Tomb Raider: Anniversary Reader Review
Where it all began
I first played the original Tomb Raider in 1997 and for me this is where it all began gaming wise, you see since the days of the Commodore 64 I had been very much out of the gaming loop, I never had an amiga, Atari ST, SNES or Mega drive. The launch of the original playstation however had made me curious so I bought one packaged with Ridge Racer and Tekken as an after thought I picked up an unknown game called Tomb Raider and it sat collecting dust while I button bashed my through tekken (badly) and power slid through Ridge (again badly) then after a week or so I loaded up Lara and my view on computer games changed forever. To say it blew me away would be an understatement, it was just like nothing else I had seen or imagined could be possible, I loved it so much that I rationed my play not wanting it to end and when Lara slid down that slope and the credits rolled I was left with a gaping void and some sadness, it was all over what was I going to do now? I found comfort in other games but it was not the same and when Tomb Raider 2 was announced my heart lifted and I began counting the days, it came and went and then a year later Tomb Raider 3 and then finally the last revelation they were solid games in their own right but they all lacked the magic of the original and when I fired up Angel of Darkness on the PS2 it took all of 30 seconds to realise that it was all over, divorce papers in the post and I never wanted to see her again.
Fast forward a few years though and Tomb Raider Legend was released, core design paid the ultimate price and Lara was handed over to Crystal dynamics who delivered a game that whilst flawed in places and far too short gave hope that a renaissance could be on the cards and when word got out the they were re-making the original game Halo 3 suddenly slipped from the top of my most wanted list, sorry Master Chief but this is Lara and she is coming home!
So why is the original so highly regarded when it is visually and technically the worst of the lot? Everybody's opinion will differ on this but for me it was the isolation and focus on exploration that made it for me, no modern day locations very few people it just felt right. Which brings us onto Anniversary, have Crystal dynamics pulled it off and has it been worth the wait?
I'm sorry I only play for Sport
Fire up the disk and as you would expect the initial similarity is with Legend rather than Tomb Raider 1. The options are clear and the first decision you have is whether to venture into Croft Manor or jump straight into the game, which is what I did. It is then that it all came flooding back Natla, the scion and "I'm sorry I only play for sport" Forget a Delorian at 88 mph this really is time travel! The opening few minutes stay faithful to the original although there is a little bit of platforming and an interactive cut scene to navigate before you are finally let loose in the opening caves level.
How does she Handle?
Game play wise as you would expect it is closer to legend than the original Tomb Raider, the grappling hook returns and can now be used to wall run as well as swing. One decision you will have to make is whether to use manual grab or the default auto grab, manual grab promises an experience more akin to the original where Lara did not grab ledges automatically and you pressed x to do so. In Anniversary manual grab is mapped to the R2 button and somehow I just couldn't get on with it, in the end I figured that falling to a painful death because I forgot to press x or accidentally letting go of x whilst hanging onto a ledge (which I did) were not my fondest memories of Tomb Raider 1 so after much procrastinating in the opening level I decided on auto grab, maybe it was just knowing a choice was there or maybe the 10 years have dulled my senses and I am just rubbish. With this out of the way I found moving Lara around is mostly a pleasure, however despite the fact that my last Tomb Raider game was legend I found myself reaching for the old controls on a regular basis, fully customizable controls would have been fantastic but overall the setup in Anniversary gets a thumbs up from me especially the camera which is excellent.
Combat is a case of as you were with some minor changes, a lot of people criticized the combat in the previous games and yes they were and still are quite basic. In my opinion though this is exactly how it should be, Tomb Raider is not an action game it is an adventure game and the combat breaks the action up nicely without stopping you in your tracks. Having said this Lara does have a new move in the adrenalin dodge where an enemy blurs into slow motion and you have the option of diving off to the side and delivering a killer shot, necessary? Probably not and I totally ignored it at first until that is I encountered the T-rex where the move is key to killing him off. Lastly old school fans will be pleased to know that there are very few humans in game, in previous games the presence of these destroyed the atmosphere and sense of exploration and I for one am very happy they are (almost) gone, animal lovers may wish to look away however as Lara wipes out animals at will throughout the game including to my dismay a lot of Grizzly bears, didn't Lara watch Planet Earth?
Once you have navigated that opening cut scene and you get into the caves it hits you that playing the game is like meeting up with an old friend and I challenge any fan of the original not to play the opening level with a smile on their face and a warm fuzzy feeling inside. You remember how much you enjoyed the original and you realise that you have it all ahead of you, think back to the feeling you had at school when you broke up for the Summer holidays, a real high and the impression that the end is so far away that you need not worry about it yet.
What strikes you immediately is how fast Lara moves and in the opening 2 levels I began to worry that the game was whizzing by too quickly especially as the 2nd level Vilcabamba is noticeably shorter than the same level in the original and you of course don't have the wonder of realising that yes that is a pool of water and yes you can swim in it. Once you reach the Lost Valley however you will see that Anniversary is a massive game, having said that I would have preferred her standard run to be a little slower. The opening levels will feel instantly familiar but for me the first standout area is the Lost Valley and despite some people criticizing the 2007 take on the T-Rex I thoroughly enjoyed it even if the beasts entrance lacks the impact, mind you we all know it's coming so this really isn't a fair comparison. After that the levels are a mix and like Vilcabamba there are a couple that feel smaller and lack the impact that you will remember from the original, this is especially true of the Coliseum and Cistern, which have almost certainly shrunk. On the upside the rest of the levels are just fantastic and in my opinion the Anniversary version of St Francis Folly is the best Tomb Raider level ever!
It is only when you dust off the original that you realise how good Anniversary is, you see those rose tinted glasses have been fooling you and Tomb Raider 1 was not as perfect as you remember, groundbreaking for the time? Definitely, but after 5 minutes you realise just how clunky the game was to play, having said that the brilliant level design shines through even today and much of that design has been retained. It is also slightly disappointing that 11 years on that some of the levels have effectively been cut and do not measure up to the same ones from the original and it has occurred to me that this may be the result of EIDOS not wanting the game to be delayed any further, which if true I can understand. Overall though the experience of playing anniversary is a fantastic one, the best analogy I have heard is that it is like playing your rose tinted memory of Tomb Raider 1 and that really sums it up brilliantly. As for my score, a perfect 10 it is not but for fans of the original this is an unmissable re-imagination of a gaming masterpiece
9 / 10