Tomb Raider: Anniversary Review (Xbox360)

She’s had her ups and downs, highs and lows, and we’ve been waiting to celebrate her anniversary on the Xbox 360 since long after it had passed, but she’s finally back in a classy remake of her original adventure. It’s nice to see how well Lara Croft has aged, but a shame to discover she never received that next generation makeover she really deserved.

Indeed the years have been kind to Lara, despite some turbulent times in her most recent incarnations as adventurer, philanthropist and well-stacked grave robber. But let’s get the important stuff out of the way before we go on to make far too many, none-too-subtle innuendos about which particular tomb we’d really like to raid.

Anniversary is a great game that reminds us why we all fell for Lara in the first place. This is back to basics gymnastic exploration, with a gun in each hand, a plucky disregard for dangerous heights and a casual indifference to ancient burial grounds. Lara’s back, and ready for you to fall in love with her all over again. But (and that’s spelled with just one “t”, you’ll notice) there’s an unfortunate snag in this latest retelling of Tomb Raider’s founding canon. I felt sure I loaded this game on an Xbox 360, and even though the aggravating thrum of a loud, yet ineffectual fan supports that theory, I find myself staring at visuals that would be considered average on a PlayStation 2.

Tomb Raider Anniversary returns to its roots in more than just great gameplay: It takes a shameful five year step back in terms of visuals and sound, too.

There’s actually very little to say about the gameplay of Anniversary, since it really does feel like a superbly crafted clone of the original game (which is what it’s supposed to be). Looking at the bad stuff first, Tomb Raider Anniversary delivers almost nothing new. In fact, if we expand our search just a little beyond the prolific (and, until now, downwardly spiralling franchise), it doesn’t take long to find a similar game that does exactly the same, only a lot better. If you could only buy one dexterity based exploration adventure game, buy Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones and save yourself a tenner.

In many respects, a direct comparison to The Prince is the best way to describe the X360 version of Anniversary. Tomb Raider may have done it before Prince of Persia, but Lara’s latest escapade has taken more than a few pointers from its acrobatic Persian prodigy, including a grappling hook for swinging around, a bit of wall running for finesse and endowed Lara with the kind of mighty finger strength that would make a rock-climbing jazz pianist weep. But while The Prince’s realm was rife with activity, life and wonderfully varied and believable environments, Lara’s journey is a lonely one populated by wolves, bears, the odd (very odd) velociraptor, rife canine genocide and phony set-built scenery.

The superb “sands of time” addition to The Prince’s arsenal is substituted for the awful “rhythm action” button pressing that all lazy, uninspired game designers currently seem to be resorting to. This momentum sapping alternative to fast action gameplay is the videogame equivalent of signing your name with a big shaky cross, and Lara deserved a lot better than having her skills reduced to “press B now”, “press RT now” and watching impotently as the game plays without you.

Bastards. That’s what they are for whoring Lara out to such sleazy game mechanics as this, and for pandering to the arrogant conceit that modern gamers are so stupid they can’t work the controller during the more intense parts of the story, and need big, brightly coloured, flashing road signs to find the correct button.

It looks kinda cold to be wearing hot pants, but Lara’s an active girl and keeps herself warm. Unfortunately, the pleasing environmental effects seen here aren’t indicative of the rest of the gameShe’s a strong and bountiful girl, but far too often the camera shines its spotlight on Lara when it should be showing you the cliff you’re about to leap onto. There’s some great action shots during the fight scenes, mind you

Ok, rant over. Well, almost (sorry for calling you bastards, Eidos. I know you meant well, but you called me an idiot and it got my dander up). Essentially, Tomb Raider and its like are puzzle games, and in that respect it’s as successful as ever. Perhaps some of the ledges could have been less obvious (most of them stand out brazenly from the rock face and walls) so the acrobatics retained an air of dangerous skill rather than routine climbing frame gymnastics, but the scope and complexity seems to have struck just the right balance.

Except for the irritating breaks in the action when we’re expected to play Simon Says. Oops – there I go again. Enough now.

The camera work is a little jarring, focusing more on showing off Lara’s statuesque physique rather than the vital play area. Much of the time we get two happy eye fulls of her well filled hot pants rather than the precarious ledge we’re about to jump backwards over a fifty foot chasm onto, resulting in too much “leap of faith” gameplay that ultimately makes us care less about pulling off a successful manoeuvre than enjoying the terrific rag-doll physics of Ms. Croft’s body against the jagged rocks below.

The audio is almost nonexistent, with occasional bursts of music to elevate the tension and the odd ankle-snapping sound effect, but nothing that could replace your iPod. Similarly, the graphical capabilities of the Xbox 360 go completely to waste. Although Lara climbs out of the water a little shiny and damp, the console’s inbuilt water effects are put to almost no use, while the hardware rendered depth blur and perspective filters are also shamefully ignored. If these readily available aspects (seen in most every other X360 game to date) had been applied, Anniversary could have instilled the kind of toe-curling sensations of vertigo that would make Lara’s high altitude dare devil stunts a thing of gaming beauty. Even the HD aspects of Anniversary are formed through (quite decent) upscaling rather than genuine high resolutions.

After such a harsh review you’d be forgiven for thinking I didn’t like Tomb Raider Anniversary. The truth is it’s a great game, simply (and only) because it harkens back to an amazing title with clarity and conviction. And Eidos certainly aren’t asking gamers to empty their wallets, as most outlets are launching Tomb Raider Anniversary at the bank-friendly price of 25 notes. Most remakes, in all entertainment mediums, are generally a moneymaking cop out, but in this case we’re getting a bargain game that every console should have.

If it’s crossed your mind to crack open your original copy of Tomb Raider for a reminder of what was hot eleven years ago, you’d be doing yourself a considerable favour by picking up Tomb Raider Anniversary instead. Just don’t concern yourself about which format it’s in – they’re equal in most every way.

On the PlayStation, this game would have been utterly awesome. On the PlayStation 2, it was pretty great. On the Xbox 360, it’s lacking in everything except gameplay, which, after all, is the single most important aspect of any title, making Tomb Raider Anniversary impossible to dislike. This doesn’t shield it from disappointment however, and there’s no attempt to camouflage the fact that it’s a direct and unadorned port from the PlayStation 2.

Top Game Moment:
Croft Manor is a superb bonus game that makes the most use of the X360’s capabilities seen throughout. By including this gay jaunt around Lara’s impressive house, the developers have added a significant boost to Anniversary’s longevity.

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