Let’s get one thing straight; if you own a PS4 and haven’t played it yet, then get Tomb Raider Definitive Edition.
We awarded the PS3 original an 8 and stand by that – Tomb Raider is a supremely polished matinee adventure filled with action, drama and spectacular visuals. That the latter is the only noticeable improvement in this PlayStation 4 re-release is the main reason we’ve pulled the score down; there’s simply not enough extra content on offer to warrant buying the game all over again.
Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition
It could have been far worse. Square Enix’s definition of ‘Definitive’ does at least stretch to bundling in all the existing DLC, although it’s the kind of content you’ll quickly file away under ‘gee-bloody-whizz’ – some concept art, a digital comic book, a bunch of insipid extra costumes for Lara – with the only playable addition being a new optional tomb for Lara to raid. If you’ve played the game you’ll be familiar with these miniature fillets of old school Raider exploration sprinkled throughout the map and know they’re more to break up the pacing than to offer any intellectual challenge.
So how good does Lara look on PS4 then? She’s got a completely remodelled face for starters, and while you can now see 1080p sweat oozing from her forehead there’s an oddly stiff quality to Lara’s next-gen visage that’s particularly jarring in cut scenes. Her eyes pop between emotions like a jerky wooden puppet, her lips wrestling around her dialogue like she’s chewing on super-glue – I’m sure the animation was actually better on PS3. It’s like a bad injection of PS4 botox, a sharpened texture mask over Lara’s softer last-gen face.
Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition on PS4 ups the visuals but adds little if you’ve already played it.
On the subject of cut scenes there’s also the odd dip in framerate, as though the game is struggling to project old animations through PS4’s improved graphical casing. Thankfully the gameplay itself is now a lot smoother, running at a beautiful, solid 60fps. Hectic action sequences that were once a mass of crackling gunfire and dizzy particle effects now run with a silky, filmic sheen – something that really adds to the immediacy of combat.
Then there’s the lighting. Oh, the lighting. It’s simply beautiful – from impactful lens-flare bloom and sunlight filtering through foliage, to the way weather effects like rain and fog are illuminated by searchlights. Yes it’s mainly window dressing, but it does ramp up the atmosphere, especially during storms or when you’re prowling through the shadows, avoiding enemy torches.
But then Tomb Raider was always a pretty
game and the difference on PS4 – while
notable – simply doesn’t justify the asking
price if you already own the game on PS3.
Perhaps with that in mind, Crystal Dynamics has shoved a bunch of PS4-exclusive control features into the mix that – while well intentioned – feel more like an embarrassed apology than anything particularly substantial. Case in point – the menu toggle sound effects now come out of the DualShock 4 speakers. Why? Well, because.
Slightly more useful are the touchpad and voice controls, the former allowing you to scroll through inventories and examine relics like swiping through apps on a smartphone, while the latter flicks up the in-game map with a simple utterance of ‘show map’. From here you can browse Lara’s upgrades and collectibles by saying the respective term.
While voice control is a novelty, you’ll quickly realise pressing buttons is easier, quicker, and more importantly doesn’t make you sound like you’ve got bling-themed Tourette’s. Plus the voice recognition is often disturbingly skittish; at one point my fiancée asked me “do you want a cup of tea?” which Tomb Raider somehow translated as “Pause.” Or maybe that was the game being brilliantly tactful.
Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition PS4 review
Letting you switch between weapons on the fly is a far more practical implementation of PS4’s voice tech, although still prone to laughable inaccuracy. Clumsily forgotten the controls for your bow during one of the game’s typically fraught gunfights? Just say ‘bow.’ Or ‘no, thanks.’ Or ‘I’m not walking the dog now, have you seen the weather?’ Either of these will do the job. It’s just all so unnecessary; Tomb Raider is already a brilliant game and if anything the added PS4 features clutter and confuse an otherwise slick control system.
Tomb Raider is already a brilliant game and if anything the added PS4 features clutter and confuse an otherwise slick control system
But lets get back to what’s most important – Lara Croft’s journey from shivering greenhorn archaeologist to skull-cracking adventurer supreme. It’s a linear one, yes, but also streamlined, explosive and executed with skill and confidence by a studio at the top of its game. Excellent narrative pacing and a continuous expansion of Lara’s skillset offers a satisfying sense of progress – and then there are the set pieces, some of which rival even Uncharted for pomp and audacity.
Tomb Raider Definitive Edition sees Lara beautifully reinvented on PS4, even if the original game isn’t expanded on.
Combat is punchy, varied and tactical, allowing you to chew opponents to shreds with machine guns or yank them off platforms with Lara’s rope arrows, while the platforming is full of daring leaps, yawning drops and impossible escapes. It’s searing stuff, made all the more riveting by an accomplished script and a stellar turn from Camilla Luddington as the voice of Lara. All the more sad then, that the queen of PlayStation’s first appearance on PS4 is as a brightly textured cash cow.
It looks a bit sexier of course, but the Definitive Edition trips up during that mad dash to justify its own existence, which I’ll sum up with a single in-game exploit: I’d just leapt to safety after a breathless chase involving an aeroplane plunging into the side of a mountain. The score leapt, the plane smashed, and Lara hurled herself away at the last possible moment. It looked and felt amazing. “This is awesome,” I said into the mono headset. And the game paused itself. Prettier and choked with superfluous PS4 control additions, yet still the same brilliant game underneath. Never played it? Buy this. Want to re-play it? Stick to the PS3 version.