PC or PS2?
One point to consider before you part with your cash for Anniversary is what platform you buy it on. With no 360 version (yet), you might be tempted to dust off the PS2 and buy that version - especially as a) it looks absolutely stunning, and b) it even supports widescreen progressive scan. Certainly, that was my first instinct, on the basis that it's a game best played with a joypad, but, to my utter delight, I discovered that the far superior PC version works perfectly (with no configuration required) with a wired or wireless Xbox 360 pad right out of the box (just buy one of these). Hooked up to a TV, with the 360 wireless pad, it was seamless, and certainly makes up for the lack of a 360 version for now - assuming you have a reasonably specced rig of course.
Both versions feel identical to play, but the PC wins out by virtue of the sharper resolution and a plethora of more advanced graphical effects. Given how undemanding the game is on average systems (for example, running on a Radeon 9800 or X1600 Mobility was no bother, and even a Geforce 7400 equipped laptop ran without a single hitch with all the settings on), I'd heartily recommend anyone go for the PC version, even if they've given up buying games for their creaking beige box.
And while we're on the subject of how the game looks, Crystal Dynamics deserves massive applause for the overall art direction and the way the premise of the original has been enhanced so massively. Given the game is rather sparse in terms of enemy count and so on, it's evidently given the team the chance to really go to town on pushing up the texture variation within the environments. The overall atmosphere within the game has been improved no end by the delightful attention to detail, with painstaking inscriptions and intricate patterns livening up the innards of these forgotten temples. Even when you're in a seemingly bland stone room, imposing statues with mossy feet always give that chilling feeling of abandonment, and the subtle ambient lighting, floating dust motes and watery reflections help all the more.
Snap, cackle, crunch
Even Lara herself looks better than ever, with a more fluid interaction with the environment, and a more convincing physics-based approach used to convey the sickening effects of a severe fall. Some of the small touches - like the way her skin glistens after a swim, you won't even notice immediately, but then the camera might offer an unexpected close up, and show her face in absolutely stunning detail. Other moments, like the little smoke trails after you fire a shot, or the splashes you see when running through a puddle, all add up to making the game world come alive, and help build a wonderfully immersive atmosphere that keeps you going when the chips are down.
Equally worthy of credit is the audio work, with a brooding soundtrack that fits perfectly with the dynamic ebb and flow with the action. You might not even notice the discordant ambience while you're desperately pulling off a death-defying series of jumps, but now and then you'll sit back and soak it all up and appreciate that palpable effort has gone into making it the best game it could be.
But enough with the gushing praise. There are moments of agony to endure in Anniversary too, albeit mercifully rare occasions when the design team either overlooked something obvious, or the QA department wasn't listened to. Apart from the occasions where you'll fail to spot some obvious visual cues (and you will, mark my words), there are a few notable occasions when the game appears to delight in being utterly evil for the sake of it - such as when (near the end of level 13) you have to first defeat two fire-bombing winged hell cretins (without getting knocked off into a fiery abyss), and then get about 15 seconds to do five perfect jumps in quick succession, followed by two insanely difficult wall runs and grab a wall on the opposite corner. Only two hours of solid persistence saw me through this single ludicrous event, and were it not for the game's instant reload and sensible checkpointing system I'd have not bothered seeing the otherwise excellent game through to the end. Some of you won't be so persistent, and rightly so - it's galling when a game throws an unreasonable challenge at you, though luckily nothing else in the game demanded such obsessive compulsive repeat play.
Falling in love again
If you're utterly beset with incalculable OCD tendencies, though, you'll be delighted to learn that the game's rammed with unlockables and rewards for nabbing all the hidden treasures in the (even more) difficult to reach parts of the game's 14 levels. Everything from commentaries to character biogs, art and costumes are there to be unlocked, and with time trials being included as well, there's reason to keep coming back for more long after the 15-20 hour first play through is over with.
So, if you've just skipped to the end, or maybe haven't quite got the gist yet, we rather loved Tomb Raider Anniversary for giving us so few things to dislike about it. It takes the inspirational level design of the original, improves upon the atmosphere, and makes the whole thing so much more fun thanks to the hugely refined control and camera system. Far from being a tired, cynical cash-in exercise of a brand past its prime, Tomb Raider Anniversary goes back to its roots and shows how remakes should be done. As such, it has ended up being one of the stand-out games of the year so far, and also one of Eidos' best ever. It's a must buy for any Lara fan, simple as that.
9 / 10