Last year's Tomb Raider was a colossal success and proved to many naysayers out there that Lara Croft could still be relevant. So much so, in fact, that it prompted Square Enix to license two companies to work on Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition as an HD remake for an HD era. Do hair physics and a glossy sheen make this edition worth a second purchase?
The team at Crystal Dynamics had a lofty challenge ahead of them by re-imagining Lara Croft’s origin story and look. What they have accomplished is a testament to their commitment to the franchise that has spanned 17 years. Yes it borrows from games in the likes of Uncharted but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Lara and her friends are on an adventure to locate Yamatai, a location largely debated by scholars for years. The young, and slightly inconsiderate, Lara deduces that she has located it in the Dragon’s Triangle. Think Bermuda Triangle but in Japan. As you might imagine, things go terribly wrong rather quickly and Lara takes it upon herself to save her friends from bandits and other evils that roam Yamatai. Although the story was very solid, my biggest complaint is that the supporting cast left little to be desired. They weren't interesting and if they didn't survive, it would go unnoticed. It's the journey to the end and not the individual moments that help this game to stand out. There were plenty of action packed scenes, some of which are playable, which could be frowned upon as an Uncharted clone, but really it should be noted that Uncharted derives its style from Tomb Raider. It’s only fitting to come back full circle.
Tomb Raider’s controls felt very responsive except the occasional jumping mishap. This shouldn't surprise most as Tomb Raider games are notoriously hilarious in their failed jumping moments. Luckily, these (user) failures never felt cheap and the combat kept me interested. There is a great upgrade system in which you can level up your weapons at one of the multiple camp sites. By collecting parts that are scattered all over the map, you’re able to make more powerful and accurate weapons both gun and melee alike.
Both Nixxes Software and United Front Games added some interesting functionality that take advantage of voice commands on both the Kinect and PS Camera as well as some other features both consoles have unique to themselves. Note that I said interesting and not effective, fantastic, or even welcomed as these gimmicks quickly found themselves turned off in a short time.
The PS4 version offers voice recognition for keywords such as "pause", "show map", and "resume" in an attempt for at least one game to utilize the camera. Unfortunately, I often found the game almost pausing itself or resuming play without the exact voice command being uttered. I found it extremely odd that when I uttered the word "shit"while was getting attacked, the game would pause to which I would respond along the lines of, "that was annoying" and the game would resume play. The DualShock 4 also played some roles in this edition as the controller's speaker and light bar were in full effect. Walking through the forestry gave an ambience of crackling branches and the ruffling of leaves beneath Lara's feet. This was rather delightful and impressive until reaching the first campsite, in which I noticed Lara's voice-over played through both my home theater and the controller with a slight delay causing a huge amount of dissonance and unwelcome reverberation. The light bar flickered orange and red while carrying a torch or imitated muzzle flash when firing a gun; both of which were unobtrusive and well used.
The Xbox One's voice recognition was more accurate but still felt way too sensitive for my liking. In addition to voice, I was able to rotate found artifacts using hand gestures. A feature like this would be nice had the game been entirely without a physical controller in hand. Unfortunately, to utilize hand gestures, i had to completely remove my hands from the controller pulling me completely out of the experience. Luckily, this feature is easily ignored and if you're like me, ignored it shall remain.
Tomb Raider also provides gamers with a multiplayer option. The little I played of it only added to my suspicion that it was merely tacked on to extend the game beyond something that was already fantastic. Luckily, it doesn't distract from the overall experience and will most likely be passed over by most players. It's not that it is a horrible experience, but I felt left wanting for more single player content and feel as though resources could have been allocated in a more appropriate direction as opposed to shopping out to Eidos Montreal for a handful of muliplayer modes that will be glanced over. The Definitive Edition comes with more multiplayer content but it still isn't worth much more than an hour or so.
The gameplay felt empowering, the survival aspect of the story was very well done, and although there were a lot of scripted events, they were very well done. Tomb Raider was once a staple in gaming; showing the power of PC’s and consoles for almost 20 years. The reboot looks to get Lara back on top and it was good to see her back to doing what she does best and I absolutely recommend a purchase for first time visitors to the island. Repeat visitors beware. It is almost entirely the same package you've already played before but with a polished sheen which doesn't necessarily warrant a second trip and a $60 price tag.
This review was amended to include the Definitive Edition.