Rather than force you to sit through a string of paragraphs longer than the average historical textbook, we’ll get straight to the point: Lara Croft’s next generation debut looks the part on the PlayStation 4. Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition may be little more than a cleaned up retread of last year’s dirty day-trip to Yamatai, but it’s arguably one of the best showcases of Sony’s expensive new tech yet. The big question is: are the visual enhancements enough to encourage you to test your endurance levels all over again?
That’s going to depend entirely upon your opinion of the original product, as this is still the same Uncharted-esque adventure that deployed on ageing appliances approximately ten months ago. For those out of the loop, this re-release of Crystal Dynamics’ series reboot takes Britain’s bustiest export back to the origins of her love affair with archaeology, as she’s shipwrecked on a macabre Japanese island and forced to play the alpha male in her crew’s hapless attempts to escape. As a result, the narrative plots the path of the protagonist from innocent twentysomething to unhinged superhero, all in the span of a ten or so hour single player campaign.
If that sounds like a squeeze, then it won’t come as much of a surprise that the heroine’s transition from sweetheart to homicidal maniac is a smidgen, well, speedy. Despite the developer’s intention to portray a more meek iteration of the iconic star, it all comes across a touch disingenuous when she’s toiling over a dead deer in one scene and shooting at the skulls of Solarii soldiers in the next. It perhaps doesn’t help that the studio opted to pad out voice actor Camilla Luddington’s script with out-of-place obscenities.
Nevertheless, if you can detach your ability to detect ludonarrative dissonance [Smarty pants – Ed], then you will undeniably find an exceptional experience basking beneath the unpredictable Eastern weather here. The title certainly subscribes to Nathan Drake’s school of cinematic gameplay, guiding you from one set-piece to the next like a particularly pacey rollercoaster ride, but it’s also a little more open than the average Naughty Dog escapade, augmenting shades of Metroid and Castlevania as you unlock the sizeable areas with new gear and gadgets.
Moreover, the game does a great job of coaxing out your inner completionist, packing every corner of its elaborately detailed forest and underground environments with hidden books, artefacts, and GPS signals. In addition, each location is littered with unique challenges, which upon completion award you with experience points and salvage to spend at camps. This makeshift currency ultimately allows you to improve the leading lady’s abilities, providing a sense of progression throughout the exhausting affair.
And as already alluded, every inch of that fatiguing experience has been given a coat of polish courtesy of the additional horsepower enabled by Sony’s new super machine. For starters, the star herself has been completely overhauled, with a facelift equipping her with the supermodel looks that defined her earlier days. While she loses a little believability in this fresh Barbie doll form, the laughable – but impressive – TressFX technology makes up for any shortcomings, prompting the protagonist’s barnet to whip about like a L’Oreal advertisement shot on Brighton beach. She’s worth it.
However, the heroine’s hair isn’t the only on-screen object susceptible to very slight movements, as the whole game feels much more animated in its next-gen guise. Grass, plants, and trees now swirl about in the wind, while dust and embers float purposefully in the air. These enhancements will prompt you to simply stop and stare at some of the vistas, but the whole illusion is accentuated by the re-release’s resolution bump and framerate increase. It really does result in an enormous improvement, and easily makes it one of the best looking games that we’ve ever played.
While the visual upgrades represent a real step forward, though, some of the DualShock 4 specific features are more gimmicky than a Swiss army knife. For example, the device’s light bar now flickers like a flame when you’re wielding your trusty torch, adding the homely glow of a furnace to your surroundings while you play. There’s nothing particularly problematic about this per se, but it all feels a touch over-the-top, as does the decision to emit radio chatter through the peripheral’s poor quality speaker.
Other additions are similarly superfluous, with the voice controls adding nothing to the game other than ability to accidentally pause the action each time that you curse during combat. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with the inclusion of the touchpad to browse maps, inspect objects, and perform a handful of simplistic in-game interactions, the functionality doesn’t necessarily need to be there. Fortunately, you can opt to turn off or ignore many of these extras, so it’s not really an issue at all.
The same could be argued for the straightforward competitive component, which hasn’t exactly evolved into a must play multiplayer centre-piece on next-gen consoles. Boasting a handful of team and solo game types, the predictable eight-player online excursion offers up a largely unoriginal third-person shooting experience, packed with perks and loadouts to unlock. In truth, the core gunplay isn’t strong enough to carry this mode alone, but there are a couple of amusing objectives that make it a decent enough distraction for a round or two.
If you’ve already plundered every last dusty antique in Lara Croft’s origin story on the PlayStation 3, then you’re going to need to decide for yourself whether you have the resolve to do it again. Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition is an exceptional port of an already entertaining escapade, but outside of the extravagant visuals, there’s not a whole lot to sweeten the purchase a second time. If you have a perverse penchant for grave robbing, or you’ve never stepped foot on the strange shores of Yamatai before, then this is an enjoyable band-aid for the emerging next-gen drought. Just don’t expect it to change your mind if you didn’t like the original game.