Did last year’s Tomb Raider need a port to the PS4 and Xbox One? Whether it did or not, the Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition is now here so let’s examine whether this Lara Croft reboot is worth a next-gen look or if she should have stuck to her guns on the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.
Lara’s Little Heart of Darkness
The Tomb Raider reboot is a new origin story for Lara Croft and gives Crystal Dynamics the opportunity to take a fresh approach both in terms of character and gameplay. For those unfamiliar, it is a surprisingly brutal take on the character as she is put through the kind of physical turmoil that would leave a normal person in traction for at least a month.
It’s also a more emotional journey for Lara as player’s take part in her evolution from an untested archaeologist to the beginnings of a hardened adventurer. The sole focus is on re-establishing her as one of the premier female characters in gaming and something more than a cock-sure, dual-pistol wielding, cool outfit wearing, British accented sex symbol.
No, this time she’s just a vulnerable girl experiencing loss and sacrifice while trying to survive and escape a hellish island. The supporting characters don’t necessarily stand out but they all serve the same purpose of making this a more relatable Ms. Croft.
What’s So Definitive About It?
Crystal Dynamics handed over the porting of Tomb Raider for the PS4 and Xbox One to two separate studios – Nixxes Software and United Front Games. Both spent the last year giving Lara a new facial model, adding support for 1080p resolution, new skin and texture effects to make the mud and blood that is accumulated look more realistic as well as subtle physics effects like the pickaxe swinging on Lara’s belts or the bow rattling around on her shoulders.
There’s also the issue of Lara’s hair. The Definitive Edition implements Nvidia’s TressFX technology that is supposed to make look, move and react more realistically. Believe it or not, this is important in a game like Tomb Raider where much of the time is spent looking at the main character’s pony tail. That said, it’s impressive to look at as long as Lara is an upright position. We reach the uncanny hair valley anytime she’s in a horizontal position while shimmying across ropes as her pony tail magically stays flat on her back instead of dangling down towards the ground.
The Definitive Edition also comes with all the previously released DLC for Tomb Raider including various outfits that Lara can wear in single-player plus all multiplayer maps and weapons that were released as well. The problem here is that the multiplayer is an utter bore of an experience that has not improved at all with the move to next-gen.
The game also brings support for Kinect and Playstation Camera voice commands to perform actions like switching weapons by saying “bow” or go to the map by saying “map.” These voice commands, along with motion controls for Kinect, are a gimmick that you’ll likely try only a couple of times just to see what they are about though before returning to the quicker and functional controller buttons.
A Note on FPS
Much has been made over the last week because the PS4 version of Tomb Raider can run anywhere between 45 and 60 frames per second (fps) while the Xbox One version is locked at 30 fps and briefly dipped down to 24 fps in one section of a Digital Foundry test. My own experience with the Xbox One version of the game was a steady and smooth experience and I didn’t notice any drastic fps drops that affected my enjoyment of the game. While the PS4 does provide a higher overall frame rate, current Xbox One owners shouldn’t be dissuaded from the game by this latest salvo in the console wars. The asking starting price, on the other hand, should be a concern for owners of both consoles.
Not the End
If you don’t already own the game or are in need of something to occupy your Playstation 4 or Xbox One during these dry times for new releases, it is hard to go wrong with Tomb Raider. Crystal Dynamics delivered one of the best single-player experiences over the last year and every visual and physics upgrade in the Definitive Edition was for the better. The $60 asking price for a year old game that can be had for less than $10 on previous platforms plus the lack of any attempt at improving the lackluster multiplayer is a true hindrance though and weigh down what is otherwise a stellar next-gen port. Still, this was obviously a test bed for the true next-gen Lara Croft experience and this helps get things going in that direction.
- Outstanding single-player experience
- Graphical upgrades range from subtle to sublime
- Promise of a true next-gen Lara Croft
- Multiplayer is still lackluster
- $59.99 next-gen price is a tough sell when the game goes as cheap as $10 for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.
Title: Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition
Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Crystal Dynamics, Nixxes Studio (PS4), United Front Games (Xbox One)
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: Jan. 24, 2014
A review code for the Xbox One was provided by Square Enix for the purposes of this review.
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