Review: Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition

A year's long dream fulfilled!

Console: PlayStation 4 game played on a PlayStation 5.

As I've mentioned this once or twice before, the Tomb Raider 2013 is a game that I´ve wanted to play for years. It´s the game that started my interest in buying a PlayStation (then the PS4). Now that I've got a PS5, I grabbed a copy of Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition as soon as I could (read: Black Friday). Only one big question now remains: did it live up to the years of expectations I had built up in my mind? Well, no but that's not because it's a bad game. Not at all. It's just that Tomb Raider 2013 is different than I thought it would be. While I expected an exploration/puzzle game this is very much a survival/stealth game with a large focus on its narrative.

Let's dive in.

While on an expedition to locate the lost island of Yamatai, the ship The Endurance is hit by a massive storm. The ship goes under and its crew, Lara Croft herself; Dr James Whitman, a celebrity archaeologist; Conrad Roth, Lara's mentor; Sam Nishimura, Lara's friend; Joslyn Reyes, a sceptical and temperamental mechanic; Jonah Maiava, cook and fisherman, Grim the gruff helmsman and Alex Weiss, an electronics specialist, find themself stranded and separated on a dangerous island. An island that is home to a dead civilization. An island home to a group of murderous cultists. An Island that is plagued by a mysterious storm that kills anyone who even dares to leave. To go home, Lara must learn to survive, fend off the cultists and other dangers of the island and solve the mystery of the storms.

The story of Tomb Raider is precisely what it should be: entertaining and engaging. The narrative isn´t breaking any new ground, you can pretty easily tell what type of story it is and not that hard to see where everything was going. But that doesn't really matter. Even if it's a bit predictable it hits all the right notes. It has tension, action, humour, emotional moments etc. More than enough to keep you engaged and entertained.

The growth of Lara Croft is at the very core of this narrative. She starts out pretty much as you would expect any young adult to behave in this situation. Scared and feeling helpless. However, through hardship, determination and skill she goes from someone pleading her mentor for help to the one doing the saving.

What is a bit weird though is the story to gameplay dissonance. The story makes a big deal out of Lara killing. Her distaste for it and how some characters start to distrust her for it. Yet, because it is partly an action game, after all, you kill enemies without a second thought during gameplay. That's something they should've thought about a bit longer.

Yamatai is a beautiful, but scary, place.

Where Tomb Raider Anniversary, and the entire series, focuses on exploration and puzzle-solving this instalment puts its focus on action and survival. The exploration and puzzle-solving are still here but has been toned down considerably. The series is called Tomb Raider and yet, the less than dozen Tombs that are in this game are all optional! They are neat, well thought out environmental puzzles, but they are too small and simplistic. They really feel like an afterthought and reducing an integral part of the serie is a clear miss-step. With how linear the game is, how much it pushes you to finish the story, going after collectables feels secondary as well.

On a better note, Lara controls fluidly in the game. Her basic action includes running, jumping, dodging and, well, shooting with her weapons. The survival aspect of this game leads to a lot of climbing, parkour and stealth sections which are integrated naturally into her skill set and the environment. Perhaps a bit simplistic, you only ever need to push one button, but I'd rather have that than that they are more integral but over complicated.

Combat is as you'd expect. The standard 3rd-person aiming with a bow, her most prominent weapon, and guns with the option to hide behind obstacles, dodge attacks and (once you get the right skill) physically attack enemies. You can go in guns blazing, use environmental elements such as exploding barrels or, if you're less confident, try to sneak around and take down enemies using stealth techniques.

The non-combat sequences are linear scripted sections that are clearly Tomb Raider taking something from Uncharted, after Uncharted took a lot from Tomb Raider to begin with. Lara, for example, has to evade a crashing plane. These sections are pretty darn cool. They feel like they are just out of an action movie (which is probably the reason why the recent Tomb Raider movie 'borrowed' said plane sequence).

My only annoyance with these sections is the quick-time events (QTE's). The game falls back on QTE's pretty often, like with counterattacking, which is annoying. It would be difficult to not do the big action sections without some QTE's but the game actually does have sections in which you get to control Lara without them. Still, I wish the developers had found a way to reduce the QTE's more often. You have a lot of them in a row in the action sections. The game has shown ways to reduce them which makes all these QTE's even more annoying.

On to the survival aspect of the game. You are stranded on Yamatai without resources, cut off from your fellow crewmembers. You have the scavenge resources, craft weapons and buy skills to improve your gear. To aid you in your exploration and scavenging is Lara´s survival instinct which makes enemies, resources light up. You can use the resources you get from all of this scavenging to upgrade your weapons while the treasures you nab will, aside from giving you stuff like journal entries, extra XP to buy skills with. With these skills, you can, to an extent, tailor Lara to your preferences. Make her a better combatant or survivalist for example.

Lastly, let's discuss the game's graphics and performance. Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition is an upscaled and improved PS3/Xbox 360 game that isn't hard to notice yet doesn't detract from the experience. The game still looks good and improvements have been made. The textures have gotten a new shine, the effects have been improved and even some faces are altered and the game runs like any other PS4 title.

Quick comparsion shot between the original version of the game and the definitive edition.

Conclusion

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition is a game that I wanted to play for years and didn't disappoint. It has an entertaining and interesting story, fun gameplay, awesome action sequences and more. It is not hard to see the game's flaws, the lack of importance of the Tombs for instance, but these don't detract too much from the experience. Only bringing it down to 'great'.

And, to look forward here for a bit, much of these gripes have been addressed by the developers in the other two instalments of this trilogy. Rise of the Tomb Raider and Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

The game might be coming up on 10 years of age but it's still a very good time and worth playing if you're interested in Tomb Raider.

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