It holds that About.com’s #3 game of 2013 being now available for the PS4 while #1 and #2 are still PS3-only titles that the bronze-medal winner would instantly become the best game available for the PlayStation 4. However, even that simple logic doesn’t prepare you for the sheer joy of “Tomb Raider” on the next-gen system. While this was an accomplished, remarkable action-adventure experience when it first hit stores almost a year ago, it is something even greater now that it has been enhanced across the board with new graphics, new functionality, and smoother gameplay, under the banner “Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition” for PS4 and Xbox One. When great films are tinkered with for special editions it often leads to disaster (I’m thinking of poor Greedo) but video game upgrades that can fine-tune fantastic games to another level of excellence merely bring them to a wider audience. And the more people that play “Tomb Raider,” the better. Maybe we’ll get that sequel I’ve been praying to the video game gods to greenlight.
Square-Enix’s reboot of “Tomb Raider” is actually an origin story. It is how Lara Croft went from a wide-eyed innocent to a treasure-hunting, killing machine. It’s a game in which much of the action takes place on a massive island where Croft shipwrecks with her team. Surrounded by enemies, left to fend for herself, Croft summons the survival skills she didn’t even know she had to make it out alive. Along the way, she hunts deer, explores tombs, and becomes remarkably adept with both a bow & arrow and shotgun. The storytelling here is simple but effective, charting Croft’s development in ways that allow the player an immense degree of authorship. You can actually progress through most of “Tomb Raider” without firing a weapon, stealthily sneaking up on your enemies and strangling them with your bow. Or you can pull out your shotgun and spray brains across the foliage. Like almost all great games, your style will help craft Croft’s story.
“Tomb Raider” was also one of the most cinematic games of 2013. Like the “Uncharted” series or “The Last of Us,” it is a game with set pieces that rival Hollywood in their design and execution. And here’s where the PS4 version of “Tomb Raider” really separates itself from other cross-gen upgrades. It’s like going from Standard Definition to HD, DVD to Blu-ray, etc. Every detail has been enhanced, right down to Lara’s appearance (the developers used a new Lara model to better suit the capabilities of the next-gen console). The early days of the PS4 have really illustrated the capability of the machine when it comes to rendering nature effects like wind, rain, and water (check out “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag” for further evidence and “Battlefield 4” has unmatched weather effects in its multiplayer section) and the setting of “Tomb Raider” uses these capabilities in nearly every scene. From the ash blowing off an exploded plane to the wind blowing Lara off a rope bridge to every blade of grass – “Tomb Raider” is the best-looking game on the PS4 and it should send shivers down your spine when you think of what will be done with inevitable titles like “Uncharted 4” that have been designed specifically for it. “Killzone: Shadow Fall” and “Knack” may be Sony’s attempts to show off their system but no game does so with the jaw-dropping impact of “Tomb Raider.”
And it’s not JUST a visual upgrade (even if that is the main reason to buy it). The game also includes all DLC, digital versions of the Dark Horse comic, Brady Games mini-art book, and Final House developer videos. And the developers of “Tomb Raider” have also enhanced the game with camera functionality and new tricks for your Dualshock 4. The speaker within your controller now plays the audio when Lara is speaking to people on the other end of a radio transmission and it reads the text when Croft finds artifacts or treasures within the game. Even the gentle rumble of the controller when Lara is hanging on to the side of a cliff for dear life adds a layer to the experience. Everything feels more seamlessly controlled in the mechanics of the game, down to reloading and dodging. And the camera allows for verbal commands, allowing you to do things like pause and “Show Map,” literally, just by asking for them.
Given my obligation to play all of the major and many of the minor games for the PS3 and PS4, I understandably don’t have much time to revisit even my favorite titles. Being able to play through even the best games of the year for a second time is a luxury my schedule does not allow. And yet I will play through “Tomb Raider” again (I’m almost halfway there already) on the PS4. Although this amazing game feels so different on the PS4 that it hardly qualifies as a replay.