Tomb Raider: Anniversary Reader Review
You know, you'd think I'd have learned by now to be a little more careful in which games I place my faith into. Sometimes my gut instinct pays off, sometimes it doesn't - and sometimes, I'm just not really sure.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary (hereby abbreviated to TR:A) is one of the most peculiar titles I think I've played to date - it's new, but it's not new. It's a remake of the old game, with new level designs to take advantage of the technology that wasn't available 11 years ago, when Lara was a fresh young face in the world and men fapped and girls dressed up as her. Hmm... maybe not so much has changed... Anyhow. The first thing to get out of the way is this; TR:A is easily the best Tomb Raider of the series since the first one. But then it is the first one. Sort of. Oh dear, this is going to get a little convoluted...
The first thing to say about TR:A is just how much of it is instantly familiar, despite the new design. Traditional frights are now boss battles, with clever mechanics woven in to even out the score a bit, and St. Francis' Folly - personally my favourite in the original - is instantly recognisable, and the huge shaft of the four Greek characters brings back heady reminders of how one mistake meant a plummet of doom. And yet, it's all fresh and new, with new ways around it - with more forgiving mechanics for grabbing things, environmental tricks to pull off to even fights and guide the way and more logic put into the puzzles - it felt like I was playing it again, for the first time. See, this is getting messy.
Thankfully, the aspects of TR:A focus far more on the adventure than the combat - which, to Crystal Dynamics' credit, is much more polished, but joyously a secondary aspect to the game. TR:A goes out of it's way to make the adventuring that much more refined, with plenty of secrets and little bits to poke about in and explore - this it does, to a very great extent, but in doing so they've once again fallen into the trap that even Prince of Persia fell into. The whole thing is a little too easy now, which is a shame, but it's a massive game so it does balance it out somewhat. Everything is a little TOO obvious, and a little too much mollycoddling is used in places and this is nowhere more evident than the action sequences, which slow down and give you the most ridiculous amount of time to punch in the key on screen. However, despite this it all feels remarkably fresh for a new version of an old game. Stop me when this gag is getting old.
The scripting, both old and new, and the voice acting is often sublime - although to be honest, Natla herself was a lot more youthful in the original version I felt and not the sour-faced evil woman she appears to be in this game. Shame, a hot evil chick would have been nice. The new dialogue is excellently done, and fleshes out the experience so much more than you could hope for - but truthfully, in places I'd have preferred they left the original dialogue alone, it's so iconic that even the most minute of changes seem somewhat alien and unwelcome, and you pine for the old script in this new version. Bear with me, it'll be over soon.
The downsides are simple to point out, but are in my eyes a little too noticable. Yes, the game is a little TOO simplified at times and sometimes helps out a little too much for its own good. The music is great, but it doesn't feel as meaty as it did all those years ago, though the sound effects are generally well above par. The combat, whilst relegated to necessity than forcing it down your neck, is also a little too simplified - dodging at the right time during a charge will slow the action down and give you time to compose yourself for an action moment, or just let you take in the battle for a moment. Nice, certainly, necessary? Hardly.
The greatest problem with this new version of an old classic is that they've fallen into the deadly pit of snakes by treading sometimes a little too much on the toes of familiarity. The reimagining of the classic is most certainly the glorious return to the world of greatness that the series has been longing for since... well, the original. But it's by no means perfect and for fans of the original who could recite every single cutscene by heart (Don't look at me that way!) and knew every single trick and shortcut and secret, it's going to at times be a little heartbreaking. We'll expect all the key moments, we'll generally know the lines through places despite the changes to many of the layouts...
The overall issue with TR:A is it's attempt to keep as in-line with the original as possible, which is admirable. Tomb Raider in new clothes is an awesome idea in theory, but in practice it somehow at times doesn't feel right and at other times, just reminds you that this game was so much better back then, so much fresher and newer. Walking in knowing what to expect for the majority of the game is, sadly, a bit pointless in an adventure game. Especially one of this magnitude.
That said, if this is someones first trip into the original, it's an essential - hands down. It's a great, great game and for those who haven't treaded in Lara's footsteps for as long as some of us old-timers, is as fresh as a daisy in a meadow. However, for us old-timers, be very warned - lower your hopes, and you'll probably also get a lot more out of it.
It's great to have Lara back, as if she never left (I will quit the joke now, I'm pretty much done here anyway!), it's just for me a slight letdown. I cannot deny it's up there with the best of the year so far, technically it's definitely on a par with todays standards - but those of us who really were there at the beginning, all those years ago, we are never going to be satisfied with the dumbing down or changing the things that were perhaps most striking about the original.
None of this should, however, detract from the truth that this is a great and enjoyable game and most definitely the best Tomb Raider for many years... since the original, in fact. Hats off for a great trip down memory lane and a really bold attempt at it - but it's like the replacement hamster you know your parents got you when the old one died. It may look the same, feel the same, and you'll love it regardless of the fact it seems lost and doesn't remember the tricks it used to be able to do - after all, it cam do new things! The old one couldn't tumble that way! It certainly never climbed up your trouser leg (On the outside, keep those thoughts to yourself!)... it can do new things and as long as you feet it and pet it, it'll be your bestest friend still.
Just, you know, it's not the original. And as much as you try to fool yourself, it never will be.
8 / 10