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Tomb Raider: Anniversary (PC) artwork

Tomb Raider: Anniversary (PC) review

" Tomb Raider: Anniversary is Crystal Dynamics' reimagining of the original Tomb Raider. Whether Tomb Raider's greatest contribution to gaming was its generously portioned main character, Lara Croft, or its unique platforming gameplay, very little about the original game has actually aged well. However, Anniversary takes those few elements that remain strong today -- namely the level design -- and combines them with modern gameplay to create a game that feels fresh and that is spectacularly fun..."

Tomb Raider: Anniversary is Crystal Dynamics' reimagining of the original Tomb Raider. Whether Tomb Raider's greatest contribution to gaming was its generously portioned main character, Lara Croft, or its unique platforming gameplay, very little about the original game has actually aged well. However, Anniversary takes those few elements that remain strong today -- namely the level design -- and combines them with modern gameplay to create a game that feels fresh and that is spectacularly fun to play.

The game follows Lara Croft as she searches for the ancient treasure known as the scion which her father dedicated his life to uncovering. At the outset of the game, Lara is tipped off as to the location of one part of the scion hidden in Peru and she heads there to investigate. The game takes place in locales all over the world and unlike many games in the series, this one actually has you raiding tombs for artifacts. Admittedly, the plot is wafer-thin, though this is the more the fault of Core's original blueprint for the game than Crystal Dynamics' blunder. Still, there's just enough plot for the game to be interesting and the environments that Lara traverses are quite different from one another, which also helps to keep things from feeling too similar throughout the game.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary is a remake in the truest sense of the word. The original Tomb Raider was defined by its extremely restrictive character movement that made playing the game quite tedious, especially given the sheer amount of platforming in the game. Lara was essentially stuck on a grid for all of her movements and thanks to the unforgiving controls, even the slightest misstep meant instant death. Luckily, that system has been removed entirely in favor of gameplay very similar to Crystal Dynamics' Tomb Raider: Legend, which appeared last year. This remake has very responsive controls that allow you to move Lara exactly where you want her to be and as a result, the more demanding platforming in the game becomes significantly more reasonable.

The added precision in controlling the game is incredibly important because this game requires you to do a lot of very exact navigation. The bulk of the game revolves around leaping from platform to platform, climbing walls, swinging from poles, and a number of other methods of scaling the huge environments the game presents. This might sound a bit mundane, but it most assuredly is not. There are several paths through the levels that might look like possibilities, but there is usually only one solution for navigating through an area and surviving. This requires some strategy in determining what the best way to navigate an area because one poor jump will almost invariably result in death. The game is pretty unforgiving as far as the platforming goes, but it doesn't feel unfair or impossible to advance through the game. Platforming makes up a much bigger portion of the game than it did in Tomb Raider: Legend while combat takes a back seat, so those whose only experience with the series comes from that game may be taken aback by the sheer amount of exploration in this game. The platforming is very well done though and successfully navigating through a tricky area can be extremely satisfying.

Puzzle solving also makes up a very large portion of the game, and not unlike the platforming, it has a far greater presence in this game than it did in Tomb Raider: Legend. The game simply wouldn't be fun if it were easy to go from point A to point B through platforming the whole time. Puzzles break up the exploration to keep things from getting monotonous and they do a good job of that. Crystal Dynamics managed to strike a good balance as far as the puzzles' difficulty level so that they aren't too easy, yet aren't difficult enough to be frustrating. In general, the puzzles are enjoyable to work through and satisfying to complete, which is a surprisingly rare occurance in games that stress puzzles as much as this one.

This wouldn't be a Tomb Raider game if there weren't legions of animals to fend off with your guns. The combat is very similar to that in Tomb Raider: Legend. Lara has the standard acrobatics that allow her to dodge enemies while firing a hail of bullets. What is new to this iteration is the inclusion of an "adrenaline dodge." When an enemy dashes at Lara for an attack, there is a brief moment when the screen blurs. At this time, Lara can dodge and deliver a fatal attack to the enemy by firing at the right time. This technique works well and adds some needed depth to the combat. The weapons from the original game return, meaning that Lara has slightly more variety as far as weapons to choose from than in Tomb Raider: Legend. If the game has a weak point, though, combat is still definitely it. While it is entertaining, there is not as much complexity or depth to the combat as there could be and combat often boils down to a matter of hitting the attack button as quickly as possible and little else. Luckily, the combat is not the emphasis of the game, but it would have been nice to see something with a little more to it, especially given how much of an overhaul the platforming elements of the game received. The button press cinematics also make a return here, though they are used less frequently than in Tomb Raider: Legend. They usually appear in situations where Lara is battling with a boss and require the player to press a certain button at the correct time in order to survive. These are pretty simplistic and don't add a lot to the game, but it is a nice touch.

There's very little in terms of gameplay mechanics that are retained from the original game. What does remain is the level designs. This remake leaves the levels themselves intact for the most part. The general layouts are still present, though it is clear that every level has been significantly reworked to incorporate all of the new platforming elements. For series veterans, it is truly astonishing to see how dramatically these old levels have been revamped in terms of everything from the appearance of these places to the way that these environments can be explored. Levels that were once claustrophobic often take place in wide-open spaces now and the game has a sense of scale that the original simply couldn't pull off at the time. Tomb Raider: Anniversary successfully stays true to the source material, yet offers a significant amount of reworked content that's actually fun to play through today. As a result, it is completely successful as a remake and it breathes new life into a game that would otherwise remain a fossil.

Unfortunately, the gameplay is not without a few minor flaws. First, and most importantly, is the camera system. The player is given free control over the camera, but it can occasionally be difficult to line up the camera for a jump because it gets caught on objects or walls. This never leads to any dramatic problems and you can nearly always tell exactly where you're going to be jumping without too much of an issue, but it would have been nice to have better control over the camera given the importance of precise platforming. Second, the lock-on system leaves something to be desired. When facing multiple enemies, it can sometimes be difficult to target the one you want to attack which does make combat a bit more difficult than it should be at times. This is a pretty minor grievance, but one worth noting. The game also utilizes a checkpoint save system rather than one that allows you to save whenever you want. While the checkpoints are spaced out pretty generously, there are a few difficult sections that would have benefited from allowing the player to save at will rather than forcing the player to repeat the section over and over until they get it right. This could have been a major downfall, but the sections where the save system becomes a nuisance are few and far between, so it isn't a major problem. Overall, these flaws are relatively insignificant given how strong the gameplay is otherwise so they do not prevent the game from being enjoyable.

Anniversary has some excellent graphics, but they represent both a step forwards and a step backwards from Lara's last outing. Lara's character model still looks very good and Lara once again sports her clothes from the original game which is a nice touch. There's a number of subtle effects that look really good. The lighting effects are utilized very effectively here and add a lot to making the environments look believable. Anniversary also utilizes depth of field and some stylized motion blur effects which look great and thankfully aren't overused. There's also an especially impressive effect after getting out of water where Lara's clothes look wet and her skin glistens. The game is still extremely well animated and everything moves very smoothly. The "adrenaline-dodge" technique is very stylishly executed and just looks right. Where the game takes a step backwards, however, is in texture quality. Tomb Raider: Legend had a "next-gen texture" option that gave the environments high resolution textures that looked very, very nice. That option has been stripped from this game, however. That's not to say that the textures in this game look bad by any stretch of the imagination. However, it would have been nice to see that option return since it did add quite a bit to the graphical presentation of the game. Overall, the game does look very good, so the lack of these high-res textures isn't a huge drawback.

The sound design deserves special mention -- it is absolutely phenomenal. The original Tomb Raider was characterized by its lack of music which left the game with silence for most of the adventure. Crystal Dynamics' decision to remain faithful to the original game's lack of music was a bit worrying, especially given how much the soundtrack of Tomb Raider: Legend benefited that game. Music is still seldom used in Tomb Raider: Anniversary, but in its place is a number of very subtle environmental sound effects that provide more immersion than any music could. These sounds fit absolutely perfectly and it never feels as though there's a painfully dull silence like there was in the original game. When the music does kick in, it is fitting and very well composed. The developers need to hang onto the composer for these new Tomb Raider games because he is extremely talented. The game does have voice acting in the few brief cinematics and the voices are well done without feeling overacted. There really isn't a weak point to the sound in this game because the game absolutely nails everything that it sets out to do.

The first play-through should take about ten hours which is a good length for an action-adventure. Those looking for replayability will definitely find it here as there are quite a few elements that lengthen the game. Perhaps most significantly are the relics hidden throughout the game's stages. These items are fairly difficult to find and they unlock new costumes for Lara once they are obtained. There's also a time trial mode which requires players to get through stages in a certain amount of time which is also a fairly challenging proposition. There's a surprising amount of unlockables within the game which include art galleries, music, character bios, and more. All of this has to be unlocked, so there is quite a bit to be done even after the game is finished.

Not since Capcom's Resident Evil remake has there been such a significant reimagining of a classic. Crystal Dynamics took the aging shell of a game that was Tomb Raider and turned it into something modern and extremely enjoyable today. Series fans absolutely must play this game, and people new to the series or people who have given up on the series will undoubtedly enjoy the game as well.

Daisuke02's avatar
Community review by Daisuke02 (June 26, 2007)

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