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OUR TOMB RAIDER ANNIVERSARY REVIEW
Copyright 2007 www.tombraiderchronicles.com

[ June 4th 2007 ]

The Tomb Raider brand of video-games – originally developed by a team at Core Design in 1996 – has, during the past eleven years, sold in excess of 30 million units; spawned two motion pictures starring Academy Award-winner actress Angelina Jolie (of which one still holds the record for the highest revenue earned from a motion picture with a female lead) and has tramped down countless merchandise avenues promoting everything from confectionary, toiletries, soft drinks, running shoes, satellite television, credit cards, vehicles and even a cancer awareness campaign.

The brand also harbours a massive fan-base, with thousands of web sites dedicated to the series, fiction authors, comic illustrators and real life models all feeding the phenomena. Owner and IP holder Eidos Interactive has surged forward with new wind harnessed from a merger with SCi Entertainment Group, and a series of wise management culls and project decisions has helped revitalise the company, ensuring it remains one of the leading publishers and developers of entertainment software in the world. Recent low-risk acquisitions have also solidified its standing on the London Stock Market and the future certainly looks bright and shiny for Eidos.

Without question, Eidos is most notably recognised for its Tomb Raider video-game brand, and the fictional British archaeologist Lara Croft. Under the charge of U.S. developer Crystal Dynamics, the brand has been rejuvenated thanks largely to the success of Tomb Raider Legend and now the release of a special celebratory adventure marking ten years + twelve months in the business of entertaining the masses via tombs, mystical artifacts and rather nasty characters.

Tomb Raider Anniversary is a game about reflection and implies a certain degree of regression for those old enough to remember queuing for the original and the ensuing chaos of the following years. While the game tries to stay faithful to the original 1996 adventure, invariable it has become so much more, and for those of you who jump right to the conclusion and the score, we’re going to be giving this one a rather large thumbs up. But not without some criticism.

Graphics

Tomb Raider Anniversary is a visual delight on Windows PC, as it should be, but this has been eclipsed by the overall performance on the Sony Playstation 2. Sony’s PS2 console was first released in March 2000 and will soon be retired in favour of the Playstation 3.

Crystal Dynamics are beating the proverbial hell out of the PS2 console, and I can almost smell the GPU ****ting bricks as it more than compares with its PC counterpart. Using the same purge-redundancy feature as with Legend – whereby only the immediate locale is loading into memory – the PS2 version is looking vibrant and seamless. There are few texture discrepancies, and so confident was Eidos in the performance of Sony’s number two that most of the screenshots prior to the release of Anniversary matriculated from the console version of the game.

The environments are richly decorated with minute detail, which adds to the overall atmosphere of the game. The emphasis on vast environments has been realised without any shadow of the doubt. While the original adventure was a groundbreaking and genre-establishing product, Anniversary amplifies that admirably. All hint of claustrophobia present in the original has been replaced with cavernous regions literally riddled with non-linear paths and challenges, all positively yawning into range effortlessly and without any noticeable reduction in frame rate.

Game Play

The control system attached to Tomb Raider Anniversary can be fully configurable via a menu section when firing up the game, or during game-play. The latter is a welcome addition because it enables the player to custom-configure his or her controls as play ensues, resulting for the most part in a very responsive setup.

Lara has several new moves this time round, a pole-balancing manoeuvre and new combat moves. Crystal Dynamics have certainly answered the call from members of Tomb Raider Forums with the option to disable auto-grab and remove tips from being displayed on screen. Players can now substitute the previous hand-holding scenario with the same isolation present in the original 1996 adventure, which is a very welcome return to what raiding tombs is all about.

Load times are extremely fast, further endorsing the purge-redundancy technology we mention above, which all aids in keeping the overall flow and momentum at boiling point as the adventure unfolds. Checkpoints are back, which means progress is automatically saved for when Lara faces an untimely death.

Once again, Crystal Dynamics has invested a considerable amount of time and detail into the construction of their puzzles. The cog puzzle for example is now a mammoth challenge in Lost Valley, the final piece a reward for dispensing with the T-Rex, and interactive cut scenes cap off each challenge as they are completed, giving the player an overall view of their progress in the adventure.

Level statistics make a welcome return, and we already have members of our forum posting their best completion times. Artifacts are back, and contribute to unlocking a variety of Easter eggs embedded into the adventure, most popular of which are clothing accessories for Lara Croft.

AI

For the most part, enemy combat and animal interaction is pretty responsive and in certain places considerably challenging. Defeating the monstrous T-Rex and the final showdown with Natla being two of the challenges which resulted in some testing times here in the office.

However, some criticism must be levelled at certain enemy incursions and their subsequent behaviour in confined spaces, namely wolves that entrap themselves between boulders, bats that bury themselves into rock surfaces and raptors than just stand there looking stupid while being shot to pieces by an amused and somewhat bored Lara.

In fairness, these anomalies occur on rare occasions, but one cannot think that a few more months of play testing might have resulted in a more polished product. Time constraints imposed by Eidos may have played their part in inadequate and/or insufficient testing. Having said that, the odd idle-challenge doesn’t impair the overall quality of the product.

Enemy combat is also staggered per character, and sinking 5 rounds of lead into a pestering bat before stone-pigeon-syndrome occurs won’t dispense with a raging bear or hungry wolf. Taking this route enables gamers to experience a more realistic combat challenge which is hindered further by the necessity to reload. Overall, this method creates a fun and somewhat strategic assessment of a situation rather than blasting in with all guns blazing.

By far the best incursion was the T-Rex, and those who read our original preview of Tomb Raider Anniversary should be in no doubt that this portion of the game made it for us, as it perfectly amalgamated past with present and made the connection between Anniversary and the original adventure a perfectly indelible link. T-Rex is more than a bunch of richly-textured polygons, he’s a maniacal Jurassic beast bent solely on crushing Lara or ripping her to pieces.

There is a clear strategy in defeating the T-Rex – draw him onto the spikes in his lush-green amphitheatre by using his ****-off meter, and it sounds so simple doesn’t it?! But a review cannot convey Troels Folmann's part in all of this. His score simply amplifies the challenge to dizzying heights, and first time round we simply sat there stunned, eyeballs glazed, hearts thumping hard and hands involuntarily twitching on the mouse as we tried to defeat him. We got the scaly bugger second time round.

Soundtrack

BAFTA Award-winning composer Troels Folmann has once again infused Anniversary with the same magic present in Tomb Raider Legend, perfectly encapsulating each moment as it unfolds during game-play. From the playful accompaniments around Croft Manor to the overwhelming assault during the battle with T-Rex and the final conflict with Natla, Troels has once again scored an incredible soundtrack and I wouldn’t be surprised if he taps another BAFTA for his contribution to the overall success of Anniversary.

Console Support

As with Tomb Raider Legend, Eidos has so far confirmed Anniversary on Windows PC, Sony PS2, Nintendo Wii and Sony PSP, with a noticeable absentee. However, watch this space ;)

Conclusion

Tomb Raider Anniversary has pretty much achieved the aims set down by Eidos when the game was first announced in 2006. Crystal Dynamics has faithfully preserved the original adventure, but also infused so much more vitality into the broth. The game has – as promised – been brought up to today’s technological standards and that is a real acknowledgment of Eidos’ appreciation of the fans who have supported the company through thick and thin.

Tomb Raider Anniversary continues in the same new and rejuvenated direction as it’s forbearer, and judged simply on the quality of the PS2 version of the game, one can only dream of what future consoles have in store for Lara Croft. Eidos has already confirmed Lara’s next adventure will exploit the power of the Sony PS3, and Tomb Raider Anniversary further endorses our confidence in Crystal Dynamics’ ability to produce a quality product time and time again.

Our Score: 90%

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