms as Blood Ties, but it’s a far freakier experience. Zombies have invaded the grounds – it’s a nightmare, after all – and players have to fight them off. It’s basically a new location for the game’s arcade-style mode, which features card modifiers and other tweaks that attempt to keep the combat interesting. 

I’ve only played a few rounds of Lara’s Nightmare, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far. Between the two, however, I think the change of pace Blood Ties offers makes it the stronger section of the two. Fortunately, they’re both included in the 20 Year Celebration – and a free download for people who have bought the season pass on Xbox One and PC – so you don’t need to make a choice between the two.