Tomb Raider: Anniversary Review (PC)

Lara Croft is back – and after losing her way somewhat after the first couple of outings, this is looking like the best Tomb Raider game ever. The original appeared way back in 1996, giving gamers a feast of 3D polygonal gaming, thrilling exploration and puzzling the like of which had never been seen before. The Lara Croft phenomenon went on to spawn a series of sequels, movies and any amount of work for Lara ‘look-alike’ models.

Brain versus brawn!
Balletic and well equipped

I played the first two games and loved them – sure, they had their flaws but they were great fun. Tomb Raider 3 came along and I’m afraid to say I got bored with it quickly and never completed it. My love affair with Lara had come to an untimely end and subsequent dodgy sequels didn’t make me change my mind.

Then, last year, Tomb Raider: Legends was released, which seemed to be heralding a return to form. And now, building on and improving it in many areas, we have Tomb Raider: Anniversary. And man it was this worth the wait.

The game, as in the original, follows Lara’s search for an artefact called the ‘Scion of Atlantis’. A quest which takes her from the ruins of the lost city of Vilcabamba in Peru to the fabled lost city of Atlantis, battling deviously designed puzzles and the odd enraged wild beast along the way.

Lara’s movement in the game is a delight – her progress through the vast scenarios almost balletic as she leaps from ledge to ledge. She can also use ropes, columns, ladders and her new grapple to move fluidly though each level.

Lara also shows some delightful touches in her catalogue of moves – a combination of repeated jump / crouch motions producing first a ‘swallow jump’, then, with the right timing progressing into a couple of handstand / somersaults, and finally a magnificent aerial pirouette. Now there is no real need for any of this during the game – save for those times where using the swallow jump doesn’t get you through the level as fast as possible – but it all adds to overall feeling of quality in the game as a whole.

Time for that grapple hook
OK boys, I have a little something for both of you

Having no access to an analogue pad I used the mouse keyboard combo. And it works well in most instances. Some of the combat seemed to be trickier with this control method – Lara often running in the opposite direction, firing at nothing instead of targeting the actual adversary behind her. But then again, combat is not the major part of this game – it’s all about the exploration of the level and working out how and when to get from A to B, with the occasional appearance of an animal adversary. (The unlockable level commentary in Peru making an interesting point about the choice of animal instead of human foes in the original; and whether things have now come full circle – where it’s more acceptable to be shooting human opponents than animal ones).

While we’re on the subject of combat there have been some tweaks to the system since the original Tomb Raider. Some animals now go into a ‘rage’ following being shot at for long enough (well – who wouldn’t!) and Lara can then perform special ‘bullet time’ style moves as the beast charges towards her. This worked quite well on the T-Rex, once I’d got the hang of it, but for the other larger foes that exhibit this I must admit I’ve just run/jumped around frantically blasting them rather then try to perform it. Of course you can also kill them from the comfort of a nice safe ledge which even the most agile beasts don’t seem to be able to reach!

Anniversary’s liberally spaced checkpoints and mercifully quick reload times make experimentation possible. You know you won’t have to play the last 10 minutes all over again just because you wondered if you could make that jump.

Sound in the game is low-key but very effective. These include Lara’s exclamations as she leaps from place to place (with a panicky gasp as she misses a handhold, requiring a quick key-press to regain control), ambient noise from the scenery and the musical score which changes mood nicely where appropriate.

There are occasional graphical and gameplay glitches such as stepping off the edge of a ledge causing Lara to perform an odd ‘Cossack dance’ as the engine tries to decide whether she is falling or not. And sometimes it can be a little frustrating as she grabs the wrong piece of scenery when dropping. But these are essentially trivial points as apart from this the gameplay was flawless.

I did have one moment where the game reported that the quick save had been corrupted and was being rebuilt – thankfully I had saved my progress at the last sitting as when I subsequently started the game I was put right back at the beginning. Now this may have been a problem with my computer but it’s probably best to be on the safe side and not to rely on quick save between gaming sessions.

Now, who thought this one up, and where are the instructions?

In summary, I loved playing Tomb Raider: Anniversary, in fact I enjoyed it to the extent of often staying up way too late just wanting to see what came next or trying to get through a particularly difficult section. I would thoroughly recommend this game, both to fans of the original, and newcomers alike.

Top Game Moment:
The buzz of getting to the last section in St Francis’ Folly after looking at the scene for ages wondering how to get there.