Tomb Raider: Anniversary

10 Year Reunion

Tomb Raider Anniversary revives the once-dead franchise but inherits some of the series' faults.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: June 25, 2007
page 1 page 2   next
It's probably no secret to long-time readers that I have something of an infatuation with Crystal Dynamics. Since they managed to properly update (and mostly close out) the Legacy of Kain franchise with Defiance, they've earned a warm place in my heart, not the least of which was due to a fantastic engine. That engine has been tweaked and prodded and updated into what was the remarkably competent engine for Tomb Raider Legend, but it's been bulked up even more for Tomb Raider Anniversary, a game that is more tribute than remake.

Ironically, in updating the game with the core fundamentals of the undeniably impressive Legend entry, the franchise seems to have accidentally contracted some of the bigger problems of the Tomb Raider curse, most notably level design that can be unintentionally confusing, a camera that can kill some key moments and difficulty that can leave newcomers and old-timers alike feeling a combined sense of unwelcome familiarity and newfound frustration.

That's not to say that Anniversary isn't an absolutely solid entry; as good as the original Core Design-developed entry (and the better-still sequel) was, this is undoubtedly a better "start" to the mythos, with a deeper storyline and far more inspired level design, but whereas Legend left us craving more (well, save for those horrid motorcycle bits), perhaps having to use the original game's basic bits seems to have short-changed the overall experience.

Oh, for folks that were hopelessly addicted to the original, the wholly unique feeling of nostalgic familiarity and minty freshness to the gameplay will undoubtedly provide a kind of bittersweet revival of the franchise, mainly because the core pieces of the original game's, well, tomb raiding aspect is at the fore. Yes, updates were made (both to the original game and even to the bits introduced in Legend), but this is a game that recalls the same she-Indiana Jones vibe of the first game, forgoing human enemies for time-forgotten creepy crawlies and for the most part it works very well indeed. You'll still find some light physics-based puzzles and tons of parkour-influenced acrobats, but the pull here is just in uncovering locales long forgotten by time and human hands.

Luckily, like Indy's adventures, the long-forgotten traps of old are still very much in place; pressure plates abound, and in one instance a rolling ball of doom makes an appearance, but where Crystal Dynamics first explored the idea of freeing Lara from the clunky grid-based movement system of the original game, the fundamentals have been bolstered by the addition of the iconic heroine being able to jump out onto and teeter on impossibly small resting points that ninjas would think twice about. With the new combat system that revolves around shooting the various animals in the game until they're pissed enough to charge while she slo-mo dives and nails a headshot (provided you can shoot fast enough when the crosshairs line up, mind you), Lara feels even more like an adventurous superheroine.

Unfortunately, for all of the nostalgic rushes I felt as I plugged through the game, I found myself stumped more than a few times as I thought through some of the more elaborate puzzles. Unlike Legend, which what about as clear cut as it could have been, the combination of textures and camera sometimes made it seemingly impossible to move on without a random leap of faith. I can't recall if Legend ever made use of jumps off a wall when swinging along them, but the first time it's introduced in St. Francis Folly, there's really no indication that that's what was needed to progress.

Coupled with a camera that made what should have been a simple left analog stick motion to jump off the wall a trial-and-error process of falling and re-doing the same sequence over and over again, I was ready to lose it. Eventually I learned to just position the camera so that it was facing the wall I was swinging on and then make a blind leap toward the camera. This wasn't an isolated incident, either. The camera regularly complicated jumps that should have been easy, and often the penalty was either having to re-climb an area or watching Lara plummet to her death. One of the quickest ways to get on my bad side is to make me sit through dozens of loading screens as I try and retry something over and over again.

page 1 page 2   next