We've spent the day with Lara again as Tomb Raider releases on PS4 and Xbox One. Here's our thoughts.
Should you buy it? Yes. If you already own it, should you buy it again? No. Despite Square-Enix's marketing, Definitive Edition's not buying you anything extra gameplay-wise you haven't experienced before on PS3, Xbox 360 or PC in March last year. Sure, there's extra trimmings - multiplayer bits, an extra tomb - bundled into the release, but we're not talking Skyrim-sized content that you're missing out on here.
This re-release does two things. One, it gives PS4 and Xbox One owners a new title in a release-starved period, and two, it allows you to reappraise the original, which got lost amidst all the bigger releases in 2013. The visuals may be polished even more, but they were good-looking first time round.
That 30/60fps argument? Ignore it. Whether you're playing Xbox One or PS4, you'll still be experiencing a title that sits easily amongst the next-gen launch line up graphically.
I played through the reboot last year for review, and still remember it fondly. It mightn't have punched into our Game of the Year 2013 top three at year's end, but if we'd ran that list to ten entries, you'd have seen it on there. It's an enjoyable adventure; tight design, great combat mechanics. I loved the environment, and still do - Yamatai felt like a real place, despite the supernatural and occult overtones. Like the developers had mapped a real island and built gameplay around it, rather than built one to fit their plans.
The linear paths and small hub areas didn't lessen the exploratory elements. Tomb Raider felt well formed. By the time you're combing through the island post-credits for Challenges completion, you feel like you know (and have traversed) every inch of the isle. There's a strange comfort to it. I love how interconnected every area is, the multiple routes and pathways. How verticality became a visual representation of how far you'd progressed.
I sat down and played through a good portion of the game over the weekend, stopping just after the introduction of the Oni, at that plunge through a corpse-filled cavern.
I was surprised at how quickly I was breezing through it - perhaps a second play-through demanded a tweaked difficulty - but I was still being kept on my toes. There isn't that deft balance between fright and fight that The Last of Us managed, but the change between outclassed and inexperienced to upgraded and confident is subtly done. Lara's automatic crouch-drop and weapon unholster when nearing danger, combined with her auto-lean towards cover, still makes for great combat control.
I was still being dazzled by the environments and graphical elements. Forest fires, mountain-side villages. Even the rain pecking and blurring against the screen, any close up of Lara's face - in-game. That's one improvement that's obvious; the in-game character model now betters the cinematic one.
There's shallow concessions to next-gen touches. Voice commands - to pull up maps, switch weapons (at least you can specify ‘stealth' in this instance); neither do better than a quick tap of a button. Arguably barking ‘stealth' at the screen ruins the illusion when sneaking towards an unsuspecting enemy.
The PS4 controller's touch-pad let me spin round collected objects, looking for cues. It felt fiddly. Better was igniting or dropping a torch - a swipe up or down on the touch pad, which felt like striking a match, tying in with Lara's on-screen action.
They've implemented PS4 controller audio as well, but in an odd way. Audio logs come out of both controller speaker and TV screen. Killzone showed how effective it was to have audio logs play from the controller. Same to with radio conversations - surely it'd have been more atmospheric to keep radio replies from those you're conversing with to the controller only. You can only toggle controller audio on and off - there's no custom options.
Confession: I can't tell whether the audio's been tweaked, but I definitely notice the score a lot more this time round. It's a fantastic low-key soundscape of drums and ambient noises, with the occasional low-level horn to indicate a ‘hero' moment (composer Jason Graves gave us a great break down of his soundtrack in last year's composer commentary).
The issues from before are still there. There's a slight floaty feel to Lara's longer jumps, and you'll still have a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment when she seems to be magnetised to the correct grab animation when reaching for a cliff edge. Optional tombs are sparse, puzzle work light. Hunting animals beyond the first deer kill adds little beyond XP and Trophy/Achievement grabs. Everything said in the original review still stands.
It's still not a 9 out of 10. But that 8's still in place because it's an incredibly enjoyable experience. There'll be a better sequel build onto these reboot foundations; but it's worth experiencing this game still.
If you're a PS4 or Xbox One owner looking for something to fill that post-launch gap, this'll do nicely. You may have more difficulty swallowing the full price tag with the knowledge of the game's earlier release. If you've also got a Xbox 360 or PS3 hooked into your TV, or not made the next-gen leap yet, then pick up that version and save yourself some cash. Either way, any system - Tomb Raider's a title adventure fans need to experience.