Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition - The Review

Now this is a tough one to call. Just how do you review a game that you’ve already completed nearly a year ago and has now been released on a shiny new console with a sexy new makeover? Tomb Raider was unquestionably one of the best games of 2013, and one of the best-looking, too, so we’ve certainly no problem with seeing it getting an Xbox One outing – but with nothing really new added to the package it’s easy to be divided between judging this Definitive Edition on what it delivers and what it doesn’t.

As a game the Definitive Edition is exactly the same as last year’s offering. Absolutely everything is in the same place as you’d have found it last year and the missions and the story all play out just as they did before. Even the Achievements are the same, which seems like something of a missed trick to us, and if you’ve already completed Tomb Raider it’s hard for us to recommend shelling out another £50 just to play it again with improved visual finesse. Don’t get us wrong, Tomb Raider is certainly worth playing through a few times, but that’s a lot of money to pay for the privilege. 

If you haven’t already played Tomb Raider, then this becomes an entirely different matter – as you really, really should and this new version of the game is as good as it gets. To fill those of you oblivious to this reboot in, it tells an origins tale of a young Lara Croft finding her feet in the archaeologist-explorer world. Where previous Tomb Raider games had become a celebration of her fearless awesomeness, this shows a frightened and vulnerable Lara, while at the same time letting you revel in the same all action exploration and combat you’re used to. It’s a game of genuine emotion, excitement and reward and if you’re even slightly tempted to give it a whirl we wholeheartedly encourage you to jump in.

There is some additional content added to the Xbox One package, but nothing we’d consider a deal-maker if you’ve got a 360 version sitting on your shelf. You get all the DLC for the multiplayer bundled in and there’s a nice collection of videos, including the six ‘Final Hours’ behind-the-scenes developer diaries hosted by Chuck star Zachary Levi (that have long been available to watch online), along with a new art collection and a comic book (more on that in the ‘Ship Shape’ boxout). There’s also a decent collection of six fresh outfits you can now dress Lara up in for the campaign – and thankfully nothing unnecessarily revealing, just themed getups such as a 1930’s adventurer, mountaineer or guerrilla fighter that you can swap between at any camp.

Crystal Dynamics has also made some effort to embrace the new console with some added Kinect integration. There are some handy voice control options for checking the map and menus, swapping out weapons or adding a silencer and so on. You can use ‘gestures’ to examine collectible relics, using a clenched fist to rotate and zoom in on your findings, and to occasionally change the camera perspective by leaning your body left or right – such as rotating the viewpoint 45 degrees each way when you first climb up the plane near the beginning of the game.

They’re nice touches, sure, but for the most part using a controller is still the quickest and easiest option. Points for effort, but they don’t really add to the value of the upgrade. As you’d probably expect, the real merit in Definitive Edition is in the visual makeover the game has received. From the first cutscene the improved sheen and added detail is, ahem, ‘crystal’ clear, with Lara herself getting an incredible amount of additional visual layers that creates even greater realism and immersion with her story and the world around her. As mentioned, Tomb Raider was one of the best looking games of 2013 and Definitive Edition slides straight towards the top of the pile when it comes to visual prowess on the Xbox One.

Lara has been remodeled, literally, from the top down, with new freeflowing hair and a vast array of visual and physics-based tweaks. By themselves, each upgrade may seem small, but they all come together to create a hugely impressive step forward in how the game both looks and feels. Rather than being made up of two clusters, Lara’s hair is now a mass of individual strands, each free to move and react based on her actions. Whereas before the separation was between her head and her ponytail, now you’ll see a few strands laced across her shoulder, with others flowing fluently in sync with her movement. It shouldn’t be as enchanting as it is, but as a sign of the kind of detail we can expect to become the norm on the Xbox One, we can only wonder where things will be in five years time.

There are loads of other graphical refinements, with extra layers of mud, blood and water that coat her skin – to the extent where fluids now have paths that causes them to drip and dry in a realistic manner, again based on the physics in play as you swing from ledges or hang from beams. There are improved animations and far more detail in her facial expressions, with a little extra life in her eyes and more subtle nuances as she reacts to the events around her. The world itself has also seen numerous improvements. Like Lara’s hair, the vegetation is now made up of more individual components working independently, giving the forest areas a richer and more natural look. The gloomier regions benefit from a greatly improved lighting system that shimmers and reflects across four times greater texture resolutions and we don’t doubt there are plenty more refinements under the hood.

The difference is certainly noticeable and at times quite dazzling, such as in the cut-scenes or when you get Lara holding a flickering torch and spin the camera around her (with her eyes scanning the environment as you do so). We should point out that not everything seems to have been reworked as dramatically as Lara, with many of the secondary characters and some other routine animations still echoing a few stilted motions and ragged edges from the 360 version. This isn’t really a flaw, but there were times when the majesty of what the Xbox One version can showcase isn’t quite so obvious.

Perhaps that’s a credit to how good the original looked, but don’t expect a permanent sense of awe and wonder. Still, we guess that gives the developer room for improvement and things like full motion capture including facial recording for pitch-perfect lip-syncing (L.A. Noire style) are probably high-up on its agenda for future games.

Regardless, we have to applaud Crystal Dynamic for not just knocking out a quick and easy port on a game that sold well but still took a while to break even – and this is an obvious way to rake in a few extra quid. That said, it is still basically the same game as the 360 version and a few extra side missions or maybe even a mini epilogue adventure would have made it easier for us to heap unbridled praise on Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition. As it is, what is new on the Xbox One – beyond the visual makeover – doesn’t add any real extra value so we’re left with the same game, only prettier.

All of which brings us back to the quandary outlined in the opening paragraph: should we judge Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition as a standalone game or in addition to what’s already hit the Xbox 360? Perhaps it’s a question you’ll need to answer for yourself because there are a few ways this could go. As mentioned, if you haven’t played the original Tomb Raider then you absolutely should consider picking up what has now become one of the best games on the Xbox One. We put in a good 15 hours on our Xbox 360 play through last year and happily sat through it all again for Definitive Edition, returning to old locations to track down the same collectibles and mopping up the same Achievements. So if you haven’t already, just buy it and thank us later.

For those of you who’ve already enjoyed the 360 version, we very much doubt if you’ll begrudge a second playthrough either – and if you’ve got a healthy bank balance then perhaps the idea of a £50 visual upgrade doesn’t seem quite so abhorrent, especially given the quality of the improvements across the board. Sadly we can’t imagine that will apply to too many people and there are many other big games coming our way in the coming month or two that probably justify that £50 a lot more than Lara getting her hair done.

So, we’re going to assume that Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition is aimed at those Xbox newcomers who got themselves a shiny new console for Christmas and are looking for their first truly great game to play on it – and Tomb Raider is certainly one of those. For those of you who’ve already been to Yamatai and worn the t-shirt, this is a luxury buy at best, even though it is a truly beautiful return to the island – and we suspect there might be an orderly queue formed around bargain bins in a few months time. As for a fully-fledged sequel designed for the One from the ground-up? That really could be something very special indeed.


As beautiful as the visual upgrade is, with Lara taking centre stage in one of the best looking games on any console, the simple fact is you’re still getting the exact same Tomb Raider experience as you did on the Xbox 360. The few new features and bonus items add little in terms of value for money and so we can’t really justify encouraging everyone to pay another £50 for the pleasure of a second playthrough. However, that doesn’t stop Tomb Raider from being one of the best games of the last generation and, with its many improvements, we can’t recommend Definitive Edition to any newcomers or wealthy fans strongly enough. Lara really has never looked better.


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