By dankempster 3 Comments
My continuing journey through the Crystal Dynamics Tomb Raider trilogy hit another milestone yesterday when I reached the end of Tomb Raider: Anniversary. Essentially a re-imagining of the original Tomb Raider, Anniversary was released to (sort-of) coincide with its tenth anniversary, as well as to bridge the storyline between Legend and Underworld with a slightly reworked plot. As a long-time fan of Tomb Raider, I've long been happy to say with no hesitation or doubt that this is my favourite game in the franchise. After recently re-experiencing Legend and finding it didn't quite live up to my favourable memories of it, I was kind of reluctant to even pick up Anniversary. What if the five years between its release and today had clouded my memory of this game as well?
Even with those worries on my mind, my desire to play the whole Crystal Dynamics trilogy got the better of me, and I was soon deep back into my favourite of Lara Croft's many adventures. Having played the whole thing through now, I'm happy to report that age has done nothing to diminish the lustre of this gaming gem. Tomb Raider: Anniversary is every bit as good as I'd remembered it to be. It's also a vast improvement over its predecessor, which nailed a lot of the superficial aspects of the old Core-developed titles, but suffered from being painfully short and sorely lacking in terms of substantial puzzle design. Anniversary addresses these issues comprehensively, and the result is a brilliant action/adventure game that's comfortably stood the test of time.
One thing I'd falsely remembered about Legend was that it featured a lot of great environmental puzzles. My recent playthrough revealed that to be untrue on both counts - its puzzles were few and small in scope, and none were especially memorable. Anniversary doesn't share this issue - it's jam-packed with puzzles to be solved. Most of these puzzles were present in the original Tomb Raider, but they've been re-worked to better fit the new game engine, and almost every one is both challenging and rewarding to solve. Another thing I love about the puzzles in Anniversary is their scale - many of the game's levels are centred around a huge puzzle, the solution to which is usually tied to the solving of several smaller-scale puzzles. It's an approach to level design that I really admire, forcing the player to juggle multiple threads of progress instead of facing them one at a time in a deliberately linear fashion.
Another area where Anniversary trumps Legend for me is in its portrayal of Lara Croft. Throughout Legend the player is expected to empathise with Lara's attempts to find out what happened to her mother, but for all the brilliant voicework Keeley Hawes puts in as Lara, it's still pretty difficult to give a damn about the uncertain fate of Amelia Croft. As a prequel, Anniversary takes a slighly different approach, instead focusing on Lara herself and how far she's willing to go to get what she wants. I won't say too much here, as I know at least one person planning to play the game soon and I don't wish to spoil it for him. Suffice it to say, it's a lot easier to feel empathy with Lara's plight this time around. It's the result of some clever choices from the team, like a reduced supporting cast and a refusal to feature human enemies throughout, all of which adds up to give the game's last few levels a real emotional weight that even I didn't expect.
There are a wealth of other minor, iterative improvements that Anniversary makes, most of which directly correlate with the grievances I mentioned in my blog about Legend. Issues of game length are addressed with Anniversary clocking in at around thirteen hours, almost twice as long as Legend's seven. Legend's irritating tendency to place checkpoints immediately before quick-time events, but not immediately after, is remedied this time around. I didn't notice any frame-rate issues at any point while playing Anniversary, either. It's simply an all-round better game that does everything a follow-up should do.
Perhaps the greatest compliment I can offer Anniversary is that it's without a doubt the best remake I've ever played. The team at Crystal Dynamics clearly have a lot of love for the Tomb Raider franchise, and it really comes through in every single aspect of the game. Toby Gard, one of the men responsible for developing the original Tomb Raider and widely acknowledged as the guy who created Lara Croft, was brought on board to help with the remake - that in itself demonstrates deep respect for the source material and wanting to do it justice. One of the greatest things about Gard's involvement is the inclusion of a developer's commentary, which features him talking with Jason Botta about the original game and what was changed in the remaking process. As an established fan of the series from the beginning, it made for some really interesting listening for me. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why, as a young fan of the first game and a more mature fan of this re-imagining, this game stands out above all the others as my favourite Tomb Raider title.
I've already moved on to the third instalment in this trilogy, and am currently playing the 360 version of Tomb Raider: Underworld. There's already quite a bit I want to say about the closing chapter and how it compares to the other two games, but I'll save it for the blog I plan to write when I finish it. For now, I'll just say that I don't expect it to challenge Anniversary for the title of my favourite Tomb Raider game. Thanks for reading, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Tomb Raider: Underworld (X360)