With developers hard at work on a new wave of next-generation games, consumers should expect a number of speedy ports of high-profile Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 titles. Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition isn't the first example of this phenomenon and it probably won't be the last, so there's no point in being disappointed. It is what it is – an incredible-looking port of one of last year's most exciting action games. But is that enough?
Released almost a year after its last-generation counterpart, Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition doesn't add anything substantial to the existing package. At most, this new version only adds the downloadable multiplayer content and an impressive facelift. Sadly, the single-player campaign remains untouched. This is fine for gamers who somehow skipped out on 2013's best Uncharted clone, but may not be enough for returning players to warrant spending another $60.
Let's not gloss over the facelift too quickly. Tomb Raider already looked great, even on aging hardware. There were times when I was blown away that the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 could pull off the amount of detail in every frame. If that's what an eight-year-old console could do, I couldn't wait to see what the next generation would bring. And sure enough, Tomb Raider looks significantly better on the PlayStation 4.
From the way the foliage moves with the wind, to being able to see each strand of Lara Croft's hair, nearly every element of Tomb Raider looks better and at 60 frames per second, this PlayStation 4 port also runs faster. Throw in the next-generation lighting and particle effects and you have a game that has never looked better. If this is the port, then I can't wait to see what developer Crystal Dynamics comes up with for Tomb Raider 2.
But let's not jump ahead to sequels, because we haven't even discussed Tomb Raider's story. It all begins with a nasty shipwreck in the middle of the ocean. The good news is that Lara has survived and washed up on what appears to be a deserted island. Unfortunately, she's not alone. Lara is immediately kidnapped and strung from the ceiling. But don't worry; Ms. Croft knows how to get out of sticky situations. It doesn't take long for this iconic character to get free and begin solving the many mysteries of this island.
Her first objective is to find the rest of the survivors, hoping to work together to figure out a way off this stormy rock. Quickly Lara realizes that this is no ordinary island; it holds a series of secrets that verge on the supernatural. To make matters worse, the island isn't especially keen on letting people leave. With no way off the island and no communication to the outside world, Lara Croft is officially stuck.
The well-paced story sends our hero all across the island fighting "Others," battling the elements, climbing huge mountains and, yes, raiding tombs. You'll visit the rocky shores, where you can see wrecked ships dating back hundreds of years. There's an old military base on the island, a relic from decades ago. The shantytown suggests that people may have lived here for a long time. And don't forget the monastery in the mountains that may hold the answer to the island's power.
Even with the odds stacked against her, Lara knows a thing or two about surviving. She has all the right moves and plenty of firepower to get out of even the hairiest situations. She starts out the game with a simple bow and arrow, before eventually picking up a handgun, assault rifle and shotgun. Each of these weapons can be improved and upgraded over the course of the 12-hour adventure, giving the player more than enough incentive to loot every single body and seek out hidden treasures.
Most weapons have a dual purpose. Not only can you use them to kill Others and wild animals, but they can also be used to access new sections of the island. The bow and arrow, for example, allows Lara to create zip lines and open certain types of doors. The shotgun will allow you to break down specially marked walls. The assault rifle can be equipped with a grenade launcher, which can clear rocks to create new paths.
While older installments focused on complicated puzzle solving, this reboot is all-out action. In that sense it feels more like a Hollywood blockbuster movie, not unlike Naughty Dog's Uncharted series. In fact, Tomb Raider takes more than a few cues from Nathan Drake's adventures, making this a much more cinematic experience. This game is compelling from start to finish. However some loyalists may be turned off by the emphasis on explosions over puzzles.
No matter where you come down on the change in focus, I'm pretty sure there will be no arguing over the way Lara controls. For the first time ever, I had a genuinely good time playing as the feminine adventurer. The mechanics are forgiving, so you'll rarely miss a jump or accidentally fall off an edge. In fact, once you figure out what she can do, Lara becomes something of a superhero.
As linear as the story is, there's a lot of incentive to explore every inch of this mysterious island. While not an open-world sandbox game, Tomb Raider does allow the player to jump back and forth between the different base camps. There are hidden treasures scattered all throughout the island, as well as journal entries that further expand on the story. There are also a number of optional tombs to raid, each offering a unique puzzle that evokes the spirit of the original entries in the series.
A lot of the story elements feel like they came straight out of the TV series "LOST," to the point where I started to wonder if a smoke monster might show up. This doesn't come as much of a surprise, as many of the game's elements feel like they were lifted directly off of other games and movies. I can draw a straight line to not only Uncharted, but also Batman: Arkham Asylum, Resident Evil 4, Assassin's Creed, BioShock and even the 2005 horror film, The Descent.
There came a point where none of that bothered me. Even if few of the elements are original, they come together in a fresh way that kept my interest for more than a dozen hours. The pace is constantly moving and I couldn't wait to see what big set-piece came next. And even when I uncovered all of the answers, I still needed to go back and raid every tomb and find every treasure.
While it's disappointing that this Definitive Edition doesn't add anything new to Tomb Raider's story, I did enjoy riding this roller coaster once more. At first I was intrigued by the sharp visuals, but then I quickly realized that I was wrapped back up in the sharp writing and action-packed storyline. The developers have made a lot of smart changes to the formula, creating a template that I wouldn't mind seeing repeated a few more times.
Apart from the gorgeous graphics, the most noticeable next-generation change doesn't have anything to do with large explosions or more detailed animation. For me, the most noticeable next-generation upgrade involves the DualShock 4's speaker. You'll hear most radio broadcasts through the controller, something I wasn't expecting. The controller will also cue musical jingles when you're close to hidden treasure and tombs. And that's just the start. The controller's speaker also gets used for certain gun sound effects,journal entries, descriptions of found items and much, much more. Some may finds this distracting though.
If you're one of the millions of Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 owners that already owns Tomb Raider, there's isn't much incentive to pick up this full-priced Definitive Edition. Yes, it looks better and the frame rate really shines, but there isn't enough new to warrant the high price. On the other hand, players who missed out on the reboot are in for a real treat. The only thing this edition definitively proves is that Tomb Raider is great on every console.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
With an emphasis on improved graphics, this PlayStation 4 port is the best Tomb Raider yet. Unfortunately, this Definitive Edition doesn't add enough new content to warrant a second purchase. If you have somehow missed out on Lara's newest adventure, then Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition is a must buy.
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