If for some reason you missed it last year, there’s good news: you now have another chance to catch one of the best games of 2013 with Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition.
Crystal Dynamics has updated the game to run on next-generation consoles, with the graphics now remastered to full 1080p high definition. The result: a game that was already one of the best-looking of the previous console generation is now even sharper.
On the PlayStation 4, it also runs at 60 frames per second, which is twice as fast as last year’s Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions. Mud on heroine Lara Croft’s face now looks more realistic. Her hair has more individual strands. The textures of rocks and foliage pop. It’s all small stuff, but it’s the hallmark of next-gen so far – taken together, it all looks fantastic.
But last year’s Tomb Raider was more than just a visual feast – it was an excellent game comprised of well-integrated pieces. The reissue doesn’t mess with any of that. Indeed, with the bump-up to the graphics, it’s even better.
As a reboot/prequel of the long-running series, the story of how Lara transforms from an innocent and vulnerable girl to a hardened survivor is at the centre of this goodness.
The story begins with Lara, an apprentice archeologist at this point, and her crew headed into the Dragon’s Triangle, a mysterious area near Japan that makes that Bermuda thing seem like a kiddie ride. Of course they crash on an island and are captured by the crazed inhabitants, which leaves the plucky Lara to save the day.
Whether it’s getting beat up by religious fanatics or hammered by tree branches while parachuting through a forest, she certainly does take a lot of punishment through this origin tale. But, as the saying goes, suffering builds character. By the end of it, Lara grows into the tough – and sometimes wise-cracking – heroine that she’s come to be known as.
She emerges from this reboot with a newfound depth – something she never really had despite a couple decades of games. Tomb Raider is thus one of those rare prequels that really does leave you wanting more, wondering where this newly defined hero is going to go next.
The gameplay also clicks on every level. While the story leads in one direction, Lara often finds herself in large environments brimming with exploration potential. The best parts are the hidden tombs, which harken back to older games in the series with their sometimes clever puzzles.
Also hidden around the various mountain villages and caves are tons of collectibles, from vases and pottery to GPS caches and diary entries. Finding the goodies doesn’t just deepen the story with additional context, it also supplies experience points and gear parts, which can be spent on skill and weapon upgrades, respectively.
The shooting action is smooth and smart, with the artificial intelligence of both enemies and Lara a particular standout. Lara automatically snaps to cover when she’s near it and enemies are around, meaning no button pressing is needed. Also, if she loiters too long behind a rock or crate, the bad guys will flush her out with a tossed Molotov or grenade.
One particularly nice touch that you don’t find in too many games is how Lara automatically scoots out of the way after this happens. Rather than illogically continuing to crouch in a burning pile of Molotov, she automatically steps away from it.
Enemies also charge if she cowers in cover too long. But, if she pops out and starts shooting, they’ll immediately duck and head for the nearest cover. It’s some of the smartest shooting AI around.
Combined with the standard jumping and climbing you’d expect from a Tomb Raider title, the shooting and fight sequences add up to a game that’s amazingly varied. Lara is always doing something new, and she’s never doing one thing for very long.
The Definitive Edition also adds in some next-gen features, such as the ability to use voice control to pull out different weapons or access the map on the PS4. The game also makes use of the Dualshock controller’s built-in speaker to play audio. Neither is well done, though – the voice control function picks up in-game sounds, which sometimes results in spontaneous pausing, while the controller speaker suffers from some lag. I ended up turning off both in short order.
The updated game also comes with a bunch of multiplayer maps that were originally sold as downloadable content, but Tomb Raider’s online modes were never all that exciting in the first place so this isn’t much of a bonus.
Nevertheless, the single-player experience remains one of the best Tomb Raider games yet. Truth be told, I enjoyed replaying this sharper-looking version even more than the original last year.
Finally, it’s worth noting the quasi-controversy over next-gen graphics. The Xbox One version of the game – which we haven’t reviewed – reportedly isn’t able to run at the full 60 frames per second. The PS4 version, which we tested, does indeed click along smoothly at that rate. However, without proper testing gear we were unable to tell whether it was always going at 60 frames, or only during certain parts.
The higher speed was most noticeable during slower parts of the game, such as when Lara is gingerly exploring a tomb. During faster action sequences, it was hard to tell.
In the end, the better graphics aren’t a good enough reason to buy this game again. But if you did miss it, Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition is a good opportunity to play one of the best recent releases.