Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition

February 3, 2014

Last year’s Tomb Raider was an ambitious reboot of 90’s icon Lara Croft, restarting her history by taking us back to when she was an innocent college student, with a much more realistic physique. It struck a chord with some unique gameplay concepts for the series, as well as some controversial changes to Lara’s character, and many (including myself) enjoyed it upon its initial release. Now, in lieu of new PS4/Xone titles on the horizon, we have the Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition on these new consoles to keep us busy.

Before we begin, I am going to point out that while Bev Chen has already played and reviewed Tomb Raider for PS3 on Rocket Chainsaw, my review of Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition will have my own opinions on the original game and not just the enhancements and upgrades. So, if you’re confused why the star rating is lower for this review than the original, it’s purely down to our separate views on the game itself, which is largely unchanged by this port.

The visual upgrade is immediately noticeable. The upgrade to 1080p makes the environments that much crisper, and new particle effects and uprezzed textures don’t hurt the eye either. I played the game on PS4, and with no Xone copy I was unable to compare the two in terms of frame-rate, but on PS4 the game consistently ran at about 50-60fps depending on how much action was on-screen, and certainly never dipped to the choppy numbers of the PS3 version. Despite all of this, the reason the game looks impressive is down to the inventive design – the shipwreck island of Yamatai is a bizarre pile of a millennia of sunken ships, crashed planes and war bunkers, and it’s a very cool concept. I also like the idea of exploring Japanese archaeology in a Tomb Raider game.


Lara herself has received a literal facelift, as her model has been rebuilt with extra polygons, density, sub-surface scattering and so on. When bloodied and dirtied, Lara’s face is exceptionally detailed, so much so that her initial cleaner look has a fake-looking sheen in comparison. As good as all this is, unfortunately like the botox of real plastic surgery, this seems to have come at a cost of expressiveness. All too often Lara’s face is almost frozen in place, unable to animate anything more than occasionally knitting her eyebrows, or barely moving her lips in radio conversations. Thankfully, Lara’s voice actress does a decent job in conveying emotion where her character model cannot. Other character models look decent enough, but have not received the same attention as Lara.

Other new additions to this PS4 version are largely superfluous. DLC is included, in the form of some interesting outfits and multiplayer content. The PS4’s DualShock 4 will glow different colours depending on Lara’s actions, such as flickering yellow when holding a torch, or flashing red when shooting. The speaker on the controller is also used extensively for certain sound effects, and also to listen to audio logs (as used in Killzone: Shadow Fall). While this sounds cool, all of these effects are replicated in the main sound mix coming out of your TV/audio system, so you’re essentially just hearing an echo inside your controller – an especially baffling choice when it comes to the audio logs in particular. If you have a Camera, then voice control is also enabled for switching weapons, pausing and bringing up the status map. It’s reasonably responsive, although my copy of the game kept thinking I was saying ‘Pause’ when in-game characters were talking.

That leaves us with the core game, which has remained unchanged since the original half a year ago. I still think the concept of an open-world Tomb Raider, with collectibles, documents and tombs to discover and explore, is a great idea, and it works reasonably well here. The game feels like it’s pulling in two different directions – one side towards the aforementioned open-world gameplay, the other towards an Uncharted-style adrenaline pumping on-rails shootbangapade. You’ll want to explore the island and discover its secrets at your own pace, but the story is constantly pressing you to continue on to the next urgent objective.

This carries through to the combat as well. You’re encouraged to be stealthy, using Lara’s bow and arrow to silently take out enemies, and perform takedowns whenever possible. However, this usually isn’t possible, or at least is made extremely difficult. An early tutorial teaches you to distract enemies with arrows in the environment, but any future attempts to do this will just alert your targets and start a firefight. Silencer upgrades for the pistol and rifle also do very little. Story missions typically funnel you through hordes of oncoming enemies to destroy, followed by Lara escaping the location as it collapses around her in an unfeasible chain reaction. On ‘normal’ difficulty, enemy AI has a very limited range of tactics, almost always staying behind cover and throwing TNT (which is unavailable to you) to draw you out.


The addition of a multiplayer mode was maligned by many when the game first came out, and after playing it a bit I can’t say it’s too awful, but hardly compelling. Most of the matches you’ll find online are simple free for all’s, but other modes are available that have some interesting tasks for teams to accomplish. The limited weapon-set from single player carries through to the multiplayer, which detracts from any depth your tactics may have, but there is a standard unlock-tree for you to work through should you wish to put the hours in.

Despite all this, I did enjoy the game when it first came out and I still do. This is mostly due to the fun environment traversal, with Lara’s physics-defying jump, climbing axe and rope pulley all combining to make a unique experience when exploring the island. The secret tombs are also really fun, each centering around a spectacular visual centerpiece and offering a puzzle to solve. They’re far too short, and there are far too few of them, but what’s there is appreciated.

The story also has good intentions – presenting an intriguing location with a mystery and an opportunity for Lara to grow from frightened innocent to confident adventurer. This premise is only competently executed. You’re more or less told right from the outset what is likely behind the strange island’s phenomena, which makes Lara’s slow realization all the more frustrating. Lara’s development is handled a little better, but only because she has an arc while most of her fellow shipwrecked survivors are blatant clichés (to be fair, some are fleshed out a little in collectible documents). Villain Mathias quickly devolves into the worst kind of evil speeches, and the final narrative unfortunately underwhelms.

Overall, I found Tomb Raider to be a strong foundation for a new start to the franchise. If the developers can build upon what worked in this initial game, then we have a strong future to look forward to in subsequent Lara Croft adventures. This Definitive Edition looks and sounds better than the original console release and along with some superfluous PS4-exclusive features and the additional DLC, it’s the version to get if you’ve never played Tomb Raider before. But, for anyone who’s played last year’s release, there should be no temptation to get in on the Definitive Edition.


Enjoyable exploration and open-world mechanics | Fun tombs | Great location and visuals


Mediocre story | Stealth/combat problems | Not enough tombs | Lara's faaace

Overall Score: