To The Manor Reborn: Thoughts On Rise Of The Tomb Raider’s Anniversary DLC

It’s a celebration! 20 years of Tomb Raider! Lara, it’s your birthday! Time to throw on some gladrags and… Lara? Oh no. You’re moping again, aren’t you?

Being altogether a bit dour is hardly a problem exclusive to Lara Croft when it comes to our modern-day action heroes – hello Nolan Batman, hello hello Season 6 Buffy, and most recently hello joyless Adam Jensen 2.0 – but I sorely miss the more enthusiastic, unflustered Lara of yore. I’d hoped that the 20th anniversary add-on for Rise of the Tomb Raider [official site] might hark back to that, both as a link to the past and because nu-Lara has earned her stripes now.

Of course it doesn’t. The rebooted Tomb Raider stars a Lara Croft who forever sounds like she’s just been told to go to bed early, and the Anniversary add-on recently added to it retains the same dour spirit despite being themed around a return to the famous Croft Manor. Lara’s sprawling homestead was absent from 2013’s hard reset Tomb Raider, but is now the centrepiece of the new 20 Year Celebration DLC.

It appears in two flavours. One is Lara’s Nightmare, a fairly routine zombie-shooting survival mode, and the other a standalone adventure called Blood Ties, which leans towards a point and click adventure/mystery game in almost a Broken Sword flavour.

It’s not actual point and click, of course, but the principles are there: find objects, open doors, glean clues from notes. There’s a little bit of crate-pushing and a couple of walls get smashed with a crowbar, but otherwise action it is not. It’s slow-burn and hung around gradually gaining access to locked-off bits of the manor. Why Lara does not simply kick down the doors in a place that is already in a terrible state is a question that is never posed nor answered.

Blood Ties is conceptually interesting not just because it tweaks the Rise formula into something new, but also because it’s preoccupied with Lara’s own history and identity.

Croft Manor’s latest iteration is that of a stately home gone to seed, abandoned for years following the death of Lara’s parents and her own decision to take up a life of adventure. The artists go to town with spooky halls, musty wine cellars and ancient oaks collapsed through plate-glass windows. The Manor shifts between spooky and sad, clearly influenced by the unsettling homecoming of Gone Home, and perhaps very quietly having something to say about how much legacy was thrown out of the (tree-damaged) window with 2013’s Uncharted-inspired do-over.

I must admit to being somewhat distracted by curiosity and some outrage about how such a prime piece of real-estate could possibly remain unsold and uninhabited in these property-starved times, but I suppose the Tomb Raider series stems from a time when wealthy figures were considered aspirational rather than hateful.

Perhaps this is why Blood Ties gives us a ruin, instead of seeing Lara living in extreme opulence attended by her very own manservant. In 2016 we can empathise with her when she’s wearing torn clothes and making things from sticks and stones, but perhaps not if she’s Richie Rich.

I get it. It’s a smart enough reinterpretation of Lara’s relationship with her homestead: she has left an old life of comfort behind in favour of the hazard-strewn road. The problem, for me, is Lara herself.

The new games have repositioned the character as a relative newcomer to Indiana Jonesing, and as someone uncertain of herself who steadily grows in confidence the more buildings she falls off. Perhaps sensible, in an age which seems to demand origin stories rather than ready-made heroes, but I’m not convinced it requires her to be quite as dour as it does. As with Rise, the new Blood Ties is preoccupied with Lara’s orphan status, and her drive to follow in her father’s footsteps.

This means that she remains rueful and doubtful, something that a strong voice actor could probably lend gravitas and charisma to. Sadly the current Lara voice does not, seeming to be stranded in a bored-sounding half-whine that is a massive disservice to the strong, capable, adventurous character it’s attached to.

I honestly couldn’t say whether the problem is the dialogue, the actor or the direction (or some combination), but I can only pray that something dramatic changes when the inevitable sequel wheels around. We’re told time and again that this Lara is a badass, and she endlessly demonstrates that in her main-game actions – I just wish she sounded like it too.

This made it very difficult for me to feel involved in a family mystery that is too thinly-sketched from the offset as it is. This tale is fleshed out by a glut of over-long written letters which fail to provide the pulse already lacking from the dialogue. Short and punchy would have made them work, but a wall of text from unseen characters does not. There is tragedy here, and familial love too, but it’s drowning in a sea of drabness – a missed opportunity to tie all the threads of this character together, and to the series’ past.

As for the puzzle side of things, it’s effective in ushering you around a huge and atmospheric house in stages, but it’s all fixed to a small set of objects and found letters, many of which require using Lara’s convenient puzzle-o-vision to identify, so there’s none of the organic exploratory quality of Gone Home. You bounce from specific clue to specific clue, with a bit of gentle maths required to put a couple of them together. All told it comes across as though the elaborate manor location was made first, and then some sort of game stuck onto it afterwards.

I appreciate the effort and ambition to make something very different from the base game – there’s no quicktiming or rockclimbing or headshotting, and it’s all contained within the one large location – but its mechanical nature and drab VO rips away both the mystery and the joy it really needs. The extra zombie-blasting mode, while diverting enough in a fairly familiar COD zombies sort of fashion, heightens the suspicion that this might have been a level no-one quite knew what to do with.

I’m probably guilty of hoping that, now that the nu-Lara groundwork is established, Tomb Raider might now feel more free to re-embrace the tonal qualities that we loved the original games for. ‘Celebtration’ or no, I shouldn’t realistically expect add-on content for a game which very deliberately employs a dour vibe to somehow depart from that. Happy 20th birthday, Lara. I hope you find your way home one day.

The Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration Pack DLC is free to season pass owners, or can be added to the standard edition for £6.99/$9.99.

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20 Comments

  1. TheAngriestHobo says:

    Didn’t the first Tomb Raider game come out, like, yesterday?

    Father Time, you are a right bastard.

  2. Turkey says:

    If it doesn’t have the skeleton of a butler locked in the freezer, they messed up severely.

  3. Michael Manning says:

    “Sadly the current Lara voice does not, seeming to be stranded in a bored-sounding half-whine that is a massive disservice to the strong, capable, adventurous character it’s attached to.”

    The voice ruined Rise of the Tomb Raider for me, well that and the script…and the story. She sighed every word. Very forced, it was too much.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Her musings at the campfires were the worst. “So very sad, all those dead bodies I’m responsible for. But I must press on for the higher purpose.” And then proceeds to headshot another hundred mooks. Give me a break.

      Maybe the next game will let her finally embrace her inner BJ Blazkowicz, and not be oh-so-emotionally vulnerable.

      • Geebs says:

        They already did that in the first one, when Lara picks up the grenade launcher, and it was terribly off-putting.

        I would love it if they could give the character some bollocks and cut out all the daddy issues and nasal whining. At least they got rid of that utter weed, Sam.

  4. Creeping Death says:

    “must admit to being somewhat distracted by curiosity and some outrage about how such a prime piece of real-estate could possibly remain unsold and uninhabited in these property-starved times, ”

    It’s a freaking MANOR in Surrey. No one could afford that shit.

  5. Von Uber says:

    Have to confess I am thoroughly enjoying the reboot series (having played the TR1 and 2 when they came out, but losing my way after TR3). I find the style of game much more engaging (at the tender age of 36 and with 1 and soon 2 children) and easy to play in the time I have available.

    However the voice actor does vary in quality, and the main storyline of the maingame is bobbins, that is true, but I find the core gameplay mechanics very satisfying. The game also looks incredible.

    The DLC storyline itself could have been better told but I enjoyed reading the tale although the Manor layout doesn’t make much sense. I don’t really mind the characterisation of this Lara. She does feel more like a real person and I can see what they are trying to do, although the ludo narrative dissonance (drink) is very present. I think that has to be the case though otherwise she would be a borderline psychopath with very little room for character development.

    One thing missing from this review is the addition of the Co-Op mode to the Endurance DLC. I played this the other night for a few hours with a mate and it was a complete hoot. More like that would be very welcome.

  6. Fredward says:

    Played the base game recently (spoilers, obvs) and there was this one bit where Lara was thinking to herself “I’ve arrived with the distinct purpose of discovering and/or stealing the source of immortality and I can just sense these people really want to be relieved of it anyway, despite their long and continued history of THE EXACT OPPOSITE, so really I’m doing them a FAVOUR by taking it!” and I was like wooosh Lara your British is showing.

    My body count was obscene so I find the emotional vulnerability even more obscene. Becoming bitter and jaded seems infinitely more human to me than being so unaffected by what you’re doing that it doesn’t even register in your camp-fire-reflections. It’s psychopathic or neurotically self-absorbed.

    Which made me wonder whether the disconnect was intentional. Maybe canon Lara is a huge pacifist and really only kills when she has to. But it’s weird to implement that kind of thing in game, while the player can be Queen High Slaughter.

    I dunno much about the writer and I haven’t read any interviews about Lara as a character so I dunno if this is a situation where the writer is aware their character has flaws and is portraying them as well as they can within the restrictions of working with others or whether it’s an attempt at Sincerely Vulnerable Sue that just causes cognitive dissonance for everyone else.

    OTOH there were moments of genuine fire from Lara, when she was about to call Anna a cnut and the way she glared at whatshisface after he slapped her and when she shot Anna in the shoulder. It’s there. Is it there intentionally, something we’ll see more and more of or just a weird aberration before returning to our regular schedule of selectively opaque reflection?

    Also, Luddington sounds like an entirely normal person on Grey’s so I’m gonna lay the blame for the perennially OTT delivery on the direction or the writing.

  7. elevown says:

    That’s odd – I was thinking back to what house I lived in when I played the 1st tombraider – and how old I would of been.. and by my estimates it’s 20th anniversary should of been 3 or 4 years ago? But If that’s what they say I guess I’m remembering wrong..

  8. satan says:

    Hopefully next game in the series has less dude killing and more tomb raiding.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Mungrul says:

    I’m with you with Lara’s current voice actor Alec.
    The 20th Anniversary Edition with the DLC bundled is my first time through Rise, and I’ve been consistently annoyed with how poor the voice acting is in an otherwise superb, if slightly over-long, package.
    For me, the awful voicework is at its most obvious when Lara’s describing artifacts, with completely inappropriate emphasis and incredibly bad timing. It makes it very hard to believe that Lara’s an accomplished archaeologist when her voice actor quite blatantly doesn’t comprehend a speck of what she’s talking about.

    On top of Lara’s performance, you have the ridiculous concept that an isolationist people who are the descendants of Greek religious refugees who fled to Siberia a millennium ago all speak with bland North American English accents.

    I’ve obviously been spoiled by the stellar voice direction in games like Witcher 3 and MGS V recently. But it’s just not acceptable for such an obviously high production value game to scrimp so massively on both voice talent and the people necessary to direct said talent.

  10. Brinx says:

    Calling season six-Buffy a bit dour might be a slight understatement. I mean, the girl’s been to heaven and now hell is other people, something, something, existentialism.

  11. hassi44 says:

    Gamers whining about Lara being whiney… stay classy

    • strawdog says:

      Equality means we hold everyone to the same standards and if Nathan Drake was crying about killing people while capping half the third-world we’d call that out too.

      I’ve had her monologuing about the fragility of life and how she hates bloodshed at a camp fire while my recently stabbed victim’s ragdoll roasts gently on the fire. It’s ridiculous.

      • hassi44 says:

        While I can agree with the the ridiculousness of complaining about bloodshed after brutally annihilating 20+ people in variously grotesque ways, I still find it quite easy to look past it. This game is not just a reboot but a redesign of Lara’s character. This game is about her very first ‘Tomb Raid’ with the only real disaster experience being the prior game. I find that in this version, she hasn’t had the time or the experience to become the Lara Croft that we know and love. From the perspective of each situation, the majority of the time she doesn’t have much of a choice. It’s either kill or be killed and that makes it a tad easier for me to look past the body count.

        That being said, I do concede that she could tone it down a bit at the camp fires, but it doesn’t have to be game breaking. So many people treat this as a flaw that makes the game unplayable but I respectfully disagree with that. It’s a bit of a flaw, yes, but I don’t see why it has to be game breaking for so many players. I get that it screws a bit with the immersion, but it’s not like she’s complaining a lot on foot. It’s pretty much just the camp fires and though they are an ever present and important aspect of the game, they aren’t the majority of the gameplay.

        Anyways, to each his own. I could have been more respectful in my previous comment but I was trying (poorly) to be funny. :)

        • Josh W says:

          It could have been cool if they’d implemented a kind of chaos system, like dishonoured, but primarily relating to how unnecessary your killing is. I’m not sure quite how you’d want to change Lara’s dialog though. More relaxed? Actually vengeful in some way? Authentic relateable emotional states for killing ridiculous numbers of people are tricky to find.

  12. strawdog says:

    Very dissapointed in the lack of proper mansion that I can have fun in. I can’t remember which of the LAST reboot series had the best mansion but it recalled to the very active mansion of TR2.

  13. woodsey says:

    I think an actual tomb to raid might have been more interesting. I mean, they are going to get around to one of those at some point, right?

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