Lara Croft gets the "Twin Snakes" treatment...
Considered gaming's greatest sex symbol by some and the grossest example of substance-over-style by others, the Tomb Raider series and its titular heroine Lara Croft once became synonymous with the previous generation of console videogames. Though up until the much-needed revamp offered up by Crystal Dynamics, Tomb Raider: Legend, the series was plagued by increasingly bad sequels (Angel of Darkness, anyone?) and core gameplay mechanics for which "frustrating" is all too kind a word. Crystal Dynamics showed us once that a Tomb Raider title could be worth a test-drive with Legend, so creator/publisher Eidos decided to keep a good thing going by placing the UK developer on a remake of the original game entitled Tomb Raider: Anniversary.
The fact that the game came out just a bit too late for the series' tenth anniversary is a small complaint for what is a very nice redux on a classic title.
"Will Lara Croft be the first to clear the Final Stage and become a Ninja Warrior?"
Since we're going to have to wait a while for the true next-gen ports of this title (Xbox 360 and Wii versions are to be released later this year), we have only the PS2 graphics to judge this time. Even so, this game looks amazing even on previous-generation hardware. Granted, it wouldn't take much to make TR1 look stunning in comparison to a game that saw its debut on the likes of the PS1 and the Sega Saturn, but Crystal Dynamics managed to pack enough graphical horsepower into this title to make it a really pretty PS2 title.
The environments are lush and filled to the brim with nicely varied textures and lighting; yes, you can still see all the obvious places to jump to, but the redone visuals make the platforms a bit less obvious while still recognizable. Character animations are very fluid; particularly in terms of the character model for Lara herself. The Lara Croft model from Legend makes a return here, albeit clad in the better-tailored but still original garb from the first game. What's nice apart from the fact that the Crystal Dynamics version of Lara is ten times better than anything previously seen on a console is the effects certain environments have on the model. For example, when she emerges from water, her clothing looks visibly drenched and her skin displays a gloss of moisture (easy there, fellas, fine as she is, she's still just a few thousand lines of code).
"They're not real, but they're spectacular."
Here we come to the bad, and it's not enough to deter from the good, but it's undeniably noticeable regardless. The collision detection on the game is a little lacking; many was the time I could see Lara's feet sink to the ankles into the surface. While this wasn't as bad of a thing while she was standing on a snowy peak, seeing her without feet on a cliff of solid rock was slightly off-putting. Also, as detailed as the graphics can be, the PS2 processor limitations make themselves known in terms of framerate chug and pixel-jag.
Played Tomb Raider 1? Then you'll have played this game too. Kind of. The developer sought to make this a true remake of the original Tomb Raider, yes, rebuilt from the ground up and with prettier graphics, but largely a faithful recreation of the franchise's debut offering. So, if you've played Tomb Raider 1 and seeing Lara Croft look like less of a freshman-year Lightwave project and more of a human being isn't your can of Red Bull, why waste the time and money?
The developer has added new bits of gameplay content into each of the classic levels and a much more forgiving control interface, so those of you all too familiar with the sight of lovely Ms. Croft becoming street pizza due to control glitches can relax... a little. The game is still challenging enough, though the inclusion of a retro version of the Legend grapple-gun and the new controls make this more of a challenge in terms of figuring out the puzzles rather than getting her to jump the same chasm 33 times before lucking out and sticking the landing. My personal wish is that somebody finally makes a Tomb Raider game where Lara doesn't automatically slide down those damnable 45-degree ramps. She can Nadia Comaneci her way throughout an Incan tomb but she can't keep her balance on an incline most others could? Please.
That isn't to say the control interface is perfect. In fact, the controls are almost too precise. Lara will often run into objects she has to interact with, which is noted by a Triangle-button icon appearing on screen. The problem here is that Lara has to be positioned exactly right before she can even perform the action. This glitch makes for a bit of a worse issue when two interaction hotspots are located next to one another.
"Can't... reach... iPhone...!"
Among Lara's new moves are the ability to perch atop vertical poles (upon which you occasionally have to correct her balance with the Triangle button), running along walls with the grapple attached, and (thank Great Muppety Odin) the auto-grab feature from Legend. Yes, friends, you don't have to time a button-press to grab a ledge; the game will do it for you. The most notable inclusion is Lara's repertoire is the adrenaline dodge, which Lara can only pull off when an enemy charges her while enraged (as denoted by the screen gaining a faded red border). Assuming she pulls it off, the game goes into slow-mo, allowing Lara to lock on to a vital area of the enemy for an instant kill or at least a more damaging shot. The adrenaline dodge comes in very handy when you have to, for example, fight the T-Rex in the Peru levels.
And the story? Pretty much the same as last outing: Lara is contracted by businesswoman Jacqueline Natla to swipe some Atlantean artifact, and poor Lara isn't hip to the fact that Natla's actually the bad guy until about a fourth of the way into the game. Over the course of the game, you must traverse ancient ruins, solve puzzles, and bust caps into various beasties (including, as stated earlier, a frickin' T-rex) and other enemies.
The voice acting is greatly improved over the original, with British actress Keeley Hawes (currently watchable on MI-5 on BBC America) reprising the role for her second outing as Lara Croft, having first played the role in Legend. Also on board are Grey DeLisle (Mystique in both X-Men Legends games) as Jacqueline Natla and Dave Wittenberg (Leon Belmont in Castlevania: Lament of Innocence) as Natla's hench-goon Larson. Since the game is pre-Legend, Lara's sidekicks Zip (Alex Desert) and Alister (Greg Ellis) aren't retroactively inserted.
The music adds a nice bit of atmosphere whenever new levels are opened up, but my major problem with the game's score was during a number of the combat sequences. Whenever Lara's attacked by one thing or another, a bit of combat music begins playing, but very often the track will immediately cut itself off. Since the music fades out once all the enemies in the immediate vicinity are defeated, it can sometimes lead to a false sense of security and surprise attacks.
"Oh, you gotta be bloody $%#@ing me."
Crystal Dynamics has included a number of collectible items throughout all the game's stages that, if enough are collected, unlock the various tracks of the game's soundtrack and numerous alternate outfits for Lara, including the lo-rez original Lara Croft model from TR1. These "relics" and "artifacts" range in difficulty as far as finding them... in fact, some of them are pretty challenging to reach. The core game will take about a full day to play through on the first run, but each level is replayable, so you can go back and get all the hidden goodies.
For those who've played the original, Tomb Raider: Anniversary may seem somewhat of a shorter play experience. Not only do the new controls ease the path a bit, but the levels are actually physically shorter than those of the original. Thankfully, Crystal Dynamics has thrown a lot of additional gameplay and content into each stage of the game that the size largely becomes an irrelevant issue. This game will appeal to both those who have played the original who would like to see a new spin on it, as well as newcomers to the franchise who want a look at the series' history.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary has its issues, but it's a well-made look back into gaming's past and a nice adventure romp on its own. Personally, I would've preferred the developer focus its efforts on an entirely new game, but Anniversary's still worth a play-through and proves that the Tomb Raider franchise still has legs, especially if clad in Daisy Duke hiking shorts.
Graphics 8.5 Detailed environments, wise use of the TR: Legend Lara Croft model, some collision detection issues and chuggy animation
Gameplay 9.0 Not simply a one-to-one rehash of the original, improved control interface eases play but is a bit overly precise, interaction hotspots a little tough to activate
Sound 8.0 Keeley Hawes makes a welcome return as Lara Croft, rest of the VA cast is polished, music is capable but the combat tracks cut out at the wrong moment
Lasting Appeal 8.5 Lots of collectibles that allow for unlocking of costumes and other Easter eggs, all levels are replayable, hours of core gameplay
Fun Factor 8.5 Levels are shorter but more in-depth, overall an excellent title for both fans and neophytes of Tomb Raider
Overall 8.5 [ Very Good ] - The 411mania Elite Award is given to movies, DVDs, albums, concerts, videos, or video games that really kick ass. Generally that means scoring an 8.5 final score or higher.
Source: 411mania.com, by Chris McCarver, 5 July 2007