I explored Rise of the Tomb Raider’s Croft Manor in VR and couldn’t find a butler to lock in a fridge

My presiding memory of the original Tomb Raider games is Croft Manor – Lara Croft’s sprawling aristocratic home. On the surface it works as a training level, with obstacle courses giving players a chance to hone their platforming abilities. Rather than a perfunctory tutorial, however, Lara’s house in Tomb Raider 2 and 3 was full of secrets. Explore and you’ll find paths and switches to hidden chambers, followed only by a farting, grunting butler that you can famously lock in a fridge.

You can’t capture a butler in Crystal Dynamic’s VR addition to Rise of the Tomb Raider, but you can poke around Lara Croft’s home, reading letters from her parents and uncovering layers of story that throw light on the Croft family in-fighting. It feels a bit like Gone Home – with less riot grrrl mixtapes and more po-faced talk about everlasting life.

You can explore Croft Manor in the game’s new “Blood Ties” mode, in standard third-person perspective and in virtual reality via a PlayStation VR headset. In both versions you’ll mostly be following a trail between letter and objects, tracing a path through Lara’s home, which has seen better days.

As well as this mode, Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration sees the addition of a combat-focused mini-game, “Lara’s Nightmare”, which takes place in the same environment – now populated with zombies. There’s also a co-op survival mode, “Endurance”, which lets you play with a friend in a semi-procedurally-generated environment. I only spent a few minutes on this, but much of that involved grasping for berries and shooting squirrels with arrows to keep my hunger levels down. Lara gets very hungry, apparently.


A change in perspective

In “Blood Ties” there are two VR modes – “free” and “comfort”. The former gives you full control of movement, using a controller to walk. The latter lets you control head movements with the VR headset, but uses a teleport mechanism to zip you through the space. Hold down one trigger button and you can move a hologram version of Lara around, then push the other to transport yourself to that position.

Like Crytek’s upcoming adventure Robinson: The Journey, the VR mode is a telling example of how perspective affects pace. On a flat screen, I whizzed through Lara’s home collecting story tidbits. But in VR, I spent a good few minutes peering at bookshelves and pictures on walls. Everything felt much less linear, even though I was effectively moving through the same few rooms. Crystal Dynamics could have gone further in layering environmental details instead of endless audio logs, but it’s engaging for what is essentially a VR experiment smuggled into a pre-existing game.

I asked Crystal Dynamics’ senior community manager, Meagan Marie, whether this hints at the studio playing with the idea of a fuller VR version of Tomb Raider. “We’re always looking for new opportunities to try out new tech, and see how those things could work in a Tomb Raider universe,” she said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily a commentary on the future of the franchise, because a lot of Tomb Raider is about seeing Lara interact with these beautiful environments. It’s a wonderful thing to test out, but we don’t necessarily have any announcements about the future of the franchise moving to VR.”


Regardless of whether a series that hinges on a third-person perspective would work well in VR, I’d love to see an immersive take of the original series’ version of Croft Manor – an eerily empty mansion populated only by secrets and a farting geriatric. That’s probably just me, though.

You can try the new modes in Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration, which comes to PS4 on 11 October, and will be included as part of the game’s season pass on Xbox One and PC.

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