Tomb Raider has never looked so good on home consoles, but this might also be its biggest drawback. Originally released last year, this reboot of the classic video game set out to give us the origin of its main character, Lara Croft. Now boasting near-PC quality graphics, Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition really shines on the PS4 and Xbox One. In addition to the better graphics, this version cleverly uses the interactive features of Xbox One’s Kinect’s camera and PS4’s camera and controller. Unfortunately, the game is exceptionally violent and gory and the new level of realism enhances everything. Some moments in the game will make even the most desensitized gamers cringe.
The Tomb Raider series started back in 1996. It put players in the virtual shoes of the globetrotting, gun-toting “archaeologist” Lara Croft. Back then, the graphics were simple and blocky. Now, back in high definition, Tomb Raider sets out to tell Lara’s history. The plot takes a gritty and serious approach and starts with Lara as a young archeologist and member of a documentary crew in search of an ancient Japanese island country. The game wastes little time before things get really intense for young Lara, when a freak storm shipwrecks the crew on the lost island. Lara must face an onslaught from a fanatical cult and solve the mystery behind the bizarre supernatural storms that stop all attempts to escape the island.
Tomb Raider’s “mature” rating is well earned. In addition to plenty of strong language, the violence is graphic and the combat can feel like torture for the gamer as well as poor Lara. Her death animations can be so graphic they feel like visual punishment for failing to execute precise jumps or push the right buttons quickly enough. And Lara takes a real beating in this game even when played perfectly. In one scene, she gets captured by an enemy whose intentions seem to imply he is about to sexually assault her. She fights back and in the altercation is forced to shoot and kill her would-be assailant. The game shows it all in gory detail. Lara’s shock and emotional pain after the event are too realistic. Eventually, Lara goes on the offensive to save her friends and crewmates. She survives one traumatic event after another. No doubt this was done purposefully to demonstrate how she was galvanized into the fearless heroine gamers have come to know.
The best gameplay can be found in the actual “tomb raiding.” Tombs are hidden in each area and involve solving clever puzzles to reach the hidden treasure. Reaching the goal is satisfying, but the tombs are few and far between. Every area in the game also includes collectibles a player can seek out, and some take some real thought to acquire. The collectibles include historical relics, and Lara’s commentary on the items is both informative and entertaining. But these moments don’t last long before Lara is thrown into another stress-inducing fight for her life.
Unfortunately, few games released recently have this style of gameplay without the added violence. Tomb Raider Underworld, released on previous platforms, earned a “Teen” rating. A sequel is most likely in the works for this version of the game. Only the developers know whether it will follow the gritty hyper-violence of this reboot or return to the beloved formula of former versions now that—as the game states at the end—a survivor has been born.