The announcement of Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles was met with mixed feelings from the gaming community a few weeks ago. On the one hand, the original release of the Tomb Raider reboot was easily one of the best games of 2013, and so a chance to relive Lara Croft’s dazzling adventure on next-gen hardware was certainly a welcomed thought for most gamers. But on the other hand, the majority of the game remains unchanged aside from the visuals, and the steadfast $60 price tag for what is essentially the same game that was released almost a year ago had many people crying of a cash grab. So is this truly the “definitive edition” of Tomb Raider, or is it just an expensive coating of new paint?
If you’re looking for a review of Tomb Raider from a gameplay and story perspective, then I would kindly direct you to my review of the original release back in March of 2013. There’s really no reason to rehash anything I said about the initial game itself, because everything about the actual gameplay and story are exactly the same here in the Definitive Edition, with nothing unchanged (even though I could swear that there’s an extra optional tomb added in towards the beginning of the game, unless I somehow completely forgot about it the first time around). It does feel like a bit of a missed opportunity here, with the only actual “new” additions to the core experience being the previously released multiplayer DLC and some digital art books and costumes.
Naturally, the biggest changes between the original Tomb Raider release and this new Definitive Edition on next-gen consoles are in the visuals. And on that front, the Definitive Edition looks significantly better than its predecessor. The environments are positively stunning and focused, and the new lighting effects bring life to the character models like never before. Even the smallest details, like the sweat on Lara’s skin and the way her equipment sways with her every movement are nice inclusions that really work together to bring everything to a more cohesive whole. What once was a beautiful game is now an ESPECIALLY beautiful game.
However, one “big” new part of the visual upgrade that Crystal Dynamics was very vocal about in pre-release demos and interviews was their work on updating Lara’s hair: basically allowing each strand of hair on Lara’s head to move individually and with more realistic motions. While this is certainly true at first glance, seeing it merged with the actual gameplay (where it looks constantly shiny like Lara keeps dipping it in oil) is another story entirely, and I couldn’t help but laugh half of the time as Lara’s hair would wildly whip around her from even the slightest movements, and it actually became pretty distracting to me as a player.
On the Xbox One version of the game, the Kinect implementations feel incredibly forced and actually wind up becoming a hindrance to the overall gameplay. Players are encouraged to make use of several different voice commands over the course of the adventure, such as “Show Map,” or switching between weapons by saying things like “Bow,” “Handgun,” and “Rifle.” The problem with this is that the game only recognizes these voice commands about half of the time, and if you’re talking with someone else in the room while you’re playing, then be fully prepared for the screen to cut to your map in the middle of the action if someone says any word with an “SH” or “M” sound.
Another strange addition emerges at the part when Lara ascends the giant radio tower towards the beginning of the game. As players climb, they can physically tilt their bodies to the left or right to slightly move the camera accordingly. It’s kind of cool I guess, but again, it doesn’t add anything to the actual gameplay, and the moments where you’re able to use it are few and far in between. Rounding out the Kinect trifecta of mediocrity, players also have the option to reach out with their hand and grab the air in front of them, moving their closed first around to better examine the different relics they can find on a 3D plane. Nifty? Perhaps. But worth another $60? That one’s probably a bit debatable.
So in the end, I guess the biggest and most important question for Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition really becomes: is a year-old game still worth that $60 price tag for better visuals alone? I’m not sure that many would agree, and despite Crystal Dynamics’ constant assurances, I’m having a hard time trying to convince myself that the new version really has that many improvements and additions over the original. Now don’t get me wrong: if you have never played the game before, then Tomb Raider is an absolute must-play title. The visuals are breathtaking, the platforming segments are both fun and exciting, and the story is full of shocks, sadness, and awe.
But if you already took the plunge with Lara last year, it’s hard not to see the Definitive Edition for what it really is: a cash grab. If Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix had implemented a next-gen upgrade system akin to Battlefield 4 (especially since it hasn’t even been a year since the original game first came out), then maybe that cold $60 price tag wouldn’t be such a tough pill to swallow. But in any case, I gave the original game an impressive 8.5 score with an already perfect 10/10 for graphics, and so despite all the minor annoyances and lack of new features, this is still the better version of an incredibly essential action-adventure, hence the accompanied new score. Just be wary before you let it raid the tombs of your wallet!
Story – 9/10
Graphics – 10/10