The original Tomb Raider was a phenomenal game that thrust protagonist Lara Croft into the spotlight, and demonstrated the innovations that 3D video games could bring, even on the graphically-flaky Saturn.
And then it was all downhill from there.
The developer at the time, Core, had focused more on Lara and little on what made the original game so good: the very real sensation that you were setting foot where no man had been for eons. It captured that Indiana Jones feel we all have and then some. While Lara is a likeable protagonist, what with her slick British wit, she could have been anyone in the first Tomb Raider. In short, she doesn’t really matter.
However, too many appearances on The Face made it seem like she did, and slowly but surely cash cow sequels were shoved out the door. And the decline was steady and painful. The PS2 debut, Angel of Darkness, demonstrated just how far the series had drifted from its original outing – and just how bad the series has become. Everyone at this point thought that Tomb Raider was over.
However, the franchise was ripped from Core and given to Crystal Dynamics, who made the extremely solid Tomb Raider: Legend. But that game, while good, didn’t really capture the essence of the original. It had many improvements, and it saved the franchise, but it was far too linear for its own good, it lacked that sense of lonely solitude, and it still had Lara visiting places like Tokyo. Lara is definitely not the only person to have set foot in Tokyo for eons.
So, to celebrate Lara’s 10th birthday, Crystal Dynamics decided to take the Legend engine and use it to give gamers that Tomb Raider experience – quite literally. Tomb Raider: Anniversary is a remake of the original game, using a tweaked version of the Legend engine and all its gameplay enhancements.
So with the context aside, how does this apparent admission of the original’s superiority fare? Ironically, as a remake, the game suffers from being too familiar yet not familiar enough. Yes, it’s great to be able to actually scale the massive tomb entrance yourself rather than watch a cutscene; and it’s great that the tombs are now seamless between levels, which helps create the idea that each tomb is indeed one big area.
However, you’ll find it’s all a bit familiar – but then not familiar enough. Sometimes you’ll be bored because there is nothing new, and other times you’ll get frustrated because something isn’t where you expected it. It’s the double-edged sword of a remake.
This, of course, assumes you played the original. If you didn’t, this major flaw isn’t really going to matter because the entire game is fresh. The game isn’t as linear as Legend, which is refreshing, and there are some truly wonderful moments in the game that have been given plenty of care and polish.
The entire game is essentially about working out how to remove all the obstacles between the next section of the tomb. Some are easier than others, but it’s never ridiculous in its difficulty. With some wonderfully designed puzzles and some outstanding level design, Tomb Raider: Anniversary is worth playing if you like adventure games.
However, the true beauty of Tomb Raider comes from the feeling that you are really exploring these tombs. It’s about these lush tombs that are almost playgrounds to explore. It’s about finding the little secrets in each level, parts of the stage that are only there to make it feel like you are in a real tomb. The whole experience doesn’t have the same impact now that it did back in the day, but it’s still something that everyone should be exposed to at least once.
However, the game does demonstrate that perhaps the potential of the PS2 has been reached. The graphics look amazing, far better than Legend. Crystal Dynamics has even managed to get water shimmering on Lara as she emerges from the cold, wet expanses of water in the various tombs. However, the PS2 obviously has a hard time with all the detail. The game will slow down during battle and the blur effect used to mask it (the same way it was used in Soul Calibur 2) makes it painfully obvious it’s there. Enemies will disappear too soon after being killed, which is ridiculous when even the original Saturn version was able to keep them there indefinitely.
This all makes the game look rough, and needlessly so. Despite the great level design and atmosphere – all aided by the wonderfully atmospheric sound effects and music – the game just appears sloppy in places. It’s a real shame.
Ultimately, it’s the original Tomb Raider with a few changes, improved graphics, and a few rough edges. It does feel very 1997, and it’s perhaps a testament that the original isn’t the timeless classic that people, including myself, liked to believe. However, Tomb Raider: Anniversary is still a very competent game, and is still a game that proves that the franchise is still viable in 2007.