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Tomb Raider: Anniversary Review

By Jeff Buckland, 6/4/2007

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Played on:

PC

Dell XPS M170 Laptop
Pentium M 2GHz CPU
2GB DDR2 RAM
GeForce 7800GTX Go

Minimum:

1.4GHz Intel CPU
or Athlon XP 1500+
256MB RAM for XP
512MB RAM for Vista
Video: GeForce 3 or
Radeon 9000-series
Win 2K/XP/Vista

Back when everyone was going nuts over Super Mario 64 on the Nintendo 64, I was scoffing at it. I thought that taking a platform game and changing as little as possible while plopping it into 3 dimensions (which, back in the summer and fall of 1996 was pretty damn new and unique) was the wrong way to go. I severely disliked Super Mario 64 and still can't make myself enjoy it. Yes, I said it. The reason why? Because I had played Tomb Raider on a PC equipped with a 3Dfx Voodoo card and from a graphics perspective, it was amazing. Sure, Quake was incredible as well, but Tomb Raider was much more of an intimate, mysterious, but excellent action/adventure game. Quake was what I played at the computer store on the LAN with the other guys, but Tomb Raider was what I played when I got home. And Mario 64? Not even a blip on my radar.

The Tomb Raider franchise spent years faltering after repeated attempts from Core Design to turn it into some kind of a pure action franchise, but it turns out that Lara Croft and her gymnastics-oriented, dual-pistol-wielding antics just didn't lend themselves well to a typical action formula (although that design did turn out pretty well for the two Angelina Jolie movies). Once Eidos realized this, they brought back the original creator, Toby Gard, and got the American developers at Crystal Dynamics to focus their efforts into last year's Tomb Raider: Legend. Finally, we got to see this decade-old franchise come back to former glory. Lara Croft, the Tomb Raider, was finally actually raiding tombs again.


And now, Eidos has come round full circle.  Tomb Raider: Anniversary is a remake of the original game, with the new Legend graphics and physics engine and 100% new art, models, textures, level design, and quite a bit more.  Just about every classic moment from the original Tomb Raider is here and redone, while many of the devious spacial-challenge puzzles are reproduced with maybe a new twist here and there.  Lara can do all of her original moves, including that totally excessive handstand when coming up over a ledge, the classic swan dive off of a waterfall into a pool below (or if you'd rather be a little more sadistic, onto the ground next to it - fatal falls like this cause some pretty amusing ragdoll physics now), and all the leaping and flipping you remember as well.

The developers have reached back into some of their previous enhancements to Lara Croft's move list and put some of them here into Anniversary.  She can now grapple off of hooks and even do short wall-runs using her grapple, she can balance on vertical wooden poles, dodge in any direction, and more.  Most of Lara's abilities are introduced to the player in the first level, although the Croft Manor is also available as a tutorial to teach players the skills they need in the real game (although this level itself is a unique and fun challenge in its own right that can take you in excess of an hour to finish).  If you've played Tomb Raider: Legend and remember it in the slightest, then you can probably just jump right into Anniversary with no problems, but the Croft Manor level is worth playing no matter what.

During the game's 14 levels you'll find that the parallels to the original Tomb Raider's levels are quite clear.  You'll start off at an Incan temple buried deep into the Andes Mountains in Peru, but from there you'll visit lost cathedrals in Greece and even some Egyptian pyramids.  The game does add some story in here by way of cutscenes, and some of these are interactive in that popular God of War style where you have to hit a direction or a button in order to win them.  Well, here, you only have one of the four directions to hit and you get a comparatively big chunk of time to do it in, so there isn't really much challenge here.  But it is a nice way to keep players on their toes.


The atmosphere of the original Tomb Raider was vastly different from some of the later games, and that has been reproduced in Anniversary.  Here, you are alone most of the time and with a slow, brooding soundtrack, you'll feel truly lost, buried in some ruins hundreds of miles from any real civilization.  Yes, all that is conveyed nicely here, and the sparse amount of talking - from Lara or other characters - is actually very refreshing to me.  Even the most hardcore of action games recently is constantly trying to add atmosphere and immerse you in by having conversations between the characters and maybe the protagonist as well.  Here, it's quieter and you'll have time to slow down and figure things out without having some poorly-thought out character barking one of the same three bits of voice acting at you.

It's not all just running around and doing front-flips, though.  You'll come across plenty of enemies in Tomb Raider: Anniversary, most of which consist of various forms of wildlife.  From bats to bears, cougars, alligators, gorillas, species once thought extinct and on to a bit of the supernatural, you will often have your hands full with these fast-moving foes.  You'll need to hop and flip around while firing, all of which is easily done with Anniversary's generous auto-aim.  You see, the original game didn't intend to challenge your ability to aim like most shooters at the time did - it wanted to see how well you could maneuver to stay away from agile enemies that liked to charge you at high speed.  That style of combat is definitely back in Anniversary, with the new feature of being able to do the occasional slow-motion dodge where you must time a single shot to either instantly kill your enemy or at least severely injure it.

Lara's always got her trusty akimbo pistols which have infinite ammo, but there are more powerful weapons available, too.  The first new weapon she picks up will be a shotgun, with more powerful guns coming as she progresses.  All of these improved weapons give you some additional oomph, but you could easily go through just about all of the game with the original pistols as well.  And you will be going back to them often, as all other weapons have limited ammo which you'll need to pick up as you go.  Yes, for some inexplicable reason you'll find medkits and shotgun ammo lying around behind ancient locked doors.  In ancient ruins.  That have been sealed for hundreds or thousands of years.  Of course, the original Tomb Raider did this, and since then some games (like, say, King Kong) have done a good job explaining how caches of ammo have become available in places like this, but Anniversary throws reason to the wind and just leaves it like it was in the original game.  Oh well.


While the combat is focused on far less in Anniversary as in some of the past games in the series, the exploration and puzzle solving are a larger part.  Most puzzles can be solved with a little logic and a keen eye for that one ledge to jump to that lets you progress.  There aren't any real brain-twisters here, although learning how Lara jumps, shimmies, and grabs onto ledges is vital to figuring out quickly if you really can make that jump onto that pillar or not.  There are a couple of confusing physics issues with certain jumps you'll be forced to make (one involving a grappling hook in the Damocles section of St. Francis' Folly comes to mind), but overall the frustration level isn't too bad for a game that is otherwise constantly trying to trip you up or make you stop to look at your surroundings.  If you get stuck, Eidos has graciously posted a text-based walkthrough on their site that not only tells you how to get through the game, but also gives up the locations of the secret items as well.

And what are those secret items, you might ask?  Buried in hard-to-find areas are relics and artifacts which will unlock extras like developer commentary audio tracks for each level, extra costumes for Lara (which can be used once you unlock the costumes and replay a level over again), cheats, and more.  The list of extras is pretty good - especially if you're a longtime Tomb Raider fan.  With the game lasting a solid 20-25 or more hours for most players and with very little of that time spent having to recover lost ground after a death (as there are many checkpoints throughout the levels, safely and satisfyingly eliminating the need for anything like a Quicksave), I think you'll find your money's well spent here.

The PC version runs surprisingly well considering I turned up the resolution and detail all the way on my XPS M170 laptop and still got rock-solid frame rates.  With most games released in the last six to nine months, jacking up the detail like that has often left me with sub-par frame rates, but not Anniversary.  And it's not because it's visually dull, either: plenty of nice special effects are thrown in, like great lighting and shadows as well as a subtle full-screen bloom that adds a nice haze to the game's occasional sun-lit areas.  When Lara climbs out of the water her clothing will look darker, water will drip off of her, and her skin glistens just a bit - and the effect fades away slowly.  Level transitions are seamless, with only a dialog box popping up to tell you some stats on your completion of the level.  Load times when starting up the game or loading a previous checkpoint after death are snappy, usually in the range of 3 seconds or less.  Just all around, from a technical perspective the developers have really put effort forth to make sure that playing this game is a joy rather than a chore.  You don't see that with too many PC games nowadays.


I also want to mention the controls.  While the original keyboard controls are supported, a mouse-and-keyboard setup seems to me to be the better way to go.  Gamepad support is excellent as well, and you can get just about any modern gamepad to play this well as long as it's got enough buttons and sticks attached to it.  The Xbox 360 controller support works well, and I tried both PS2 and Xbox controllers as well, converted to USB, and came back with no problems.  The camera is fully controllable by the player most of the time, but you'll be limited - usually so that the camera doesn't go inside a wall - which can sometimes force you to make a blind jump.  The game will pan or zoom the camera out to show you important things sometimes, and will snap it in another direction quickly when you need it, but for the most part the mouse controls it well.  It's definitely the best camera I've used in a Tomb Raider game, PC or not.

Many of us have seen the "enhanced" remakes of classic Japanese RPGs on today's portable consoles - often those have the same gameplay and story but with new sounds, music, and re-done sprite graphics.  This remake goes way, way beyond that to totally revolutionize the original Tomb Raider and truly make it modern again, 10+ years later.  With great gameplay, devious but doable spatially-oriented puzzles, the occasional quick action sequences, moody dynamic music, and a nearly worry-free experience on the PC, this is a game that other developers need to be looking at.  I'm not really sure why this game didn't also launch on the Xbox 360 or PS3 as well, because for now it's only available on PS2 and PSP as your console choices.  And you're going to want this one on the PC, as long as your computer can at least play a game like Half-Life 2, as it plays just as well but will look much better.  It doesn't matter whether you have or haven't played Tomb Raider before: you simply can't go wrong with Anniversary.

Overall: 93%

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