PS4 Review: Tomb Raider Definitive Ed.
A Raider Reborn
“A famous explorer once said, that the extraordinary is in what we do, not who we are. I’d finally set out to make my mark, to find adventure. But instead adventure found me. In our darkest moments, when life flashes before us, we find something. Something that keeps us going. Something that pushes us. When all seemed lost, I found a truth.
“And I knew what I must become.” ~ Lara Croft
Past the layers of shadow consuming her own mind, a young woman fights. Deep down, in the haze and chaos of unconscious thought, the wheel of time lies quiet and still. It is only by will alone that she fights to regain a semblance of who she is, to once again make the wheel turn. To at last unleash a force unrelenting. To at last make life continue on its unending journey. And, as shadow gives way to consciousness, her senses begin to connect.
And the wheel finally turns.
She hears waves crashing against a distant sun smeared beach, echoing through the cavernous tunnels like distant thunder. The heavy, musky scent of damp, moldy air, cloying; like the hand of death around one’s throat. Briefly she feels the soft gentle sigh of sea tinged air brush against her face; the last whisper of some old world god breathing within her new life.
And with a gasp, that sharp intake of air and fearful shock, her eyes flit open, blasting away the final layer of shadow.
She transcends from darkness to light, from dreaming world to real. One that her mind fails to fully comprehend. ‘It’s all wrong,’ she thinks. ‘It’s all twisted.’ It’s only then does she realize that, like a fly caught in some primal web, she is bound in mud-caked burlap from neck to feet, hanging precariously upside down. The yellow, pale light of a hundred candles spills out across a dark stony cavern far below; her chin quivers slightly. Her eyes dart across the cave frantic, almost fearful. Her hushed breath shutters, echoing lightly against the rocky walls. She finally finds the last bit of herself as her voice escapes her. “Where…..where am I?” her tone is not the confident woman she will be, but the frightened and confused girl she still is.
Straining against the confines of her prison, she causes the rope to sway, rocking her gently back and forth as she struggles. That is when she brushes against the body of a crew member from her ship. With a start and a stifled scream she sees the man tied as she is. Except his body has been ripped open, his chest glistening with spilled blood. And sees the gaping hole where his heart once beat. “Oh god,” she stammers, “who….what did they do to you?!”
She is on the verge of hysteria, this coiled fear in her body thrashing to be set free. But if she gives in now, if she gives in to her fear, into her doubt for survival, then she knows she will end up like this dead crewman. “I can’t,” she forces herself to say, “I can’t end up like that.” As she struggles to escape her prison, she begins to violently rock back and forth even more, bumping into the dead man’s body once again and sending it into a row of lit candles. The burlap sack ignites like dry tinder, the crewman’s body plummets to the craggy rock floor far below.
She knows what she has to do. “This is going to hurt,” she whispers. And as she sways closer to freedom, as she steels herself for the inevitable, she knows deep down. This is going to hurt.
The burlap touches flame, and in a blaze the wrappings ignite. She screams out in fear, hoping against all hope that it gives way before she burns to death. And by mercy’s grace it does. But now, as the scene shifts to a ground floor view of her falling, flailing body, the young woman known the world over as Lara Croft knows she has literally jumped out of the frying pan…. and into the fire.
Because this is going to hurt. A lot.
So begins the adventures of a very young, very human, and very different Lara Croft.
“Sacrifice is a choice you make….”
Set in the early years of Lara’s life, the 2013 reboot of the series, simply titled Tomb Raider, is Crystal Dynamic’s attempt to reconnect with the core audience and fans of the series, as well as bring Lara and her adventures into a much more modern and very realistic light. To do that, they needed to completely break her down and rebuild her for a more contemporary and mature audience of gamer. In the 90’s it wasn’t difficult to see Lara’s mass appeal and cultural iconic moments that pervaded everything from video games, comic books, toys, theme park rides and eventually big budget movies (two in fact). It wasn’t difficult to see why this strong, savvy, lithe maiden of death permeated and connected to both male and female audiences. She was graceful. She was undeniable. She was beautiful.
But as time wore on, as gamers and game makers as well as the video gaming media itself matured, Lara’s mass appeal began to wane. She began to stumble where she once danced gracefully. She was becoming a distorted caricature of what she once was. What she once represented. Slowly but surely, as the years went by, Lara was being overshadowed by a more robust set of principle characters across all mediums of the gaming market. Her name held little weight against stalwarts like Master Chief, Kratos, and Marcus Fenix. Interest in the franchise began to wane, fans began to rumble for something more, something with style and substance beyond the limits of what was being given to them.
It was time for a revolution. Or, more appropriately, an Evolution. Something to reinvigorate not only the name, but the franchise as a whole. And Tomb Raider does that. And so, so much more.
“Loss is a choice made for you.”
My God, the brutality on display here is almost grotesquely inappropriate. In the first ten minutes of the game I died horribly at the hands of some deranged island nutjob that kept screaming at me that he was only trying to help, before he pulls out a knife, stabs me in the chest and runs his grimy, greasy hand across my face all the while he whispers “I’m only trying to help,” in this creepy, spine-chilling voice. And then following that, being pinned by collapsing rock, only to have that punctuated by a boulder that crushes my skull. There goes this layer and aura of invincibility.
And it’s about damn time.
In this series reboot of the franchise, a very young Lara Croft is on a voyage of discovery. Not just of old crypts and dusty relics: but of herself. And you’re going to need every last bit of resolve, drive and resiliency you can muster to forge ahead and finish this tale. Because Tomb Raider puts this poor girl through the ringer.
In fact, if I had to use a term to describe what I went through with Ms. Croft, I’d probably say that the game was almost borderline torture porn. You might think that’s a little extreme to compare but trust me. If you’ve played it, you can almost draw the parallels between the two.
What I found surprising was the fact that the game has some RPG elements to it that felt oddly satisfying, if a bit too lean on the selection. While initially this can help flesh out and separate your Lara from your friend’s Lara, by the end of the game, if you’ve collected every little relic, GPS cache and so on, you’ve effectively collected enough xp to pretty much max out your character.
Speaking of the collection metric, every weapon, tool and item you need to survive and progress through the game are things you find throughout the story. It not only feels rewarding, but it makes sense given the content of the setting. Also, most of them are upgradable, which makes the need to collect all the salvage you can find not only necessary, but vital.
On a gameplay basis, there’s really not much separating the old gen versions from the new ones. True, with the Definitive Edition you get the DLC for free. But from a storyline aspect, they’re literally beat for beat the same. Which is what’s caused Tomb Raider to draw the most ire from long time and new fans. As it stands, despite its graphical facelift, a lot of video gamers argue why should they pay full price for a game that they’ve already experienced, and can get cheaper on the older gen systems. And they’d have valid complaints. But you can also look at it from a new vantage point: The fellow (or fellows) who chose to wait, who wanted to experience the game at its graphical best. And to those gamers, you can see the validation on CD and SquEnix’s to charge full price. Besides, eventually someone’s going to turn in their copy of the game.
There you go: Great game. Used game price.
“I don’t think I’m that kind of Croft…..”
Graphically Tomb Raider is absolutely. Phenomenal. I mean, it was before. Only now it’s set on this pedestal that literally one ups itself. Where it used to be a 9.5, now it’s a 10. It’s beautiful from start to finish. From the variety of the environments; red stoney tombs to icy, snow covered ruins, greening forests, that vertigo-inducing climb up some crumbling granite peak. Beautiful, Beautiful stuff.
Although the game doesn’t have this continuous flow of day-to-night progression, some events do happen at night while others during the day. You’d think this would somehow feel jarring, but oddly doesn’t. It all progresses and feels quite natural.
The game’s controls are fantastic. There’s no HUD to really worry about blocking your field of view beyond the on-screen ammo count. Changing weapons (and their secondary fire option) is as simple as a press of the D-pad, or bumper button and so on. Most of the interactive elements in the game are context sensitive; press Triangle to climb, O to pick up and so forth.
If you’re ever in a pinch to figure out what to do or how to solve certain elements in the game, Lara has this almost Batman: Arkham Asylum/City “detective vision”. Just press the button and the area washes out into a black and white version with all of the interactive elements highlighted in yellow. This includes climbable walls, ammo crates, lootable salvage crates, and so on.
Unfortunately it’s also what I call the “Easy” button. Mainly because it kind of kills the reason to explore. To experiment. Why TRY something new when all I need to do is hit a button, follow the breadcrumbs from point A to point B and solve the problem? I will say that it IS an optional gameplay element, so I can’t fault it too bad. I just wish there had been limits to it.
What I found worked surprisingly well, and I hope it gets used more in upcoming Tomb Raider games (come on, you KNOW they’re coming), is the intuitive cover system. When enemies are near, Lara instantly crouches, takes out her currently available weapon, and uses any available element currently tall enough to hide behind. There’s no need to make her “stick” to anything or press any button to make her crouch. It feels fantastic to not only have to worry about it, but is just feels, well, natural.
The one snag with the game happens to be it’s, how shall I put it, “liberal” use of quick time events. On a personal level, I detest QTE’s. Mainly because I just feel like QTE’s are cheap and lazy elements in a game when they just don’t need to be in there. When they make sense, sure use them, but don’t use them all. the. time.
Another exemplary mark on Tomb Raider’s already impressive list of greats, is the audio work. Voice acting is top tier, the island sounds organic, the audio logs you pick up all add atmosphere and brevity to the story. Good, heady stuff.
The musical score is Triple-A fantastic. For the most part it’s somber piano scores interspersed with this spine-freezing metallic-sounding…..I really can’t describe what instrument they use but it is effectively unnerving to hear.
But the strongest point for me is Tomb Raider’s story. It was emotional in all the right places, it was poignant when it needed to be, but most importantly it was good. It made me WANT to see everything, to see it from beginning to end. There haven’t been many stories in recent games that made me do that. In fact, I think I can count on one hand stories that have made the list. And I can say that Tomb Raider is one of them.
While I’ve never experienced any bugs in the game, I have heard of some players experiencing a few. One in particular makes story progression impossible. To their credit, both Crystal Dynamics and Square-Enix attempted to fix the problem as soon as humanly able, so I’ve got to give them credit for that. All the DLC, from the skins to the optional tombs, are all included as free DLC add-ons, and although not required, it is still fun to see the game with Laura dressed in more appropriate attire for colder climates.
Final Thoughts: Damn near perfect on every level, despite some small stumbles here and there. Tomb Raider’s story, its beauty, its music, its…. damn near everything is fantastic. I can honestly say that Tomb Raider has done two things. One I was expecting. The other was unintentional, but welcomed. The first was reinvigorate a stale and sagging franchise. It gave it new life, new purpose, new meaning. And I am overjoyed by it.
And the other was that it made me love it more than, yes, even the original. Throughout all of Lara’s triumphs and tragedies, her hits and her misses, her boons and her banes, Tomb Raider has made me love the series all over again. If you’re an old fan like myself though, don’t pay full price for the game. I know that’s contradictory to the awe-inspiring splendor that’s contained in it. But if you’ve already experienced it on the old gen systems, then you’re not missing anything.
But, if you’re new to the game itself, getting all the DLC for free, all the skins, and experiencing the both story for the first time ever, and seeing its graphical overhaul; then yes. It is worth full price. Because honestly, you’d be missing out on one of the greatest reboots in video game history if you don’t.
It’s that damned good.