In 2013, Crystal Dynamics re-introduced us to Lara Croft. A change, which in my opinion, the video game industry needed desperately. It’s not that the previous games in the series were unsuccessful, but more than anything, we need more positive female role models, and that’s exactly what was delivered. In my initial review, I couldn’t ignore the disconnect between the character progression and the headshot-happy gameplay mechanics. However, as a protagonist, I still feel her intentions came from a genuinely positive place. Importantly, she didn’t need a ridiculous bust-size, short-shorts, or to be featured in the latest edition of Playboy, to become popular with players. In a recent interview, it was officially confirmed, despite some ridiculous claims from last year, that the game was profitable, well received by critics and that a sequel is currently in development for the new generation
That’s not all though as the developers are releasing a “Definitive Edition” of Tomb Raider this week for the PS4 and Xbox One. While this edition would be best described as an upgraded version of the game, suited for the new generation systems; that would be selling it short. Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition is not simply the PC version of the game running on max settings, but instead, we’re actually looking at a hybrid experiment that’s implemented new graphical technologies not possible on the older systems. In truth, I suspect that it is also an experiment to test the hardware capabilities of both consoles, pending the sequel, which has yet to be revealed.
It’s important to clarify that this package does not include any new content. However, it does include all of the original downloadable content, plus digital versions of the Dark Horse comic, Brady Games mini-art book, and the “Final Hours” developer videos. Essentially, it’s what we’ve come to know as a “Game Of The Year” Edition, but with a complete visual overhaul. In saying that, there have been criticisms surrounding the fact that the game is being charged at full price. However, in my opinion, the work that’s gone into the game does somewhat justify this decision. It’s not like comparing another title such as Assassin’s Creed IV, between it’s PS3 & PS4 counterparts. It’s a major difference, and in saying that, I think this release is going to appeal to those looking for that true “next-gen” graphical experience, and especially to those who have not played it yet. Keeping this in mind, and having reviewed the game already, I’ll instead shift my focus to the graphics, and it’s integration with the new platforms.
For the purpose of this review, I should clarify that I played the game on a PS4; which appears to have become an important factor in the “Definitive Edition” discussion. Essentially, there is a bit of controversy surrounding the different versions, which apparently were worked on by completely different teams. Subsequently, the PS4 version runs at approximately 60 frames-per-second, whereas the Xbox One version runs at a locked 30 frames-per-second. In my opinion, this doesn’t necessarily reflect back on the either console’s capabilities as it arguably comes down to the technical competency of the Xbox team. It’s definitely smoother on the PS4, but considering 30 FPS has long been a standard for console releases, I believe the difference might only be noticeable to those who are very particular with graphical presentation. However, in saying that, graphics are kind of the core selling-point for this edition, so I would suspect, as a result, that some players may be more inclined to pick it up for PS4.
Graphically speaking, there is a lot going on under the hood in Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition. For a start, Lara has undergone a complete facial reconstruction. I suspect this was mainly about ensuring that the two versions were clearly distinct from each other, but personally, the first thing I noticed was the individual strands of hair on her head. It sounds superfluous to say it out loud, but when you see it for the first time, it’s difficult not to be impressed. Focusing specifically on the model of Lara’s character, another thing worth mentioning is her skin, which looks very realistic as it reflects light and sweats, and something little that I appreciated was that the engine uses bump mapping to show scars that have depth and physicality. As Lara gets dirty, if you look close enough, you can actually see that it’s an additional layer and not just drawn on. They’re all small details in the grand scheme, but if you’ve not owned a high-end PC before, it’s likely the first time you’ll be seeing this sort of thing.
It’s not just Lara’s character that’s been overhauled though. The entire world is remarkably detailed, with textures that are stated to be 4x the quality of the original game. In as much that you can get a lot closer without the textures becoming blurry. To begin with, this gives everything a sharp and quality feel, but on top of that, there are various new technologies that handle the fire, lighting, wind, foliage, and particle effects. As Lara is an archeologist, it often leads her to places filled with dust, and ancient objects that she wants to examine in great detail. When walking into a temple, players will now notice small details such as dust particles floating in the air as sun rays shine through them illuminating the room. It makes for quite a spectacle, and in my opinion, helps to draw the player further into the fantasy of being an adventurer and stepping into one of these historical sites.
I think what impressed me the most, in some ways, were my experiences with the game running specifically on the PS4. For a start, the game plays so much better with a Dual Shock 4, which was interesting as they experimented with little ideas that involved the controller itself. For example, when you light your torch, the light bar on the controller will flicker between red and yellow, or when you fire a gun, it will flash. If you’re playing in a darkened room, it’s actually quite immersive (despite sounding like a gimmick.) Additionally, you can use the touch pad to look around the map and inspect items. For this one, I personally prefer the analog sticks, but it worked well enough. Most impressive, however, are the voice commands, which work out of the box with the included headset. In truth, the only positive experience I’ve had with Microsoft’s Kinect in a traditional game was with Mass Effect 3. Arguably, the voice commands work even better in Tomb Raider as the microphone is much closer, so calling out, “bow”, “handgun”, etc. all work very well, and in my opinion, adds a genuine gameplay convenience.
Additionally, there were two PlayStation-specific features that I really enjoyed while playing Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition. The first was simply being able to output the games sound via the controller to my own headphones. This allowed me to attach the PS4 to one of my monitors at the office and play quietly at my desk. More impressively, however, was the ability to take my PS Vita into bed at night, link directly to my PS4 via remote play, and lay down while experiencing the most remarkable graphics i’ve ever seen on a small screen. I played at least 30% of the game via remote play, and for the most part, it was flawless, looked incredible, and was easy enough to control. The front touch can be a little awkward, but it’s clear the PS4 team had remote play in mind during development.
Tomb Raider was arguably one of the best titles in 2013; with a thrilling narrative, interesting characters, and a semi-open world that was packed full of secrets. More than anything though, Lara’s reboot also came during a time where the industry was crying out for more positive female role-models, and I think Crystal Dynamics hit the nail on the head. Sadly, the “Definitive Edition” doesn’t feature any new content, but it does include all the original DLC, as well as some goodies that are included with the retail version; which is nice. In truth, it’s a little disappointing to see the game being released at full price, but in saying that, it’s clear that a lot of work has been put into rebuilding the visuals, so I can fairly say that it is somewhat justifiable. For the purpose of this review, I played the game on PS4, for which I personally enjoyed all of the consoles unique features, such as remote play, but in saying that, I wouldn’t let the frame-rate disparity put you off the game if you only have an Xbox One; it still looks absolutely remarkable on both systems! Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition isn’t just the best looking version of the game, it’s arguably the best looking game I’ve ever played. If you are an avid fan of the adventure genre, looking for that first true taste of the new generation, or simply have yet to play it; I can’t recommend it enough!
Note: This review was based on the PS4 version of the game, and provided to us by Namco Bandai Games Australia.