Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Tomb Raider Anniversary

Post-Launch Review
Tomb Raider Anniversary (PC)

Developer: Crystal Dynamics / Buzz Monkey Software / Nixxes Software
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Released: June 1 2007 (PC)

Tomb Raider Anniversary is a remake of the original gaming classic, with updated graphics, gameplay, and an extended final level. TRA follows Lara Croft, a thrill-seeking treasure hunter searching for the lost city of Atlantis, puzzling her way through ancient mechanisms and dangerous wildlife.

At Launch
Anniversary received generally favourable reviews, doing best on the PC, with critics calling it “better than the original”. It lost points on consoles for its lack of camera control, and issue not present on the PC version. Despite its critical success, Anniversary had the worst sales of any Tomb Raider game ever.

Post Launch
Not much has changed. As far as I can tell the game didn't receive any updates.

The Good
Old School
Tomb Raider Anniversary, despite its upgrades, feels and plays exactly like the classic Tomb Raider games — which is kind of a nice change of pace for me. Combat is relatively simple, mostly just moving, shooting, and dodging. There is a neat dodge-headshot mechanic that rewards timing. But combat is fairly rare: the vast majority of all fights are against disturbed or territorial wildlife. Lara isn't mowing down hundreds of guys single-handedly like in most modern shooters. It's more like a classic adventure platformer than a modern shooter.

The levels are fairly linear and not too difficult, but simply beating the game isn't the challenge. The real tough parts are finding all the secret relics and hidden artifacts, as well as defeating each level's time attack challenge. One nice thing about the time attacks is that they're built into the levels: you can, theoretically, clear the time trial on your first run through the story without going back and reloading the level — but it's hard. I don't think I cleared any on my first run through.

The checkpoint system is pretty good — rarely are checkpoints set far enough apart for me to die and say “Ugh, I have to do all that again?”. Some of them are farther apart but mostly it's good.

The game engine is beginning to show its age (mostly in the character models) but the environments and terrain still look great. Excellent textures and strategic lighting mean Tomb Raider has some of the best-looking tombs you're likely to see for a while. I'm especially impressed with the wet, leafy caverns.

The Bad
The game isn't buggy as a whole, but I've noticed that one particular aspect is often problematic: dropping off ledges. Lara got stuck once, and she often fails to grab ledges that you're clearly supposed to grab in order to progress through the level. The checkpoint system is good enough that it's not too frustrating when it happens, but it is annoying.

The checkpoint system is mostly pretty good, but when it isn't, it makes me want to tear out my eyes and throw them against the screen. There are a lot of instant death traps, which wouldn't be so bad in and of itself; except a lot of them also rely on very precise timing and aim to get through. That, plus the occasional poor checkpoint, makes for an awful lot of frustration if you don't get it right the first or second times.

The Verdict
Recommendation: play it.
Anniversary is only ten bucks on Steam, and it's a pretty good game. If you enjoy exploring and solving puzzles, you'll enjoy Tomb Raider. It feels old in a good way, nostalgic and not dated. I wouldn't call it a must-play, but it's definitely fun. I had never played the original Tomb Raider, so this is a good way to experience how the series got started without having to worry about MS-DOS compatibility. Plus, since I'd never played the original, I wasn't expecting the EPIC T-REX BOSS BATTLE. Kickass.

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