Tomb Raider: Anniversary

[ EDIT: The following was previously part of a double-review with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. I’ve since split this post in two for readability – 04/03/2012 ]

Two games this week – I did promise you a review of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Tombraider: Anniversary – so here goes. I’ll try to be as thorough as I can. **Possible spoilers!**

Summary

Lara’s back in a reinvention of her original outing. Crystal Dynamics have served up the familiar and the new in this reimagined tomb raiding adventure that sees the athletic explorer seeking the mythical Scion in dangerous locations across the globe.

First Impressions

Baffling to be honest. The very first FMV movie is a short explosion of a small town and a quick glimpse of a flying creature that emerges from the radioactive crater. I can’t recall this from the original but it has been many years.

On to the main menu and I’m pleased to find the Croft Mansion area has been kept. I load this up expecting a similar training level to the original and find myself very surprised. Strangely, there is very little training in this level, instead the training takes place in the first proper level of the game, the Mountain Caves in Peru. The mansion level sees you, prompted by a note left by your butler Winston, to fix the alarm that has been triggered in one of the display rooms and turn on the water supply. It’s not as easy as it sounds and Crystal Dynamics have made full use of the entire house and garden.

The layout bears little resemblance to the original as it features a medieval style and far more rooms than the original. The doors leading off the main chamber lead to near identical corridors which in turn lead to various rooms. This can make it confusing to find the right room and is important as at one point you end up in a locked room. I have to admit after a couple of hours of reloading the game I was stumped as to how to escape this locked room and had to Google an answer – when Lara says “furniture” she doesn’t just mean the stuff on the floor!!

Gameplay

It’s still Tomb Raider and plays how you would expect. Lara has all her original moves plus a few from the later games, such as climbing ropes and shimmying around cornered ledges, but she’s much more flexible and can make some surprising lunges and grabs. Anniversary is similar to Legend I think, although I’ve only played the Legend demo so couldn’t say for sure. The grappling hook returns and can be used in places where applicable. The square icon will appear on screen to highlight the feature but as you become accustomed to the game you’ll start to expect it in some areas. The grapple can be used to swing across large gaps, run along walls, rapell and even pull some objects such as gates and wire crates.

A welcome return is Lara’s infinite ammo on her pistols although, more realistically, she will reload when each clip is depleted. Targeting is accomplished with the L1 button and fire with the R1 button. Targets can be switched by pushing the right analog stick and pressing the R3 button enables a manual targeting mode. A new feature (at least new to me as I didn’t see it in Legend) is the Adrenaline Dodge and Headshot. If an enemy performs a rage attack, highlighted by a blurring of the area around the enemy, Lara can dodge the charge by pressing a direction on the left analog stick and the Circle button. Two targeting reticles will cross paths and, if you time it right, Lara can perform a headshot by pressing the R1 button. I found this especially useful in The Lost Valley when surrounded by raptor-like dinosaurs (remember those?).

Fans of The Lost Valley in the original like me will also fondly remember the T-Rex section. The angry fellow makes a return here although I didn’t have the shotgun this time around. I’ve picked up some ammo so I possibly missed it somewhere previously. This section is actually not that difficult thanks to the Adrenaline Dodge but it still takes some time to bring the beast down.

This section was my favourite in the original thanks to the T-Rex and the big waterfall and both are present here. Lara can still perform her swan dive by pressing a direction then X and Circle in quick succession. It doesn’t always work for me though. Among Lara’s other abilities are being able to perch on the top of columns, climb columns, and swing around poles as in the modern Prince of Persia games.

Lara’s inventory has return to the familiar ring system and consists of two rings – one for Items and one for Gear. Items consists of objects collected on her adventures and Lara’s Journal which notes Lara’s thoughts on her current situation and can provide hints if your stuck (hence my mention of the unhelpful “furniture” quote). Gear consists of Lara’s weapons and medipacks aswell as the grappling hook.

Lara doesn’t have the headset or LED light she has in Legend and I don’t believe she can use flares as in TRIII so the sense of isolation is maintained in Anniversary. Furthermore, there are artefacts to find just as in the original and in Anniversary these secrets unlock bonus content such as outfits for Lara and concept art.

Artificial Intelligence

The enemies I’ve encountered thus far are those from the original: flying bats, bears, wolves and dinosaurs. These behave like they did in the original, simply charging in for an attack, but so far the game has more of a leaning towards exploration as in the original which is what I prefer.

Lara herself does pretty much what you tell her and will try to grab a ledge if she falls off. The grip meter has thankfully been removed so Lara can climb some dizzying heights. Their is a safety grab/balance button (Triangle) to strengthen Lara’s grip when she doesn’t quite catch a ledge and to rebalance on columns. Also a walk button (R2) although I don’t beleive this stops Lara from walking off edges.

Graphics

It looks like Tomb Raider. Lara herself wears her trademark green t-shirt and brown shorts, although the t-shirt is more believeable than her luminous original. Everything has been updated to Legends standards so the original is chunky in comparison but Anniversary doesn’t have the gothic stylings of Angel of Darkness. The Water and fire effects are good and the lighting in particular is very impressive, casting rays of sunlight across underground tombs.

Sound

Just as in the original, Anniversary features a background soundtrack that changes depending on the situation. The old feeling of two parts nervousness and one part curiosity is always inspired when exploring a new area and the in-game music complements this. Lara is voiced again by Keeley Hawes, star of Spooks and Tipping the Velvet and the accent soon becomes suitable. Lara still says ‘No’ when you try to put the wrong object in the wrong lock!

Level Design

It is Tombraider but the levels are so upgraded and in some ways different that it’s difficult to know what to expect. The original details are all there but there have been changes so you are always kept on your toes. Anniversary could be seen as a different game and as an upgraded original so I think the developers have found the right mix.

As with all Tomb Raiders, some sections will infuriate as a mis-timed jump will send Lara plummeting to her death numerous times, but on the whole Lara is very able and it is not always necessary to be pixel-perfect when jumping as she can twist her body to catch most ledges. The developers are a little perverted in their use of traps, some sections seeing you avoiding poisoned arrows, swinging axes and crumbling floors only to be attacked by a dinosaur.

The game uses a checkpoint system so that when you die you restart from the last checkpoint passed. Saving the game will again mean starting from the last checkpoint passed so I find it better to think of checkpoints like the blue crystals in the original and save at most checkpoints where appropriate. Restarting from a checkpoint sees you granted full health which is a nice touch – I haven’t used a medipack yet.

Interface

Lara’s life bar returns, this time a blue colour as opposed to the original’s brown colour. Other items such as equipped weapon, ammo count, enemy rage metre etc appear as appropriate. I need to confirm if the game is subtitled but due to the exploratory nature of the game, little attention needs to be paid to the plot to complete the levels.

Conclusion

This game is fantastic! I was in two minds about getting it purely as a grapically enhanced original but I was pleased to receive this for Christmas. It’s a refreshing trip down memory lane for any Tomb Raider fan and I’m finding constant surprises to keep me entertained. I’m nowhere near finished (I only started playing yesterday!) and there are still all the rewards to collect so the replay value is high. If you’ve never played Tombraider, or even if you have, I’d recommend this as a must-buy!

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