After the achievement of bringing credibility back to the Tomb Raider franchise with Tomb Raider: Legend, Crystal Dynamics turns its sight towards recreating the classic acrobatic adventure of the original Tomb Raider game. Taking Lara back to her roots, you will once again traverse the familiar locations of Peru, Greece and Egypt, using familiar traits and gameplay mechanics seen throughout the series. The question is can the old girl wear those tight shorts and thrill gamers around the world once again? Well there is only one way to find out.
Anyone that has played the original Tomb Raider title will instantly know what to expect in all areas. Everything from the storyline to the environments is based closely on the original title and only change slightly to improve the gameplay and vary the experience. Obviously the game is intended to emulate the classic platform adventure and thankfully gives Lara a well needed face-lift after a decade of aging. Graphically, the game is most comparable to Tomb Raider: Legend but features environments that are less exotic and more comparable to the tomb styled crypts of the original.
You are introduced to the story with a glimpse of Los Almos, New Mexico, in 1945 where an explosion destroys a town to uncover a crystallised structure. During this, an unidentified winged creature takes to the sky. From this small glimpse into the story, you now take control of Lara Croft, daughter of Lord Richard Croft, five years later. You have recently been contacted by a strange businesses woman, who tickles your interest in finding a long lost artefact, the Atlantean Scion. Lara is unable to pass on this opportunity to find the artefact that her father had always searched for and is soon on a plane to the icy mountains of Peru.
From this point forward you will slowly be introduced to the game mechanics through a helpful continual tutorial, which teaches you as you progress through the first set of caves. Basically Lara is extremely agile and can easily traverse the most difficult of mountains, cliffs, ledges, slopes, poles, ropes and other such conveniently placed interactive objects. As you progress into the control system, you will soon realise that the basis of the game revolves around climbing tombs and solving puzzles that typically involve the need to locate a key, relic or control in order to progress. Whilst many platform titles try to add elements from the adventure, RPG or action genres to spice up gameplay, Tomb Raider is the quintessential platform title and ignores such temptations.
Unfortunately the gameplay, whilst traditional and fitting for the series, has not weathered well with time and can often be dull and repetitive. Going from one cave to the next jumping between gaps and across platforms can soon leave a desire for something different and challenging. The game does feature frequent combat encounters that use a lock-on system requiring nothing more than to jump around and press fire (noting that the pistols have unlimited ammo). There has also been added a feature titled ‘adrenaline dodge’, which allows you to perform a side jump when an enemy is about to charge at you. Whilst jumping to the side you will have the opportunity to perform an instant kill shot, if timed correctly. Whilst the issue of repetitive gameplay could have been resolved with interesting enemy encounters such as this, it simply adds to the issue. This is mainly due to the artificial intelligence which is horrendous. Whilst the control scheme works well and the new addition of adrenaline dodge is welcome, the enemies rarely pose any threat and it is common to find them simply running into a wall as they are unable to turn around. Or, if you are faced with a handful of dangerous predators, you can simply jump onto the nearest rock or stand in a corner and be completely safe to shoot them at your own pace.
That being said, fans of the original will no doubt be at home with Tomb Raider: Anniversary. The original Tomb Raider gameplay has been tweaked and perfected. Whilst Crystal Dynamics have not taken a risk by adding new components to the formula, they have made sure to emulate the original well. They have also added the ability to manually grab ledges using the RB button, which will require a good deal of button switching in order to navigate, a feature which many will no doubt welcome. The levels are often vast and contain complex puzzles, which often require you to visit many dangerous areas of the caves before returning to a once locked gate in order to progress. You will also find hidden items, health packs, bullets and artefacts scattered throughout the levels, some of which will unlock additional items (as well as achievements) for you to enjoy.
Graphically the game is rather a letdown, especially considering the graphical prowess that Tomb Raider: Legend brought only a few months previously. Whilst the environments are often vast and detailed, they are typically detailed in a bland and dull fashion with very little use of shadows and lighting effects that had been used well previously. It is likely that the game has been ported without much care for the graphical comparisons that would be made between the two games. It is rather strange that given the graphical capabilities of the Xbox 360 and the average look of the game, the frame-rate often drops. Expect to enjoy continual frame-rate jumping, especially at the moments you least want them such as when you are jumping over a large cliff or trying to avoid a spike trap. It is also often that you will spot issues with graphical elements too, such as the glowing particles that are used in enemy’s eyes (for whatever reason) are rarely ever near the eye socket. However, few will notice these graphical impurities thanks to the hard work that has been put into making Lara’s breasts look like two puppies playing under a blanket, even at the slight pace of a walk.
This emphasis on Lara’s blatant sexual appeal with pre-adolescent gamers is continued into the audio area of the game, as Lara will often grunt and moan at every leap and fall. Alongside Lara’s constant self relief there are well placed ambient effects all around that fit well with the current environment. The game features little music but will instantly introduce some at the important moments of the game, which is often well timed and adds the desired effect to a climactic moment. Lastly, whilst the voice acting is not impressive, it is also not irritating and often fits well with the characters, particularly in the games cut-scenes.
Overall, Tomb Raider: Anniversary features an age old style of gameplay that is beginning to struggle against the test of time. Whilst the game does a fantastic job at recreating the original Tomb Raider, it often feels like Crystal Dynamics could have done much more with the licence. Unfortunately the game features a relatively short storyline and little in the form of replay value (apart from the addition of difficult and frustrating achievements). All in all, Tomb Raider: Anniversary is a title that fans of the series will no doubt enjoy and the title is a great starting point for anyone who has yet to play a Tomb Raider game.