Hiding, fighting, fleeing; surviving – Tomb Raider Definitive Edition easily hits the same high notes that the original did just over ten months ago. Fundamentally this Definitive Edition is a straight port of last years critically applauded Tomb Raider reboot, albeit with the inclusion of some truly impressive visual upgrades – especially with regards to Lara herself, whose character model is nothing short of incredible. As a returning player though it’s a little hard not be let down that outside small additions like extra costumes, and the improved visual fidelity, there’s no compelling reason to take a return trip to the cursed isle of Yamatai. Does a more human looking Lara, and some of gaming’s most realistic hair alone make Tomb Raider worth playing through again? That’s the real question and, the answer, sadly, is no.
That’s not to say Crystal Dynamic’s Lara Croft adventure is any less of a great experience now than it was upon it’s initial release. Lara’s heart pounding tale of survival, and resolve in the face of traumatic disaster is still utterly captivating, and occasionally truly shocking. Her trek across the treacherous island of Yamatai is utterly engrossing, Crystal Dynamics seemingly pulls much inspiration from Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series, choosing to imbue their journey with a cinematic quality that see’s some well scripted sequences that frequently amaze. These cinematic moments regularly provide some incredible set pieces, though they often fall prey to predictability, multiple times I found myself correctly guessing what would happen using a simple mantra “expect the worst” – if a bridge looks unstable it’s probably going down – with Lara on it. Thankfully the predictability is a small misgiving considering the sequences otherwise high quality.
In this Definitive Edition graphical enhancements certainly account for the lions share of improvements. Tomb Raider was never visually unimpressive, the original version was already stunning, masterfully squeezing the last generation consoles for all the juice they had. Never was there a moment when playing on Playstation 3 a year ago did I say to myself “this game could look better” – yet the Definitive Edition successfully incorporates the extra power of PS4 and Xbox One to marvellous effect. Gloomy lighting effects capture the grimness of the lost isle, textures look richer, particle effects are noticeably denser, and Lara’s new character model steals the show – particularly her face which looks more natural than ever. The improvements build on the already beautiful foundations to deliver an experience that’s visually comparative to PC, and one of home consoles best looking games, period. Visual polish emphasises what was already great but, aesthetic updates are unable to resolve the prominent problems I had the first time around.
Tomb Raider focuses intensely on the origin of Lara, showing her natural ability to survive against all odds in an adventure that sees her grow from whimpering cast-away into the kick-ass hardened archaeologist we remember. The jarring speed of her transformation can’t be fixed with visual upgrades though, it’s still not believable that Lara, who was physically revolted by killing a man in self-defence, would unemotionally dispatch a dozen men with a bow literally seconds later. But she does. In one memorable scene toward the end Lara graphically caves in a man’s skull with a ice pick, before yelling one a liner – I found it difficult to swallow a girl who struggled to kill a deer would be capable of such a bloody act mere days later. It’s not a problem that taints the experience, mostly down to Lara being wholly likeable character, but the hasty transition certainly pulled me out of the experience a few times. Outside of the enduring heroine the supporting cast is made up of largely forgettable one dimensional stereotypes including geeky young man, sassy woman and slimy professor. Even the villain is paper thin, the mystery of the island, and Lara’s trials proving far more interesting than the plans of the nemesis.
Despite promotional emphasis on survival Tomb Raider is hardly a survival experience past the first couple of hours. It excels at building a tense atmosphere with stressful encounters against small groups of enemy, and has Lara explore some spooky environments wielding nothing, but her trusty bow. Before long Lara gains access to new abilities, weapons and upgrades that see her become far more capable causing the survival element to flake away revealing a core of intense action. It’s a welcoming gradual pace change that I didn’t notice until near the end when I was tactically engaging groups of enemies in their tens, and suddenly remembered that for significant portion of time Lara wasn’t even in possession of a gun. Sneakily increasing the action, and decreasing the survival aspect as time goes on is a master stroke that compliments the narrative and, stopped any one aspect becoming stale. Increasingly frequent engagements against Yamatai’s inhabitants don’t get tiring either thanks to a similar variation in environment and enemy design.
During her pilgrimage across Yamatai Lara is able to travel off the beaten path to gather up a whole host of collectables, much like Metroid or Castlevania new equipment opens up explorable areas in old locations. More importantly by straying from the linear story Lara can do what the title deceptively suggests is the point of the game – raid tombs. Yamatai is home to a disappointingly small number of tombs that have Lara solve optional rudimentary puzzles to uncover hidden treasures. Whilst the reboot sets its sights on creating an adrenaline pumping action experience these tombs are a refreshing pace change; it would’ve been nice to see just a few more than the seven included – one of which was previously DLC only. Despite their relative simplicity the conundrums presented are fairly creative, and intelligently constructed, they’re genuinely fun to take part in.
Outside of the obvious technical leap the Definitive Edition also includes all of the previously released DLC, though that’s nothing to get worked up about. In terms of single player the extra content includes one extra tomb, as previously mentioned, and a host of different costumes for Lara to wear – including an awesome 1940’s bomber jacket. The rest of the extras relate to the multiplayer suite, which hasn’t magically gotten better. It’s still a dull shoehorned in uncreative team deathmatch mode that has players on opposing teams gun each other down using simplistic mechanics pillaged from the single player that simply weren’t designed for multiplayer. It’ll serve as an hour distraction for some, but most will probably never even touch it. On the plus side the online does seen somewhat improved technically, as I suffered none of the slowdown, lag or latency issues that plagued my experience on Playstation 3.
Tomb Raider was quite simply one of the best games of 2013, Lara’s tragic tale of survival, and overcoming adversity is absolutely engrossing. This Definitive Edition is undoubtedly the best version of the fantastic title; it’s incredibly easy to recommend to newcomers as an absolute must play. Returning fans however, had best ask themselves how willing they are to play through the exact same adventure again with little more than a higher aesthetic quality to pull them through the journey. Regardless of previous experience Tomb Raider is brilliant from start to finish, it’s tense early chapters get the heart pumping, while later portions are representative of a great action game. Crystal Dynamic’s reboot is as great today as it was ten months ago.