If I was asked to pick one game from last year’s remarkable lineup of major releases to be ported and lovingly enhanced for the next-gen consoles, then it wouldn’t be Tomb Raider, it’d of course have to be Grand Theft Auto V. Crystal Dynamics’s excellent reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise would be in the reckoning though, and we’ve been spoiled with more than just an HD port, we get treated to a lavishly detailed Lara and remodelled levels too, so I couldn’t have been happier to leap back into Lara’s boots.
Spanning the Sega Saturn, PlayStation, PC, Mac, Dreamcast, Gameboy Advance, PS2, Gamecube, Xbox, Wii, PSP, DS, PS3, Xbox 360 right up to the PS4 and Xbox One this is what by my reckoning is at least the 11th major home console outing for Ms. Croft. This is an “origin” story that shows us how Lara came to be the tough, “never say die” adventurer that we all know and love. The adventure is set on the mysterious island of Yamatai, a beautiful yet storm-struck volcanic island in a hostile area known as the Dragon’s Triangle, thought to be home to the legendary shaman Sun Queen Himiko, who it was believed, had immense mystical powers… It’s an exciting if slightly unlikely story written by Rhianna Pratchett (daughter of Discworld author Terry) that will undoubtedly keep you playing until the spectacular, supernatural end.
From the first moments, the weather effects, wind, rain, flowing water and wave effects in the ocean are simply stunning. The smoke, flames and explosions will have you gasping, coughing, shying away from them and ducking for cover. Simply put, despite a jump across generations of console Definitive Edition Tomb Raider is still a darned good looking game, and brings to life a rich, organic and immersive world, and one that that you’ll want to explore.
Perhaps surprisingly in a game with so much ducking, diving and cover shooting you don’t have a ‘cover’ or ‘crouch’ button for Lara, instead she does it all contextually. If, like I did, you doubt this can work then you’ll be pleasantly surprised the first time you get pinned down and outnumbered by a band of machine gun firing, Molotov and dynamite-throwing enemies and come out on top. This ‘loose’ cover mode works superbly, and developers of games like Halo, Call of Duty and even Gears of War (with its ‘sticky’ cover mode) need to look at it. Move up behind an object when in combat and Lara’ll crouch behind it, smoothly letting you pop out to shoot by holding the aim button (L1 on PS4 or the ‘L trigger’ on Xbox One.) Lara performs so well during combat and some situations are so much fun and have so many possibilities that I found myself pressing ‘Start’ and resetting back to the last checkpoint just so I could play a shootout again... and I can count the number of games that I’ve done that with on the fingers of one foot. During normal exploration Lara also crouches automatically to get through low tunnels and picks up all the ammo she can when you press the action button, so no finicky pick-up mechanic as in Dead Island, Borderlands, or Aliens Colonial Marines.
…it soon becomes second nature to shoot anything that moves.
Like seemingly every other game on the planet Tomb Raider now has an RPG-like levelling system and XP is gained for collecting pickups and performing certain actions. Every time you level up you also get a “skill point” to enhance Lara’s abilities. Salvage can be found in crates and on downed enemies-bizarrely, even on hunted animals-and can be used to upgrade weapons. I’m not sure Tomb Raider needed this; it adds a good deal of faffing about but also gets you stalking every animal you see and searching every nook and cranny of the various stunning locations. Personally I’d have been just as happy to have to complete a certain tomb or trial in order to upgrade Lara’s abilities, and wouldn’t have minded one bit if I’d just stumbled across a new, better weapon-perhaps dropped by a downed enemy-rather than the system used, which would have you believe that a posh 21 year-old girl could gather bits of junk and somehow botch up her existing weapons to enhance them. Having said that, when Lara ties rope to arrows (to make arrows that can be used to pull things/enemies down or form a zip line), or fixes the lighter to the bow (to make flame arrows), or straps the grenade launcher to the rifle (to basically give it a secondary fire mode), you’ll get the same sort of “YEAH! THAT’S SO FLIPPIN’ COOL!” emotion as when Ripley tapes the flamethrower to her pulse rifle in the movie Aliens…
The Tomb Raider franchise has never been too ecologically correct; Lara seemed to kill endangered species here there and everywhere during her early adventures. Hunting more mundane creatures such as deer, rabbits, crab, rats and various birds is an integral part of the game here, and although after the first kill it’s an entirely optional way of earning XP and salvage, it soon becomes second nature to shoot anything that moves. Lara’s first kill is compulsory, and there’s a truly raw (pun intended) scene when Lara has to kill a deer for meat to survive, which will probably go unnoticed by the desensitised masses, but it’s an emotional moment in a game full of brutal, gory violence and countless moments of extreme peril for our heroine. For some reason, despite the events of the game’s plot seeming to last for several days, Lara never actually has to kill for food again though, which seems odd, but maybe that’s how she got that figure.
The Tomb Raider games have never been scared of letting you kill Lara in a number of horrible bone-crunching and painful-looking ways, but this game is brutal; impalements, beatings, high falls, shootings, crushings, stabbings-you name it and it can happen to Lara during this game. But fear not, checkpoints are generous so you rarely have to retread previously played areas, and Lara can survive all this and dish out a remarkable amount of punishment to the numerous Solarii henchmen that mean her harm. Lara finds a bow and arrows early in the game, and although she later finds a pistol, a rifle and a shotgun, the bow is frequently the best option, and was always my “go to” weapon. The bow has excellent range, is very accurate and can also be upgraded to use flame arrows (upgradeable to napalm arrows and dynamite arrows) and the rope arrow, which allows you to set up zip lines in various places, tug various suspended objects by fastening a rope to them and even open previously blocked doors. As I mentioned earlier all the weapons can be upgraded and the shotgun can fire incendiary shells to add to the damage. The aiming is smooth and accurate, and the weapons all feel right, the bow in particular as you can ping off a quick shot just by pressing the trigger (R2 on PS4 or the “R trigger” on XB1) or by holding it to stretch the bow then releasing it for a more powerful shot. I’m delighted to report that there are no classic third-person aiming issues either; if the aiming reticle is pointing at something then your shot will almost always hit it, unlike just about every other TPS out there. The ability to aim carefully is even aided by a shoulder swap (Left stick click) that moves Lara to the other side of the picture, so if you like to creep stealthily about rather than blunder around, moving cautiously and peering round corners is always possible.Lara’s “survivor instincts” (mapped to ‘L1’ on the PS4 and ‘LB’ on the XB1) work in a similar way to Agent 47’s in Hitman Absolution; they drain the picture of colour and make useful things glow, even allowing her to see useable items and collectible objects through walls once enhanced with skill points.
Most of the gameplay is free-moving exploration interspersed with shootouts or sneaking sections; the tactical choice is usually up to you, but there are also occasional QTEs (Quick Time Events) placed throughout the game, these are basically pre-rendered sequences where the outcome is determined by whether you press a button or wiggle the left stick fast enough at the right time. Lara’s optional mêlée attacks can also be enhanced by timely presses of ‘triangle’ and ‘circle’ (PS4) and ‘Y’ and ‘B’ (XB1). There are a few other sequences that borrow heavily from the Uncharted games and see you fleeing into or out of the screen from a collapsing building or some similar peril. Perhaps surprisingly wolves (usually in pairs) are the most dangerous animals on the island, and this may be hard for the TR faithful used to fighting lions, tigers, bears, gorillas, sharks, crocodiles, mummies, a sea serpent, a giant octopus, mutant monsters and of course, the odd T.Rex. They are however, a scary enough thing to encounter, especially as this happens at night in a heavily wooded area.
The game is beautiful throughout, even yucky bits like caverns running in blood...
The new remodelled and younger Lara looks great, the all-new character model is attractive and beautifully animated, and most importantly controls accurately and smoothly. Even when you’re not making her, she moves constantly and looks around like she’s a living, alert character. Other nice touches are that she puts her weapons away when she should, and strains with the effort of opening certain huge treasure chest lids. The only grumbles I’d have is that she doesn’t look wet or even drip when she comes out of water, and there’s also no swimming or underwater diving in the game, which is a real surprise in a game with so much damned water in it (and good looking water at that!) If I could I’d like to ask the level designers, what happened to the swimming/diving levels that have been a ubiquitous part of every Tomb Raider game until now? I don’t want to sound sexist (but I will), but facially last-gen Lara was about a 7. Definitive Edition Lara is without doubt a 9 or 10, she’s got a really beautiful face and big eyes, and her hair is more lifelike than some real women’s... So it looks a bit odd in some cut scenes where the PS3/Xbox 360 character model has been used and just “HD’d up”, and so in-game Lara often looks nicer than cut-scene Lara! While I appreciate the amount of work involved in remastering all of the cut scenes a bit more consistency and polish would have been wise as at times Lara genuinely looks like two different girls-three if you count intro sequence CGI Lara.
I read reports that the game has been criticised for being misogynistic, and I’d like to say categorically here that that’s just not true. A scene in which our heroine has a close encounter with a band of scavengers and is captured and bound has, in certain media, been inaccurately described and overblown into an “attempted rape scene.” There’s plenty of threat perceived in this sequence but far from being a male voyeur’s wet dream, this is the moment in which Lara becomes a true survivor, and fights viciously back, kneeing her attacker in the family jewels, biting him and then, in a thrilling life or death struggle, turning his gun on him and blowing his head off! Does that sound disrespectful of women to you? It’s an intense, emotional turning point for the young Lara (and the old me), and after that she doesn’t hesitate to kill anything or anyone in her way.
We complained about Lara’s lack of costume changes in the last-gen review and although there’s nothing particularly sexy for her to wear, that issue has been addressed by supplying all the DLC and unlockable outfits (Hunter, Aviatrix, Guerilla, Mountaineer, Demolition and Sure-Shot), which you can change Lara into at any camp fire.
The voice acting is a bit of a mixture, Camilla Luddington does a decent job of Lara but some of the others are a bit wooden. The action is accompanied by some good, but forgettable orchestral music, that rises as the action intensifies. The trouble is that it could be from any game or action movie and this is a shame considering how memorable the recurring theme from the first few Tomb Raiders still is after all these years.
The new Tomb Raider may not have that many tombs to raid, but it does have a massive amount of verticality, and this means a lot of climbing. Some climbs are simplified to the point where all you have to do is push the left stick ‘up’, others will have you scratching your head as to where to go next. However Lara’s instincts will usually reveal the answer, and at times make the game a bit too easy for my liking.
The game is beautiful throughout, even yucky bits like caverns running in blood and strewn with skeletons look amazing. As for the tomb raiding itself, well it does seem a little dumbed-down; there are some neat physics-based puzzles, but there are no tombs to hold a candle to classics like St. Francis Folly or the Cistern for complexity or the ‘wow’ factor of that moment when Lara walked out on top of the Sphinx. Having said that, the overall quality of the graphics, the game engine, sound and music do such a good job of immersing you that there were moments when I was emotionally involved enough to be slightly choked and genuinely relieved that I’d managed to get Lara through another dangerous situation, and extremely glad to emerge from some of the nastier environments on the strange island of Yamatai.
Unlike a lot of gamers, reviewers, developers and publishers us lot at Gamecell don't actually think multiplayer is vital to a Triple-A game, and some high-profile games could definitely have benefited from sticking their tacked-on multiplayer modes in the bin, and concentrating on the solo campaign story a bit more. Uncharted 3 made it clear that a game mainly seen as a solo experience could supply a high class multiplayer experience without compromising the solo campaign’s quality; thankfully Tomb Raider’s solo game is excellent and the longbow and gunplay works superbly, but would it transfer successfully to an online arena setting, and would the multiplayer mode be worth all the work?
In the multiplayer mode you can either play as a Survivor of the wreck, or one of the Solarii. There are 8 main maps themed on locations from the solo campaign; Beach, Shrine, Chasm, Underground, Monastery, Village, Caves and Cliffs. Game modes are Rescue (one team must attempt to recover medical supplies while the other must kill with melee attacks only), Team Deathmatch (all-out killfest, highest score wins), Cry For Help (survivors try to activate radio transmitters while keeping the Solarii from stealing the batteries), and Free For All (get a kill streak without dying to become the Executioner.) The maps are relatively small compared to some multiplayer games but superbly designed; they all have a dynamic feel to them with plenty of destructible scenery, exploding barrels etc. The Definitive Edition includes the multiplayer DLC map pack titled Caves and Cliffs, and Free For All mode has 5 additional maps (Shanty Town, Dogfight, Forest, Lost Fleet and Himiko’s Cradle), all of which closely resemble settings from the solo game and add good deal of variety to the overall multiplayer package.
As in the solo adventure, you level up with XP and there’s collectible salvage in crates spread around the maps which is used to upgrade weapons, and thankfully there’s plenty of time between rounds to do so. As well as upgrading weapons and passive abilities you can also choose a tertiary “drop” weapon such as land mines or a boobytrapped ammo box. In the maps there are also snare traps, impaling traps, explosives and lightning rods (when set lightning will randomly strike these and frazzle nearby enemies) dotted around.
The game plays extremely well, like most new multiplayer games it took a bit of getting used to, and it plays a lot like Uncharted 3’s multiplayer, only with more complex and dynamic maps. There are a couple of notable changes to the controls in multiplayer; Crouching isn’t automatic anymore, it’s mapped to the right stick click, shoulder swap isn’t as effective and only works while aiming down the sights, and ’B’ or ‘Circle’ gives you a limited sprint. After just planning to try each game mode and every map I found myself 3 hours or more later completely hooked, at level 15 and wanting more, and having added a couple of new friends that I’d been chatting to and teaming up with too. They’ve even thought about those things that annoy real gamers, like the other team dropping out when they’re getting beat, and so if the other team quits out you get the win (and the XP) by default – it’s a shame all games don’t do this. You can also set up a private lobby and explore the maps before jumping into an open game, which is always a nice option in a multiplayer game full of players who’ve been playing the game longer than you and know the maps like the back of their hands. The vast majority of people who buy TR won’t be buying it for the multiplayer, but it’s extremely user-friendly and more playable on Xbox One and PS4, so it’s definitely worth a go. The only downsides were the occasional “black screen of death” after some games, and this seemingly occurs when a lobby empties out.
Gripes... well I had to think hard so that’s a good sign. There really is little to complain about, but I will anyway: Lara (or her weapon) clips into the scenery when close to a wall, and I know it occurs in just about every game, but I long for the day when this doesn’t happen anymore. It’s such an immersion-sapping thing to happen in any game and let’s hope we see an end to it in this generation of games. There’s another minor glitch when Lara jumps onto an object she can’t stand on top of, and slides around like she’s surfing until she falls off. There are a lot of birds in the game, and oddly when in flight they are really badly animated, and some of the AI characters’ animation is stiff and basic-looking too. I was also surprised and disappointed to see that as with the original game there’s still no splash when things drop into water, another odd omission as this happens frequently.
The new Kinect and PlayStation cameras allow you to manipulate collectible relics and examine them closely, and voice commands can be used to change weapons and even ammo types. This may sound gimmicky but it does work extremely well. Leaning your body will also pan the camera left or right in some situations.
Overall then, an absorbing and spectacular game, truly worthy of a gaming icon like Lara Croft. You feel protective of her youthful vulnerability and uncertainty at the start, and emotionally involved as she flourishes and grows into the empowered survivor we all know and love. Games don’t come much better than this, and it’s was fully deserving of the 10/10 score we gave it last year. Even if you played it on the last-gen machines with this pleasing graphical upgrade you may well want to revisit Yamatai, and if you didn’t Tomb Raider is one of the as one of the first “must have” games of the new generation.