Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider revival last year wasn’t just a monumental success in terms of sales and critical reception; it re-established one of gaming’s most iconic heroines in Lara Croft, making the dexterous archaeologist relevant once again after a major career lull. Sure, Tomb Raider: Legend and Underworld weren’t complete disasters (that honour goes to Angel of Darkness), but they lacked the spark and imagination that had catapulted Croft onto the public consciousness in the late 90s, and couldn’t really hold a candle to newcomer Nathan Drake. With Tomb Raider however, Lara was back to her best, with an origins story ripe with horror, intrigue and blood-pumping spectacle. Unsurprising then, that publisher Square Enix decided to exploit the game’s success and bring it to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One under the Definitive Edition moniker.
To start with, Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition is the same action-adventure experience you played last year on PS3, albeit with all DLC included in the pack and some PS4-specific effects. As such, if you want a detailed analysis of Lara’s triumphant reboot, see our review from March 2013.
Chief among Croft’s next-gen makeover is a completely revamped character model for our nimble heroine, complete with sumptuous Tress FX hair. Juxtaposed with the PS3 version, the differences are very apparent: not only does Lara boast more nuanced facial expressions and other such effects, but her long locks also look the business, swaying realistically depending on what she’s up to at the time. Her skin also picks up all manner of punishment throughout the adventure, with blood, mud and sweat all working to complement an impressive next-gen overhaul. It looks great, and even though I hadn’t played the original since its release last year, I immediately noticed how much better Lara looked second time around.
The frame rate, a subject of much debate in recent weeks, runs at a silky smooth 60fps as previously confirmed. Whereas the PS3 release sometimes coughed and spluttered during Tomb Raider’s more hectic situations, Definitive Edition maintains a steady pace throughout, and not once did I discern any amount of slowdown. Equally impressive are the lighting and particle effects, which work to create a palpable atmosphere to any given location, be it a sun-kissed vista on a mountain top or the gloomy innards of a long-forgotten tomb. Interestingly, with the exception of said effects, most of the attention appears to be focused on Lara herself, leaving some of the other characters in the game conspicuously lacking in detail when scrutinized during the cut-scenes. That’s not to say they don’t look polished – after all, the PS3 version was a great-looking title in itself – but some bad textures do pop up now and then making you wince.
Definitive Edition also throws in a bunch of DLC, including multiplayer maps and extra tombs and weapon upgrade for the main campaign. Those of you who enjoy getting the most out of your game will soak up these goodies, even if they’re relatively minor additions that weren’t available out of the box first time around. Beyond aesthetics, Crystal Dynamics has also injected some extra features revolving around the DualShock 4, such as holding down the touchpad to access the map, to lighting/extinguishing a torch by flicking the touchpad up or down. Sure, they’re pretty simple additions, but all the same I found them to be quite intuitive and complementary to the already-fluid control scheme. Voice manipulation is also included, though as I don’t own a PlayStation Camera I was unable to try them out.
Aside from the cosmetic touches and enhanced controls, Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition offers the same thrilling ride the original 2013 release provided. Sure, the storyline is somewhat a predictable mash-up of action-horror cliches with a bad guy that has about as much charisma as a sewer rat, but it’s merely the catalyst for an adrenaline-pumping adventure that doesn’t let up until the end. With competent shooting mechanics and fluid controls, Croft’s reboot easily stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the Uncharted series, with action-packed battles and set-pieces punctuated by quieter bouts of exploration and intrigue. It’s a brilliant mix that gets the balance just right, and it’s gripping to witness Lara’s transformation from frightened kitten to hardened survivor — even if she ends up capping a somewhat ridiculous amount of baddies almost Rambo-style. With plenty of upgrades for Croft’s abilities and weapons, not to mention ample collectibles and hidden Tombs to explore, Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition will definitely keep you busy if you decide to squeeze everything out of it without dashing through.
The multiplayer remains a throwaway, by-the-numbers affair pitting scavengers against cultists, with little in the way of innovation or spark to set it apart from its contemporaries. The Last of Us employs a similar game of survival with its online component, and thrashes Tomb Raider’s effort in this respect, so it’s doubtful you’ll be spending much time here.
Overall, Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition lives up to its name. If you haven’t already taken Lara’s latest adventure for a spin, then pick this up for PS4 asap. However, the lack of new content means owners of the original release may want to pass, as despite how good the game looks and plays, there isn’t really enough new stuff packed into Definitive Edition to warrant a purchase if you have it on PS3. For newcomers though, this is an absolute must-have.