2007 Reviews

Tomb Raider: Anniversary

  • Review Date: 2011-08
  • Release Date: 2007-06
  • Developer: Crystal Dynamics
  • Rating: 5.0

Sorry Lara, but i'm going to rip you a new asshole. Through a review of course, rather than literally. Perhaps i'm just the wrong sort of gamer to be playing jumping puzzle games. Perhaps I should stick to shooters only. But I played it, so I'm going to review it.

Anniversary is the eighth game in the franchise, hot off the heels of Tomb Raider: Legend, both developed by Crystal Dynamics who have taken over the franchise. They went on to release another Tomb Raider game in 2008, then Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light which is more action-oriented than puzzle and our now working on a complete reboot of the franchise with 2012's Tomb Raider, yet to be released.

All previous games up until 2006 were developed by Core Design. I played one of the early ones, I'm pretty sure the original Tomb Raider 1 from 1996 or it's sequel. I don't think I ever finished it, so it can't have been a great game, but I do remember some awesome looking scenes.

Anniversary is a remake of Tomb Raider 1. Same story, same levels but obviously beefed up, same puzzles. You can definitely tell too, because the cliched 90's style of gameplay is present, such as find the key to open the door. Numerous levels in Anniversary have you trekking around hunting for, in essence, keys to continue your merry way. It's not ground-breaking material here, and i'm surprised the franchise doesn't get a harder time on it's simple old school puzzles.

What makes Anniversary and probably the entire Tomb Raider series fun, is the scaling and jumping your way through the levels. Getting to great heights and backflipping over to an almost hidden crevice behind you, all way above the ground. It's all very cool. Cool, but not exactly realistic. For instance in the third episode you spend three huge levels getting through this obstacle course to get the artifact, then Lara simply strolls out of the room through it's back exit, which doesn't even have a door, to her motorbike waiting 20 metres away. Why didn't she go that way in the first place? Who made all these strange obstacle courses and how exactly are the bad guys getting through them? It's all a little unrealistic.

The levels all look pretty good. Critics suggested Legend looked much better, which is a shame. Sequels should get better as technology progresses, but it is still the same engine. Sometimes it does feel like corridor-room-corridor, but the settings help to make the environments look great; Peru, Greece, Egypt and the Lost Island. All typical Tomb Raider themes. However it doesn't have much grand outdoor beauty or detail. In comparison to Crysis and it's outdoor scenery, Anniversary looks years older. In fact King Kong wow'ed me more than this game. The Crystal Dynamics engine definitely isn't the best looking from 2007, but it does cut the mustard at least.

Now to what really irked me off with Anniversary, if the above wasn't enough already; four things.

Firstly the combat system. It's rubbish. Fighting animals is not fun at all. They constantly knock you over and you're swearing at Lara to get the hell up so you can attempt to resume the fight. You can shoot blindly, hold a key to auto-aim, which is unreliable at best, or go into shooting mode where it zooms in on Lara and you get a target, but you can't move. It's terrible! Just give me a normal target, none of this auto-aim bull. Lara also moves extremely slowly. I was forced to use a high speed cheat to speed her movements up. Especially when you're having to repeat puzzles over and over again. I also put god-mode on too, because after the first episode I was WAY over the awful combat and just wanted to focus on the jumping.

Which brings me to number two; frustration factor with some of the jumping puzzles. 90% of the game is fine, but there's just a few jumping parts where it doesn't seem to work well, especially using the grapple hook. One such jump with a grapple I probably repeated 30-40 times before I finally managed it. Another I tried a good 20 times before I managed to fluke it. It's not fun getting through 15 jumps only to miss the last one and repeat all over again.

Number three; checkpoints. This game features the most idiotic checkpoint system I've ever encountered. If you run over a checkpoint spot you've previously been to, it'll save overtop of your existing checkpoint. To explain how this is a bad thing take the T-Rex level as an example. I'm at the pit unsure how to proceed so I backtrack incase I missed something, suddenly falling down a slope and back into the T-Rex arena, which I'd already completed previously. And a new checkpoint saves, overwriting my last one. Now I have to spend ten minutes climbing out of the arena all over again just to get back to the top of the slope where I previously was. However, you can do manual saves at checkpoints. It doesn't save your currently location, just the previous checkpoint again. I was doing this regularly so I decided to go back to my previous manual save, which just happened to be right at the beginning of the T-Rex fight. Checkpoint. What?! Another checkpoint just got saved overtop of my previous one? Now I have to fight the T-Rex all over again and climb out of the arena because of this terrible checkpoint system. Which brings me to the last point...

The boss fights. There's four of them and in order to complete them you need to do bullet time. Bullet time is supposedly easy, you get the enemy infuriated and when they charge at you simply press a movement key and roll at the same time. I probably tried this over 100 times, not once EVER did it work. I have no idea why not, others seem to do it with ease, but it just wouldn't work when I tried it. It meant the first two boss fights weren't possible without cheats. The last two, in the final level of the game, weren't possible at all, even with cheats. Ridiculous.

So overall what did I think of Tomb Raider Anniversary? Well the levels all looked pretty good. Not groundbreaking and won't be on any best-of lists in 2007 for it's design, but good enough. And while the puzzles and jumping dynamics were good for most of the game, there were some really frustrating points, not helped by terrible boss battles and no quick-save. Not to be forgotten rubbish fight scenes. I wouldn't play any other Tomb Raider games unless I knew it was going to look utterly amazing, so Legend and Underworld are off my list. I don't like to be frustrated, hence a low score for Lara.