Monday, 27 October 2008

Some thoughts on Tomb Raider Anniversary

I picked up Tomb Raider Anniversary the other week after getting the adventure game itch. What I really wanted was a good old fashioned dungeon crawl game to sink my teeth into and was looking to pick something up to scratch that itch on the Xbox 360, but alas, did not find anything. However, what I picked up instead was Tomb Raider Anniversary as I have very fond memories of being blown away by the original Tomb Raider on the Playstation. Shame about the sequals though, either I never really 'got' them, or they never really 'got' what Lara Croft is really about. I'm not sure which way around it was.

Tomb Raider Anniversary is the original game but brought up to date with next gen graphics, essentially its in the new Tomb Raider (Legend) engine. Although this is a review of an older game as there is a new Tomb Raider game coming out imminently with even better graphics, but at the time of release, this was as good as it could get for Lara and her polygons. She also has an increased repertoire of moves available to her, such as swinging from a magnetic grappling hook, which was never in the original. So some of the puzzles have been redesigned to accommodate the increased moves at her disposal and it gives the game a very fresh appeal.

Although, that said, I'm really not happy with what they did with the Tyrannosaurus Rex. To bring it down you must master an adrenalin dodge a number of times but the game in no way communicates to you that this is the key to success. Mindlessly blasting away with the pistols does so little damage that you're left wondering what to do and scanning the arena where you fight in reveals no environmental hazards to take advantage of. OK I get its supposed to be hard but not hard by withholding information. Every creature to that point I had brought down the old fashioned way, I had no idea that there was even an advantage to using this new combat mechanic let alone that it would be the only way to bring a boss creature down.

That said, combat wasn't ever really what Tomb Raider was about and I'm glad about that. Kind of like the Silent Hill games, this is about something else - there is combat there, it is kind of awkward. If Lara Croft were a D&D character, she'd be the thief. She can climb walls, she steals from tombs, shes extremely acrobatic. Thieves are generally not very good toe to toe fighters.

I think the D&D comparison is apt and brings me full circle. I think the original Tomb Raider - and this remake - work *because* they are essentially dungeon crawls with an acrobatic thief character. The same air of mystery is there that you get from venturing further and further into a dungeon in an RPG as you figure out how to get Lara deeper and deeper into the tombs. I believe this is the key ingredient that was missing from the sequels that I played, the bit they lacked that you could never quite put your finger on. Tomb Raider is, and always should be, a dungeon crawl!

The Anniversary addition is tons of fun. I'm not sure if its better or worse than the original really; it feels more like the original has been expanded upon. This is no bad thing. I would definitely recommend it for anyone looking to revisit fond memories or who wants to play a modern adventure game. Its really nice and refreshing to load a game up and spend forty five minutes gradually working your way through an elaborate environmental puzzle and having nothing shooting at you or trying to kill you while you do it. Here's hoping that Core have learned something from bringing their masterpiece back for the masses and that the next Tomb Raider game will have this at its heart.

You know what, Lara's still got it ;-)

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