Tomb Raider: Anniversary review
Lara Croft: started well; coasted for a bit; got dull; went really downhill; regained her footing; then became quite reasonable again. That’s a potted history of what she’s been up to in the ten years since the original game was unleashed on the PC, hence this anniversary edition.
It isn’t the usual anniversary, of course. Out go the last-minute presents, hastily arranged flowers and “surprise” dinner; in come bears, wolves, fiendish traps and a not insubstantial amount of hidden cogs: business as usual for Ms Croft. Well, actually, it’s even more business as usual than usual, with Anniversary being billed as a return to that initial adventure a decade ago. We’re promised a “re-imagining” rather than a remake, but it all looks rather familiar.
That’s no bad thing, though, as the original game was far more ambitious in scope than almost any since in its use of monumental scale – amphitheatres, lost cities and giant caverns abounded – to the point that it brought most PCs of the day to their knees, with more polygons than you could shake a Voodoo 1 at. Things have moved on somewhat in that time, though. The result is some truly impressive sets and more realistic enemies.
It isn’t a map-for-map translation of the original – in fact, it’s rather more complex, but the plot (Lara travels to Peru, Egypt and so on) remains much the same, as do many of the set pieces. It’s amazing what you remember – that bear in a pit, the village with the box of skulls hidden in the left-hand hut. And yes, if you’ve played the original, the T-Rex is there too. The original had one lady we know of shriek and run from the room when playing, so we can’t wait to see what this one does.
Since this is 2007, though, there are new Crofty moves. The swan dive (still satisfying when diving off waterfalls) and headstand remain, along with the crawling, rolling and shimmying along ledges. You can’t run, though – a bit annoying with all the traps sprung along the way – but you can climb poles, jump off them and even stand on them. There are also a couple of new fighting moves, such as “adrenaline dodge” – a bit of a waste of time – and enemies will now attempt to grab hold of you, forcing you to wriggle free.
Okay, so it isn’t as immediately satisfying as pulling out a huge gun and spraying everyone with fireballs, but all those moves allow for the fiendish puzzles the Tomb Raider franchise does so well. And if you don’t like puzzles, you’ll want to switch off at the end of the first cut-scene. In the longer term, there’s palm-sweating joy to be had from executing a complex series of tricky manoeuvres, only to end up above a yawning chasm bouncing from platform to platform. Fall, and you’ll find yourself looking away – it’s genuinely distressing.
The game engine is derived from the groundbreaking Legacy of Kain franchise, tweaked through last year’s return-to-form Tomb Raider: Legend and tweaked again here. In general, it’s very polished, with the camera swinging cleverly into position, and a good deal of control if it does end up focusing on her ankles instead of the action. General pottering about looks alarmingly realistic at times, although Lara’s stuttering animation does look pretty stupid when she’s edging towards a precipice.
The soundtrack also shows us how far the last decade has brought us – in sheer budget if nothing else. Huge orchestral set pieces set the tone, but there are plenty of atmosphere-enhancing sound effects. And, while we’ve never actually been trapped in a Greek Temple with a fire-breathing Centaur, we think they got it about right.