It may have been overshadowed by the likes of BioShock Infinite and The Last of Us in various Game of the Year awards, but the Tomb Raider reboot was easily one of the best games of 2013. To call it well received in the NZGamer.com office would be an understatement - this game got the highest scores of the year for PC and Xbox 360, the two platforms we reviewed it on: a 9.6 and a rare perfect 10, respectively.
And yet, despite this acclaim, Tomb Raider didn’t sell nearly as well as Square Enix had hoped. Given these contrasting results, releasing the Definitive Edition on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One seems downright sensible - it gives a game that reviews consistently say is excellent a second chance at commercial success.
And that largely seems to be the focus of this new version: expanding the audience and reaching new players. There’s little here to entice anyone who’s played the original game back for a second helping, but for someone new to the game, there’s no reason whatsoever to not get the Definitive Edition, save not having one of the consoles for which it’s available.
Improvements for the singleplayer campaign are almost entirely aesthetic, and while the upgrades are certainly noticeable, I wouldn’t go as far as calling them significant. Last-gen Tomb Raider was a gorgeous looking game already, and the Definitive Edition primarily just takes that beauty and makes it a little bit crisper with a native 1080p resolution and a few other adjustments.
The exception to this, though, is Lara’s new model, and particularly her hair. She’s been rebuilt entirely for the current gen, and it shows; her model is more detailed, her expressions more emotive, and her movements more lifelike. The much-touted TRESS FX technology results in some of the most authentic hair physics I’ve seen.
And yet, this is something of a double-edge sword. The benefits of TRESS FX are readily apparent, but they also serve to highlight some shortcomings of its implementation that might otherwise go unnoticed. Lara’s hair is beautiful and silky to the point that she could star in a Pantene commercial, but this unrelenting sheen doesn’t really fit with the game’s setting and plot. Lara gets be bruised, battered, and covered in mud, but the harshness of her environment never seems to extend past her forehead.
A few cutscenes also suggest that the new physics apply to Lara’s ponytail, but not the rest of her locks. It’s more than a bit jarring to see the reluctant heroine dangling upside-down, with her ponytail hanging behind her, but her bangs carelessly pointing skyward.
There is little else in the singleplayer campaign that’s new or improved compared to the original game, which is why this so hard to recommend for a double-dip. You have a small selection of new outfits to wear, optional voice controls that feel rather unresponsive, a digital artbook and comic to peruse, and… that’s about it.
The PlayStation 4 version also includes some system-specific features like PS Vita Remote Play and unapologetic use of the DualShock 4’s speaker; these are neat, but hard to justify dropping another $100 on if you’ve taken this journey before.
As far as new content goes, the Definitive Edition includes all previously-released add-ons, but sadly, the game’s multiplayer is the only beneficiary here. This is a shame, because the online component of Tomb Raider paled in comparison to the singleplayer, and that’s as true in the new release as in the original.
The extra DLC addresses one of the major multiplayer issues: there are now eight maps to skirmish on, rather than the measly four that originally shipped last year. Unfortunately, everything else that let this mode down - latency woes, poor matchmaking, some balance issues, and a focus on grinding - remain present.
With this new release, Square Enix had a chance to turn the multiplayer mode into something worth coming back for time and again, especially with the PS4’s current third-person shooter drought, but they dropped the ball.
Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, is certainly not a misnomer - if you’re picking up the game for the first time, this is absolutely the one to go for. It’s the same brilliant game that came out last year, all polished up and looking its finest. For returning adventurers, on the other hand, there’s so little in the way of new content that there’s not much point buying the new version unless you had an urge to replay it anyway.