Reviewed: August 24, 2007
Released: August 8, 2007
There are several defining moments in my lengthy gaming past, most of which revolve around having to purchase new hardware to play a specific game. Prince of Persia forced me to upgrade from an Adlib to a SoundBlaster, Wing Commander forced me to purchase a 386 computer and eventually a Roland MT-32 sound system (several hundred dollars back in 1989), and in 1996, video game vixen, Lara Croft forced me to install a 3DFX daughter card onto my existing Diamond 3D card. Of course, in retrospect, I wasn’t “forced” to do anything – it was just my love of gaming and these particular games that caused hundreds of dollars to spring forth from my wallet.
Lara Croft is celebrating her tenth anniversary and unparalleled grip on at least two generations of gamers, and as one would expect with any franchise that can endure for over a decade Eidos treats us to Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary, a next-gen title that returns us to the roots of Lara’s origins, at least as far as gaming is concerned. Many gamers and a lot of critics will tell you that Lara’s first adventure was (and still is) her best, so now a whole new generation of players can find out for themselves.
Previously released on PC and PS2 and coming soon to the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii, today we’ll be focusing on the PSP version. I had my doubts about how well Crystal Dynamics could bring the 3D gameplay over to the limited control system of Sony’s handheld, especially after their lackluster port of Tomb Raider: Legend last year, but it only took me about half of the first level to totally fall in love with Lara all over again.
I’ve probably played the original Tomb Raider at least eight times. It inspired my very first online strategy guide, which has ultimately led to the site you are reading this review on today. I know the game like the proverbial back of my hand, and it was instant déjà vu the moment I started playing Anniversary on the PSP.
I was amazed at how well the original game was brought over, almost fully intact from ten years ago, then infused with the next-gen gameplay elements we saw in Legend including new moves like the diagonal jump, her magnetic grapple, and those timed Super Actions (QTE’s). Most of the original level designs and puzzles are just as I remembered, and there is enough new features, mostly to include the new moves and action sequences, to keep things fresh for gamers with memories as good as mine.
While Tomb Raider: Legend tried to turn Lara into some sort of James Bond super-agent, Anniversary reaffirms her status as a female Indiana Jones, exploring lost ruins in search of ancient relics, discovering lost worlds and doing battle with raptors and a T-Rex. All the adventure elements and sheer wonder of discovery have been captured from the original story, and thanks to next-gen controls and new moves, Lara moves and reacts with much more speed and grace than she ever could, even on a 3DFX-equipped PC.
My only quibble with the PSP version of Anniversary would be the camera system. There is just no replacing that second analog stick, although the shoulder buttons will spin the camera and you can re-center using the triangle, but things can get a bit precarious in some of the more challenging levels and enemy encounters. Even so, I found the automatic camera did a great job of keeping up, and I only had to tweak the camera when searching for secrets or a specific path I needed to take. One thing I would have loved would have been an external landscape camera view, like the one you can do in Prince of Persia.
Combat is pretty repetitive and mindless, much like the original. You have your twin pistols with unlimited ammo and additional weapons appear later in the game. You can lock onto enemies and simply unload until they are dead. Sometimes a bat, wolf, bear, or dinosaur will charge at you enabling you to do a slow-motion dodge-roll giving you extra seconds to unload an extra clip into your target’s back. This becomes a required strategy for certain boss fights.
But Tomb Raider is more about exploration than combat, and Anniversary fits the bill flawlessly with some of the best mythological locations in the history of gaming. Nothing can quite prepare you for the dizzying heights and complex puzzles of St. Francis’ Folly or the first time you exit the dark cave into a lost world of tropical green just in time for a T-Rex to come storming at you.
Navigating these levels requires incredible skill, both on your part and Lara's, as her run, jump, grab, shimmy, and vault lines resemble something more like a Tony Hawk trick line than an escape from an ancient ruin. You’ll be dodging traps, fighting monsters, and basking in the sheer awe of the scenery as you take part in what remains one of the best action-adventure games in video game history.
The PC version of Tomb Raider: Anniversary looked amazing – the PS2 version…not so much. I can only imagine how good the 360 version will look when it ships, but putting the PSP in proper perspective, I would have to say this is probably what the game would have looked like had it released on the original Xbox.
Admittedly, the colors aren’t leaping off the screen, but that is more to realism than design. Lara is exploring some very “earthy” locations so expect a lot of browns and grays and sub-par lighting in the depths of these ruins. When she does venture outdoors the lighting picks up and there are some truly majestic levels in this game that will take your breath away. The widescreen of the PSP only enhances your panoramic view of these vistas.
I love the fact that most of Anniversary is played in silence. This is not only realistic but even a bit creepy and it certainly allows you to hear all the subtle environmental effects the designers have stuck into the game like water and reverb. When enemies do show up the music will kick in to fuel the moment then slip back into nothingness. I also enjoyed the familiar chimes you hear when finding a secret location - a nice nod to the original game.
Wolves, bears, raptors, bats, and dinosaurs all make their presence known with excellent sound effects. You’ll often hear a wolf howl then the pitter-patter of feet as you spin around trying to target the approaching beast. There is some nice quasi-3D audio that works even better with good headphones.
There is plenty of speech and great voice acting in the cutscenes as well as the murmurings of Lara as she reflects on certain situations. Some of her journal entries are spoken but the load times for the voice is often longer than it takes to read the notation and it’s not worth sticking around for.
Even with my advanced knowledge of the original game it still took me a solid 14 hours to finish Anniversary and that was even consulting the strategy guide (sadly, my original guide doesn’t work too well for this remake). I was trying to be careful and grab all the secrets, relics, and artifacts but ended up missing several. Perfectionists will be compelled to revisit those levels and look for the missing treasure.
There is also the entire Croft Manor to explore which rivals any of the game levels in size and complexity, as well as unlockable costumes and cheat codes. This is a perfect port from the PS2 and PC and a far superior Lara Croft experience to last year’s Legend game.
If you are looking for the best visual experience then get the PC version or wait for the 360, and while the PS2 version certainly controls better with the dual analog sticks, the PSP version of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary slips into the best overall category for portability, looks, and functional control with minimal sacrifice to any one element. It’s also one of the best and most comprehensive ports of any PS2 title to date.
So if you are too young to remember Lara’s first outing on the PC or too old to still have a PC lying around that can play the 3DFX version then relive the adventure of a lifetime on the PSP. It’s a timeless experience for the entire family.