'Tomb Raider: Anniversary' PC Review

April 15, 2009 § Leave a comment

Tomb Raider: Anniversary is yet another attempt by Eidos to relive the glory years of Lara Croft — you know, when she was the highschool prom queen, instead of the now broken-down old whore she’s been reduced to. The game itself is actually a remake of the original PS1 classic, then released in 1996, but with added gameplay features, enhanced graphics and some rejigged levels. It’s a game that doesn’t reinvent the wheel for the platforming genre — but nor does it pretend to. It’s an entertaining, fun, well-designed, polished game that does exactly what it sets out to, and that is: to recapture that sense of adventure which made the original games so great.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary is a 3rd-person adventure game that requires patience, practice and timing. In this game, Lara is searching for the Scion, some kind of long-lost, mysterious artifact, and along the way gets to visit some rather pleasent locales, including Peru, Greece, Egypt and, even, Atlantis. Of course, most of the time you’ll be spending your time underground in vast caverns and crypts rather than admiring the local flora and fauna — but hey, it’s called Tomb Raider for a reason. Despite Lara’s confined settings, most of the levels are epic sprawling mazes which are really quite awe-inspiring in themselves. Every first step committed to a new level at once provides the player both with feelings of reverence and dread: reverence, because these underground worlds are like giant playgrounds, stimulating that old sense of wonderment of being a kid with a whole bunch of toys; and, at the same time, dread, because you just know that there’s going to be a whole lot of head-scratching and frustration to be had before the level’s end.

Tomb Raider is, like a lot of puzzle games, a somewhat masochistic experience. The joy to be had is in figuring out how the levels operate, what you need to do to get from one platform to the next or how exactly you reach that relic which has teasingly been placed on a teeny-tiny — seemingly impossible to reach — pedestal on the far side of a room. It’s a gift that the game is so forgiving with its frequent save points and unlimited lives, and, really, 90% of the mistakes I made when playing the game weren’t the fault of the puzzles themselves being stupidly difficult, or the controls being unwieldy; it was always because I lacked patience that I died, and not really for any other reason than that. If you plan things out, think things through, then you’ll breeze through the game; if you’re more like me, someone who prefers to think more instinctively through trial and error, then you are going to be dying a hell of a lot of the time.

All the puzzles in the game have a solution, and they’re rarely that complicated. As you play more, the puzzles don’t become more complex, they just get longer. The result of which is that the game becomes less of a challenge and more of a chore as not much extra thought is required, just better reflexes and memorisation. It’s a shame because the game really starts off so well, dropping you off in this beautiful, lush environment inside the Peruvian mountains, left untouched by the civilised world. At this point the puzzles are fresh and new, but by the end of the Egypt levels, there is a big sense of deja vu as you are faced with yet another water level puzzle or crate puzzle — unfortunate throwbacks to early 90s 3D level design. The water puzzles really are the worst, most tedious affairs because if you make a mistake it often takes so damn long to go back to where you originally were. I eventually resorted to drowning Lara underwater several times — both to reload the closest save and to satisfy my vexations towards Ms Croft and her annoying habit of dying.

(Ahem, and who said video games weren’t therapeutic?)

Fortunately, the instances where you are frustrated by the inanity of the game’s design are far outweighed by the moments you are swinging around like tarzan, jumping across huge chasms and making that last ditch effort to grab the edge of platform — where you think you’ve got it, but no you don’t, but yes you do. Also, thank the Lord that Eidos, in their infinite wisdom, decided to go and update the controls along with the graphics. I have a very limited recollection of the old Tomb Raider games but, from my vague rememberences, Lara handled like a tank without tracks. I’m not going to go into the minutia of how the controls work, but, suffice to say, they’re just fine and very rarely trip the player up.

The controls are fine — that is, for the platforming sections. For the combat sections… That’s a whole other story. Lara is only fighting against animals, reptiles, bats and the like in this game, so their intelligence is pretty low, and that means that they are easily outwitted. Unfortunately — and especially towards the end — the game decides that when there is a set piece involving combat, just throw more of the creatures out there to give a bit of ‘oompf’ to the challenge. Shame is, Lara is burdened with an absolutely crap auto-aim system. And then you have these quick time events, that when you’ve done some damage to an enemy, it will try and gore you, and then the player is given a few seconds to dodge the rapidly approaching onslaught in bullet time. It’s a dumb gimmick that gets old after the first and second time, and really really old thereafter. Quick time events just plain suck in general as all they do is give the gameplay a start-stop effect which is jarring and in no way works to immerse the player. Also, when there’s a cutscene: it’s a cutscene; it’s my reward for hours of painstaking effort on my part in completing the level. I want to be able to relax, take a break and enjoy it; I don’t want to be on the edge of my seat, having to wait for the inevitable moment a quick time event busts through and ruins this for me.

I should also add that there are some cool little extras included in this package: commentaries on the levels, character bios, different Lara skins, artwork etc. are all unlockable features if you have the time and dilligence to dedicate to finding all the hidden relic and artifacts, dotted around the levels. Lara’s mansion also returns from the original game as a neat little diversion/tutorial. And despite the lack of time I have dedicated to the subject, the visuals in the game are really very pretty. The textures aren’t intensly detailed and there aren’t many graphical flourishes to speak of either, but the general art design is perfectly adequate and fitting to each location. The star of the show aren’t the graphics so much as they are the levels themselves — and the haughty grandeur of their design.

So. Tomb Raider: Anniversary. Yay or nay? I bought this game for around £3.49 on Steam when it came out on the weekend deal — that’s less than a return bus ticket to town, for me. But lets say the game were priced around ten to fifteen pounds; I still don’t think I’d hesitate in recommending it to someone. It’s a good game despite some flaws, and it does kind of make you feel like Indiana Jones when you’re jumping about from wall to wall, platform to platform, searching for the lost treasure. And, really, that’s worth the price of admission alone.


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