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Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration – is it worth playing?

Xbox One owners who paid for a Rise of the Tomb Raider season pass get all the '20 Year Celebration' content free – so, yes, this well worth your time. PS4 owners, who missed out on last year's Xbox 'exclusive', are now getting a much more complete package – plus a virtual reality Blood Ties experience, of which more below – so, again, this verges essential purchase, especially for those who loved Uncharted 4 (or who, whisper it, felt Drake's final chapter lacked a little depth). The trickier question is for Xbox One owners who are yet to fork out for a season pass. Is the '20 Year Celebration' content worth £19.99/$29.99? In truth, probably not… but allow us to explain.

Riding a quad buggy around the garden, locking Winston in the freezer, that line when you get out the pool – Croft Manor has been home to some of the most memorable moments in Lara’s long career, so it makes sense that Crystal Dynamics would want to set the new Blood Ties mode (available for the first time via the 20 Year Celebration) in this famous location. But what else do you get in the Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration package – and how does it stack up? Rather than re-reviewing the core Rise of the Tomb Raider solo campaign again (that we scored 4.5/5 last year), we decided to go through all the new stuff and deliver a verdict. Here's what I thought.

The 20 Year Celebration of Rise of the Tomb Raider contains the original game released on Xbox One a year ago – you can read our full, four-and-a-half stars out of five review here – along with all existing DLC. So that’s Baby Yaga: The Temple of the Witch and Cold Darkness Awakened. There’s also an Extreme Survivor difficulty, which removes the checkpoints from the main game, and host of new outfits including a few classic skins. 

The new stuff comes in the form of an hour long piece of story content called Blood Ties, set in Croft Manor, which is also playable in PSVR. There’s now co-op support for Endurance mode – think a Don’t Starve-style hunt for food and resources while trying to stay alive – and Lara’s Nightmare, a score attack mode with zombies stumbling into Croft Manor. It’s also one of the first games to support the new HDR features and a 4k resolution offered by the PS4 Pro, which we're yet to see in action, but you can view the demo Rise of the Tomb Raider PS4 Pro demo video here. 

And, as mentioned, all this new content is coming to Xbox One and PC as a free upgrade for anyone who’s got a season pass.

Blood Ties takes you back to Croft Manor, and sends Lara on a scavenger hunt around her own home to find the deeds that’ll keep the estate in her name. So it’s a probate simulator with somersaults, basically. 

There’s no shooting in the house (y’know, probably because of all the ancient artifacts lying around) but there are some childhood memories to discover, one of which explains why Lara’s idle animation has her flexing her shoulder. Yes, really. For long-term fans this trip back to the childhood home will come with mixed feelings, as this isn’t the house from the original games. Butler Winston is nowhere to be seen (although you can find a note from him), the gym’s disappeared and the pool guy has clearly been slacking off, because there’s now a giant tree in the West Wing. But since this is new, rebooted Lara, things were always going to be different

There’s a bit of backstory to discover, but the story is really a clever way to get you familiar with the layout of the house before you tackle Lara’s Nightmare – one of the other new modes in the anniversary edition – so in essence, the Manor is still the training level it always used to be. A nice throwback, then, but slightly superficial – I’d have been happier if they’d let me run around the house and play with a freezer (like you could in Tomb Raider 2, for those who weren't playing games in, gulp, 1997).

Lara’s Nightmare is also set in Croft Manor only this time, with zombies. The goal is to destroy three flying skulls, find a master key and confront the final boss. This isn’t easy. Ammo is extremely limited and weapons, keys and location of the skulls are randomly placed around the house. And, as is so often the case, the zombies never stop coming. On a good run you can finish it in around 15 minutes, but it’s something you’ll keep dipping into to improve your score and rise up the leaderboard. At times it feels a little unfair because your best scores are going to come from getting a lucky placement of the items rather than skill. One run ended quickly after I got trapped in a room from the start with only a pistol. In another, I managed to pick up a shotgun, the master key and a machine gun in the first minute. Lara’s face still got munched off eventually, but for a few minutes it felt like I was winning. All in all, it’s a fun if short-lived distraction.

Finally, there’s Endurance mode which can now be played with online co-op. Out off all the new editions, this is the one you’ll be coming back to most. As before, you must survive the snowy wilderness by making fires and collecting food by skinning animals and raiding camps. This time, however, you can do it with a friend, so the constant struggle of having to deal with the ever depleting warmth and hunger meters is coupled with the struggle of convincing your stupid friend that going into a pitch black cave isn’t the best idea. It’s the most stressed I’ve been playing Tomb Raider, and really gives you the sense that actually surviving in some of these locations is tough. Or more actually, impossible. Especially, if like me, you go after one too many relics. Don’t be greedy kids.

If you haven’t played Rise of the Tomb Raider then this is as essential as it was before; a fusion of stunning visuals, great set pieces (with are more epic in scale than Drake's latest PS4 game) and exploration. Uncharted 4 might offer a more focused narrative, but Tomb Raider is much more expansive, with scope to explore, and reams of collectibles. If anything, the addition of all that DLC almost makes the world seem more overwhelming than it was before, with each hub area now full of more coloured markers than a pre-school art class. Seriously, there’s 110 items in the Soviet Installation section. That’s just one area… and there's 11 in total. Even for a completist like me, that's borderline intimidating, so I closed the list immediately. Thankfully, it doesn’t detract from the core experience.

As for the other modes: you’re unlikely to play Blood Ties twice (unless you do it in VR, and just fancy standing by the cosy pretend fireplace for the winter), Lara’s Nightmare has limited appeal and co-op Endurance is fantastic, but considering this is all just extra stuff to complement an already great game, it’s a package any Croft fan should be stuffing into their knapsack. Or, indeed, any bag. Or your hands. Or a digital download bucket. You, er, get the point.

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