by Matthew Thompson
One thing I have sorely missed in the rebooted Tomb Raider series is Croft Manor. Over the years, Lara’s family home has served many purposes from training ground to self-contained Metroidvania-esque experience to plot-driven setpiece location. In 2008’s Tomb Raider: Underworld, we even discovered a hidden tomb lying beneath the Croft estate in the game’s underrated DLC Beneath the Ashes. We did get brief glimpses of the Manor during cutscenes in last year’s Rise of the Tomb Raider, but it wasn’t until this Fall’s downloadable content titled Blood Ties that we would be able to fully explore the famous heroine’s home again for the first time in nearly a decade.
A dispute over inheritance is what brings us back here, leading Miss Croft on a hunt through the dusty recesses of the house to prove it should be left to her instead of her uncle. This is really just a flimsy excuse for the player and Lara to take a trip down memory lane. Documents and artifacts found throughout the mansion will flesh out the Croft family history, painting a picture of Lara’s parents’ relationship and detailing her childhood. This includes cute touches like reliving Lara’s first treasure hunt set up by her father for her birthday. Long-time fans will notice a myriad of Easter eggs sprinkled throughout as well like a reference to every raider’s favorite pastime: locking dutiful butler Winston in the freezer. Your final discovery is a worthwhile ending to your short trek into the past.
From a gameplay perspective, Blood Ties focuses on a mix of exploration and light puzzle-solving. The combat that was so prevalent in Rise’s main adventure takes a seat on the bench for this short outing. Though the game’s gear-gating carries over as finding certain items – for example a lighter or crowbar – will help gain you access to more of the Manor. Beyond this, the DLC smartly integrates the documents and artifacts you find into the puzzle aspect, forcing you to study these in order to progress.
While I do wish Blood Ties featured some of the platforming elements the series is known for, I found this to be a wonderful way to explore Lara’s family history as well as the series’ past given the various nods to it throughout, while also physically exploring a location I love in Croft Manor.
I was delighted to find out that Blood Ties wouldn’t be my only opportunity to head back to the Manor this year. Alongside the recently released PS4 version of Lara Croft Go came a new expansion set inside Lara’s place. Whereas Blood Ties offered up a different style of play than the main adventure, this new addition to Go titled The Mirror of Spirits sticks closely to the game’s existing formula. Here the Manor is just the aesthetic that surrounds a new set of brainteasers in Go’s typical turn-based tomb raiding.
That isn’t to say there aren’t any new twists to the formula as you traipse through the treasure room and waltz about the ballroom along with a number of the mansion’s other spaces. As with each new area that came before, The Mirror of Spirits packs some new puzzle elements like switches that take on the form of rays of light that are activated by living creatures, often tasking you with manipulating your foes to triggering them to progress. Lara Croft Go has never been afraid to stoke the fires of nostalgia in numerous ways right down to Lara’s blocky model and that is no different here. Reminiscent of past games, Lara will encounter a doppelganger-esque entity who matches her movements in a mirror world. The results are some of Spirits’ biggest stumpers as you are tasked with calculating what each move will do to you and your twin.
Both of these recent additions to two of 2015’s standout titles were a wonderful way to bring Croft Manor back for long-time raiders. They certainly don’t top the estate’s best appearance – Tomb Raider: Anniversary’s is the top Manor for my money – but I still enjoyed heading back home in both games.