Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition is the first game that I’ve had the pleasure to play on on my shiny new Xbox One, and while certainly doesn’t disappoint in terms of presentation, the reason this game should near the top of your Backlogs is how it successfully revives what is now an “old” franchise by synthesizing elements of some of the best games of the past decade into its renewal of Lady Croft’s adventures across the globe. First, let me be clear: Tomb Raider: DE feels every bit a proper Lara Croft adventure in all its facets, and is exactly the update the franchise needed to become relevant again.
Firstly, its story blends together arcane spiritualism, ambitious, self-centered characters, gravity-inspired danger, and the collection of ancient relics just as any of the previous games have. This time, Lara is on her first-ever journey as a kind of post-doc archaeologist traveling with her mentor, a “Northern bastard” named Roth whose job it is to lead the expedition in search of the lost island of Yamatai, the resting place of the ancient Queen Himiko.
After a gambit to pinpoint the island’s location, Lara and her compatriots survive a shipwreck and are forced to navigate the mysterious island in their attempts to escape from it. They run into a man named Mathias, whose ambitions are both similar and different to their own, As the player takes control of Lara Croft before she picks up the iconic twin pistols, he or she will battle Mathias’ maniacal followers as they endeavor to get off the island before it or its inhabitants can claim their lives.
This story rocks, and is reason enough to play the game outright. It’s a fairly long one–I neither hurried nor dallied, but it still took me a decent week of regular play to get through it, about 17 hours of actual in-game time. There’s a really nice balance between the more hardboiled aspects of the narrative and the fantastic ones, and by the time Lara de-mystifies the island, all of these elements combine in a spectacular finale that delivers on its story promises while looking, sounding, and playing like a nextgen game should. I was thrilled to the end, and I can’t wait to see where the developers at Crystal Dynamics take Lara and her story next.
Playing Lara as the proto-Tomb Raider also really benefits from the gameplay advancements across the industry over the course of the past six or seven years. TR:DE doesn’t contain any wildly new innovations in terms of gameplay, but it does borrow and combine some of the more welcome ones into its controls.
The player picks up weapon and equipment upgrades as the story progresses, a system familiar to players of the Batman: Arkham games. While Lara comes to the island with a group of people, the story works well to keep her isolated almost all of the time, a gameplay device reminiscent of the first two Dead Space games. The combat system adopts the soft-cover, scramble-happy action of Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series and the story-glorious The Last of Us, but the shooting mechanic is far better: it is tighter and more responsive, to a large degree reminiscent of Mass Effect 3.
Between the story and the gameplay, and the specific elements of each, lies the game’s greatest strength: balance. It looks and plays great, the story features both hardboiled and mythic elements in just about equal measure, and the smooth mechanic of the combat system benefits strongly from a steady upgrade system that asks the player to prioritize, at first, but not to sacrifice gameplay elements in the long term. Lara transitions from a fearful, flinching castaway to a vengeful survivor who confronts her enemies confidently and decisively. By the end of the game, Lara is even more the puzzle-solving adventurer she has been for almost two decades.
8.5/10 – As a game that has the responsibilities of both relaunching a very popular franchise and maintaining an existing fan base, there’s not much that Tomb Raider leaves undone: it updates gameplay for the next generation; it tells an engaging, self-contained story that focuses on character development; and it offers some genuinely memorable moments that make this a great place to start with your Xbox One or PlayStation 4.