Let's get it all out on the table: I'm not the world's biggest Tomb Raider fan. I played Tomb Raider and Tomb Raider 2 when they were originally released, but they quickly became a jumble of jumping, jungles and dinosaurs in my mind that sapped any inspiration to invite Miss Croft back into my home.
Watching the first Tomb Raider movie didn't help her cause either.
That said, when Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary arrived on my desk, I put aside my old qualms about the game -- no action, boring gameplay, bland environments -- and decided to dive into Lara's revamp. I even went back and played Tomb Raider: Legend so I could give you a well-rounded analysis.
The result is a turbulent Greggy.
If you've been living under a rock or in a tomb
(damn, I'm witty), Anniversary is Lara's original 1996 adventure re-imagined with the Legend engine. That means you're chasing the Scion of Atlantis through Peru, Greece and Egypt like in the original game but you have access to Lara's grappling hook, 45-degree jumps and shimmy abilities like in Legend.
It's an awesome mix. I distinctly remember trudging through the original Tomb Raider on my PC at a snail's pace and cursing the tank controls for our voluptuous heroine as she fell to her death for the umpteenth time. Now, Lara moves swiftly and nimbly across ancient temples, which are throwbacks to the original levels, and sprawls out to grasp at whatever ledge she can while airborne. Even when you fail -- and you will -- most of the time you feel like Lara's trying just as hard as you are. You're a team this time as opposed to when you were just guiding Lara's brain-dead body in '96. She'll grab edges with her fingertips, and you'll need to tap a button to help her regain her composure, and improvements like that -- taken from Legend -- make moving through Anniversary much easier than the original.
However, that's not to say it's all acrobatics and amazing moves in Anniversary. Although the Croft's skills are hundreds of times better than the original, I still found myself cursing at Lara like she stole my Ghostbusters jumpsuit. Here we are in a cavernous Greek temple filled with columns, blocks and sharp instruments of death, and all I want the lovely Miss Croft to do is jump on a cube. She jumped once and glided along the side of the box; she jumped again and glitched between the top of the cube and the floor; another jump and she slid off the side and impaled herself on a batch of spears.
Really? This is the chick who can drop four stories, catch a ledge, back flip onto a pole and somersault onto a landing without breaking a sweat, but a box will do her in?
These flubs only get worse when the camera gets involved. Plenty of times you'll be faced with a seemingly easy leap from a ledge to a landing, but the camera -- which is almost always in too tight -- will restrict you from being able to take in the whole scene. Most of the time it's just a nuisance, but sometimes it's going to be the motivator behind Lara's grisly demise.
But, hey, that's Tomb Raider, right? Crystal Dynamics has done an excellent job at staying true to the original game -- for better or worse. Legends reinvigorated the franchise with ample cutscenes and combat, but Crystal Dynamics shelved all that for Anniversary because the original game didn't have that stuff. That means you'll get your story cutscenes at the beginning and end of a level in Anniversary and have more platforming and puzzle-solving than you can shake a shotgun at in between.
Action? There's more action in the first ten minutes of Legend than there is in the first half of Anniversary. Whereas you had guards and baddies to shoot it out with in Legend, Anniversary sticks with the original's few enemies and has you capping mummies, wolves and raptors as you uncover new areas. It was a fun throwback to go toe-to-toe with the T-Rex again, but the animal kingdom is just as stupid and easy as its 11-year-old counterparts.
The bear comes at you, you climb up the stairs, it turns out bears can't climb stairs, and you shoot Smokey to death. Repeat for any other savage beast that comes at you.
There is one nice touch to the otherwise mundane battles. When an opponent charges at Lara, you can press a button prompt on-screen, Lara will jump to the side and a Matrix
-style slowdown will begin. Two moving targets will appear on the screen, and once they meet and turn red over the enemy, Lara can pull the trigger for some serious damage. Still, that's just one cool tidbit of a boring battle system that has you spend the majority of your time standing on a summit shooting dumbfounded animals below you -- if you can get the camera to pan in that direction.
Graphically, Anniversary looks impressive on the PC. After having fooled around with the console version for a few days, I was knocked on my duff by how good Lara and her environments looked. There's detail in the cave walls, Miss Croft's edges are smooth and the whole thing just looks slick.
Yet what Anniversary lacks in guns-blazing action and gorgeous graphics, it makes up for with mind-maiming puzzles. Each room seems to have new challenges for you to solve whether it's a system of cogs and gears or a weird scale. Most go like this: Ok, I can pull this lever, hop on the moving gate, leap to the ledge and then jump back to safety
nope. That killed me. Ok, I can pull the lever
You'll be pissed that your wasting your gaming time loading the last checkpoint (which are plentiful) and trying to figure out how to just get to the next room, but when the "ah-ha" moment strikes, you'll feel the exhilaration that has made this series a goldmine.
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