10 years on, can this game sustain the credentials of the original smash-hit?
Lara Croft, the famed protagonist of this adventure, is back.
This game is essentially a remake of the original classic game, but with a lot of nice changes throughout to make it worth a revisit.
It maintains the control and gameplay mechanic as used in her last adventure (Tomb Raider Legend) and adds some subtle tweaks here and there, and even some new "abilities".
These abilities include hopping from the tops of vertical poles, "wall running" (much like absailing, except you go across the wall) and thats about it for the new abilities. Everything else is very subtle, things like the grapple hook not being magnetic, but actually having a hook on the end - for example.
Fans of the original will surely be delighted with the level design and overall presentation of the original game in this updated revision, the textures are extremely varied giving the game great depth and detail, the original used alot of the same textures over and over - call them motifs, but by todays standards the textures and level design can easily match any game out today. Which is amazing when they are based on levels designed some ten years back.
From Lara's fluid movements to the thrill of seeing awe-inspiringly massive chasms of egyptian runes, this game seriously is worth a look - even if it is to just wander around sight-seeing.
Whilst not anywhere near graphically impressive games like Gears Of War, this game sure does have its unique charms which allows it to pass by this time with ease. Least to say, even without "next gen" textures, Tomb Raider Anniversary, visually, is mightily impressive. But the credit heftily goes to the overall level design and art production. The game does a brilliant job of immersing you in the environment, from its lack of musical themes during levels (don't worry, you will be too busy concentrating on the sounds of droplets of water, rushing waterfalls in the distance and the overpowering rumble of tibettan caves to even THINK about a musical score.
Music usually kicks in when something dramatic happens, finding a new location to explore, seeing the final door to unlock, an enemy jumping out at you ; all these have their own seperate musical pieces attatched, and they work wonders in creating a sharp and exciting atmosphere as you trudge through these tombs, alone.
Sound effects are also just as good, footsteps on snow, sand, concrete... even having variations of this according to the size of room that you are in. The sound design, at its core, really comes from the actions that you make - jumping, landing from a high fall, etc. They are done nicely enough to provide you with a sense of exploration, and not tedium.
Furthermore, all this adds to the isolated feeling you get whilst exploring the tombs and other areas.
Whilst exploring these locations, you get to do some shootin'. Using the usual "lock on" mechanic used in the entire series of Tomb Raider games you simply click and shoot at your foes.
Introduced, this time, is the new "rage" meter. Some enemies become enraged and charge at you if your shots did not kill them indefinately, this enables you to use a special dodge-attack called the "adrenaline dodge".
Activating this then slows down the action, perfoming a head-shot (or weakpoint) lock-on - so you kill the enemy before it harms you.
This is used quite nicely in certain boss battles, but it can be somewhat difficult to master with the keyboard. You HAVE to have your guns pointed out at the enemy (to get a lock) AND dodge at the same time as perfecting the timing of the enemies charge (differs from enemy to enemy).
Sometimes (more often than not) the camera will pan around revealing you, pointing your guns at the enemy, however you are looking at lara - whilst the enemies are off screen somewhere.
You then have to put your guns away, turn the camera all the way around to find the enemy - all whilst trying to avoid attacks. When it comes to packs of enemies, this can be more frustrating than exciting as you will then struggle to SEE the enemies, let alone shoot them.
This can happen at the most awkward moment, but thankfully you can respawn from the last checkpoint, health fully resored (even if you had hardly any health from the last time you hit the checkpoint).
The checkpoint system is somewhat of a touchy subject. It will work in your favour at times, but in other occasions - some flaws let this feature be far from perfect.
As the point of the game is to explore, the levels (as such) are open-ended. There are checkpoints dotted invisibly all over the place, and when you reach one ; you hear a delightful "ting" sound. If you die soon after reaching one, you will respawn at that precise location with your previously collected items/keys intact in your inventory.
Sounds good right? Much better than the old save method where you would only be allowed to save at certain locations (marked with a floating crystal).
But something which is flawed about this is not the feature itself, its a combination of level-design, lack of testing/exploration and the kind of thinking only fans of back to the future could comprehend.
You see, you can wander aimlessly around certain levels, even though they look and sound great, when you reach a checkpoint you give a slight sigh of relief as you wont need to traverse through those traps again... however, whlist exploring the next part you may take a tumble, or leap of faith and end up in a location you were at several minutes ago (alot of levels are built up across eachother).
When you reach one of those checkpoint areas, you will then respawn from that area - forcing you to retrace your steps.
Whilst not TOO shabby, if you don't take the odd leap of faith too often, if the levels were easy to judge, then this wouldn't happen.
Which leads me to the problem of the wholse "leap of faith" explanation. Its the only thing I could think of to describe it. Whilst exploring these great levels you will get stumped on where to go next, you wander about the place thinking "nah, I will never make that jump".
You try the jump over and over and never make it, so you head through the way you came (hitting checkpoints all the way).
So, you decide to make that jump after extinguishing every possible exit, finally - you see a tiny bit of the surface jutting out - and then, that seeming impossible jump (much further than you have seen her jump before) was actually possible! And you then land the jump, grasping only with one hand.
Whilst making the jump gives you a great feeling of satisfaction, if you spent the last 20 minutes looking for ANOTHER way around, then the jump was more frustrating than it was worth.
And to add to this, certain other jumps cannot be made, even though the seemingly impossible one you did was done previously, you will encounter similar occasions where the jump CANNOT be done, but you are illuded to believe at times that you can...
So then goes the whole "kill self, load checkpoint" conundrum.
Checkpoints can ease the difficulty considerably, giving you more of a chance to master those death-defying leaps. But it also can take away the actual need to find medipacks. The original game had savepoints scattered mercylessly, you were FORCED to concerve the healthpacks and avoid life-threatening jumps. But the checkpoints in Tomb Raider Anniversary remove this challenge completely, and give you an infinate amount of times to restart almost only a few seconds from where you died. Meaning, medipacks are mainly used for boss-battles. Especially considering every time you pass a life-draining booby trap, you then have a greeting of a checkpoint. If you die afterwards, you then regain your health entirely. Easy!
Whilst still on some negative points, the camera can be somewhat dodgy to see whats behind you whilst climbing walls and ledges. Often you will need to jump backwards. But MORE often you will have to jump blindly backwards because the camera rarely lets you see what is behind you whilst on a ledge. Some levels are closesly nipped and the camera is not free enough to track around you too much. Whilst giving you a good sense of isolation, its not good when you just die for the sake of trial and error. It gives you the impression that Lara is invincible as you can simply respawn and attempt it again right away.
The new ability the "wall run" has one major flaw for beginners. I found it difficult to run along the wall AND jump off in your chosen direction. It needs a great amount of practise to master, and can be exeedingly tricky. Forcing you to miss ledges, jump forwards instead of left/right... The camera, whilst panning, changes the output locations of what button sends you where...
Ahem, let me rephrase, if the camera is behind you, then left is left... but if the camera is on your side, then left is DOWN...
Whilst running along walls, the camera SWOOPS with lara, and it can only take one slight change between the two camera positions to change the controls of what exactly is left/right up/down.
This can be exeedingly frustrating, especially when you will have no prior training for this, and each time you need to do this - the jump is angled differently. So at one time you may need to jump off the wall to land on a ledge to your right...
Next, you would have to do the same, but to the left, but this time the camera is not fully behind you... so the controls change.
It is these kinds of things which make it a more frustrating game than the original. The checkpoints make each tricky jump slightly tedius as you will instantly (depending on load times, they are usually very fast thankfully) respawn to try the jump again.
Sometimes you respawn 1 minute of exploring away, but either way - you will eventually have to die just to try out how to make certain jumps.
Pretty much those are the only flaws in the game. for some this can reduce the enjoyable-factor considerably, but other may not notice this as they are used to the way tomb raider legend plays.
But for those coming back to the series from the very first games, it will take some getting used to to get over those little flaws, in effect, it is an entirely different game to play from those factors alone.
Whilst everything runs smoothly, the pace towards the end of t he game tends to wane slightly. Those exciting chasms will be replaced with just some repetetive jumps... until the game closes to a stop. As you progress, each level gets larger and larger. If you have the patience to explore these levels, then you will love every minute. But those of you looking for a good old platformer with good old run and gun action, this is NOT it.
The action is toned down to an almost halt during most levels, forcing you to solve puzzles, pull switches and explore the areas. Whilst good for the adventure fan, the gun-happy gamer will become bored with all the jumping, respawning and such. I guess what I am trying to say is that those of you wanting to explore will get a bit annoyed at the dodgy shooting mechanics (its good, at times, but there are almost ALWAYS flaws to be had) shooting in this game is not the adventurers aperitif. And those looking to kill stuff - exploring will become boring to them as you will need to explore, die, respawn -- repeat.
Overall, this is one heck of a remake. Rarely do games get remakes, and if they all follow the trend set by this, then you won't go far wrong with this purchase. And at a nice cheaper price than most new games, this is an exciting adventure filled with lovely locations and excellent production values to challenge any new title out right now (often better than what is out right now... ahem.. spiderman 3...).
It is varied and new exciting enough for the Tomb Raider veteran to re-live, and also a wonderful title for new-comers to start out on. WIth about 15 hours of gameplay here (including a revamped croft manor filled with tricks and puzzles) a host of unlockable content, commentaries, costumes (although, a few more would of been nice) and other stuff - its a great game to replay aswell. If not to marvel at the locations, but certainly to get every unlockable! What better way to start the series than this game right here.