Last year, Crystal Dynamics created one of my favorite games of the year, Tomb Raider. A reboot of a franchise that I am very familiar with, since it’s initial release. The new Tomb Raider looked great, even on the aging hardware of the last console generation. And though console gamers didn’t get the fancy TressFX and high resolutions that the PC release saw, the gameplay and story showed up in a major way and Lara became fresh again, if naïve and vulnerable.
Having thoroughly enjoyed Tomb Raider last year, I wasn’t thrilled about the announcement of a new and improved “Definitive Edition” on new gen consoles. Was this just a gussied up rereleased cash-in? Was there enough here to warrant the infamous “double dip”?
Lara Croft is aboard a ship with a team, some archeologists, some technicians, etc. The search is for the legendary island Yamatai. Before long the ship is sunk, the crew scattered, and Lara’s first big adventure begins. She will learn lessons of courage and fear, death and survival, and she will grow up quite rapidly on Yamatai.
Despite her enemies being very stupid at times (not even talking about the AI, but the scripted writing), the story is interesting enough and the voice acting is great across the board, though there a some flubs that the Voice Over director should have caught. But any gripes with the story or minor acting goofs shouldn’t tear down the experience too much. This is a game about adventure, and the story is a big part of that, but playing (experiencing) the adventure is of the most import. In this instance, I’m just grateful that the story is as good as it is. We have a good villain or two, some surprises and a reason to keep the adventure going long enough to be enjoyable and not so long that it wears out its welcome.
In previous games in the franchise, Tomb Raider was less about combat than exploration and puzzle solving. The pendulum has swung at least a little more in the combat direction with the latest entry, Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition. Combat is skill based, with headshots rewarding the player with faster takedowns and extra points, but enemies are easy enough to take down with body shots and melee attacks. If you take enough hits, you will die, but Tomb Raider is more about making you believe you are about to die, than actually killing you. Enemies will throw Molotov cocktails to flush you out of cover, and then fire arrows and bullets once you are exposed, but as long as you stay moving and shooting, you should be alright. Tomb Raider is very much about atmosphere, so the tension is high during most enemy encounters thanks to music, visual and sound effects.
Since combat plays such a big role in TR, there are several weapons, each with many minor upgrades to improve them along the way. This is part of the adventure, unlocking the next bow upgrade makes for a good carrot to keep chasing while you are trying to uncover the mysteries of the island.
There are many perks also that you can apply with skill points acquired through experience points. These perks, such as finding more ammo when looting bodies, and
Obviously, in a game being rereleased as the “definitive” edition and with a fresh experience on next gen consoles, TR has received some visual upgrades from its last gen counterparts.
The resolution is upped to 1080p and gameplay is smooth, even with plenty going on on-screen. The lighting is quite stunning at times and I found myself playing with a torch just to see enjoy the real-time lighting. I also spent far too long walking slowly underneath trees to see the shadows cast across Lara. Everything is looks great, with the exception of a couple of fire and water effects that point out how far we really are from real-life graphics. I did experience a graphical glitch that had Lara’s face bear dirt and grime, even in flashback scenes, far before she would be worming her way through caves, but aside from that, the looks are top notch and a delight for anyone enjoying Lara’s adventure for the first time.
For anyone considering picking up Tomb Raider as a second playthrough after first experiencing it on Xbox 360 or PS3, I can’t say that the jump in graphics warrant a recommendation. It looks mighty handsome, but it wasn’t a dog on the 360 version.
The voice acting is very good, with good sense of character from each of the actors.
The sound effects are subtle but fitting. There aren’t that many sources for audio in the game, so there is a limited amount of sounds. But during cutscenes and scripted playable events, the sound is engrossing and definitely adds to the overall experience.
The music is the key to the drama though. I found myself getting tense during scenes that I had already played through and knew the outcome, because of the music. It fits well into the atmosphere, but fits perfectly into the moments that have you struggling for Lara’s life.
Rating Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition is a bit challenging. I feel like there should actually be two scores. One for people who have already played Tomb Raider in it’s less definitive edition, and one for people who are completely new to Lara’s adventure.
For those coming to Yamatai for the first time, you have a fantastic adventure awaiting you. You will find beautiful visual effects and captivating sounds and wildlife and swaying foliage. You will enjoy killing enemies that will hunt you and flush you out of cover so that they can attack you in the open. And despite the minor glitches and imperfections, Tomb Raider remains a top shelf action adventure game that I have to recommend.
Four and a half out of Five
On the other hand, if you have already had a good run on the mysterious island and killed it’s savage inhabitants, I don’t think the visual upgrades and added physics effects warrant a second purchase. But if you are a serious fan and have to own the best version, then this is it (well, the PS4 version is, technically).