Tomb Raider: Anniversary

Year: 2007
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Genre: Action/adventure
Review Date: 7/22/07
Rating: ****

The original "Tomb Raider" (1996) was a ground-breaking game, ushering in a new age of 3D action, adventure, story-telling, and level design. "Tomb Raider's" leading lady, Lara Croft, also made a huge contribution to the video game world as one of the first female protagonists to successfully penetrate a male dominated mainstream, and became the archetype for which all other action heroines are judged against. In celebration of her ten year anniversary, Crystal Dynamics has remade Lara's first globe-trotting adventure using the superb "Tomb Raider: Legend" (2006) engine. While the story, characters, locales, and objectives remain the same, new maneuvers, puzzles, strategies, and boss battles have been added to the mix. Similar to "Legend," Lara can now swing from poles, climb ropes, climb and balance on posts, and run along walls. All of the battles in the original game boiled down to running circles around your enemy and relentlessly blasting away at them with your dual pistols. "Anniversary" requires much different tactics, forcing you to use special focused attacks and environmental effects. For instance, the battle with the centaurs in the Tomb of Tihocan now requires you to enrage the enemy, dive out of the way and perform a special attack to stun them, steal their shield with your grappling hook, make them angry enough to cast a stone gaze at you, hide behind the discarded shield to reflect the gaze back at them, and then charge in with your shotgun to blast them in their vulnerable state. Similar tactics are required for the infamous Tyrannosaurus battle, and this time there's no secret cubbyhole to hide in and snipe from.

First of all, the graphics are absolutely gorgeous and exploring Lara's world is as breath-taking as ever. The revised musical score is also superb. The nostalgia content is extremely high, but everything manages to feel new and fresh. One of the most jaw-dropping moments in my gaming experience was seeing St. Francis's Folly for the first time, and seeing it recreated here is just as impressive. The grid-based navigation model from the original Core engine is gone, allowing a new level of freedom for Lara's movements. In that regard, "Anniversary" is a far more forgiving game in terms of precision jumping, but it also has its fair share of insidious challenges and diabolical puzzles. Thankfully, the bizarre "invisible ledge" from the original was ditched in favor of a more sensible puzzle. The game also employs the same checkpoint system as in "Legend," which makes failure and backtracking less painful. The game doesn't place a limit on the number of health packs you can carry like "Legend" does, which is fortunate because you'll definitely need them (I had over 70 towards the end of the game). This game is much harder than "Legend" is, which is even evident in Croft Manor. Yes, the exquisite manor is back and even has the same configuration as in "Legend" albeit with a whole new set of challenges. However, it doesn't serve as a training ground for Lara this time, as the tutorials for her new moves are now in the field.

Even though it uses the "Legend" engine, I found the camera to be much more fussy and uncooperative in "Anniversary." It's not as smooth and bounces around a lot more which made me sick on several occasions. It also suffers from obscuring your targets when you're shooting at them. I noticed a fair number of glitches as well, and overall the game seems to have less polish than "Legend." However, what strikes me most about this game is just how compact and ingenious the level design is. Levels like St Francis's Folly and The Cistern are amazingly complex and contain dozens of puzzles in a fairly dense area. While considered expansive at the time, they almost seem claustrophobic now. Sadly, this level of brilliance and intricacy seems lacking in today's games. The game's cutscenes have also been enhanced to include some interactive action events and some surprisingly poignant emotional scenes. As if trying to make up for "Angel Of Darkness" (2003), Lara has to come to grips with killing a man, and it leaves her visibly shaken. These brief moments of drama and emotional clarity really make for an incredible experience and endear you to the characters.

Much like the original, this game is hard. Most of the time you can recognize your goals and reach your destination through trial and revision, but eventually the demands become too great and I finally gave up about twenty hours into the game. Once you reach the demon infested Great Pyramid, things get extremely difficult. However, I didn't mind stopping at this point, because after Egypt things become considerably less interesting as well (not to mention I had unlocked all of the costumes that I cared about). Natla may have gotten away with the Scion Of Atlantis, but I'm okay with that. Speaking of which, I'm still a bit annoyed that they continue to pronounce "scion" as "skee-on" in the game. Oh well. I thoroughly enjoyed playing "Tomb Raider: Anniversary" and would really love to see a remake of the vastly superior "Tomb Raider 2" (1997). The same goes for "Resident Evil 2" (1998), but I doubt we'll ever see either of those.