Reviewed: June 24, 2007
Released: June 5, 2007
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary marks the 10th anniversary of the release of the first revolutionary Tomb Raider game for the PC (anybody remember those 3DFX video cards) and the original PlayStation, by reinterpreting that title for the current generation of 3D action-adventure games, a genre which the original Tomb Raider game almost single handedly created.
A decade ago, Lara Croft became an oft-mispronounced ("Laura Craft") household name among the videogame-savvy, thanks to the original game's revolutionary free-rotating 3rd person perspective, high-quality 3D graphics and signature blend of puzzles with fast-paced shooting action. Like many pioneering titles, the game hasn't aged as well as it might have; nonetheless, to date none of the competing series on the market can boast that feature films were based off of them.
The big question then is this: With Tomb Raider: Anniversary, can the aging series overcome the problems that have held it back for the last several years, or is this just another mediocre installment of a franchise that is past its prime for good?
As previously noted, Tomb Raider: Anniversary is basically a remake of the original Tomb Raider, so story-wise it isn't anything fans of the series haven't seen before, although they may have forgotten it by now. However, in the game's defense, this remake is fairly drastic. It utilizes puzzles and mechanics from nearly every Tomb Raider game, past and presentk, with huge, devious levels that dwarf the original game's. The story--Lara's search for the three pieces of the Scion of Atlantis--remains intact, as do all the shady characters that come along with it.
Starting in the legendary Mesoamerican city of Vilcabamba, Lara's quest eventually takes her all over the world to various exotic locales. The technical difficulty quickly ramps up in the first area, though, with the enemies and other arbitrary risks adding the most extra difficulty in later levels. All of Lara's tools and moves from previous titles make appearances here, including the grappling hook techniques of wall running and rope swinging, the ability to balance on the tip of a column, and a full complement of rolling, twisting, omni directional acrobatics and jump moves.
The main gameplay additions for Anniversary are twofold. Firstly, there's a slow-motion counterattack mode called Adrenaline Dodge, which plays off the recent fad (a la "The Matrix" and "Prince of Persia") of slowing down time for more elaborate pinpoint maneuvers. It's fairly easy to grasp: see an enemy indicate a special attack and get ready for the screen to slow down, dodge the attack in slow motion, and fire Lara's guns when a targeting reticle appears for a brief moment. The move does heavy damage to Lara's enemy and can disorient some boss enemies.
Secondly, cut scenes have been made more active and involved with the addition of timed button presses, which dictate how well Lara is handling a particularly difficult situation. This mechanic is lifted directly from the God of War games (and even Tomb Raider: Legend), but it's a welcome addition nonetheless, making the game feel a bit more involved than it otherwise would have been.
As usual, there are various hidden or difficult-to-reach items scattered throughout the game's levels, which unlock character bios, soundtrack selections and more when collected. The exact nature of what each item unlocks remains unclear until the end of each level, when the game tallies the number of "Relics" and "Artifacts" Lara has collected.
In order to view most of this content, an alternate gameplay mode, "Croft Manor," must be completed. Many fans of the series may recall Croft Manor from older Tomb Raider games, which housed a creepy farting butler in Tomb Raider 2. As usual, the Manor is basically a giant puzzle level with no enemies. It is a lot of fun to work through the puzzles, which include hidden rooms, secret passageways and more. The only problem with this mode is that it doesn't last a very long time before it is finished.
All this is well and good, and thankfully, this game seems to have moved beyond the nadir of Tomb Raider: Legend, with its fatally buggy gameplay. However, the series really has not moved onward and upward in the way that it needs to to survive. To make the game relevant to the current generation of gamers, a more drastic overhaul, as with the Resident Evil series' jump from RE3 to RE4, is sorely needed. Lara moves smoothly enough on flat ground, but she's clunky while climbing and leaping, and often misses a critical jump because the game camera won't provide a good angle for it. The startup screen is confusing to navigate as well, since it views each save file as an entirely separate game in progress. I found myself accidentally loading the wrong save file sometimes and having to quit in order to fix the problem.
Additionally, despite the inclusion of Adrenaline Dodge as a combat mechanic, the overall feel of fighting enemies is just as frustrating as it was ten years ago--Lara can lock on to an enemy, but won't turn to track it if it runs behind the camera; she has no moves for stunning or knocking back an enemy when one gets too close for effective gunfire; falling into a pool of water is almost a death sentence since enemies crowd around the edge and nip at her wrists when she tries to pull herself out to continue a fight.
And all that leaping and tumbling feels uncontrolled and loose enough that accidentally falling into such a body of water--or worse yet, right off of a cliff--is a very real possibility during combat. Tomb Raider: Anniversary plays like the better Tomb Raider games, which is good, but is still plagued by the same annoyances that have shrunk the series' status in recent years. If something more important doesn't change soon, this series will end up as little more than a memory.
Perhaps the most obvious sign that the Tomb Raider franchise has passed its glory days is the graphical quality of the latest release. Tomb Raider: Anniversary, while not exactly bad-looking, is definitely dated in appearance when compared to A-list PS2 action titles like Devil May Cry 3 and God of War II. No real care has been taken to add flair to the levels; aside from some occasional good lighting techniques, the levels of Tomb Raider just aren't pretty from a graphics viewpoint.
There's nothing really dramatic about the presentation. Lara herself looks okay, and at least marginally more believable than usual from a body-proportion standpoint, but again, she is fairly uninspiring and very low-resolution when compared to other similar titles. There's no fine detail in her character model, such as individual strands of hair or folds of clothing that move convincingly. The game is also full of jaggies and shimmering scenery, even if you toggle on the progressive scan option.
I also noticed a couple of bona fide glitches, including a frame jump that occurs whenever Lara runs through a certain hallway in Croft Manor, and a problem with skin texture showing through Lara's shorts when she crouches after getting wet from swimming. That certainly sounds like something certain gamers would consider more of a bonus feature than a bug, but I'm giving the developers the benefit of the doubt here considering the game's "T" rating. Although it never exactly looks bad, per se, everything about Tomb Raider: Anniversary's graphics says "budget production."
There really isn't a lot that can be said about the sounds of Tomb Raider: Anniversary, since it basically sounds the same as every other Tomb Raider game. Lara's immaculately condescending voice is well acted, as are the voices of other characters in the game, though all the voices border on stereotypical in one way or another, making the overall effect a bit cartoony.
Sound effects are realistic, meaning they're generally on the dull side. "Big" sound effects, such as a massive stone sliding on runners or crashing into a pit, are underwhelming and could have used a lot more bass rumble. As always, the game's music remains ambient and serves a background purpose to dispel what would otherwise be very long, totally silent portions of gameplay. On the rare occasion that the music is used for dramatic effect, it sounds too generic to be memorable, but overall the quality of the compositions is fair.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary is a decent value for the die-hard Lara fan, as well as being a solid introductory title for the twelve people who haven't yet played the series, since it pretty much encompasses all of the gameplay elements of previous titles and manages to be largely bug-free. However, the game is dated when compared to other franchises, and that will come through clearly for anyone who has been keeping up.
To make a long story short, Tomb Raider just isn't as fun as it used to be, because there are many better games out on the current market. To its merit, Anniversary packs a good amount of gameplay time onto its DVD, but again, no more so than other titles. It ends up being an average value for the gamer's dollar, neither mind-blowingly awesome nor egg-suckingly bad.
It would seem that it is almost time to let the Tomb Raider series die a dignified death, or at least make the permanent move to next-gen. After experiencing a game like Tomb Raider: Legend on the Xbox 360, it's almost painful to take such a massive leap back in time and technology and subject yourself to a mediocre PS2 title such as this. Tomb Raider: Anniversary is by no means a bad game, per se; it just can't keep up. The clunkiness of older games in the series has persisted through to this latest title, and shows no real signs of waning. When there are so many other games out there that are so much sleeker and more fun to play, this one gets cast in a poor light.
Budget visual production values, while not usually bothersome during play, certainly lend this title the feel of a game cranked out largely to capitalize, rather than build, on the reputation of the Tomb Raider name. And while that tactic might work in the short term, sooner or later every gamer figures out when a series just isn't as good as it used to be. In the long run, it will drag the name of the series down into the mud, and then no amount of innovation or improvement will be able to recapture the momentum of the original. If there is another game after Tomb Raider: Anniversary that continues to do nothing to update the series, it may be the last.