Review: Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary Games | My Reviews 22 MAR 2008

Tomb RaiderSeeing as Crystal Dynamics did such an outstanding job in resurrecting the Tomb Raider franchise with their stunning (and player-friendly) Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend, it would have been quite a shame not to keep the ball rolling and that is exactly what Eidos did to mark the 10 year anniversary of this popular game franchise by having Crystal Dynamics come up with their homage to the first ever Tomb Raider game released in the form of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary.

Over the last ten years Lara Croft has become somewhat of an icon amongst gamers and remains one of the most popular female game characters ever created, both amongst male and female admirers. After the slump that was driven home by the appalling Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, Lara Croft looked destined to end her illustrious career on a rather low note, but thankfully Eidos wasn’t just about to mothball one of their biggest money spinners like that and instead brought in Crystal Dynamics to try and resurrect their fallen star. Of course, as history has it, they succeeded with the enjoyable Tomb Raider: Legend and thanks to that particular success we now get even more Tomb Raider action in the form of Tomb Raider: Anniversary, a direct homage to the original title that started the whole craze way back when.

For those gamers old enough to remember the original Tomb Raider, it was somewhat of a revolution in gaming as it marked the first real use of 3D polygonal, tightly designed levels with a 3rd person character model that pretty much had the freedom to move wherever the user pleased. Tomb Raider was also the hallmark of the puzzle quest genre as the game, despite its many action sequences, was as much about flipping switches and figuring out puzzles as it was about shooting things – in fact even more so. To many a gamer that experienced Tomb Raider in its original run, few games of that era will ever surpass it and it is upon this nostalgia that Crystal Dynamic builds with their latest release.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary isn’t a direct port of the original game nor is it something entirely different that simply makes reference to the original. Instead, Crystal Dynamics have gone and taken the best of the look, feel and levels from the original and slightly updated them for today’s gaming complexity and then meshed these updated pieces with some new material that leaves you with a game that stands shoulder to shoulder with today’s best releases but at the same time invokes a very strong sense of nostalgia for all those who played the original.

For those of you who didn’t get to experience the first game, Tomb Raider: Anniversary retells the story of how Lara Croft goes off in search of the legendary Scion of Atlantis pieces, artifacts that her father was extremely intrigued by and that may very well hold some sort of clue to the mystery that surrounds his eventual disappearance.

As with the original, you basically get dropped into a number of tombs scattered across the globe and then need to work your way through each location solving a number of tricky puzzles, avoiding some nefarious traps, beating down any wildlife that sees you as a threat, battling any stage boss that you might be unlucky enough to encounter and generally staying alive long enough to grab the Scion and get the hell out of the place before it caves in on top of you. This generic formula for each level stays basically the same throughout the game, though obviously the further you go along the more secrets and implications of your actions gets revealed through the scattered FMVs and cutscenes, until you are quite literally dropped into the big finale sequence at the end of it all.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary takes a step back from Tomb Raider: Legend and strips all your high tech gadgetry away, although you do get to keep the magnetic grappling hook that becomes invaluable for some of the later tomb traversing. Naturally all of the weapon pickups that were available in the original are found in this release, and as before, getting ammunition for them is sometimes a tricky affair. And as with the original, Anniversary completely shifts the emphasis away from shooting enemies and squarely back on to puzzle solving and switch flipping.

This means a lot more thinking needs to be done, the path of progression isn’t all that clear and you are going to constantly be running, jumping or rolling to avoid some or other deadly tomb trap. And of course, as gamers familiar with the original know, Anniversary loves to throw in those surprise encounters with creatures, guaranteed to give you more than a small fright.

As with Legend, the controls for Lara are rather fluid and well animated, and she generally does exactly what you want to with the freedom of movement you’ve come to expect from Lara. There is a lot more jumping in this iteration of the game and you’ll need to become fairly adept at controlling her actions if you want to get through some of the more tricky exploration bits.

The shooting aspect of the game retains the new targeting system introduced in Legend and as such remains a pretty simple affair to pull off. A nice addition to the system however is the ‘killing shot’ bullet time that Lara can pull off when her enemies charge at her, slowing down time and giving you one shot at taking down the creature with a single bullet. It is something that has been done before, but it fits nicely into this world and is quite fun to perform, breaking up the long monotonous tomb exploring bits.

Visually, Tomb Raider: Anniversary hasn’t changed all that much from the Legend release, but it remains as stunningly beautiful as ever, with lush, finely detailed backgrounds and smoothly animated character models that ooze detail. The interactive cutscenes also make a comeback in this title, just to make sure you keep on your toes and don’t doze off during the usually non-interactive bits. The few FMVs that are thrown in are almost direct remakes of the original footage and you’ll often find yourself marveling in the nostalgia they introduce as the Lara Croft story unfolds.

And as stunning as the visuals are, the audio for Tomb Raider is just as good. Gorgeously rich compositions create a moody and wondrous atmosphere while the voice actor behind Lara does an absolute stellar job of bringing the character to life. The sound effects are also fully realized and help turn each tomb into an immersive experience, leaving nothing to imagination.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary looks good, sounds good and plays good. So it must be a brilliant game, right? Well, it certainly is an awesome game, especially for lovers of the series. Unfortunately if you are the type who doesn’t like scratching your head in solving sometimes abstract puzzles and retrying certain jumps and grabs over and over again, then you are in for a bit of a disappointing experience. Anniversary is a lot tougher than Legend and certainly does not look after casual gamers like the previous one did. Even for experienced games, the number of traps, the difficulty of the traps and mind-numbingly sameness of each room objective – i.e. find the switches to open the locks to open the door to the next stage makes for a surprisingly frustrating experience, particularly as you reach the later levels of the game.

Honestly, unless you are an absolute fanatic or have tons of patience and the willingness to try things over and over again, you are going to find yourself tossing the controller at the screen more than once in frustration and as such, makes Anniversary better suited as a hire than a purchase for the casual gamers out there.

However, to true fans of the Lara Croft mythos the game is a godsend and will create fanboys of them all over again. A polished title that is great fun to play and invokes a great sense of nostalgia, it is just a pity that the designers went out of their way to make it a frustrating experience to work through which ultimately detracts from the game a little.

A must for the fans, and it is an absolutely stellar action game, but it is not necessarily the greatest of purchases for casual gamers unless you particularly like solving environment puzzles and being frustrated.

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About Craig Lotter

South African software architect and developer at Touchwork. Husband to a cupcake baker and father to two little girls. I don't have time for myself any more.