Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Release Date: June 5, 2007
Ah Lara Croft, you've had quite the decade. Between revolutionizing 3D platform gaming and becoming a sex symbol, you have cemented your place in video game history. Of course, you have had your weak times (Tomb Raider Chronicles certainly comes to mind), but all series reach a low point, and all we can hope is that they eventually redeem themselves. Fortunately, Tomb Raider: Anniversary achieves that.
Not as much a remake as much as a re-imagining, TRA recreates the story and levels of the original Tomb Raider, while updating it to the engine used in the last installment of the series, Tomb Raider Legend, which received favorable reviews. The engine improves platform gaming with ingenious level designs that require you to use a wide variety of movements and jumps to complete.
Combat, story and graphics aside, the puzzles and the platforming can make or break any Tomb Raider title. Anniversary delivers on these counts. Lara has a long list of moves that help her progress through the levels, including jumping between ledges, using a grappling hook to run along the wall and swinging on a horizontal bar to gain enough momentum to make a huge jump. You will use every single one of these moves, sometimes one right after the other.
Of course, the levels accommodate you on this, as they're all designed to use your abilities and reflexes to the fullest. There is only one way to get to your destination, so most of the time, you have to sit back a bit, study the room to figure out your path, and go for it. It's a formula that works incredibly well and makes the game really fun. You walk away from platforming puzzles with a sense of power because they worked so well and looked so good.
Crystal Dynamics spent a lot of time refining the control scheme, and it almost always does exactly what you need it to do. I say "almost always," because there are a handful of times when the controls seem to betray you. At times, the camera will start to rotate while you're swinging on a bar, and suddenly, "up" no longer makes Lara swing, but moves her further up the bar. When you finally find the sweet spot on the analog stick that makes Lara start to swing again, the camera begins to move back. As I said, it only happens a few times in the game, but those instances are immeasurably frustrating.
The camera itself doesn't seem to give you too much trouble. You can rotate it with the right analog stick, and it seems pretty responsive, and most of the time, you can get it centered exactly where you want it to be. The only time it really gives you trouble during the platforming are the moments mentioned above, but don't let those complaints scare you away from TRA because it's a small flaw in an otherwise great system.
I do have one complaint about the platforming puzzles, and that's the amount of trial and error through which you have to go. If you don't do exactly what you need to do at the right time, you'll fall to your death and have to start over. The problem is that most of the time, you don't know what you have to do until you get there. This leads to a lot of puzzles, especially later on in the game, where you have to do parts of them three or four times because you were killed by some trap, of which you were given no warning. It gets kind of tedious, but you still walk away with a strong sense of accomplishment and power. It just feels good to complete it.
Of course, this review would end here if the rest of TRA were as polished and refined as the platforming, but sadly, this is not so. The combat is boring and repetitive, and most of the time, you can just lock on and hit the fire button incessantly to finish off your enemy. At times, your enemy will go into a rage and attack you straight on, and you'll get the chance to finish them off with a headshot slow-motion style. More often than not, you can finish the fight much sooner by hammering away at that fire button.
The combat is the place where the camera presents its major problems. Since you spend most of the time running around and trying to dodge enemy attacks, the camera will sometimes stick on walls or debris, preventing you from seeing where the enemy is. You also lose your lock-on when the enemy moves beyond the camera, leaving you trying to figure out where they are. It's moments like this that fill you with dread each time the music pumps up and an enemy appears.
The only redeeming quality of the combat is the boss battles. Every one of them is a puzzle boss, in which you have to figure out how to do the most damage quickly, which can be both a blessing and a curse. It's fun to figure out how to fight the bosses, but once you figure it out, they go down quickly. There are some exceptions to this, but it's the general rule for the bulk of them.
The graphics are nothing to write home about. Sure, they look good, but the PS2 is reaching the peak of its graphical ability, and it's starting to show. The system experiences some brief slowdown, and the loading screens are terrible. You actually begin to hate the loading screens when you encounter the trial-and-error puzzles mentioned above. Every time you die, you have to wait for the level to load, and it takes a while.
The audio portion of TRA is great. All of the levels have nice, serene music that hangs around in the background until you enter combat or almost miss a jump. Then it starts pounding suspenseful music to get your blood racing and your heart pumping. You feel like you're a part of a movie, and it really contributes to the overall excitement of the game. The voice acting is where TRA really shines. Crystal Dynamics and Eidos hired professionals to do the acting, and they deliver with the appropriate vocal inflections and emotion. Coupled with fluid and realistic models, you get the sense that you are watching real people.
I haven't talked much about TRA's plot, and that's because it's on the thin side. Lara is contacted by Natla Technologies to retrieve a piece of the Scion of Atlantis, an object that holds immeasurable secrets about the lost continent. From there, the story kind of takes a back seat to the action. There are a few twists here and there but nothing that makes your jaw drop because you don't see enough of the characters to really care about them.
The unlockable content is another area of TRA into which Crystal Dynamics put a lot of time and energy. Throughout the levels, you find small relics and artifacts that open up content and rewards, such as new costumes, art galleries and cheats. My favorites are the director commentaries, which allow you to hear the designers talk a bit about why they made things a certain way and how and why they may have chosen to deviate from the original.
Now, I would be remiss if I didn't talk a little bit about how TRA differs from the original. The biggest change is the immense graphic overhaul; the graphics were completely rebuilt so all of the character models are fluid and realistic, which is certainly a departure from the clunky tank-like models of the original. The developers weeded through the puzzles of every level, keeping the strong ones and throwing out the rest. As a result, the levels are a lot smaller than in the original, and the game itself is shorter. The puzzles that were retained seem to avoid the more tedious block-moving and switch-flipping ordeals.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary is a great game for anyone who's never played the original. You will find a solid and enjoyable platforming experience that has some flaws, but nothing really detracts from it. Staunch fans of the original will probably take issue with the shorter levels and missing puzzles.