Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition Review

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition by Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix is doing its part to bridge the PS4 drought. However, as a port of a last gen game, is it worth paying three times the price for the updated graphics and features?

Tomb Raider HistoryTomb Raider is by no means a new series. First making her appearance in 1996, Lara Croft has starred in 14 different games and 2 feature films. Acting as a reboot of the entire series, Tomb Raider: DE looks to introduce a more natural Lara Croft before she becomes the exploring legend of the previous games. With a grittier appearance and a more innocent demeanor, we see Lara and the other members of her ship (the Endurance) ship wreck on their way to find evidence of the lost kingdom of Yamatai.

In a series of events (heavily reminiscent of Lost), Lara is pinned against a mysterious and murderous group of natives and the elements. The task is simple; find the other Endurance members, rescue your best friend (Sam), escape the inescapable island, and (if you have time) discover what’s up with the fabled Queen Himiko.

While the story was well told, the script wasn’t bad, and the game kept me constantly immersed, I felt the game was a large missed opportunity. The game was hoping to show what turned Lara Croft into the gritty adventurer she later becomes, but is more simply a story about Lara on her worst day ever. It is clear from the get-go that Lara has more than enough exploring capabilities, having no issues shooting a bird with bow-and-arrow 50 yards away. Not to mention her incredible rock climbing abilities. If this was an intentional move, I think the game would have profited from flashback scenes watching Lara grow and develop these skills. Otherwise it still feels like much of her story is left untold.

Tomb Raider Gore

While I like the rag-tag friendly characters that Lara travels the island with, they often felt shallow. While adding the much needed dialogue and comedy to Lara’s chorus of heavy breathing, the characters often felt one-note and flat. In fact, most of the time these side characters felt like set-ups to advance Lara’s plot instead of dynamic characters all on their own.

Additionally, I think the way Lara transforms to a hardened killer is relatively cheap. Instead of allowing Lara to make the difficult decisions that will shape the character she becomes, she is forced into all her actions. Her transformation is much more one of a slave than an empowered person–she is forced to deal with scenarios instead of choosing to overcome them. While this doesn’t by any means ruin the story, it is lost opportunity to add additional depth to Lara and the struggle she goes through.

While I have some issues with the story direction, I have to make note that the game is beautiful–as my first full PS4 title, it is clear what kind of processing power and technical skill Square Enix took in porting the game over.  The game’s menus are generally easy to go through and the futuristic gritty feel is very befitting of the series.

All hail the magical floating bow!
All hail the magical floating bow!

This is not to say the game is without its graphical problems; the game suffers from the occasional floating object or disappearing enemy during cutscenes. Further, it is clear the game is between the two generations. While being beautiful in most scenes, there are times where Lara and her co-stars seem stiff and robotic.

Camilla Luddington does a terrific job as the US voice actor; unfortunately the mouths refuse to sync up with the voice or sometimes refuse to move at all. That being said, I was too often so immersed in the stunning environment and story to nit pick that deeply.

Crystal Dynamics tried to take a few interesting steps with some of the PS4’s quirkier features:

  • DS4 Lightbar — Turns red when health is low, light blue normally, and red/yellow when carrying a torch. This was unobtrusive and a pretty cool gimmick.
  • DS4 Speakers — When reading through a log/artifact/etc., the game mirrors the voice in the speaker within the Dual Shock 4. While never clashing with the TV sound, it felt entirely unnecessary to have two voices saying the same things.
  • Voice Commands — For those lucky enough to have a PS4 Camera, Tomb Raider embraces voice controls by letting you switch between weapons and menu options. Unfortunately, it hardly recognized anything I asked besides “MAP” screamed angrily the 25th time or Lara’s own voice. This led to the game often pausing for no reason at all, interrupting the gameplay.
  • Touchpad — Used to help scroll through menus and zoom on maps. This was very well used. However, I really disliked using the Touchpad button as a menu option.

In other words, the gimmicks were take it or leave it, feeling often more obtrusive than essential.

While I seem to be heavy on the game for its story and presentation, the redeeming factor is the most important: gameplay. The game lives and dies by its mix of exploring, adventure, and puzzle solving that calls the gamer to come back for more. Unlike the Uncharted series (Dude Raider, anyone?), Tomb Raider somehow feels more open–a truly impressive feat seeing as the games are nearly equally linear.

Tomb Raider Stairway to Heaven

The game will have you switching through stealth, shooting, climbing, and puzzle solving elements. Depending on the mode you choose, it is either a cake walk or a welcome challenge, never feeling overly difficult. Well… that’s not necessarily true. The dreaded occasional quick time events are poorly timed and frequently lead to deaths. Thankfully, checkpoints are never too far away from these events, so they act as no more than small annoyances.

In this regard, the game is just as solid as it ever was. Very little is changed from console to console, which is a very good thing.

The Verdict: 8 out of 10

The PS4 reboot of Tomb Raider is without a doubt a must play. For someone with no PS3 or Xbox 360, the choice is very simple: get it. However, with a $40 higher price tag than the last gen versions, this game adds little more than updated graphics and shoddy unnecessary features.

Lou Contaldi is MONG’s Nintendo Specialist and senior editor.  You can follow his incoherent ramblings at Twitter.

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