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Tomb Raider Anniversary PDF Print E-mail
Written by bobdog   
Thursday, 31 July 2008 00:00

Eidos Interactive
Developer: Crystal Dynamics (absorbed under Eidos)
Price (at review publication time): $20 average
Demo Download (from FileFront - 258 MB)
Helpful Walkthroughs: GameSpy; Games Over

ESRB Rating: Teen

Up From the Ashes
I've always loved Lara Croft (as a character, not as ... well, unless she were in the flesh as Angelina Jolie -- ROWR!!). By which I mean to say, I've always appreciated how Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider experience changed the way we play games. I would venture to say that Tomb Raider began the "action-adventure" genre, which until then had been taken care of by side-scrolling "action" or "adventure" games. By combining the two genres into a ground-breaking 3D game, providing your avatar Lara Croft with all the cool moves at her disposal and setting her in fantastic set-pieces, Tomb Raider literally changed the way we game.

Unfortunately, it's always hard to follow up a smash hit as successfully, no matter the field -- music, movies, books, and especially gaming. Most sequels are poor imitations of their originals (Unreal, Doom), with only a few holding a flame to their ancestor -- maybe Half-Life and Quake?? So after playing the original Tomb Raider, I did also get Tomb Raider 2, which just seemed to lose the pace somewhat and got further and further from the "tomb raiding" experience we loved about Lara. Instead of tombs, now I'm raiding an ocean tanker?? And the other sequels kept on the same failing pace through TR3, TR4: The Last Revelation, TR5: Chronicles, and TR6: Angel of Darkness -- all to subsequently lower and lower reviews. Why would I care about "raiding" an office building? Why would I want to play a 16-year-old Lara?

So what makes Lara so appealing that we'd still consider her for a franchise through eight games over 10 years? Well, my thought is that she is the epitomy of a sexy, female Indiana Jones, with all the athletic moves of a ninja-trained gymnast. Who can't smile in appreciation when they see Lara pulling off some wicked combinations to get from one place to another?

Eidos (the publisher for the series) knows this. So when they saw the original series spiraling downward in a tailspin, they finally pulled the plug on original developer Core Design, and handed the reins over to newcomer Crystal Dynamics, whose first entry in the series was the improved TR: Legend. Legend introduced some neat ideas into the gameplay, including new moves, new gear (such as a grapple), time trials, and secrets that net you out-of-game unlockable content including outfits for Lara, pistol upgrades, cheat codes and production artwork.

The latest in the series -- Tomb Raider Anniversary -- continues these new ideas, while translating them to a remake of the original game. In other words, Crystal Dynamics has taken the first Tomb Raider, and remade it using today's enhanced graphics and physics elements. So all of you who loved the original TR can now see what your vision would look like in today's graphics.

Cause and Effect
The whole action-adventure gameplay experience is premised on one simple thought: you will be rewarded for pulling off intricate moves. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Tomb Raider series, and especially the newest release Anniversary. In general, you will replay each move at least four times, and sometimes many, many more times than that for timed areas. Luckily the timed elements are mostly relegated to extra secrets that are unnecessary to advance the story, but will certainly leave you without those extra unlockables that we've come to appreciate as gamers.

Other than fumble fingers killing me (I use mouse and keyboard -- not a controller), the hardest move to pull off is when you use your grappling hook on a wall, and must jump perpendicular to the wall at the apex of your swing. I think I figured out that you need to push the button that leads in the direction you wish to jump, as well as the jump button, but sometimes it just seemed random. When I pulled off such moves, I just let Lara (and myself) sit there and percolate on the meaning of life. And because there may not be any checkpoints immediately available to save your game, you'll need to ensure you don't die doing the next part!

But when you finally pull the section off, and get to that checkpoint, you will have a huge sigh of relief. That's what I mean by cause and effect -- you successfully pull off the moves, and you are rewarded with a savegame. Until you hit the next section! In general, checkpoints were available as you start each new section, and I do have to say that the game loads very fast, within 10-15 seconds if you die (are you listening Assassin's Creed??).

Impossible Is Just Another Word for "You're Not Good Enough"
But what about those "hard" sections? I admit to using a walkthrough, and in some cases YouTube videos of how to get to secrets, some of which are so obscure, you'd never even think of them. For the main story, you'll simply have to eye your surroundings to see where to move next. But for the secrets ... well, let's say you should have some free time on your hand to play the same section over and over again. Some examples: I spent -- no lie -- 90 minutes on a timed run where you have to pull a lever that raises a pillar, swim through the water, jump across three burning pillars, climb up a burning pillar, jump across to the final pillar, and nab a relic before the pillar collapses again. Another secret took just over an hour: I pulled a temporary lever, jumped across a pit to a walkway that slowly cranked into the wall, jumped into a series of towers with darts shooting through them, climbed up a level, managed a wall-run with my grapple, climbed through another series of dart-shooting towers, and finally across the retractable pole to the secret. YIKES! And if you miss any of those items imperfectly, the timer runs out.

It gets frustrating when you are on a timer, and Lara starts doing stupid stuff (it's not me -- I swear!!). Like the flip-over move when she's hanging from a ledge -- just jump up already, and stop wasting time! Or not grabbing the ledge when I tell her to. Did I say earlier that I loved Lara? What I really meant was that I hate her to the core of my being, and I verbally abused her with a plethora of adjectives, and I'm glad to see her get hers in the end, when her body lies in a crumpled heap, with her legs busted, and her rib cage crushed into her spleen. That will teach her to obey my wishes!

Two gripes that stand out in the regular game and can't be skipped: an impossible puzzle in Egypt requiring you to turn four columns to raise a central shaft; and the final endboss battle. I spent untold minutes turning the four-sided columns one by one to match a certain code; however, every time you turn one, the two on either side also turn -- I finally just randomly turned them one by one until I lucked out. And for the endboss, you have to shoot two wings off your foe while dodging fireballs, and then pump it full of lead until it charges you, and hope you hit the "sweet spot" at just the right time. After playing this final battle for an hour and managing to die near the end (the boss was 80% wounded), I had to restart the whole scenario again -- that is total bullsquid!  mad1

To its credit, Legend does generally start you at each checkpoint with full health, and you retain every secret that you have gained. So if it took you forever to reach a relic, if you then die, you will retain the relic in your possession and can skip the histrionics.

It's a Beautiful World

TR Anniversary stuns with its amazingly detailed levels, from the caverns and lost world of Peru to Greece's fantastic trap-filled rooms to Egypt's hieroglyphs and Sphinx. You'll travel through lava-filled mines and end up in the control center for a forgotten Atlantean race. The levels are bound to mesmerize you with their scale and creativity, as they first did for me 10 years ago. I have fond memories of these levels, and it's so nice to see them realized again in such a vibrant and living graphical engine.

One of the unlockable rewards is a before/after montage of each destination's maps from the original to Anniversary. It's eerie to see how many of the levels keep the same original design, which just proves how ground-breaking the game was at the time.

Lara and her human foes are rendered more as "life-like" animated characters than as detailed, realistic ones (such as are found in HL2 or FEAR). This seems a smart decision because you don't keep looking for those telltale marks of a living human, which would detract from your attention to the puzzles and challenges before you. Regardless, Lara is as beautiful as ever, and her athletic motions are realistically depicted on the screen.

Unlock the Box
I mentioned earlier that Anniversary features unlockable content including outfits for Lara, character bios, music, cheat codes and production artwork. The majority of these unlockables are gained when you grab all the relics and artifacts scattered throughout the various maps, so these are critical to achieve. Thus, your frustration of working to gain them finally nets you something positive in the end.

The other unlockables are gained by completing Time Trials of each level, but these are very competitive and require absolute perfection in minimal time. For example, one time trial must be completed in six minutes for a level that took me more than 90 minutes to complete. You can skip the "extras" such as relics and artifacts if you so decide to undertake these quests. For me, I have enough stress just getting through on my own time, without the added stress of a timer.

There and Back Again

I really enjoyed Tomb Raider Anniversary, primarily as a good action-adventure game, but secondarily because of the fond memories it brought up from an earlier time of video games. The addition of unlockable content drives you to keep playing a level over and over again, even after frustration sets in. The game is extremely challenging in parts and requires good hand-eye coordination (as well as Lara's cooperation), and many areas may be too challenging for the less-than-serious gamer, which could deny them the pleasure of seeing future levels.

TR: Anniversary reasserts Lara Croft's foothold in the genre by reaching to the past, and impresses with its quality, even with some small niggling faults. Let's hope developers Crystal Dynamics are able to follow up with an original game worthy of Lara's (and our) efforts, which seems to be the case with TR Underworld due out November 2008.

Annoyance Rating:
Imagine getting your wisdom teeth pulled with a rusty pair of pliers while someone else gives you a punch to the gut and a kick to the crotch at the same time -- immeasurably painful, while providing just enough enjoyment to be manageable!

Game Rated 8.6/10


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