What is it?
The Tomb Raider brand is now one of the most widely
recognised names across the world, fronted by an attractive, charismatic,
powerful woman, Lara Croft. This level of recognition can make it hard to
write a review of a new Tomb Raider game that actually says
something new, as almost everything has already been said about Lara and
her adventures. Now, to add to the we’ve-seen-it-all-before problem: we
have a Tomb Raider game that is a remake!
this ain’t no ord’nary ‘re-cast and re-film’ it job. Tomb Raider:
Anniversary is a serious upgrade from the 1996 original, which is, I
suppose, hardly surprising considering how computer games in general have
evolved over the intervening years.
As you no
doubt realise, there have been seven primary games in the Tomb Raider
brand thus far, with various Gold expansion packs. Not to put too fine a
point on it -- I’ve played the lot. There's also a variety of fan-built
levels since the release of the Tomb Raider Level Editor alongside
Is there a plot?
Just in case
there are still people who haven't seen or played a Tomb Raider
game before, the basic premise of all of them is simple: there's some
treasure out there buried in a lost tomb (or similar hiding place)
somewhere in the wilderness. Our heroine, Lara Croft, is on a mission as a
supposed archaeologist to recover said treasure. But Lara is more like an
athletic version of Harrison Ford (in his Indiana Jones incarnations, that
is) than any modern archaeologist I know. The games are about as far from
point-n-click adventures as it is possible to get without doing away with
the mouse and keyboard altogether. Of course, in the console versions, you
do that anyway.
In the case of Tomb Raider:
Anniversary the treasure in question is the Atlantean Scion. A
mystical disc in three parts. The parts of the Scion have been scattered
over the globe, and in the past Lara and her father, Lord Croft, were
searching for it. The current game starts with the escape of 'something'
from a nuclear explosion in the New Mexico desert, and then moves to Lara
being invited by Jacqueline Natla to search for the Scion in the tomb of
Qualopec in Peru. The story later moves on to Greece, Egypt and an unnamed
Mediterranean island. Due to technical restrictions on the original game,
most people are under the impression that the entire story takes place
underground; however this is not the case. The remake demonstrates this
repeatedly, and quite beautifully in many places, with stunning outdoor
environments and excellent lighting effects inside buildings.
The story is played out in a variety
of environments: caves, South American tombs and mountain valleys,
Greek-style tombs, Egyptian burial complexes (yet more tombs!), and
finally back into mines and other subterranean structures. And yes, I am
being deliberately vague about the later parts.
How do you play?
Despite the 'action/adventure' label given to the Tomb
Raider games, there really is a good chunk of pure 'adventure' about
the series. Most of the time your task is to explore elaborate
environments, overcoming obstacles and traps through the extra-human (as
opposed to super-human) agility of Lara. Sometimes the solution involves
guns. But if I were to try and put a percentage on it, I would say that
combat makes up less than 20% of the games, though that 20% is very
definitely high speed and good reflexes are critical. I really do enjoy
this balance – the exploration, the 'how on earth do I get up there'
effect is crucial to the Tomb Raider experience. But the adrenaline
rush of the sudden combat situations is also great fun.
progresses through four levels: Peru, Greece, Egypt, and the Lost Island.
Each of these is broken down into three or four sections. Within the
sections, there are reasonably frequent checkpoints. You can save your
game at any time, but you will always return to the most recent checkpoint
before your save – it's
not a ‘save anywhere’ system, unfortunately.
controls of the original PC version of Tomb Raider were reasonably
simple: cursor keys for movement, space bar to draw the current weapon,
End to do a forward reversing tumble (I'll come back to this move later),
Ctrl for actions, Alt to jump, and Shift to walk, plus Delete and Page
Down to side step left and right, and finally, Num Pad 0 to look around
from Lara's point of view. These controls form the basis of the gameplay
throughout the early Tomb Raider games; TR 6: Angel of Darkness was
the first to really revise the controls. Badly.
Raider: Legend and
Anniversary return to a control scheme that's similar to the original,
but not the same. The key difference being that the camera is controlled
independently of Lara herself, which forces (for a right-handed mouser)
the movement keys to move from the right side of the keyboard to the left.
I must say that I would have preferred Anniversary at least to have
gone back completely to the original scheme, and then they could have
added a few extras as required for the grappling hook that was added in
A move I
particularly miss is the 'forward reversing tumble' I mention above. The
effect of this looks initially like a forward roll, but ends up with Lara
facing back the way she came. In Anniversary you have to twist the
mouse (controlling the camera) and turn Lara with the direction keys
(which are W, A, S, and D, by the way) at the same time. In comparison
with the original single key 'End,' this becomes pretty annoying! You can
get closer to the original feel of the game by taking your hand off the
mouse and allowing the camera to follow Lara in its own sweet time -- but
the Anniversary camera is just a little too lazy for this to work
properly. The original camera position was much more closely tied to
Lara's shoulder blades.
By far the most remarkable feature of Anniversary
is, of course, the accuracy with which the original game has been rebuilt.
In almost every location I could recognise significant aspects of the
original. There are, of course, rooms that have gone, been moved, been
modified, and added to reflect the changes in pacing and in Lara's
abilities. The environments are obviously much more pleasing to look at,
being much more realistically modelled and textured. At the same time, the
designers haven't been lazy – the levels aren't simple copies of the
originals, they're as challenging and varied, detailed and beautiful as
anything in other modern games.
opinion, the nearest to the Tomb Raider games are the Prince of
Persia and God of War games. These games are darker and more
violent (much more violent in the case of God of War), but have a
reasonably similar balance between combat and exploration. The level of
design work in Anniversary compares very favourably with even the
most recent of the Prince games, The Two Thrones, or
God of War II.
Any other novelties?
There was one feature of this remake that really made me
sit up and pay attention: the commentaries. This is something I've never
seen before in a game, and I really enjoyed it. Just like DVD
there are commentaries on various parts of the game triggered from blue
crystals displayed at strategic points in the levels. However, these
crystals are only displayed once you've completed each of the four major
levels. If you don't want to know what the theme of the commentaries is,
then skip to the next section. The commentaries take the form of
conversations between the designer of the original Tomb Raider,
Toby Gard, and Anniversary’s game director Jason Botta from Crystal
Dynamics, as they talk about all sorts of aspects of the original game and
It is most unfortunate that I have to report two oddities
with this otherwise brilliant game. Firstly I found that starting the game
was hit and miss: sometimes it would start from the autorun, sometimes it
wouldn't. Sometimes it would start from the Start menu item, sometimes it
wouldn't. There appeared to be no predictable pattern to this. Sometimes
the error message asked for the original DVD (I have no other!), sometimes
it would claim there was no DVD at all. The best I can say is that the
errors were all connected with the SecuROM™ DVD protection, and not the
game. But following the advice on the SecuROM website seemed to have no
problem I had with Anniversary falls fair and square on the hands
of the developers. Occasionally (about three times during a complete
play-through across several days), the game will complain of having a
corrupt profile on start-up. At which point, there is a work-around on
Eidos' support website, but it only allows you to keep your save games,
not your unlocked features, like costumes, commentaries and other
bonuses. This was a very disappointing bug.
has been described by some as a ‘re-imagining’ of the original game. In
cooperation with Toby Gard (designer of Tomb Raider), Eidos and
Crystal Dynamics (the developers who also made Tomb Raider Legend)
have taken the story, the settings, and the types of puzzles from the
original. They then rebuilt them from scratch using the experience and
technologies of Tomb Raider Legend. I think they’ve achieved the
almost impossible -- delivering what is probably the most popular of all
the Lara Croft adventures as the ultimate in “Director’s Cuts,” with the
style and panache that Lara deserves.
weren’t for the disappointing technical failures of the SecuROM™ DVD
protection and the profile corruption issue, this would definitely score a
full-blooded A grade.
What do you need to play
Windows 2000, XP, Vista
Pentium 3 1.4Ghz or
Athlon XP 1500+
256MB RAM (for Windows
2000/XP), 512MB RAM (for Windows Vista)
100% DirectX 9.0c
compatible 64 MB 3D Accelerated Card with TnL (GeForce 3Ti / Radeon 9
2000/XP/Vista compatible sound card (100% DirectX 9.0c -compatible)
Quad-speed (4x) DVD-ROM
4GB free disk space
2000/XP/Vista compatible mouse and keyboard
Windows XP, Vista
Pentium 4 3.0Ghz or
Athlon 64 3000+
100% DirectX 9.0c
compatible 64 MB 3D Accelerated Card with Vertex Shader 2.0 and Pixel
Shader 2.0 (GeForce 6000 series / Radeon X series)
XP/Vista compatible sound card (100% DirectX 9.0c -compatible)
100% Windows XP/Vista
compatible mouse and keyboard / Xbox 360 Controller for Windows
used a custom built Win XP Pro SP2, AMD Athlon 64 3500+, 2048 MB RAM, and
ATI Radeon X1950 Pro 512MB video card)
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