Monday, January 27, 2014

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition - Review


In early 2013, Crystal Dynamics released the long awaited Tomb Raider reboot. The game featured a completely redesigned Lara Croft, a new gameplay style, and it's story focused on how Lara's origins, and how she became the well treasure hunter/explorer we have come to know and love. It was a game a lot of people were really looking forward to, and a lot of hype surrounded its release. Long time fans couldn't wait to see the new direction Tomb Raider was going in, and new comers finally had a reason to check out the series. According to the trailers, and interviews, Tomb Raider was going to be a must have title, and no one wanted to miss out on it. Well, the game got released, a lot of people loved it, some hated the changes, and others were caught somewhere in the middle. Overall the game did well, people played it, and then they moved on; just like with every game before it... That is, until almost a year later.

At the end of 2013, Tomb Raider "Definitive Edition" was announced for the 8th generation consoles. According to Crystal Dynamics, the Definitive Edition was a completely rebuilt Tomb Raider, featuring a brand new Lara Croft model, updated textures, enhanced physics, and an updated world created to show off the power of next gen. A lot of people speculated that this was simply a port of the PC version, but in reality, that couldn't have been any farther from the truth. Just as Crystal Dynamics stated, the game was a reworked Tomb Raider, but overall, it was still the same game. So, does that mean it isn't worth it? Do players from the original version have any reason to check this one out, or should they skip on it altogether? What about new comers, should they get this version or the original? Also, how have opinions changed? Is the game as good as it was a year ago, or has the hype settled? Lets find out.

A Survivor is Born (Again):

The story in Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition has not changed at all. Other than the edition of the prequel short comic (which can be read in the extras), there is nothing new here to see. If you've played the original, you'll know what to expect, and you'll either love it or hate it. Even so, the scenes do have greatly updated visuals, so some may find them worth re-watching just because of that. As for newcomers, well, you're in for quite the ride.


Lara Croft is a young woman fresh out of college, who wishes to make her mark on the world. At the beginning of the game she sets sail on a ship called the Endurance in hopes to find the lost kingdom of Yamatai; a kingdom which was said to be ruled by the legendary "Sun Queen" Himiko. With her fellow archaeologists, Lara leads her crew into a region known as the Dragon's Triangle, and all hell breaks loose. A massive storm rises before them, their ship is torn to shreds, and they wash up on an unknown island. Scared and confused, Lara tries to yell out to the other on the beach, but she is hit in the back of the head before they even notice her. This is when her nightmare begins.

When Lara comes to, she finds herself hanging upside down in a cave, with dead bodies all around her. After setting fire to herself, causing the material she was wrapped in to drop her to the ground below, she makes her way through the disturbing world, and slowly makes her way back to the outside world. Dead bodies are found throughout the cave, a strange man keeps trying to "help" Lara, and a few "puzzles" try to keep her from leaving, but once she emerges, reality sets in. Lara is all alone, most of her friends and crew are dead, and all she can do now is try to survive.


The island Lara must survive on is Hell on Earth. Only a few of her friends survived the crash, but they get separated early on, and they each must face their own hardships. Throughout the island hungry wildlife roams hoping to make Lara their next meal, and crazy cultists are ready to ambush her at each turn. If Lara wants to survive on the island, she must learn to hunt for food, make the most out of the supplies she has, and kill. The island itself is out to put an end to Lara's life, and to survive she must put her emotions aside, and do whatever it takes to keep moving forward.

While the main aspect of the story is Lara surviving and evolving into the Tomb Raider we used to know, there's actually a lot more depth than at first glance. The island is filled with Japanese history, and books are scattered throughout the world written by the island's inhabitants. You'll read letters written by mad men, notes left behind by others who were trapped on the very same island, and you'll also dive deeper into Japanese mythology and what is truly going on at the island. Nothing is as it seems, and treasure and mysteries await Lara at every turn. Even if Lara's character development somehow doesn't pull you in, the island itself sure will.

The Gameplay:

The gameplay in Tomb Raider isn't as straight forward as it was in the original series. While the original games were platforming games with puzzle solving and some shooting elements, the reboot is actually a semi-open world, action, adventure, 3rd person shooter, platforming, stealth game. It blends elements from all of the genres, to create something "unique," or rather, something very similar to another "unique" popular (Sony exclusive) franchise. Although this formula is a lot different from what fans are used to, it actually works out quite well.


In game, players take control of Lara Croft, and they must navigate through the game's environment. While the game does play out in a linear fashion with you going from Point A to Point B, the world itself is much more open. Just about every area in game is connected in one way or another, and the game allows you to freely backtrack and re-explore older areas. Throughout the adventure Lara will often come across areas she cannot access, but by getting new equipment and upgrading older equipment, they will become open to her. While a lot of these areas are story related, there are also quite a few extra locations which could be skipped completely. Even if you don't need to return to an older section of the game, most of the time rewards to await you, so exploration becomes key if you truly want to find everything.

As you explore the game world, Lara has a wide verity of moves which she can preform. While your basic actions consist of walking, running, and jumping, Lara also has the ability to scale a lot of the environment to reach higher areas, she can climb up rock walls once she receives the proper equipment, and later on she can even use arrows with ropes to create her own ways to cross gaps. These are just a few examples of what Lara is able to do, but as the game goes on she is constantly changing. At one point for example, Lara gains the ability to start a fire anywhere, which can then be used to burn objects in her path. All of these features become very helpful for the duration of the game, and they can be quite fun to use. Sliding down a zipline you just created as you gaze at the amazing world around you just never gets old.


When it comes to combat, there is more than one way you can go about doing things. The game has four main weapons (a bow, a handgun, a riffle, and a shotgun) for you to use, but how you use them (or if you use them) is completely up to you. For example, the bow is a stealth weapon which is great for taking out enemies unnoticed, but you can also use it to choke enemies from behind. Arrows can also be used to stab enemies after you dodge their attacks, or you can use fire arrows to set fire to the environment. You can also use melee attacks to take out your enemies, and then use your guns as "finisher attacks" as well; there really isn't a right or wrong way to play the game. If you want to go run and gun, that's fine, or if you want to stay in the shadows, that's fine too. Each area of the game where you encounter enemies also allows you to take on each situation as you see fit, so even the shooting element breaks away from what you'd expect from a 3rd person shooter. If you want to climb up high and strike from above, that's your choice, or you can stay close to the ground and use the obstacles around you to your advantage. The game lets you come up with your own plan of attack, and that alone really helps the gameplay stand out above others of the same shooting nature.

Puzzles also play a large role in Tomb Raider, but unlike in past games, they aren't as challenging. A lot of the puzzles this time around are physics based puzzles which rely on quick thinking, and timing. The first time you come across a puzzle, it may take a a few tries to understand it, but once you figure it out, they are a breeze. This is the biggest issue for anyone coming from the past version of the game. Chances are, you'll remember how to solve each one, and they'll feel like a chore more than anything else. While there are a few puzzles in the main game, most of them are actually found in hidden areas across the map, and they do not have to be solved. Its just by solving them you do unlock map data to help you find the other secrets hidden throughout the island (such as books, treasures, collectibles, and objects to smash).

Salvage and Upgrades:

Another major aspect of Tomb Raider's gameplay is its RPG-like systems. By hunting animals breaking creates, harvesting plants, and collecting other objects, you can earn materials which can be used in crafting. Just about every piece of equipment, including your weapons, in Tomb Raider can be upgraded, and these resources are what allow you to do so. By spending your resources you can make your guns stronger, add different effects to them, or you can even make your axe stronger so you can open locked crates. Most of these upgrades are not key to completing the game, but they do make it easier, and it is always fun to unlock new attack options.


Besides gaining salvage, Lara will also gain EXP throughout her adventure. By killing enemies, completing story sections, and finding special collectibles, you will gain experience points which will net Lara skill point once she "levels up." By spending skill points at one of the base camps, you can increase Lara's abilities, and teach her a wide verity of skills. Some abilities let you get more resources from different actions (such as skinning an animal), others let you retrieve arrows from dead bodies, and some just give you enhancements to abilities you already have (such as an ability which allows Lara to use her "survival" instinct to spot hidden objects). Just like with the equipment upgrades these aren't key to beating the game, but they do make it easier, and a lot funner. If an ability lets you throw sand in an enemy's face, what reason is there for you to not learn it?

The Multiplayer:

Despite Tomb Raider being a game focused on single player, it has a multiplayer element as well. In the multiplayer mode players pick one of the many characters to play as, customize a weapon loadout, and then take to the battlefield to face off against other players. The game features all of your basic death match, team death match, and "capture the flag" like modes, but it does have some unique elements as well.

Although the gameplay is basic "shoot everyone you see" type gameplay, the way the stages are built helps change it up. The multiplayer makes full use of all the core features of the single player campaign, and because of that they are designed with climbing in mind. Each stage features multiple levels, structures for you to climb on, rock walls, zip line ropes, as well as many other objects which allow you to gain higher ground. The stages are also filled with traps for you to set, so there's even more than one way to combat your enemies.

Overall, the multiplayer in Tomb Raider isn't that special. The maps and mechanics are unique, but at the end of the day, it is just another 3rd person shooter multiplayer mode. It's fun to pick up from time to time, but it isn't something a lot of people stick with. It's online community quickly slowed down during its original release, and the same is sure to happen in the Definitive Edition.

Definitive Edition:

When it comes to the changes in the Definitive Edition, some people may be disappointed to know that there are very few. While the game has been rebuilt from the ground up, it is still the same game. Same areas, same story, same gameplay, very same achievements/trophies, same music, and same voice acting. Nothing has actually changed in this sense; however, the graphical improvement is outstanding.


In the past, consoles were limited to using smaller sized textures (images which go on 3D objects to give them their detail) on objects, so things couldn't be extremely detailed without using tricks. A lot of the time an object in a game would have many smaller textures to try and make it look as realistic as possible; however, that's not the case with the 8th gen. With 8th gen consoles, there's no such limit to the textures used, so game companies are able to greatly improve their quality. In Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, they did just that. The textures have now been increased by four times what they once were, Lara's model has been completely reworked taking full advantage of these new textures, and the game's framerate has been increased to 60 FPS (on the PS4 version) as well. New rain and wind effects have been added in to help make the island feel more alive, planets have greater physical effects, and a lot of objects can now be interacted with. All of these changes have greatly enhanced the game's visuals, and fills the game with eye candy. Still, the most impressive part of it all is Lara herself.

As mentioned above, Lara's model has been completely reworked, and her textures were greatly enhanced; however, them are not the only improvements made to her. One of the biggest, and most impressive, changes made to Lara is actually her hair. Typically in a game the character's hair is a solid 3D model, with some physical effects to help it look a bit more realistic. Sometimes a stand or two will move with the wind, or a girl with a pony tail will have one that moves, but Lara's hair takes all of this to the next level. This time around, each strand of hair is an object of its own, and it all reacts to the game's enhanced physics. Her hair will blow with the wind, swing with her head, and spread out in different directions as the hair tie attempts to hold it in place. While this still doesn't look as realistic as an actual human's hair, it is quite impressive to see, and it shows off what next gen consoles will be able to do.

Another interesting addition to Lara is how her skin reacts to light. Just as it does in real life, the simulated light in Tomb Raider collides with Lara's skin, goes under the first layer, and then disperses; lighting her skin in the process, and giving off a faint glow. This lighting effect is also very impressive, and looks very nice in game; especially when the water drops on her skin reflects it as well.


The final new edition comes in the form of voice commands for both versions of the game. By saying words such as "map" or a weapon's name, the game will either open the specific menu, or switch to the gun you desire to use. While this feature can be completely ignored, it is a nice little extra.

On top of the new features, the Definitive Edition also includes all of the DLC from the original, including the single player costumes and multiplayer DLC.

The Good and the Bad:

The original release of Tomb Raider was a great game, and so is the Definitive Edition. It has a really good story, some really nice action sections, exploration, a customization and upgrade system, great gun play, really nice stealth, smooth gameplay mechanics (with Lara auto taking cover behind objects which allows you to stay in full control without being stuck to a wall like in most games), and it looks amazing. The game is a lot of fun to play, and you can easily get pulled into its world. That is, if you like this type of game, and don't mind the departure from the Tomb Raider standards.

When looking at the game as a whole, and what Crystal Dynamics set out to do with this, there's really no issues to speak of. There may be a freak glitch or two here and there, but its nothing that will ruin the game. The game itself is well made, and any issues with it all comes down to your opinion of the genre itself. If you like shooters, or stealth games, or games with a lot of exploration; you will love it. There is nothing more to it than that. Although the full price tag of $59.99 at launch may be too much for a re-release of a year old game, it won't stay that high forever. If you're thinking about picking it up for the first time, I strongly recommend getting the Definitive Version if you can, but the original game is just as good. As for anyone who played the original, it all comes down to one simple question. Did you like Tomb Raider, and do you want to play it again? The game has the same achievements/trophies as the previous release (which are pretty easy to earn), so if you're a hunter of them, that's always a plus.

Overall, Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition is a great game, and I do not regret buying it for a second time. Just as before, I am giving it a solid 10/10.

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