Mario might get Nintendo fans into a mouth frothing frenzy at a mere mention of his name and Master Chief might have single handily made the Xbox a viable gaming platform, but Lara Croft is undeniably the video game character that thrust gaming into the mainstream. Her original adventure wowed gamers ten years ago and to this day remains a fan favourite, but times have changed and going back reveals a rather clunky experience. Thankfully, Eidos and Tomb Raider Legend developers Crystal Dynamics are bringing the original bang up to date.
Before a demo of the Peru level the Eidos rep was keen to point a few things out. Firstly, Tomb Raider Anniversary isn't a room for room remake of the original game. While it'll feature the same environments and story as the original, a simple graphical update wouldn't have been good enough. So, expect much larger areas, updated puzzles and a modern control scheme - Anniversary is using the Tomb Raider Legend engine, and features nigh-on identical controls.
Onto the game itself then, and everything I've been told becomes abundantly clear. Facing Lara is the waterfall that she faced all those years ago, but no longer is it short and blocky. This is how waterfalls should be represented in video games, and the climb to the top now actually looks as daunting as it should. This area is home to the cog puzzle from the original, but as expected it's been given a complete makeover, so veterans attempting to solve it using the old method will be out of luck.
It's not too long before enemies come into view, and yes, they're the wolves that caused so much trouble back when you were first figuring out how to play 3D action adventure games. There's no such trouble this time, though, thanks to the finely tuned controls, but the memories came flooding back. As in the original, enemies will largely be wildlife (bats and a grizzly bear also made an appearance), so don't expect a lot of human company; Lara is alone, and this sense of isolation comes to the fore as she explores the vast, cavernous environments.
While exploring the area surrounding the waterfall, a number of interesting gameplay scenarios crop up. Firstly is the implementation of destructible environment objects. You're not going to be able to blast holes in everything, but key objects can often be destroyed to open in new paths or to reveal secret areas. Secret areas seem to play a major part in the design of each environment, with even the relatively small waterfall section containing a handful of secrets. Some will be harder to find than others, but it always pays to keep your eyes open, as the game often provides you with visual clues that casual players simply won't spot.
Lara's move set is largely the same as it was in Legend, but there are a couple of new additions. The buxom explorer can now shimmy up poles and leap from pole to pole with the balance of a tightrope walker. Everything else is pretty much as it was, including the grappling hook. Perfectionists might argue that the grappling hook's inclusion is a faux pas from the development team, but I've been reassured that the tool did make an appearance during the original's cutscenes, so it was in fact part of Lara's inventory. No matter, it's a wise decision to include it as it made Legend all the more enjoyable.
Sadly, the demo ended moments after Lara had stepped out into the Lost Valley, but there was time to see the dinosaur population running amok. And yes, that T-Rex will be making an appearance, although at this stage I've only seen its foot. This outdoor environment also helped show off the huge gap in visual quality between this new version and the original. A proper village can now be seen at the edge of the plane as opposed to a group of blocks, and even at this early stage the frame rate seemed remarkably solid. The lack of a next-gen version was initially quite a disappointment, but after seeing the PlayStation 2 game in action it's less of a concern.
A brief demo wasn't nearly enough time for a game that looks as promising as Tomb Raider Anniversary, but it's the same for all the best games. Little touches like the inventory system and sound effects from the original play on old memories to evoke those feelings from years ago, but Tomb Raider Anniversary won't have to rely on nostalgia to win plaudits. The classic adventure game has been given a thorough makeover, and I can't wait to get my hands on the finished product.
Source: pro-g.co.uk, by Tom Orry