Tomb Raider: Anniversary
Tomb Raider: Legend saw the triumphant return of Lara Croft courtesy of Crystal Dynamix after a slow slide into mediocrity in the hands of her creators, Core Design. It was never going to be an easy act to follow, but instead of a sequel, Crystal Dynamix has opted for a modern take on the adventure that started the franchise. Tomb Raider: Anniversary is not just the same game from 1996 with some updated visuals, though. Instead, it retains everything that players remember fondly from the original, but updates the whole experience to bring it more in line with modern standards.
As with the original game, Anniversary sees Lara getting hired by a mysterious woman named Natla who is in search of the fabled Scion of Atlantis. Lara agrees as she has a personal interest in this artifact, but didn’t know where to even begin looking for it until Natla showed up. The adventure begins in Peru where Lara succeeds in finding the first piece of the Scion, but to assemble all the pieces she will need to travel to other exotic locations like Greece and Egypt as well.
While the story will be very familiar to fans it is a bit more fleshed out compared to the original. Thankfully, the cut-scenes are now much less obtrusive than in Legend and mostly used at the start and end of levels. Unlike her later adventures, the original game was actually a very solitary experience where it was just Lara pitted against the tricks and tramps of her lonely surroundings. This is retained for Anniversary, which might come as a surprise to those who only know Lara as a gun-toting action heroine. There are still plenty of things to shoot in Anniversary, but your foes mostly take on the form of bats, wolves, bears, panthers, gorillas, and other wildlife along with a few supernatural threats later in the game. All encounters with human opponents are relegated to quick-time-events where pressing the button prompts appearing on-screen results in some cinematic action. Thankfully, the overabundance of QTEs from Legend has been toned down considerably.
Combat only takes up a small portion of your time, though, and for the rest, you’ll be looking at very imposing heights that need to be scaled or traps that have to be evaded. The game does a good job of breaking its challenges up into manageable sections, but the overall experience is a lot more challenging and exhausting than Legend. A lot of the struggle in Anniversary comes from figuring out how to get from point a to b. It usually involves flipping a switch or finding a relic, but the route to get to where you need to be isn’t always that obvious.
Death could come swiftly and unexpectedly in the original game, which is why the ability to save anywhere was very welcome in the PC version. Anniversary also allows you to save at any time but places you back at the previous checkpoint that you reached. Thankfully, the placement of these checkpoints are quite generous, but there are still quite a few sections in the game that felt needlessly repetitive because of the progress you lose if you die.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary uses an enhanced version of the Legend game engine, so it’s a pretty decent game. It’s certainly miles ahead of the original game, which although groundbreaking for its time, suffered from a low draw distance, low-resolution textures, and very angular level geometry. Anniversary rectifies all these issues, which not only makes the levels look incredible but also ensures that enemies actually looks menacing. The way in which Lara’s clothes remain soaked for a while after she gets out of the water still looks impressive. Strangely enough, the personal light source from Legend is nowhere to be seen in Anniversary, and staying true to the original game also means that Lara won’t be changing outfits. It should also be mentioned that the camera in Anniversary doesn’t always cooperate and because of how tight it is in certain spots it’s hard to see where to go next or if you will successfully make a jump. More concerning is that some visual effects appear to have adverse effects on the gameplay, with some users having to enable or disable VSYNC or other settings otherwise certain jumps in the game wouldn’t work. We also found the physics behaving very oddly at times and had to restart from a previous checkpoint on one occasion because something fell in a way it was not supposed to.
Although Anniversary retains the levels from the original game they have all been updated and streamlined. Crystal Dynamics have also reworked a lot of the puzzles to take advantage of the grappling hook that they introduced in Legend. The hook is used to wall run in certain sections and to pull blocks in the environment. We were also very frustrated with a certain boss fight in the game until it became apparent that the grappling hook had to be used. Even with the new streamlined levels compared to the original, Anniversary is still a much larger and less linear game than Legend. Each level usually has a central area that branches off into smaller areas filled with traps or puzzles. Completing all 14 levels in the game is challenging enough, but players can also go back and tackle them in time trial mode or attempt to hunt down all the hidden collectibles. Croft Manor also makes a return and overall the game has a tone of stuff to unlock for the dedicated. These include new outfits for Lara along with concept art and even developer commentaries. The game even features some cheats, but these can only be used after completing it, which makes them a bit redundant.
Lara is extremely nimble compared to her on-rails like movement in the original game, but the controls are still not perfect. She retains her move set from Legend, which means she can jump, climb, shimmy along ledges, and swing on ropes and poles. However, it did feel at times like Lara was missing ledges for no reason or jumping into unintended directions when we could least afford it. The game does allow players to set whether Lara grabs on to ledges automatically or requires a button press and while the latter is more authentic it is also a lot more exhausting. Sometimes Lara can still recover from a botched jump with a quick button press, but most of the time players will see her tumble to her death. The combat in Anniversary is very underwhelming as holding down a button automatically locks on to enemies that Lara can then shoot at while jumping around. Unfortunately, the game saw fit to introduce a new feature called the “Adrenaline Dodge” which is completely unnecessary and doesn’t add anything meaningful. Enemies become enraged if you shoot them enough, which makes them invulnerable while they charge at you. Players then have to dodge out of the way at the last second and wait for a target reticule to align over the enemy so that they can be shot. Annoyingly, this move also features prominently in the boss battles and just drags out combat needlessly in our opinion.
The fact that you don’t have a team of people chattering away in your ears all the time makes Tomb Raider: Anniversary a more relaxing experience than Legend. The soundtrack was updated to be more orchestral too, but most of the time the game is very quiet with only the ambient sounds of the ancient tombs to keep you company. It was also nice to hear Keeley Hawes from Legend returning to voice Lara.
Overall, Tomb Raider: Anniversary is a worthy tribute to the original game, but it is not without flaws of its own. It can become very repetitive and tiresome at times and the occasional difficulty spikes also make it frustrating in places. However, solving the puzzles feels very rewarding and it’s quite a sizeable adventure that will keep most players busy for hours. It’s a pity that the game appears to have unintended glitches on modern systems, but Anniversary is still the best way to experience the start of the iconic franchise.
- Microsoft Windows Vista, 2000, or XP,
- Pentium 3 1.4Ghz or Athlon XP 1500+,
- 4GB free space,
- 100% DirectX 9.0c compatible 64 MB 3D Accelerated Card with TnL (GeForce 3TI / Radeon 9 series), 512MB RAM (Windows Vista) or 256MB RAM (Windows 2000/XP), Microsoft
- Windows 2000/XP/Vista compatible sound card (100% DirectX 9.0c -compatible),
- 100% Windows 2000/XP/Vista compatible mouse and keyboard
- Microsoft Windows XP, Vista, Pentium 4 3.0Ghz or Athlon 64 3000+,
- Microsoft Windows XP/Vista compatible sound card (100% DirectX 9.0c -compatible),
- 1GB RAM,
- 100% DirectX 9.0c compatible 64MB 3D Accelerated Card with Pixel Shader 2.0 (GeForce 6000 series / Radeon X series)