I've been consulting Stella's excellent — often hilarious — guides for years, and so the fact that I've contributed one of my own to her archive is very, very surreal. If you went back and told past-me — sitting on his bed, controller in hand, laptop propped open on a pillow beside him as he went about collecting everything there is to collect in Tomb Raider: Legend — that this would one day be the case, he'd think you were insane.
Endure & Survive
When Rise of the Tomb Raider’s Endurance Mode was released back in December, I didn’t particularly care. For the most part, challenge-based expansions to games don’t appeal to me very much. I’d rather have something focused on telling a story.
It was with this attitude that I first dove into Endurance Mode. Predictably enough, I was less than impressed. It wasn’t long before Lara, vociferously in need of something to eat and well and truly aware of what hypothermia feels like, succumbed to the wilderness. And I didn’t care in the slightest. I turned off the Xbox and all but forgot about Endurance Mode’s existence. It slipped from my mind, and never quite found its way back.
Until, that was, a few weeks ago.
I’ve never been a fan — pun not intended, but welcome all the same — of the amount of noise the PlayStation 4 makes when it really gets going. After genuinely not noticing the thing once during my playing of Assassin’s Creed IV all the way back in 2013, I thought my prayers had been answered, that Sony had delivered a quiet console. Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, however, promptly shattered my illusions.
As I subjected myself to the almost-torture that was that game’s multiplayer in pursuit of the associated Trophies, my PlayStation 4 made its presence known. And, though the saving grace of it all is the fact that earphones can be plugged directly into the DualShock 4, it’s been getting on my nerves ever since. Sometimes more than others, but annoying me all the same.
Having been putting up with the noise — with varying degrees of success — things finally came to a head as I played Far Cry Primal. There are times when I just don’t want to wear earphones whilst playing, and Primal’s release coincided with one of them. The spell of that game’s often fantastic atmosphere being frequently broken by hoover-like noises coming from a PS4 that sounded as though it might, at any moment, sprout wings and take to the air, was the straw that didn’t just break the camel’s back, but chopped the thing in half.*
Emboldened by numerous successes I’d had a few years ago in repairing my original, ‘fat’ PlayStation 3 when it fell victim to the dreaded Yellow Light of Death, I took to Amazon and ordered some specialist screwdrivers and a tube of thermal paste, determined to finally so something about my PS4. When everything arrived, I unplugged the console, and set about it — only to discover, a few minutes in, that I had mistakenly bought the wrong screwdrivers…
Supremely frustrated, both with myself, and with the fact that the ‘surgery’ was going to have to wait a few more days, I took the various pieces of my deconstructed PlayStation, set them aside — and found myself suddenly without anything to play.
And thus it was that I returned to the Xbox One, and Rise of the Tomb Raider.
I’d intended on nothing more than clearing up a few of the single-player Achievements I’d yet to unlock, but, in checking them off the list, found myself compelled to go after some of those exclusive to Endurance Mode. And so, despite those unfavourable first impressions, I jumped back in.
With one difference.
When I’d first ventured into the Siberian wilderness, I’d done so on the same difficulty setting on which I’d played through Rise’s campaign, Survivor. Normally, for no other reason than the fact that I like a challenge, I am loathe of play games on anything below the Hard difficulty. In this instance, however, I wasn’t looking for a challenge. I was there for the Achievements, nothing more. So I knocked the difficulty right down to Adventurer — and had a great time. (Not a flawless time, mind you, but a great one all the same.)
Rise of the Tomb Raider’s Endurance Mode is the closest thing to the realisation of a few not particularly serious conversations I had a few years ago with a friend of mine — the same friend I mentioned in my review of Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, who is largely responsible for my having gotten into Tomb Raider when I did. We were talking about the realism of the games, and speculating on how amusing it would be if Lara had to eat to keep going on her expeditions, if she had to sleep, if she had to — we were teenagers at the time… — pop into the bushes to relieve herself.
Thankfully, the latter isn’t a feature of Endurance Mode. Nor is sleeping — although that may have added an extra layer of difficulty to proceedings. Venturing into a seemingly endless forest in the Siberian wilderness, Lara must scavenge for food and keep herself warm to avoid succumbing to an untimely death, all the while searching for scattered artefacts, and fending off dangerous animals, Trinity agents and — to top it all off — the increasingly occasional group of Deathless Ones.
Doesn’t seem too bad when you put it like that, eh? Especially having already fought through Rise’s campaign. Well…
By default, Endurance Mode strips Lara of the majority of skills she learned over the course of Rise’s story. Weapons, too, are lost. Lara sets out with the most basic of bows and a mere handful of arrows. Video game logic, eh?
Fortunately, skills can be remastered, and arrows replenished by scavenging feathers and wood. Further weapons can be plucked from the corpses of Trinity agents and upgraded at basecamps. In short, if you’re prepared to put in the work — and can, of course, survive long enough to do so — you can restore Lara to the survival machine she becomes in the main game. Doing so isn’t particularly challenging — and players can, if they wish, bypass the whole process by bolstering Lara with various Cards before setting out. Used carefully, these Cards can send Lara into the field fully upgraded, and with an arsenal of powerful weapons right from the off. So, like I said: not particularly challenging.
What is challenging, however, is surviving the wilderness. Keeping Lara warm enough to continue putting one foot in front of the other, well fed enough to quiet — quite literally — her hunger, becomes increasingly difficult as the days pass. And then there’s the matter of trying to balance them both before venturing into resource-starved crypts in search of the valuable loot Lara is out to find. Unfortunately, there seem to be only a handful of crypt layouts, and the sense of trepidation felt when first entering them is lost after a few runs through Endurance Mode.
What isn’t lost, though, is that thing I’ve mentioned as nauseam in reference to Rise: the sense of exploration. For me, that, above all, is Endurance Mode’s greatest strength. Thanks to the non-linear, procedurally generated forest, no two expeditions feel quite the same, and the lack of any real story makes said expeditions feel like more personal adventures. You, the player, decide what to do, where to go, and when. If you encounter a group of enemies, you can simply turn around and walk away. There’s no need to fight them to get to the next part of the game.
And then there’s the atmosphere of it all. This is all me, because I love the close, pressing, almost claustrophobic feel of frozen, snow landscapes. There’s just something about them, something dreamlike and infinite. They’re a playground in which to have an adventure. And that’s exactly what Endurance Mode is when at its best: an adventure.
It’s not without its flaws, though. As in the main game, Lara talks way too much. ‘It’s getting colder…’, ‘I’m going to need something to eat.’, ‘They’re here…’
Barely a moment goes by without her offering some comment on her situation, and the lack of a story to at least make said comments interesting only serves to highlight how completely unnecessary they are. It must also be said that it could be made much clearer that, in order to unlock the Achievements tied to Endurance Mode, the associated Challenge must be set before venturing into the forest.
These are very minor complaints, though, and don’t, in any way, affect my newfound love for Endurance Mode.
I don’t know what was wrong with me when I first tried it, but I was clearly out of my mind.