One of the nice things about the current state of video games is that, if you have a game you particularly like, it never really has to end.
In recent years, publishers have adopted a system of following a big retail release with an endless stream of add-ons, downloadable content (DLC) and the occasional deluxe reissue. These (relatively) low-price bonus materials can be downloaded and essentially tacked on to your existing game.
This simply wasn’t possible with past generations of console games. If you were obsessed with Atari’s “Pitfall,” your only option was to keep playing “Pitfall,” over and over forever – which is how I lost the entire summer of 1983.
Heavyweight franchises like “Starcraft,” “Bioshock” and “Assassin’s Creed” have built a reputation for releasing DLC that’s sometimes better than the core game. That’s because these add-ons often consist of ambitious content that simply wasn’t completed in time for the retail release. You can get a lot of mileage out of this stuff – I’m still playing DLC for aging games like “Skyrim” and “Fallout: New Vegas.”
‘Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition’
A variation on the theme, “ Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition” ($59.99, rated M) is a reissue of last year’s blockbuster game, upgraded for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, with a smattering of actual bonus content. The main selling point with this initiative is that the game has been upgraded to optimize the muscled-up graphics specs of the next-gen consoles.
And so it does. This game looks and sounds fantastic. For the unfamiliar, the new “Tomb Raider” reboots the legend of Lara Croft, re-imagining the character as a budding young explorer stranded on a deadly tropical island. The game is a successful blend of exploration, platforming and combat, with a heavy emphasis on storytelling virtues like characterization and atmosphere.
The new edition transforms those sweeping outdoor vistas and torch-lit tombs into gorgeous, cinematic environments at 60 frames per second. Textures and terrains are densely packed with detail and visuals are impossibly smooth thanks to high-powered rendering technology. It’s a pleasure just to walk around the virtual real estate in this game.
But for those who already own the PS3/X360 edition, that $60 price tag is awfully steep. Aside from a handful of new multiplayer maps and some art galleries, there’s no new content to the game. If you have a PS4 or Kinect camera/microphone, you can play around with the limited voice commands. And the developers have added some fun new options with the controllers – when you grab a torch, for instance, your PS4 lightpad flickers red and orange.
If you didn’t play the previous version, however, and are looking for a game to christen your new PS4 or Xbox One, then Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition is a worthwhile investment. This was one of my favorite games of last year, mostly due to the designers’ focus on artful storytelling – a real commodity in this medium.
‘Duels of the Planeswalkers’
For another variation on the add-on/DLC phenomenon, fans of the addictive strategy card game “Magic: The Gathering” may want to check out the game’s current digital incarnation: “Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers” ($9.99, rated T).
Released last year for PC, console and tablet platforms, the 2014 version is the latest in a series designed to introduce new players to “Magic,” the collectible card game that launched an entire industry back in the early 1990s.
The most anticipated change, for returning players, is the ability to create your own decks in the Sealed Play mode. The game AI is much improved as well, and the premade decks and opponents are intriguing and challenging. New players are provided for with the helpful tutorial mode.
DLC packages for “Magic 2014,” which are issued every few months, consist of additional campaign levels, challenges and premade decks that you can purchase for $2.99-$4.99. For my digital dollar, this is one of the best values in the realm of DLC, since each additional deck provides hours of replayability against all the other decks.
New This Week: Final Fantasy loyalists will want to set aside the next several weeks for “Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII” (PS3, X360).