Nearly a year on from its timed-exclusive debut on Xbox One, Crystal Dynamics' Rise of the Tomb Raider is set to arrive on PS4 resplendent with new features and modes, added to create a package worthy of celebrating the series' 20th anniversary.
Much more than the Game of the Year (GOTY) special editions we often see, Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration also has everything currently available on the Xbox One version, from the critically-acclaimed single player story to the DLC released over the past year.
Ahead of the game's release, and having sampled new modes Blood Ties (also available in VR through PlayStation VR), Lara's Nightmare and Co-Op Endurance for ourselves, we sat down to discuss 20 Year Collection with Crystal Dynamics' senior community manager Meagan Marie.
IBT: How important is it that Rise of the Tomb Raider on PS4 is more than just a GOTY edition?
Meagan Marie: It was really important for us, not just because we wanted to make sure this was a huge event and it offered new content for PS4 users, but because it is the 20-year anniversary. We really wanted to find a way to blend content that felt very nostalgic – that's full of Easter eggs and is something that classic fans would love – into the new direction of the franchise. Croft Manor was really the perfect way to do that, whether you were fighting off zombies or you're looking for Lara's father's will to reclaim your birth right.
It's not often that we get to see inside a game character's home. It being a safe space for Lara – until her nightmare anyway – what does that offer from a story-telling perspective?
It's a place that you can really dive into understanding the motivation and the history of Lara as a character. You learn a lot about her relationships with her family, her mother, her father, and how archaeology and exploration has always kind of been at the heart of her character. I think it provides an important understanding of her motivations and her drive, even as you continue to play Rise of the Tomb Raider and into the future of the franchise.
Croft Manor is very dark, very cluttered, which represents where Lara is as a character. Will we one day see the house return to its former glory?
We can't commit to anything specific, because obviously the team's just working on this at the moment, and we don't have any further announcements. I think that this is definitely signalling that Croft Manor... Lara is accepting that Croft Manor is very important to her, not just from an emotional and sort of sentimental standpoint, but it also holds secrets that are very valuable to her as... in her journey to becoming the Tomb Raider. I think that it is safe to say that it's not done in the franchise.
Endurance plays very differently to the main game, it's very focused on survival. To what extent was this idea decided on to challenge players in a different way and to what extent was it to challenge the developers?
We had people [when we were developing the reboot] that were very interested in having a more hardcore survival experience. At one point in time, there was a splinter team throwing around ideas before it went into full development. At some point in time they looked at hunger meters and cold meters, they even looked at a bone-breaking system, an injury system where she could like break a bone and you'd have to heal it. They were like "All this detracts from freedom of movement and traversal and the things that make Lara, Lara." A lot of that stuff, to keep that action/adventure pillar, that big entertainment pillar, was put to the sidelines. In Endurance mode, it was kind of a perfect opportunity to have that.
It's a really great way to challenge players to see how long they can survive and have that risk versus reward gameplay: is it worth calling for extraction because they've got a high score, do they want to keep going to raid tombs, and so on. It was a challenge both for us as a team to make it really compelling and also for fans playing it, it's quite a challenge.
These new modes and Xbox DLC has all been very different. It's offered something new to the game and to the series. Does CD see post-release content as a room to experiment?
Definitely. It all focuses on elements of what make Rise of the Tomb Raider great, pulled out into settings where we can experiment with them a little bit more. We have the puzzles and the traversal and the combat and the survival systems and all that blended seamlessly into these hubs and into the main narrative. Then, we want to pull them out for the different types of players.
In Baba Yaga we really focused on continuing the story and large puzzles. Cold Darkness Awakened, we wanted to try something blending puzzles and combat in this really high intensity situation. That was more for our action fans. Endurance was for people that wanted to try survival. We're like, "Let's try giving them meters, let's see how they feel about this and test it out." It's been the same with VR, same with Lara's Nightmare. It's really fun to experiment.
Also, to be a little less serious sometimes, because in the expedition modes, we have the card system and some of the cards are just ludicrous. They are so funny. We can have the very serious narrative-driven story in the main campaign, and we can have big head mode on zombies and Lara running with a rainbow trail in Cold Darkness Awake. It's fun. It's fun to just be a little silly sometimes.
Given Lara's history with PlayStation, can you understand why fans were upset with the Xbox exclusivity deal?
I think it's something that, especially as a community manager, you're very much aware. When we set out to make Rise of the Tomb Raider in partnership with Xbox the goal was ultimately to make the very best game that we could. We feel like we achieved that. We're very happy with the reception the game received. We were really able to push ourselves as a studio. That's why it was very, very important to us when we announced the PS4 version to make sure it felt like they got something that was worth celebrating and tons of new content.
What's your take on the perceived rivalry between Tomb Raider and Uncharted, that some fans love to think is this huge war, when....
It's not a huge war!
We love action adventure games, right? Uncharted is a fantastic series, and they do a lot of things very well. I think there's room for multiple franchises in the genre. I think the "rivalry" is just kind of silly. There is no rivalry between us. We compete with ourselves to try to improve upon our own games and so on. We also feel that we're very different games. Especially since we really settled on survival as our key lens that we took traversal and combat and all these things through. We just feel like we're very different games just in the same space.
What's next for Lara?
So much, right? It's cool, because if you look back at the 1998-1999 period of time, there had been a couple of Tomb Raider games out, Lara was becoming this pop culture icon, they started filming the Angelina Jolie movies, Top Cow announced new comic series. Now it's 2016 and we have two new games and the reboot out. The reboot itself was ... it sold the most copies out of any game in franchise history. There's a new movie being filmed with Alicia Vikander. The comics were rebooted through Dark Horse. We have the Lara Croft universe, which includes Lara Croft Go, that was chosen as Apple's game of the year on Apple platforms. So it feels like 20 years later, Lara's still doing really well, which is fantastic. It feels like we have so much to offer fans and that the universe is actually growing, which is a really wonderful thing. I know that's nothing specific, because we can't announce anything specific, but it's a really great time to be working on the franchise.
I'd forgotten about the movie. Alicia Vikander playing Lara is crazy.
She's so great. She's very excited, and having watched a lot of her past work, I think she's got that great blend of fierceness but also vulnerability that I think Lara's great for. The director, Roar [Uthaug], which his name is Roar, which is awesome... He's wonderful too. He just did a film called The Wave. It's about this cataclysmic event that happens, this absolutely insane situation, but it focuses on the story of a family within that. They're trying to survive and struggling through that. It's this amazing blend of intimate story-telling and narrative and character with this outlandish apocalyptic almost setting. It's really kind of easy to see how that would translate into telling something about this exceptional character in an extraordinary situation with Lara.
Are the film-makers collaborating with you in any way? Have they asked for advice?
They definitely consult with us. It is their movie, they have that creative control, but they've shared scripts and so on, so it's exciting to see that they definitely value our opinion as the experts.
Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration is out 11 October on PS4. The new modes will be made available to Xbox One and PC season pass holders.