Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary Review
Ah, yes. Good ol' Tomb Raider. It seems like the franchise has been around forever, and for fans of the popular dungeon-diving adventures, it has been quite the roller-coaster ride. The series erupted like a volcano back in the day on the PC and PS1, but despite strong sales, the critical acclaim faded over the years. But hey, we're back up again, what with last year's Tomb Raider: Legend reclaiming much of its lost former glory, and now, we get what's becoming a videogame standard: the original remake. However, this isn't your everyday, run-of-the-mill remake; oh no, this is a bigger, prettier, deeper, and more engrossing Tomb Raider, which means it's an entirely new experience. Don't think for a second Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary is that 1996 title with flashier graphics, because it's much, much more than that.
But we will start with the graphics, which are, of course, greatly refined in comparison to the original. There are some pretty severe aliasing issues with the PS2 version, but there's still more detail and environmental attraction than ever before. The character design basically focuses on Lara - which is never a bad thing - and she has never looked better; ponytail swaying with the action, plenty more animations, and even sweat stains on her shirt covering that prodigious chest. The game wasn't exactly the epitome of vibrant color, but considering the atmosphere, we shouldn't really expect much beyond brown, gray, and green (or slight variations of those three shades). Essentially, this is the best Tomb Raider has ever looked on the PS2, with the possible exception of Legend. Yeah, you've got the typical jaggies, but they don't hinder the overall visual presentation too much, and besides, it's almost nostalgically endearing.
The sound is even better, though. The game draws the player into your daunting quest with a variety of background effects, and it helps a great deal to have some surprisingly competent voice actors. Lara is voiced extremely well, and while she's out exploring, her leaps and grabs are punctuated by crystal clear grunts of effort, all of which echo satisfactorily. You're in these massive, ancient ruins, after all, so the effects play a very large role. You'll recognize most of the music from the original, but there isn't much more in the way of engaging soundtracks; the one complaint we had. Still, those excellent affects contribute wonderfully to the experience, setting the appropriate ambiance and tone. The animals offer intimidating howls and roars, the guns issue sharp and realistic reports, and even the impact of Lara's boots hitting a different surface resound nicely in your ears. It's just very well done in this department.
Like we said earlier- bigger, prettier, deeper, and more engrossing. Rather than being saddled with the old Lara, who was quite limited when it came to actual maneuvers and abilities, we get the Lara from Legend. She can jump, grab, flip, roll, sidle, shimmy, crouch, swing...are we missing any action verbs, here? Because she can just about do it all; the only thing missing from the most amount of platforming depth we've seen recently is running along walls (ala Prince of Persia). This immediately makes the game very different, obviously, and Crystal Dynamics took this control and ability revamping and ran with it, effectively altering the environment (thought not as much as we would've liked). This game is less about finding a solution to the puzzle, and more about finding a way to execute that solution. In other words, to get to the switch you know you need to access, you'll have to clamber up and around, and that's gonna take some nifty ingenuity.
The control is as solid as ever, despite a slight lack of responsiveness in the jump and roll commands. Furthermore, the button layout is great; every possible action you can perform is right at your fingertips, mapped out perfectly to the PS2 Dual Shock controller. The game focuses mostly on platforming and less on battle, but when you do encounter an aggressive animal, Lara is more than competent in dealing with the danger. She'll run across everything from bats and wolves to tigers and even the classic T-Rex, all of which will face the business end of her guns. You'll start with the traditional dual pistols, but you'll eventually find other fun toys (like the shotgun) and aiming and firing is a very simple process. You can lock on with the L1 button and fire with the R1 button, and you can also leap and roll out of harm's way. Dodging is crucial if you plan on living longer than an hour or so, but they've built in a sweet little feature to make your life easier...and more entertaining.
The Adrenaline Dodge comes into play if you play your cards right. If you're locked on to a certain enemy and it charges, you can jump out of the way at the last second, thereby inducing the Adrenaline Dodge. Time slows, and if you can get off a shot at pointblank range the instant you leap away, that's an instant kill for ya. It works quite well, and while easy to use, it's not easy to master so even the most astute gamer can't abuse this new addition. The AI remains mostly archaic, but as you're never facing anything more than animals, it's hardly a major issue. Also, for those who are looking for more in the way of fighting, they will likely be disappointed due to the infrequent and often very short encounters. Those who remember the original will understand that concept, but for new gamers used to the likes of God of War or something, Anniversary may appear a touch bland.
The most debilitating problem you'll face centers on the camera, which is more problematic than it should be. The default camera sits much too low behind Lara, and has the irritating tendency to zoom in too closely in cramped areas, making certain sections overly challenging. For example, you often can't swing the camera 360 degrees when hanging on a ledge, which horribly limits your field of vision...and it's never advisable to leap before you look. The mediocre camera becomes an even bigger irritant during battle, especially if you do a lot of dodging. You'll generally move faster than the camera, which lags behind your incessant flipping, and your manual attempts to re-focus on the enemy aren't helped much by the lock-on. We wish it was more of a free-roaming camera like in Legend, because it really takes away from your experience. You just wish you could see more, almost all the time.
But as you move forward through a variety of nicely designed locales, you'll quickly become absorbed in the gameplay. By the time you're in Vilcabamba, you'll be hooked. In addition, you can always play around in Lara's Manor, which will test your puzzle-solving and platforming abilities in much the same way the main quest does. The "tomb raiding" and your quest to find that invaluable piece of Atlantis is timeless, and this shapely Indiana Jones type is more adept than ever. Once you throw in the spectacular sound (in the areas of effects and voice acting), the classic backdrops, the overhauled graphics, and the unmistakable Tomb Raider feel; most any player will soon find Anniversary awfully entertaining. It's as if Crystal Dynamics only went back to the formula long enough to take what they needed, and built upon the decade-old format. They should've added a bit more due to Lara's new skills, but hey, you can't mess with the formula too much.
To sum up, Tomb Raider: Anniversary is a finely tuned remake that isn't without its share of minor drawbacks. But outside of that very iffy camera, all of those drawbacks are indeed minor, and the game is fun as fun can be. The following final statement may not sound logical, but you should understand it after reading this review: you have played this game before, but in many ways, you haven't.
7/4/2007 Ben Dutka