Tomb Raider: Anniversary
Review by judgementring
"Lara, I just love what you've done with the place!"
Beautiful. Nostalgic. Atmospheric. Those are the first three words that come to mind when I think of this great game. Everybody who plays Tomb Raider: Anniversary will probably agree on 2 out of 3. It is beautiful and atmospheric. The third is a joy reserved for fans of the original. Time and again I marvelled at the familiar landscapes I had been so awestruck by in the original Tomb Raider. But I quickly learned that while the environments were similar they were not the same. They were filled with new and gratifying challenges that had me playing for hour upon hour, bypassing both sleep and the dinner bell.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary is a remake of the original Tomb Raider released for the PS1 back in 1996. It's self explanatory why it's title is "Anniversary". It's been 10 years since the original was released so somebody, among the powers that be, had the brainstorm that it would be neat to remake the original with the new capabilities of the PS2. Tomb Raider I is widely regarded as the best of the series. It's follow-up, Tomb Raider II, is often rated a worthy successor. From there it's debated if any sequel, there have been several, measured up to the first 2. Then in 2006, after a number of so-so attempts, Tomb Raider: Legend was released which received overwhelmingly positive reviews. It was the first game since Tomb Raider II to do so. The general consensus was that Tomb Raider is back! That sentiment has now been solidified with the release of Tomb Raider: Anniversary, hereby referred to as TRA, and those of us who have been loyal fans of Lara Croft and her adventures have our fingers crossed that the revival of this once great series is back to stay.
The story in TRA is the same as it was in the original, with a modified script. The characters are the same and it's a pure delight to see all the old stars with their new makeover. In the original everybody was basically a human polygon due to the limitations of the PS1, but in this updated version everybody looks like they've spent a month at the spa and have emerged renewed and refreshed. They look great. Everything looks great. The game is as much a visual treat as any that's been released for the PS2. And, yes, if you're wondering, I have played the graphically acclaimed God Of War, I AND II. And yes, I would put TRA'a graphics on a par with them. They are just as crisp with the same painstaking detail, and the environments are equally as epic.
The original music theme returns but I like the original arrangements better. To this day I have not played a video game who's music theme I have enjoyed more than TR1. Like the original, there is little background music during gameplay. It's mostly dead silence except for the ambient sounds of the environment, with some spooky sound effects thrown in for good effect in a game of this type which focuses on the exploits of a lone adventurer in a hostile and dangerous environment. Music is reserved mostly to enhance the awe of entering a new area or to add excitement to the battle sequences.
TRA is basically a romp through the ruins and hidden places of ancient civilizations including Peru, Greece, Egypt, and the eerie and mysterious Lost Isle. You get to explore Mayan ruins in a tropical forest, a crumbling coliseum, an acrophobia inducing medieval chamber, King Midas's very palace, a giant sphinx, colossal statues submerged in water, caves and mines, lava pits, and a surreal pyramid camouflaged as a towering mountain on a mysterious lost island once part of the mythical kingdom of Atlantis. The settings are varied and never repetitive. Frequently they are awe inspiring as was their classic predecessors. Your objective is to secure the pieces of an ancient artifact for which your dubious employer, the head of a wealthy corporation, has enlisted you and your renowned skills. So off on the trail you go exploring wild and beautiful, yet foreboding locales in your hunt for the scion of Atlantis which wields terrible power to whomever it serves, and of course wouldn't it be the head of a powerful corporation just itching to get her hands on it. It's Doctor Evil meets the Devil Wears Prada in the devious and enigmatic villainess, Jacqueline Natla, who's true intent is unbeknown to Lara as she enthusiastically and boldly explores the trail of ancient ruins that leads to the ominous relic.
The character of Lara Croft is controlled with the left analog stick and she will fluidly respond to however you command her, going in whatever direction you point the stick relative to your view. This can cause headaches, particularly later in the game as the camera angles change rapidly while you negotiate some tough obstacle courses. The right analog stick controls the camera giving you a 360 degree view of her surroundings. The controls are tight with a slight dead zone which is necessary to prevent Lara from taking any sudden steps that might be her last since she's often standing on, or hanging from, some precipice at a dizzying height. Since TRA is largely a platformer, how well you master the controls will largely determine your success in progressing smoothly through the game, as well as freedom from frustration should you find her doing things you didn't want her to, like jumping forward when you wanted her to go left only to see her take another plunge to her demise. But not to fret. Checkpoints are generously dispersed and you never restart too far from your mishaps, and with full health regained. In fact, there were parts in the game where I intentionally reloaded the game at the latest checkpoint simply because I had used up several medpacks and I wanted them back. It almost makes the medpacks redundant, although in the interest of saving time it's quicker to use them then reloading.
One thing that the original Tomb Raider did so well that TRA also does with a modicum of success is inject an air of suspense because you know, along with the possibility of one wrong step being her last, that hostile, wild creatures are always lurking nearby that will suddenly appear and attack with little or no warning. There's panthers, lions, gorillas, wolves, bears, alligators, raptors, centaurs, annoying rats and bats, and incubated demons that burst suddenly into life that can strike at any moment. But there's no time allowed for fretting over it even if you're unnerved because your attention and concentration is demanded elsewhere - there are heart stopping heights to scale and mind bending puzzles to solve. Be forewarned, these puzzles can get tough, but never unfair. There is a logic to them, and if you have the patience you will eventually figure them out.
As a platformer your dexterity with a controller will be frequently tested by obstacle courses. If you don't have mastery in this aspect of the game you will get frustrated and growl as much as the wild beasts in the game. Lara has a plethora of acrobatic moves that are put to the test as she precariously scales walls, swings along horizontal bars, leaps from ledge to ledge, pole to pole, and dives and rolls her way to safety through one death trap after another. I guess the obligatory comment here is to say it is reminiscent of Prince of Persia, and yes it is, and just as handsomely done. No slouch is going to make it through these obstacles, and a feeling of gratification and/or relief is common when you make it through them unscathed, or at least still alive.
Combat is infrequent because the focus of the game is on platforming and puzzle solving, but there's a satisfying amount of it. Enemies aren't that tough but they're fun to fight because of the lock-on feature and acrobatics you can command of Lara as she flips, rolls and dodges enemies while she disposes of them with an assortment of firearms, including her notorious dual pistols. Most of the enemies are quick and aggressive and on top of Lara in a flash, often attacking in packs. If they connect with her they send her flying in a lifelike flop. It's actually kind of fun to see Lara get flattened because the animation of it is so well done. However, it also causes a substantial amount of damage. A full health meter can be depleted in 4 hits on normal mode. Speaking of "flash", there is a feature called the adrenaline dodge that is one of the best and most fun I have ever seen in a game. While fighting your enemies, sooner or later one of them is going to become enraged and perform what is known as an adrenaline charge. You'll know it's coming by the flash from the enemy's head as he, or she, rears back and prepares to charge. As the enemy closes in on you the screen will blur and you are given a short window of opportunity for a one shot kill. If you execute it properly, the action will revert to bullet-time, Lara will dive away from the charging adversary and fire at the precise moment two reticles converge to turn red, causing the charging beast to collapse in a lifeless heap, or in the case of bosses give you an opportunity to disarm or further damage them. It is an absolutely awesome sight and one of the most gratifying kills I have ever experienced in a game. It can be performed with the default, and weaker, handguns or with the more powerful weapons you collect as the game progresses. Except for the default handguns all weapons have limited ammo. They include a shotgun, dual 50 caliber pistols, and dual mini-SMGs. Ammo is dispersed throughout the landscape, and there is plenty of it. You should never be concerned for want of it. Even though the starting pistols have unlimited ammo, they can only fire 40 shots before Lara's forced to reload, which has my vote for the coolest animation of a reload ever in a video game.
One last thing to note is the length of the game. It took me in excess of 27 hours to complete it. Much of that time was spent busting my brain trying to unravel the puzzles that had to be solved in order to move further into the game. Frequently enough I'd get stuck on an obstacle course that required timely, precise jumps. Rarely was I held up by an enemy, including the bosses except for a couple because of a trick method required to defeat them. All in all, I think I'm a competent gamer with average skills, so I think the 27+ hours it took me to finish is probably close to the norm of what it would take most people. The point is, you get your money's worth. This is a big game.
So, there's my review with hardly a negative word. My only gripe is with the trouble I sometimes had controlling Lara's movements because I miscalculated the camera angles. But being adept at this is part of the challenge and I can't really blame the game for it. It would be like blaming a pitcher for striking me out instead of my inability to hit the ball. Still, it did detract from my enjoyment and the game loses a point for it. So let that be a lesson to all future game makers. Don't get me annoyed and you get a 10 instead of a 9. LOL.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 06/18/07
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