Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition Review
Posted by Anthony Bacchus
There and back again
When Square Enix announced late last year that an updated version of the Tomb Raider reboot would be “re-built specifically for next-gen consoles,” we couldn’t help but scoff. For a game that we already called “adrenaline-filled” and “aesthetically superb,” — let alone only being on the market for 10 months — was it even necessary for the development team to spend the time and resources just to pretty up the game a bit more? If so, is it enough to earn your hard-earned cash again if you’ve already done so one year ago? Well, the answer to that really depends on the person playing. In a nutshell, Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition really is the best way to experience Lara’s adventure, but it doesn't offer anything new to those that have already picked and scraped every inch of the 360 version. And yet it’s difficult for us to criticize the game for that reason alone, because like any great action film or TV show, a second viewing can actually enhance your enjoyment of a product.
That’s right. Tomb Raider is in fact, better the second time through.
While the core gameplay and narrative remains unchanged, the Definitive Edition is visually superior to the 360 version in every possible way. The most obvious upgrade goes to Lara Croft herself. The result is one of the most detailed and hyper-realistic character models we’ve ever seen on any console. Whether she’s exploring a dank cave with nothing but a torch in hand or zip lining down through the decrepit infrastructure in Shantytown, Lara reacts to her environment like a regular human being. Her hair whips in the wind, she covers her face from loose debris, she’ll hold her side after a nasty fall — these seemingly unimportant details that don’t necessarily contribute to the outcome of the story are instrumental in making the player connect with Lara more than they ever should. It’s a shame that the side characters — while still getting a graphic makeover — aren’t nearly as intricately modelled as Lara Croft is.
On the other hand, the higher resolution textures, enhanced lighting, and improved polygon count bring the beauty of Lara’s environments to a whole new level. Countless times we would stop Lara in her tracks just to swivel the camera around just so we can take in the sights. Tomb Raider was already a pretty looking game on 360, but now that we’ve been spoiled by the extra visual boost on Xbox One, we don’t believe it’s possible for us to ever go back.
"While the core gameplay and narrative remains unchanged, the Definitive Edition is visually superior to the 360 version in every possible way."
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the narrative, but Tomb Raider is at its most confident when you choose to step away from the linear path. Eventually, Lara will acquire all necessary equipment and upgrades which opens up the island of Yamatai for you to explore and loot goodies. For instance, you’ll gain the ability to attach a rope to your bow that can not only devilishly pull enemies from high ledges to their doom but also open up new doors and secret paths. These may lead to a simple audio log or a shortcut that makes traversing the island a little easier.
When you aren’t exploring Yamatai for relics, documents and other collectibles, you’ll be trying to survive from the crazed island inhabitants, who are all bent on taking down Lara at any means necessary. Combat can quickly turn into intense fire fights, and thankfully Tomb Raider controls almost flawlessly. Instead of working around a large arsenal of weapons, Tomb Raider focuses on a bow, pistol, rifle and shotgun. It’s the bow that stands out above the rest and will undoubtedly be your number one choice throughout Lara’s adventure. And because each weapon is smartly configured to the D-Pad, it’s easy to shoot an arrow at an enemy’s leg, dodge an attack, switch to the shotgun and finish the guy off with a simple on-screen prompt. Tomb Raider is one of the few action games that excels in its moments of exploration and during enemy encounters. When some action games tend to overwhelm gamers with an endless supply of bad guys (Yeah, we’re looking at you Uncharted), Tomb Raider wisely knows when to pull back from all that.
"Tomb Raider is one of the few action games that excels in its moments of exploration and during enemy encounters."
Unwisely, Tomb Raider sadly falls into the category of games that have unnecessary multiplayer modes that go unplayed. Just as we previously said in our 360 review, multiplayer is functional and team death match can be fun for a few rounds, but the experience is just lacking in focus. It also feels too detached from the strong single player component and the controls, strangely enough, didn’t feel nearly as responsive either.
Outside of the updated visuals, the other most distinguishing feature the Definitive Edition has over the original is Kinect voice controls. At any time, a player can say things like “Show Map” to bring up the area’s map, or switch weapons by simply saying “Bow” or “Rifle.” These were fun to try out the first time, but immediately became inessential especially during moments when surrounded by enemies. Also, Kinect would often times mistake words and sounds in our gaming area as voice commands. If you’re playing with a group of people in the same room, we’d advise taking voice commands off entirely.
If you're wondering whether it's worth picking up again, then that would depend on how much you enjoyed the Xbox 360 version. We feel that Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition is an expertly paced adventure, packed with gorgeous environments, vicious but wonderfully satisfying combat, elegant controls and a fairly competent story to boot. It all comes together in a well-crafted package that successfully puts Lara Croft back in the spotlight. If you never had the chance to experience the game a year ago, then the Definitive Edition is an absolute no-brainer. In fact, we’re even slightly envious of those people that waited, because Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition is one of the Xbox One's best games.