Exciting, compelling and even prettier.
Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition boasts a couple of noteworthy improvements over the last-gen adventure, but otherwise is exactly the same exhilarating reboot.
First, the Definitive Edition includes the unsubstantial DLC; a couple of multiplayer maps in what is primarily a single-player game, and a few additional outfits for Lara you wouldn’t have seen if you played early on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. A few of these are modelled in the screens scattered below, including the tight-fitting archers outfit, which inexplicably reminds me of a mixture between Madonna and Halle Berry from Die Another Day, and my favourite, the 1930s explorer getup, complete with bum bag.
It also feels obliged to acknowledge some of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4’s new features. Both allow useless voice commands, while Kinect implements meaningless motion controls and the DualShock 4 can be used to shake off enemies rather than mash a button prompt. It’s all a waste of time, and can be turned off, aside from the PS4’s lightbar, which illuminates red when Lara dies and brightens as she unleashes bullets or ignites her torch in a dimly lit cavern. It’s a delightful novelty that’ll have Lara shot dead as you gaze down admiring a colourful light.
More importantly, the already strong visuals have been remastered for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 to surpass those offered by the PC release. The internet is ablaze with concerns about the PS4 sometimes hitting 60 frames-per-second, while the Xbox One is restricted to just 30. I’ve been playing on PlayStation 4, and only seen a little in action on One, but aside from a few theatrical cut-scenes where everything is on fire, I can’t imagine it significantly detracts from the experience or will be a deal-breaker if you’re entrenched in Microsoft’s corner; just be aware the PS4 holds a slight advantage if you’re neutral in the next-gen war.
Thanks largely to the haircare-sound-alike TressFX, Lara Croft has been updated with a more natural face and strands of hair that exist independently of each other — although she’s the only character to benefit from a glamorous makeover, as others persist with half-a-can of hairspray.
Camilla Luddington (Californication and True Blood) did a fantastic job portraying a raw, emotional Lara last year, honing the same intelligence and ambition that has always made her such a strong character. She binds together an engaging origins story that has you relate to Lara and her perilous ordeal. You know she’s going to make it, but Luddington’s performance, in collaboration with some fantastic art design, is one fraught with genuine uncertainty.
It’s improved by the next-gen machines allowing Luddington’s Croft to express a greater range of emotions. The pain is more evident in her facial expressions, and fear and sheer terror are better conveyed in her wandering eyes.
Lara looks incredible, but even more impressive is the extra detail found across the island. Foliage is more lush, the gritty rocks protrude from cliff faces and old wooden cabins are severely weathered. Wind effects add an extra layer of drama, with dust spiralling around the shanty town and embers sparking through the air, reflecting light, as Lara desperately tries to escape a burning fortress. It's capped off by enhanced lighting, creating a clearer divide between light and shadows and powering a more realistic world.
Young Lara is one tough cookie. The 21-year-old heroine is reborn as a survivor covered in horrifying scars and missing several pints of blood after a disastrous voyage goes horribly wrong. Shipwrecked on a forsaken island, lacking the confidence of a seasoned hero and pushed to her limits to survive, Lara Croft emerges as we’ve never seen her before.
It’s a narrative full of twists and turns, worthy of Hollywood acclaim. It would actually have made a great film, and yet doesn’t comprise the gameplay. It takes a dash of the Tomb Raider of old, infuses it with Uncharted, adds a hint of Assassin’s Creed, borrows some insanity from Far Cry 3 and makes it a little more flashy on what are now current-gen consoles.
The already strong visuals have been remastered for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 to surpass those offered by the PC release.
The only blight on an otherwise fantastic story is the lack of developed supporting characters. Lara’s mentor Roth is the only co-star to get some genuine face-time, while her bestie Sam assumes the role of damsel in distress. The remaining allies fill the background void. There’s the angry black chick, the calm fat dude and the practically inept nerd.
There’s only one megalomaniac baddie to speak of and he commands an army of faceless men — there’s also a serious lack of women living in the bizarre island society (it’s not a complaint, it’s an observation).
Tomb Raider opens slowly through a very set course. The first 90 minutes overuse quicktime events something painful, but thankfully it’s more of a tutorial in disguise. The linear beginnings teach you how to execute on-screen commands — later used in combat — and walk you through hunting and earning XP. Yes, there is experience. Lara’s survival skills are bought with points earned by mercilessly killing and scavenging for supplies, which proves to be a notably gratifying experience.
A word of warning: Lara is a screamer, especially during the opening hour or two. When you’re not pressing ‘Y’ or 'Triangle' as it moves between two circles, Lara is being beaten up, tied up and felt up. Kids, best turn the sound down or Mum might get the wrong idea and think you’re into a particularly violent kind of adult film.
Once we move past that, Tomb Raider evolves into an emotionally rich adrenaline-fuelled quest for survival. It borrows a lot from Uncharted, including a high body count, but unlike Drake’s Deception, there’s never too much combat. It all feels relevant to story (keeping in mind the fun of an action game) and is matched with some mind-tingling puzzles. The main quest won’t put your raiding abilities to the test, but optional “secret tombs” throw up some real doozies.
Armed with a stealthy bow, rifle, shotgun and handgun, Lara borders on becoming overpowered but developer Crystal Dynamics manages to keep the balance in-check. She doesn’t pull out a gun for a long while, and by the time you fire off your first grenade, it’s already become a necessity.
Climbing is Lara’s forte. Through some elegant motion capture, Croft moves naturally and flirts with danger. She manoeuvres swiftly and confidently, but falling to a grim death is always an all too real possibility. Her wall-scaling shines after acquiring the mountain axe, and places an added onus on the player. You have to remember to cling to some surfaces and grab ledges on others. If it all becomes too much, Lara’s intrinsic Survival Instinct vision will push you in the right direction.
We were only able to play a couple of rounds of multiplayer last time against other media outlets pre-launch, and it’s happened again on PlayStation 4. Developed separately by Eidos Montreal, multiplayer pits Lara-type survivors against baddies found in the single-player game. The hectic battlefield of free-for-all or team-based multiplayer loses much of the appeal of Croft’s carefully formed combat. At least it's a welcome distraction from online shooters, but Tomb Raider was, and still is, a single-player game that doesn’t need multiplayer to justify itself.
Tomb Raider has always taken Lara to exotic locations full of hidden undertones and crevasses to explore. The gritty reboot is no different. The island projects an eerie atmosphere of imminent failure with its dark and murky connotations and constant hounding thunderstorms. The sun occasionally breaks through to present stunning scenery full of mysterious island dwellings and spectacular mountain ridges.
Much, much more can be explored if you venture off the beaten path. Optional tombs hold unexpected secrets and often depict an otherwise unseen side of the island. You’ll also need to become a bona fide explorer to increase your Gamerscore or trophy collection — there are no story based achievements, and the relics and hidden documents are widely scattered across the surprisingly expansive landscape.
Last year, I said “Tomb Raider is a resounding success and one of the best reboots this generation.” One console generation later, and it’s still one of the best games you can play on either Xbox One or PlayStation 4. For those next-gen adopters who haven’t played it, this is the definitive version. The combat is engaging, the story is entertaining and the new Lara really is a Croft. For those who have, $80 is a step asking price for an enhanced version of a game you played just last year — a $10 or $20 upgrade would have been much more reasonable — but with little else filling the post-launch void, if you can justify the cost, Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition is worthy of a revisit.