Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition Review (PlayStation 4)
A little less than one year ago, Crystal Dynamics brought Lara Croft back in a dynamite reimagining of the classic Tomb Raider franchise. The reboot breathed life into the stagnant series and its protagonist, offering a modern Lara for new era. As enjoyable as Tomb Raider was, Crystal Dynamics wasn't done with reworking Lara just yet. With the release of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One came the opportunity to revamp the heroine once more. The aptly-titled Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition brings back the solid gameplay of the 2013 reboot, and offers up the best-looking Lara Croft adventure we've ever enjoyed.
Everything you remember about 2013's revamp remains the same in Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition. The combat is smooth and dynamic, the level traversal and exploration is simple and intuitive and every beat of the story is identical. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Tomb Raider did an excellent job of ditching the archaic gameplay that had hindered Lara's adventures for many years, and offered a more fluid and action-packed experience. In fact, everything Lara does looks even more fluid in the PlayStation 4 version thanks in large part to running at a crisp 60 frames per second (which is double that of the PS3/360 version). It's nearly impossible to tell in videos of the Definitive Edition, as YouTube only runs at 30fps, but when you're playing Tomb Raider on a high-def display, it's incredibly smooth and only adds to how lifelike Lara appears.
While there isn't anything new to talk about on the narrative side, Crystal did offer up some new controls based on the camera for both consoles and touchpad of the PlayStation 4 controller. Players can use commands like "Show Map" to, you guessed it, bring up the map, or "Handgun" to have Lara draw her pistol. The commands work well enough as long as you aren't trying to carry a conversation while playing (or providing commentary on a livestream), but when other people were in the room, we did have some issues with Lara constantly swapping out weapons. Not a big deal, as you can turn this and any of the other next-gen additions off, but one that should be recognized nonetheless.
Additionally, there are some sound effects passed through the controller are certain points, such as the crunch of bones beneath Lara's feet in a cave. The diaries you can find scattered throughout are also read aloud through the controller, as well as the TV, which can be a bit much. The audio is tenths of a second different, and it's really distracting. Thankfully, like the voice commands, these features can be turned off. The only controller-specific feature you can't really change are the touchpad controls and the lightbar influences. You can flick the touchpad to turn a torch on or off, and when the torch is on, the lightbar actually flickers red, orange and white. It's a nice touch, but one that you might never see when playing in the light of day. The core of the Tomb Raider combat and exploration mechanics remain the same, but the flourishes included with this next-gen iteration do offer a modicum of change, even if it is superfluous.
Where Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition truly shines is in the presentation department. Every last polygon has been finely tuned to get the most out of the hardware on next-gen consoles. Lara herself has been completely reworked, with TressFX hair flowing wildly in the wind, and with a whole new character model that much better represents something an actual person would look like. It's not that the virtual Lara in last year's version looked bad (far from it), it's just that this next generation Lara has so much more detail the difference is as stark as night and day. Of course, Lara's the only character that really gets the complete overhaul. Sure, the rest of the cast looks better, but only marginally, and no one else gets the same detailing when it comes to the hair. It make sense given Lara's role as the main character, but it is odd to see her standing next to someone who doesn't quite look as good as she does.
The world itself has seen vast improvements, too, with the foliage and surrounding landmarks all boasting more detailed textures and physics. Rain and wind now affect the world a bit more, and you can really get a sense of what it might be like living on this island thanks to the brilliant lighting effects. Seeing the sun shine through the trees while the wind whips around the mountainside is powerful, and the immersion these upgrades create goes a long way in making you a part of Lara's journey. That's not including the water though. The ocean and other large bodies of water still look like they did the last time around, and seeing such highly detailed rendering everywhere else had us wondering why water didn't get the same treatment. It could be argued the leap forward between the Tomb Raider released last year and this one isn't quite as drastic as the HD remakes which have been so incredibly popular on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. However, there's such a dramatic change in the overall look of Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, the improvements are hard to swat away with such nonchalance.
Also included with the Definitive Edition are all the multiplayer map add-ons, alternate costumes and making of features offered in various packages last year. The digital comic and art book are nice additions, even though reading them on the console is a bit arduous. The outfits don't add anything to the game, but they do give you an air of customizability for Ms. Croft. For those of you that enjoyed the multiplayer the first time around, having every bit of content available from the start with the Definitive Edition is nice, but the multiplayer still isn't anything to write home about either. It exists, and it's functional, but it won't offer you anything you haven't seen done better elsewhere.
The biggest challenge Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition faces is not whether or not the additions are plentiful and worthwhile (most of them are), but whether or not it's worth paying full retail price for a revamped version of a game that's only a year old. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One game libraries aren't exactly overflowing at the moment, and Tomb Raider can easily be counted as a must-have title, particularly for those that missed out the first time around. The upgrades only serve to make an already impressive game that much better. Tomb Raider was, and still is, a great game already. Asking gamers to double-down so soon after the original release just might be asking too much.
This review was completed using a digital copy of Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition on the PlayStation 4 provided by the publisher.