Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition Review
Tomb Raider was one of 2013's most entertaining, accomplished titles. And while the new Definitive Edition has generated plenty of controversy, there's no doubt that Crystal Dynamics' gripping adventure is just as great as ever. The additional improvements and enhancements bump the score up to the elite 9+ category, as far as I'm concerned. I still say there are missed opportunities with the narrative, there's too much focus on grossly exaggerated segments, and the multiplayer isn't anything special (though quite functional).
Still, this is most certainly a worthy adventure. Even if you already embarked upon the rewarding quest last year, you might have to spring for the upgraded version.
As you would expect, playing Tomb Raider on the PlayStation 4 is quite the experience. Sure, the gameplay feels the same, and one could argue that because the game wasn't specifically designed for next-gen consoles, it's not as impressive as it could've been. However, don't dismiss the graphical achievements: Better textures, lighting, animations and special effects make the game all the more dynamic and mesmerizing. From slippery, intimidating cliffs to surprisingly beautiful tropical sunsets, the atmosphere instills a sense of awe and wonder in the player. Yes, Lara's hair is more realistic. But let's not get caught up in trivialities, 'cuz the game looks fantastic.
Some technical guru is going to have to explain this to me, but for some reason, I've been disappointed with the sound presentation in next-gen productions thus far. The acting is good and the resounding effects still make you grin, but the balancing seems off. I don't recall these minor balancing issues in last year's effort, do you? I don't know what it is about the new hardware that's making the audio lose its stability, but I sense it in nearly every PS4 game I've played thus far. That all being said, the sound quality remains very high throughout, and it really shines during the most energetic sequences. Those with awesome sound systems will appreciate it all the more.
If you didn't play the game in 2013, here's a refresher- Lara Croft is a young adventurer and scientist who sets off on a dangerous exposition. The exposition becomes a moot point, however, as the team becomes stranded on a mysterious island. This is where things start to spiral out of control for the fresh-faced "tomb raider;" she has to learn how to survive on her own in a hostile environment, which means honing her newly discovered skills. Something strange is happening on the island, too, and Lara is faced with obstacle after obstacle. Perhaps most intriguing is the otherworldly element; it seems that bad weather blows up any time someone tries to escape the island.
As I said above, this narrative was loaded with potential. For the most part, I think the developers do a decent job presenting Lara Croft as a scared, vulnerable young woman who, despite being physically fit, isn't unrealistically proportioned. It's a great overhaul of a video game icon and I appreciate the effort. Still, given the harsh psychology of the situation, there's a lot more Crystal Dynamics could've done with her mindset and overall capability. She obviously has some natural talent with weapons and acrobatics but it's ridiculous how fast she learns it all. The transformation from civilian to warrior just isn't examined in enough detail.
Of course, that takes a back seat to the following redeeming fact: The adventure is just plain fun. Wonderfully balanced, very diverse, and captivating from start to finish, you'll explore dark, dense forests, freaky caves, and even villages. There are tombs to locate and raid (wouldn't be Tomb Raider without 'em), collectibles to gather, and plenty of foes to vanquish. The third-person combat is solid, stable and gratifying. Whether Lara is using her trusty climbing ax to deal a killing blow, or she's zooming in from afar to take out unsuspecting guards, everything is smooth and responsive. The climbing mechanics are especially outstanding.
My two favorite highlights are the same once again: 1. The game utilizes a linear format, in that you progress from area to area and can't jump ahead. Even so, you're allowed to backtrack whenever you like, which is essential for treasure hunters. There's also no knowing if you'll run into more bad guys when you revisit certain areas, so there's an ongoing sense of urgency and caution, even when exploring. 2. I love the traditional adventure progression; I still give The Legend of Zelda credit for this- get a particular tool or skill, and you can access more of the world. And because of my first highlight, going back to discover new stuff is a breeze.
Enemy AI isn't excellent but it can be challenging, and the player usually has a choice concerning stealth vs. all-out action. Alerting any guard will unfortunately alert every bad guy in the vicinity, though, so you probably won't be resorting to stealth tactics too often. Besides, this game is really at its best when you're laying the smackdown with Lara. It's especially rewarding because of her ever-increasing ability; she doesn't merely learn new combat techniques or get more proficient with certain weapons. She also becomes a stronger survivor with keener instincts. Again, they don't do enough with this progression from a psychological standpoint, but it's still great to experience.
Okay, I know you're probably wondering what's new about the Definitive Edition. Well, aside from the obvious graphical upgrade, there's more content as well. Almost all the downloadable content is included; there are new multiplayer maps, new weapons, and new characters. As for the campaign, there's a new tomb and new outfits, the latter of which I'd normally view as trivial but hey...this is Lara Croft. New outfits are always appreciated! Then there's the next-gen additions, such as the voice commands. Just say "pistol," for example, and Lara switches to her pistol. It works pretty darn well, actually, but I couldn't train my brain to speak before pressing a button. It's just too ingrained.
Do the extras make the Definitive Edition worth $60? Of course they do. I mean, if you didn't already pay $60 for basically the same game almost a year ago. For those who have never played it, or for the hardcore fans who want the best version of the title, I'd say yeah, it's worth the money. The developers really did put a lot of effort into remaking this game for next-gen consoles. I have no problem rewarding the hard work of designers but at the same time, I understand the price tag can be tough to swallow. Personally, I would've liked to see a system where if you could prove you bought the game last year at full price, you'd get a discount on the upgraded iteration. Maybe that's not possible but I still like the idea.
Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition is indeed "definitive." It's a definite step up and that's undeniable. We can argue all day long about whether or not it's "worth it." The bottom line is that will be a subjective decision; objectively, this is a fantastic game with a lot going for it. The atmosphere and action is always alluring, the story isn't bad, the graphical updates are definitely appreciated, and the fun factor is - as it was before - absolutely through the roof. I can't wait to see how the next Lara adventure turns out because this developer is on the right track.
The Good: Updated visual achievements are impressive. Extra content for both multiplayer and single-player. As fun and endlessly entertaining as ever. Solid, tight control. Beautiful environment and compelling setting. Wonderfully balanced between action and adventuring. Lara's excellent overhaul!
The Bad: Odd audio balancing issues. I still say they could've done more with this promising narrative.
The Ugly: "Unfortunately, that $60 argument is going to haunt this one for a while."
1/28/2014 Ben Dutka