For many years the Tomb Raider remained at the top of the heap when it came to action adventure games with big locations, puzzles and lots of shooting.
There were plenty of imitators. Heck, there were three Indiana Jones games in the genre and none of those were able to dent the franchise that it was an inspiration for.
In the end though it was the games themselves that became the franchises worst enemy. Failure to advance the technology further (Last Revelation and Chronicles) in addition to a buggy release on PS2 (Angel of Darkness) almost doomed Lara Croft.
Then came Tomb Raider Legend which returned the series to form early in the 360 and PS3 lifecycle. It may have been able to run with the formula again except around the same time arrived Uncharted: Drakes Fortune; a game that takes the same formula but adds deeper characterization in addition to technology and level designs that make the world less cookie cutter and more natural.
Tomb Raider Underworld attempted to make ground and was somewhat successful but once again the technical cracks began to show.
Which now leaves is with the latest Tomb Raider. A game that is not afraid to show its many inspirations yet pushes the envelope in all of them.
Working as a reboot plus origin story, we find Lara on board a ship exploring an uncharted (!) area when disaster strikes and leaves her stranded on a dangerous island.
It’s this island that is the real star of the show. A vast open world with multiple routes and plenty of hidden areas that feels totally cohesive. The way the storyline plays out and exposes more of the island during progression is planned out well and keeps the game fresh over an extended period of time. It’s a big A+ in the level design game.
Character models are detailed and well animated. Lara has plenty of moves and can traverse the environment with ease just don’t expect the gymnastics of the classic games.
Audio has also been given some effort with great work in the area of environment effects that fit well with the varied vistas players face. Voice work is fine, but it’s really just Lara you’re going to remember and her voice actress does the job well.
As for “Definitive Edition” enhancements, all of the game DLC is included in the game from the outset which adds a lot of value to a game that is still fresh in many gamer’s minds. In addition, the visuals have been given a decent upgrade; as shown in numerous IGN videos, it seems most of it focuses on making a better Lara.
This in itself is not a bad thing as she is there for every moment in the game but the uncanny valley raises its head during cutscenes where it seems that the facial animation has not been updated to match the character detail and she looks a little mannequin-ish.
When you have games like LA Noire, Uncharted or Ryse showing how going the extra mile on animation pays off, seeing this area neglected does expose the game’s technology roots.
Despite that, re-releasing the game on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 is a smart move. Both platforms are still in need of stand out games and Tomb Raider, regardless of its origins, will be remembered as being one of the best releases in both console’s formative years.