When the new Tomb Raider was first released in March of 2013, it was rightfully hailed as the year’s first great game. Now, nearly a year later, an updated edition dubbed Tomb Raider Definitive Edition is coming to Xbox One and PlayStation 4, with spiffy new visuals and all of the original’s added content thrown in. But while it makes this great game look even better, is that enough to warrant an upgrade?
For those who missed it the first time around, Tomb Raider is both a prequel and a reboot, kind of like Casino Royale if they hadn’t brought Dame Judi Dench back to play M. Stranded on a not-so-deserted island, a young Lara has to learn how to do most of the things — the combat, the puzzle and problem solving, the exploring — that make her video game’s answer to Indiana Jones.
As they did with their previous entries in this series — 2006’s Tomb Raider: Legend, 2007’s Tomb Raider: Anniversary, and 2008’s Tomb Raider: Underworld — the good people at Crystal Dynamics have created an invigorating and engaging mix of cinematic action, reflex-testing danger, and inventive puzzles.
This is not to say that Tomb Raider is just a continuation of what Crystal did in those games. For starters, they’ve opened areas up a quite a bit, which not only lets Lara explore a bit more, but also occasionally gives her opportunities to approach certain obstacles from different vantage points. Though by still limiting the size of these areas — this isn’t Grand Theft Lara — it helps move the action, and the story, along nicely, since you don’t spend half your time running from one place to another.
Lara also gets to be a bit sneaky this time around, which not only comes in handy when she’s been stalked by enemies, but also when she has to use her bow and arrows to hunt for food (though, again, this doesn’t become a Splinter Cell-ish stealth action game). It also helps that Lara now has a Batman: Arkham City-like ability to look at the world with the important elements highlighted. Though while it can help you find your way when you get lost, or any of the myriad of collectibles lying strewn across the jungle floor, unlike the Batman equivalent, it’s not something you’ll want to have on all the time to find stuff.
While these additions seriously enhance the experience, they’re somewhat outstripped by something that’s been removed: the inventive acrobatics that have always made this series both unique and good. Along with the Prince Of Persia games, what’s always made the Tomb Raider games stand out is that you have to do lots of creative gymnastics to get around. Lara doesn’t just climb a ladder to get to the top of a communication tower like every other video game hero, she jumps off a swinging vine onto an incline, then back flips off it onto another vine, which she then swings off of onto a small ledge she has to shimmy across before doing another back flip and six other moves that could only be done by a limber Russian acrobat.
Granted, with this being an origin story, it kind of makes sense that Lara wouldn’t be an inventive gymnast in Tomb Raider Definitive Edition. But then, they could’ve just showed her figuring out how to use the skills she learned when she took gymnastics as a kid.
Adding insult to injury is that when Lara does have to do a bit of climbing or a well-timed jump, this game does them quite well. Granted, they’re not as inventive as the same instances in the previous games, but what they lack in intellectual challenge they make up for by testing your reflexes. Though it also doesn’t help that the bulk of them only occur if you’re exploring one of the secret tombs that litter the island, or trying to get to some collectible; you’ll miss a lot of them if you just play the story straight through.
So, what does the Tomb Raider Definitive Edition bring to the table? For starters, visual fidelity. Compared to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions, the PS4 and Xbox One editions have a lot more detail and smoother animations. And not just in the way Lara moves; the foliage and water are more realistically here than before as well.
Tomb Raider Definitive Edition also adds a new tomb to explore, and while it doesn’t bring anything new to the table, it is one of the more complex on the island.
The Xbox One edition of Tomb Raider Definitive Edition also adds voice and gesture commands via the Kinect. Which works about as well as anything does with the Kinect usually does, and is also about as pointless. Sure, you can just hit a button to bring up your map, or you can piss off your neighbors by repeatedly yelling “SHOW MAP! SHOW MAP! XBOX SHOW THE FUCKING MAP!”
Similarly pointless, Tomb Raider Definitive Edition also includes all of the DLC that was released for the original version, which was just new maps for the multiplayer modes and a couple new outfits for Lara to wear. But since the multiplayer modes were only fun for maybe a weekend, and the outfits don’t give Lara any benefits, getting this DLC free is kind of like getting an new version of your favorite album with a second disc of unfinished demos you’ll never listen to.
Ultimately, Tomb Raider Definitive Edition doesn’t really add enough to make it worth buying if you already own the original. Sure, it’s better looking, and has that one new tomb, but unless you’re superficial or such a completist that you must have everything, this isn’t worth the double dip.
If you didn’t play this on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, or PC, though, Tomb Raider Definitive Edition is worth every penny. While it does lack the inventive acrobatics that made this series one of gaming’s best, it still has more than enough action and adventure to make it, well, this year’s first great game.