As much as I love the Tomb Raider series, I have a confession. Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition is my first experience with the Tomb Raider reboot. It was a simple case of oversaturation. 2013 was an incredible year for gaming. I lamented the loss at the time, but now I’m glad I’ve finally goten around to it, because this time, my hesitation meant I would get to play through the best version of the game.
Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition follows 21-year-old Lara Croft on one of her first, major adventures. She’s on an archeological expedition with Dr. James Whitman, her best friend Sam, and a number of other skilled individuals on a search to discover the background of the mythical Himiko, Sun Queen of Yamatai. The group decides to explore a dangerous region called the Dragon’s Triangle, and storms end up sinking the ship. Lara and her crew wash up on the exact island they’re searching for, but they aren’t alone. Other people have been trapped on Yamatai as well, and they aren’t very friendly.
Players then dive into traditional Tomb Raider gameplay. Lara explores the island, using bows and guns to dispatch enemies and navigate its forests and cliffs in order to survive. There are secrets to be found, people to save, and the opportunity to do more than just find a way to get home. Lara has an opportunity to prove herself. We watch as she gradually figures out puzzles, improves her skills and equipment, and becomes a powerful, gaming icon. Not that the Lara we’re seeing is weak. It’s more that she’s inexperienced and relying on book smarts, and in Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition we’re seeing her putting her knowledge and strength to practical use for the first time and really coming into her own.
Tomb Raider lends itself well to such survival mechanics. In fact, it’s a fitting and ironic situation. While this series clearly inspired parts of Uncharted, now it seems Uncharted has rubbed off on the Tomb Raider reboot. There’s far more exploring, surviving, and battling than in previous installments, and less time actively searching tombs to learn more about the legendary Sun Queen.
I actually think it was a change for a better, at least in this installment. Lara is only just starting her adventuring legacy here, after all, and finding a way to survive and escape the island is the primary focus. The lack of actual tomb-raiding can be forgiven, because the story itself isn’t focusing on it. I think it instead helps show how Lara became the capable heroine she is.
That said, as much as I loved the single player, I will admit some disappointment with Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition‘s multiplayer. It offers variety, sure, with eight different maps to choose from, but the actual experience wasn’t very entertaining. It was a tedious affair, and is the only PS4 multiplayer game to date where I actually experienced lag. Of course, there were times when I didn’t even get to a point where lag was an issue. Finding other players proved pretty difficult. After only two successful matches and five failed attempts to get a good group, I decided to appreciate Tomb Raider for its comprehensive and wonderful single player instead.
Of course, it was easy for me to really love and enjoy the single player. I was playing the Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, after all. It’s the prettiest version of the game you can possibly get. It looks gorgeous, and the level of detail is absolutely extraordinary. From the leaves that sometimes catch in the wind as they fall from trees, to the beauty of watching a deer romping through the forest unaware of Lara the Huntress, it’s a joy to watch. It’s just a shame that I couldn’t always stop and appreciate the sights and sounds of Yamatai. There were times when I found myself cursing the wolves that would come when darkness fell. Let me enjoy the beauty of the night, dangnabbit!
Still, I can’t help but wonder if part of the reason I was able to marvel so at Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition‘s beauty is because the last Tomb Raider game I played was Tomb Raider: Underworld. Things change so fast in the gaming world, and a lot can happen in five years. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been so caught up if I had first played the Tomb Raider reboot on the PS3. I’d like to think I still would have. I’ve looked at footage from the 2013 release and the difference is marked.
Which brings me to another important point. For me, Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition is a striking adventure. However, it’s a brand new world to me. I’m only seeing Lara’s origin story for the first time. Someone who’s already been through this tale on a console or computer probably won’t come away with the same impressions. The main differences with this port are improved visuals, included DLC, voice controls, and some rather unimpressive DualShock 4 and Kinect novelties. It isn’t really enough to justify double dipping if you already own it. If you don’t, though, then it’s a clear case of good things coming to those who wait. Hearing voices from the radio through the controller is neat, sure, and the voice controls work, but neither are very necessary. I sampled both, just to see how they worked, then promptly forgot about them.
Speaking of the Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition DLC, I honestly didn’t realize what was and wasn’t originally supplementary material until I started doing some research. Everything fits so well into the game and seems so natural, that it seems odd that locations, weapons and extras were removed in the original release. The costumes I could see, but the multiplayer characters and, more importantly, the Tomb of the Lost Adventurer, seem like things that should have been immediately available in the original game as well.
Square Enix’s reboot of Tomb Raider is a wonderfully striking game. It takes a heroine we’ve known forever, often sent out on supernaturally laughable and epic adventures, and makes her human. She’d always been larger than life before, and Tomb Raider made her feel more real to me. Even more so in Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, because this is truly the most detailed and realistic we’ve ever seen her. Yes, there isn’t enough additional content to make it worth reexperiencing if you previously enjoyed the PS3, Xbox 360, or PC incarnation, but newcomers will find Lara a welcome friend on their PS4 or Xbox One.
Food for Thought:
1. Whoever thought having the DualShock 4 light up when using a torch or shooting was a good idea was wrong. It isn’t immersive, and only eats up your battery.
2. While Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition‘s release is a good thing, I hope we don’t see too many of these rereleases, put out in the hopes of quickly building a library and capitalizing on the excitement surrounding a new system.