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PSP Review - 'Tomb Raider: Anniversary'

by Tom Baker on Sept. 4, 2007 @ 3:58 a.m. PDT

Using an enhanced Tomb Raider: Legend engine, the graphics, technology and physics bring Lara's adventure and pursuit of a mystical artifact known only as the Scion up to today’s tech standards and offers gamers a completely new gameplay experience.

Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Release Date: August 9, 2007

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Tomb Raider: Anniversary gives gamers a chance to relive many an adolescent fantasy by once again putting them in the place of Eidos' iconic heroin, Lara Croft. Fans of the series may have faced bitter disappointment with some of Lara's previous escapades, fiddly control systems and a reliance on shooting over substance have left even the most die-hard "Raiders" embittered toward the game. Anniversary for the PSP does much to restore the good Croft name by reinventing the original Tomb Raider title.

Anniversary retells the original plot of the first game, where Lara is sent after the Scion, a rare artifact of unknown power which may hold the key to discovering the lost city of Atlantis. You will follow Lara though the lush jungles of the lost valley, ancient deserted Grecian temples and the lost city itself, finding artifacts and following the research left by Lara's father. Along the way, you will have to maneuver through traps and dispatch of various enemies from bears to the chronologically misplaced Tyrannosaurus Rex.

The game's main focus, however, lies in the traps and puzzles which need to be traversed in order to progress. This is usually accomplished with dramatic aerobatic feats akin to the Prince of Persia series, and it is obvious from the control system and certain features that this is the main style model from which Eidos drew the gameplay.

Anniversary relies very little on constant action or pitched battles. Weapons aren't presented to the gamer on a silver platter, but more in a survival-horror style, where more powerful weapons have to be rigorously searched for if you want to unlock them. The classic dual pistols with an infinite supply of ammo make an appearance as the backbone of Lara's arsenal, and you'll find yourself relying on these more than ever, as secondary ammunition for the various other weapons is scarce. Locations, weapons and dialogue are all lovingly recreated in a way which truly pushes the little PSP to its limits. To say that this game is a simple graphical rehash of the original would be downplaying the innovation and genius that has obviously sculpted Anniversary. The story and set pieces may have remained true to the original, but the introduction of new puzzles, special moves and equipment mean that this could be a standalone title.

That is not to say that Anniversary is a giant leap from what the original game was, which can only be a positive, since the more recent tomb raiding adventures have been a disappointing crop at best. Eidos used the original team from the first game to retell their genre-defining story on next-generation platforms, and while Anniversary is certainly not the step forward that the original Tomb Raider was, it has drawn from more recent titles and genre innovations to make a truly enjoyable game.

The gameplay of adventure titles such as Tomb Raider has always been tantamount to success. A cumbersome or loose control system can ruin even the most established titles, so it's a relief to see that Anniversary has recovered from the control issues present in previous incarnations in the series. More impressive still is that Eidos has accomplished this on a PSP single analog system. The d-pad acts as a quick inventory and controls the new grapple hook item, which allows Lara to unlock certain puzzles and perform ambitious swings in the crumbling temples. The shoulder buttons have the dual use of controlling the camera and, when pressed together, drawing Lara's weapon, which is less disruptive to gameplay than it sounds and very practical, considering the PSP's lack of actual buttons in comparison to a control pad.

The analog system may be well incorporated, but it still feels loose and slightly detached from Lara's actions. This can lead to some frustration, especially since a lot of the actions and puzzles require precision movement on very small ledges, and a deathly plummet off a cliff just meters away from the next checkpoint can cause needless amounts of backtracking. Even though adventure games would not be the same without this level of frustration and accomplishment, the unbalanced sensitivity of the analog stick at certain times can exacerbate this to the point where you simply just have to put the game down.

Aside from this minor issue, the gameplay is incredibly satisfying. Just making those distant jumps, wall-running to a secret location or even dispatching enemies with a variety of aerobic maneuvers are all still staples of the Tomb Raider experience. Even the combat has been tweaked with the new "adrenaline rush" feature. As an injured creature gets enraged, it charges Lara, giving you the chance to slow down time, dive from harm's way and deliver a potentially lethal shot to the head. Additions like this and the grapple hook make the gameplay feel individual to this title to the point where you may forget this is based as a remake of the first game. The targeting system has also been modified, providing you with locking crosshairs that tell you weather a target is in range. This makes up for an inability to manually aim your crosshair, and it makes combat that much more slick and integrated into the actual adventure, rather than making the gamer shift from combat to a "puzzle solving" portion of the game.

Graphically, Tomb Raider Anniversary boasts some of the most impressive set pieces and level of detail that I've seen in a handheld title. The sharpness of the PSP's screen makes the environments appear much clearer than even the PS2 version of the game, and the pixelation is minimal, even if you zoom in on surfaces. Lara has also never looked better — if you'll pardon the cliché — with a lot of time obviously being taken in the modeling of her actions and the intricate detail of her facial features.

The levels themselves can be huge, with elaborate traps and climbable surfaces all in a single arena, rather than segmenting them into smaller puzzles such as the Prince of Persia series. In one case, you'll find yourself scaling ancient water wheels built into the side of a massive waterfall, and you'll need to execute precision timing and death-defying leaps to reach the top before swan diving into an incredibly well animated pool. If anything, Anniversary is too ambitious when it comes to graphics because when entering some of these huge arenas or engaging multiple enemies, there can be significant slowdown. This poses more of a gameplay issue when combined with the loose control systems, as you may often find yourself suffering from slow frame rates as you're about to attempt one of the more devious leaps of faith.

The soundtrack of Anniversary is a welcome blast from the past, with the classical scores bringing back fond memories of being mauled by the bear on the first level and that one jump which could never be overcome. Everything from the eerie howls of the wolves to the firing of Lara's arsenal are all gloriously represented though the PSP's tiny speakers, reminding you of why Tomb Raider was such a timeless classic.

Like previous Tomb Raider games before it, there is no multiplayer function, but the ability to replay levels and a plethora of unlockable extras means that any serious or casual gamer will find hours of replayability in this title. Finding artifacts and relics to unlock cheats, cut scenes and ahem extra costumes for the buxom Lara will keep gamers more than occupied and introduces an extended lifespan which the original sadly lacked. Anniversary also has a time trial mode, which encourages players to speed run through completed levels in order to achieve the fastest times; it is these extra considerations that Anniversary includes which makes it stand out from previous Tomb Raider titles and other action adventure games.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary for the PSP is well worth a look, even if you are not a fan of the series. Any adventure aficionado would be hard-pushed to find much wrong with this title or find any other game which challenges the sheer playability that Anniversary has to offer. The Prince of Persia series may have Tomb Raider beat in its speed and precision of controls, but in terms of graphical prowess and simple nostalgia for the days of the first game, Tomb Raider stands head and shoulders above the competition. Those who enjoyed the original will be enthralled by all the additions to the gameplay, and those new to the series would not go wrong to start with Anniversary. There are a few minor but noticeable problems with this game, but they mainly stem from the PSP itself. Anyone with a better familiarity with the control system, especially on action adventure titles, should easily be able to overcome these hiccups. This game will leave you hoping to celebrate the next Anniversary with Miss Croft in another 10 years.

Score: 8.2/10

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