Ready for round two? To re-live Lara Croft’s hellish tale of survival on the mysterious, mystical island of Yamatai like some horrific, but beautiful nightmare? Or for those who never played the original release – to definitively experience the rebirth of a gaming heroine and industry icon?
Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition is releasing on January 31 for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and as part of a Square Enix Showcase, we at Capsule Computers received the opportunity to get re-acquainted with Lara in all her hair-flipping and polygonally enhanced glory. Our time with the Definitive Edition was half demonstration, half hands-on, as we jumped around multiple chapters for a few minutes at a time. The purpose for this format, as per the developer Crystal Dynamics’ behest, was to show off the absolute best examples of the new technologies and improvements found within. We’re not going to go into specific gameplay or chapter details because this version has left the gameplay practically untouched and, frankly, we jumped around quite quickly and frequently as mentioned.
What this package essentially presents is a visually upgraded experience that has more of an impact than you’d expect. See, it’s not just about the added TressFX tech that PC gamers have enjoyed for a year already, or the new facial model that many might feel a little inconsequential. It’s also about the physics, the particle effects, the lighting and more that truly increases the tension and sense of life and movement in this dangerous world. The mood and tone that the team originally set out to portray can now be fully realised. Yes, every individual strand of hair on Lara’s head has simulated motion, blowing with the wind, but the feel, the believability of these surroundings and this dire situation she finds herself in… that’s what’s most important here, and the communication of which benefits most from this Definitive Edition.
The lighting system and shaders have been reworked entirely, and it is immediately apparent; this is next-gen lighting. Combined with sub-surface scattering, Lara’s skin more accurately refracts light and glosses over, reflecting when she is wet by rain or drenched in sweat. Okay, geez, her hair also looks Pantene shiny – stop asking about the hair! Anyway, the light of a naked flame also casts dynamic shadows, which just adds to the overall realism. Flashes of lightning are much more striking, and additional fog and weather effects really build upon the already strong atmosphere. Speaking of fire earlier, the resulting smoke rises above and, if in-doors, pools at the ceiling before slowly dissipating. The attention to detail is staggering, to the point where draw distance has been improved – something many didn’t even bat an eyelid at given the game so cleverly masked it in the first place. Plus, it’s no GTA, but Crystal Dynamics wanted to make it better regardless.
A lot was said about the new face of our title character, now with approximately 15 times the polygon count, but I honestly didn’t feel that there was any more effectiveness in the expressions made by Lara. That being said, we did only witness a miniscule fraction of the total number of cutscenes in-game, with some of the more wide-range, nuanced moments still unseen. Lara isn’t the only one to get some touch-ups either, as members of the Endurance crew and all enemies have enjoyed visual enhancements, as subtle as they may be at times. The melee finisher animations have also been tightened up, but that’s about all in the animation department. Leading on from the aforementioned, all resolutions have been maxed out by 4x, and at any given time there is between 4 and 15 times the particle count on-screen compared to the last-gen release. Oh, and did I fail to mention its rendered in 1080p, natively? An already great-looking game is now even more stunning.
The most impressive visual element of this Definitive Edition has to be the physics additions. From the now rarely static pick-axe, bobbing as Lara climbs and (gingerly) runs, to the realistic cloth movement, greatly increased destructibility and denser, reactive foliage, Yamatai exists in the mind as a real place. Things like shrubbery bending to your will (and boot) and debris flying all over the place a whole layer of texture to the environment, and again, realism. As a little aside, do those of you who’ve previously played through Tomb Raider remember the deer cutscene? You know, when she guts her first kill? It always occurred in the same scripted place in the map, no matter where you actually killed the animal. Now, it plays out with slightly different camera work, and from wherever you trigger it in the physical space, which is a nice touch of consistency and continuity.
I may have incited a small glimmer of hope in your hearts that there are alterations to the layout of the levels themselves, just to add some freshness to that aspects or switch things up perhaps, but – even though the visual changes truthfully had me fail to recognise certain areas – they are fundamentally, design-wise, untouched. Along with all the enhancements mentioned, the Definitive Edition could not have earned its namesake had it not been packaged with all previous DLC. Not only that, but new concept art, digital versions of the Brady mini-artbook and the Tomb Raider: The Beginning comic by Dark Horse, along with the soundtrack and hardcover artbook packaging (if pre-ordered) make this release well worth it for newcomers. The question is whether this will sell to repeat customers. It really depends on how much you loved the game, and whether the graphical appeal is there for you personally. At first, I admit, I had little interest in it… but now I’m definitely feeling the itch to raid some tombs once more. So preeetttyyyy…