|Tomb Raider Anniversary|
February 11, 2008 | Eddie Park
Tomb Raider is a well-known series, probably moreso for its curvy heroine Lara Croft than anything else. While the first title also stood on its own merits , the series began a slow decline from there into mediocrity that leaned heavily on Lara's considerable measurements to stay afloat. After being handed off to Crystal Dynamics, the series saw a resurgence of sorts with the well-received Tomb Raider: Legend, after which Eidos let it be known that an homage of the game that started it all would be resurfacing in the form of Tomb Raider: Anniversary.
Thankfully, Anniversary is more than just a rehash of the original with souped-up graphics. Building it on top of the same engine that powers Legend, Anniversary is a completely reworked version that features reworked areas to explore, new puzzles to sort out, and new abilities to exert.
This is not to say that the graphics weren't bumped up along with the rest of the game. Indeed, one of the first things that fans will notice about Anniversary is the facelift its received. No longer restricted to the blocky greyness of the original, Anniversary features plenty of rounded objects, detailed surfaces, and lighting effects that lend themselves well to creating the feeling of underground exploration. Lara in particular has never looked better, featuring smoother animations and an appearance that is affected by her interactions with the environment, which can cause her to accumulate dirt or emerge glistening wet from a dip in a pool, an interesting effect that will no doubt have some fanboys directing Lara to jump into any nearby waterholes.
The updated graphics lend themselves well to the reworked levels, which are significantly increased in size. Players who memorized the original should be suitably staggered by the levels Anniversary will confront them with. The first level alone takes a considerable amount of time to conquer, and familiar locations will quickly become less so once the reworked puzzles and new paths come into play.
Lara herself has also received some upgrades apart from her looks. She now comes with a grappling rope and hook apparatus, which allows her to do things like swing across chasms and run across walls when needed. She can also shimmy up, jump on top of, and balance on poles. Combat has also seen a few tweaks, with timed button presses yielding dodge and recovery animations, the now somewhat-standard bullet time slow-mo effect, and power attacks. These extra maneuvers are not only cool, but also worked into the design philosophy of Anniversary's levels, allowing players a variety of options when running through Anniversary's areas.
Fans afraid that Anniversary may perhaps stray too far from its roots shouldn't be concerned. Though much of it is new, the overall story is largely intact, many of the levels have notable areas from the original that should evoke some nods, and all of the somewhat inexplicable enemies are back, including wolves, bears, crocodiles, and the almighty T-Rex. Oh, and those annoying bats too. All of Lara's original moves are still in place as well, and players can run, jump, shimmy, aim, dive, and do that handstand on a ledge maneuver as much as they like. Control of all these maneuvers is much smoother than the original too, allowing for better angling. Players who recall the blocky handling of the original should be glad to see that they can actually move at angles other than 90 degrees.
Those well-versed would do well not to mistake this outing for a cakewalk. Difficulty has been ramped up considerably. Not only are the areas much larger, but the greater interactivity allows for much more interesting puzzles. Puzzles may involve the shooting of an object to break it, the knocking loose of bridges with the grappling hook, or the rotating of columns in order to match up symbols. The usual block moving, switch throwing, and "I see my objective clearly but I have to take a huge roundabout route in order to get to that objective" gameplay features are also there in case anyone happens to miss those sorts of things.
Though remakes aren't always things to get excited over, Anniversary looks less like a remake and more like a total reimaging of the original game. Even if you think you're tired of Tomb Raider, Anniversary may well be worth a tryout before being dismissed as a rehash. If nothing else, it seems to recapture the original feel of the exploration of cavernous areas, the physical navigation of perilous ledges, and the braining out of environmental puzzles. Feral Interactive is currently hard at work on the Mac port, and hopes to have it out sometime soon.