Do funky new graphics and an improved control system make Tomb Raider: Anniversary a worthy remake of the original Tomb Raider? Read on to find out.
There is a line in the Tomb Raider: Anniversary documentary (found on the bonus DVD) that really got me thinking.
It was mentioned that Tomb Raider is one of the oldest surviving game franchises around, having been around for 11 years and over seven sequels (if you count just the PC versions).
That is practically as long as James Bond if you convert from movie franchise years to PC game years (yes, time is relative).
That's certainly quite an achievement, notwithstanding the quality of the later games in the series.
I suppose the longevity of the franchise can be attributed not only to the groundbreaking 3D graphics and game play of the original (and to a certain extent its sequels) but also the fact that Lara's physical assets speak to geeks in a more direct way.
Let's face it though, even Lara's assets couldn't guarantee sales in later, increasingly bad sequels.
It wasn't until Eidos handed over the job of making a new Tomb Raider game to Crystal Dynamics, (resulting in last year's Tomb Raider: Legend) that the franchise got a much-needed shot in the arm to bring it back up to the level of modern games.
Which brings us to Anniversary, the game released to celebrate Lara Croft's long and prolific career raiding tombs and customer's wallets.
Still developed by Crystal Dynamics, Anniversary is a Tomb Raider game that's totally new and yet familiar – new in that it features the control system and the pretty graphics of Legend and yet familiar because it's actually based on the storyline of the very first Tomb Raider.
Yes, Batman and even 007 have recently been updated for a modern audience, so why not Tomb Raider?
"What?!" I can hear you say. "Why on Earth do I want to replay a game I've played before – just to see how everything looks with modern graphics?"
Well, hold your horses – sure, the game does look better and shares the basic storyline of the original, but that's where the similarities end, as I'll get into later.
The storyline of Anniversary follows the original game pretty closely, although the story is expanded quite a bit.
In Anniversary, Lara is employed by Jacqueline Natla to retrieve three pieces that make up a so-called Atlantean Scion, a round metallic object that Lara's own father had also been obsessed with finding.
Lara agrees to do so and travels to various locales in the world to find the pieces.
Little does Lara know that Natla is actually a supernatural being who has recently escaped imprisonment and is trying to restore the Scion of Atlantis to continue her plan for world domination.
The game is basically split up into four parts (Peru, Greece, Egypt and Lost Island) with each part further subdivided into three or four sub-levels.
Similarities and differences
As I said before, the story is where the similarity with the original game ends – utilising the same engine from Legend, Crystal Dynamics has completely redesigned most of the levels, removing what was frustrating about the original and adding in what worked on Legend.
Although based on the same engine and featuring much of the moves taken from Legend, there are quite a number of differences between Legend and Anniversary.
For one thing, Anniversary is more a Tomb Raider game for the purist as it doesn't feature the motorcycle chase sequences of Legend and takes place almost entirely in various tombs and castles.
For another, there's no PDA and two-way communication between Lara and her computer geek friend (which was used in Legend as a way to give you hints) – it's all just Lara Croft here.
However, Anniversary does carry over Legend's interactive cutscenes, where you need to press directional keys when prompted to do so at key (no pun intended) moments.
Just to postpone my gushing about the graphics as long as possible, I'll start with the gameplay aspects – Anniversary's levels are vastly different from the original in almost every way.
While the original forced you to do things in a certain order and had loads of hidden (and hard-to-find) rooms, Anniversary allows you to perform various tasks out of order, often with more than one way to complete those tasks.
Also, there are no more really hidden rooms (except perhaps to hide non-critical artefacts) – all important rooms are now easily found, or seen from a central area in a level.
This means that you no longer have to wander around aimlessly in a level till you stumble on that one important room which contains the key to open a door to the next level.
A friend who completed the whole of the original Tomb Raider (I never had enough patience with the clunky controls to complete it) noted also that the layout of the Palace of Midas level differs in Anniversary.
The room containing Midas' statue is now in the middle of the palace instead of hidden in a hard-to-find room.
However, if you think this amounts to "dumbing down" the game, it's not – the Midas and the St Francis' Folly levels, for instance, add more puzzles and rooms to explore, most notably a new more complicated Fire Room (in Midas) and Damocles room (in St Francis' Folly) which require Lara to do more than in the original.
Anniversary also introduces some new end-of-level bosses while changing the significance of others.
For example, the famous T-Rex is here, but this time you have to kill the dinosaur instead of merely avoiding it, while another level has you fighting two centaurs, a new addition not seen in the original.
The biggest change in the game of course, is in the variety of moves Lara is able to perform.
Taken directly from the excellent control system of Legend, Anniversary allows Lara to not just jump, grab and pull blocks but also to perch on narrow surfaces or use a grappling hook to climb and run along walls and even pull doors open.
New in Anniversary is the "adrenaline dodge" (which replaces the "bullet-time" move in Legend) which can only be used at a specific point during combat – this move is only possible when you shoot an opponent until it becomes enraged and starts to charge towards you.
You perform an adrenaline dodge by pressing a direction key together with the Shift key – if the combination is successful, Lara will quickly jump in the direction you specify and effectively dodge the charging opponent.
Adrenaline dodges can be used at any time during the game, although it only becomes essential when fighting any of the end level bosses, where without mastering this skill, defeating these opponents becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible.
The game overall has just the right difficulty level, with the Egypt and the final Lost Island level the most challenging, in my opinion, since you have to make a lot of timed jumps, which is never easy even if you are an expert with all the different moves.
Talking about timed jumps, Anniversary is still a little frustrating when it comes to the automatically shifting camera angles.
If the camera shifts angles while you're running along a wall (with the help of the grappling hook), the controls sometimes also shift in relation to the camera.
For example, if you were looking at Lara side-on while she's doing a wall-run, running forward would be the left or right key, but if the camera suddenly shifts to behind Lara mid-run, the control would suddenly switch to the forward and back keys!
This is especially difficult when you have to leap off the wall in a specific direction at the end of your run and find yourself having to make a split-second decision as to which key will do it, based on the ever-shifting camera angle.
Anniversary has some of the most beautifully-rendered backgrounds I've ever seen – I'd put it right up there with Prince of Persia: Warrior Within and Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones in aesthetics although with less of the grittiness of the two Prince of Persia sequels.
Some levels in Anniversary have their counterparts in the original game and if you compare these levels, the differences are even more striking.
Comparing the original game's graphics is like comparing a stone-age axe to a modern chainsaw.
The newly rendered backgrounds have more detail and make very good use of lighting effects – I found myself occasionally stepping back from the game just to admire some of the more impressive levels.
If you have all the effects turned on, you even get particle effects in the tombs, where dust floats around with little shimmering bits, giving some scenes an almost dream-like effect, and even a "depth-of-field" effect where the background gently blurs the further it is away from you.
The cool thing is that apart from some of the more advanced effects, most of the pretty graphics in Anniversary owe their look to the artist's talent rather than some fancy computer rendering – you can probably run it well on a last generation machine.
I could run it pretty okay with some effects turned off on my machine (an Athlon XP 2100+ with an nVidia GeForce 5600), which is at least two generations old.
Not surprising really, since Anniversary is primarily coded to work on the Sony Playstation2, itself an already last-generation console.
Oh by the way, Lara is still dressed in her classic uniform, although now she's a lot more proportionate and movements more fluid.
So does Tomb Raider: Anniversary make the cut? It most certainly does.
In a world where games have mostly moved on to high-action first-person shooter games, Crystal Dynamics has done a good job updating Tomb Raider for a modern audience.
Not only does it feature much better graphics but the whole game now has a more intuitive control system that (at least most of the time) doesn't get in the way of the gameplay.
The puzzles are certainly a little more obvious, but I think that's all for the better – after all we want to complete the game, not spend hours trying to find a key in some difficult-to-find place.
Anniversary is a great game and definitely worth every sen of the RM119 I paid for it. By the way, if you buy the original you get a bonus DVD with a very long documentary, wallpapers and even the complete soundtracks for both Tomb Raider: Legend and Tomb Raider: Anniversary.
Pros: Challenging game play; controls vastly improved over the original.
Cons: Automatically shifting camera angles can be frustrating.
Source: star-techcentral.com, by TAN KIT HOONG
, July 3 2007