"Tomb Raider Anniversary" (TRA) is the eighth major game in the Tomb Raider franchise, and also a complete remake of the series' first game with modern technology. It is a third person action adventure in a 3d environment with freely movable camera. Gameplay consists of platforming, puzzle solving, and shooting. The story has Lara searching for the mythical Scion, an artifact that is said to be connected to Atlantis. She believes that the Scion will help her to rescue her mother, which continues the bigger story arc from the previous game, Tomb Raider Legend. Apart from that, the stories of the two games aren't really connected.
TRA is a pretty faithful remake of the first game in the series, with much better presentation, some additions to the storyline (to give Lara an actual motivation for her actions, and tie the game to "Legend" and "Underworld"), and improved controls (including the addition of the grapple hook, which the original game didn't have). The gameplay elements that didn't work very well in "Legend" have been dropped: No clunky racing scenes, no annoying quick time events, no ridiculously overpowered bosses. The levels are quite large and give the player a lot of freedom to roam and explore. Puzzles are complex and often non-linear, with several sub-puzzles that can be completed in any order. The award-winning puzzles of the original "Tomb Raider" have been faithfully transferred to modern technology, with much better graphics and sound, as well as smoother controls.
The story is fairly standard, with an utterly predictable "twist" toward the end. It's good enough to keep the player curious, but in the end, few people will play this game for its story alone.
The graphics were pretty good for a game in 2007, and still hold up today. I played the game in 1920x1200 resolution, and the graphics scaled well. The locations are not as diverse as in "Legend", but still interesting and engaging. The graphical glitches of "Legend" have been ironed out. The art style is mostly realistic, with occasional sidesteps into fantasy.
The animations are smooth and pretty good for a game of this age, if a bit arcade-like. Sadly, Lara's physique still looks ridiculous.
The game contains many cutscenes of various length, which are rendered in the game engine.
The sound effects are of good quality and professionally done. The music is not as varied as in "Legend", but still pretty good.
All dialog in the game is voiced. The voice acting is professional and quite good.
TRA uses a minimal HUD (which helps immersion), but rather complex controls. There are different key sets for movement, item use, combat, and swimming, as well as several combination moves (including some acrobatics which aren't even necessary for gameplay, but nice to look at). The controls took a bit to get used to, but eventually I got the hang of them - with the exception of the grapple hook. As nifty as it is, I had massive problems timing my off-the-wall jumps, and often jumped into a different direction than intended, sometimes right into my death. A similar problem occurred when trying to jump off a grabbed pole. The direction of the jump seems to be determined by a combination of her position, the current camera angle, and the key pressed, which can be hard to figure out reliably in the heat of the action. There is one specific combat move which is required for several battles, and which can be annoying to get the timing right for - see the remarks on "difficulty" below.
The game can be played in three different targeting modes, with vary in the way how targets are selected and whether that selection sticks even if you face another enemy. Players tend to have different preferences in this regard, so it's great that TRA offers several options. You can switch the mode anytime during the game, and in facts some battles might be easier if you switch to a different mode than the one you usually prefer.
There is no map available, players are supposed to find to find their way by themselves. Since most levels are very linear, that is rarely a problem.
The game is played with the mouse (for camera movement and attacks) and the keyboard (for everything else). The controls are fully customizable.
Task switching is supported without problems.
EASE OF USE:
The game is easy to install. Learning the controls may take a bit, but there is a training level ("Croft Manor"), which acts as a tutorial and which can be accessed from the main menu anytime. Currently this game is distributed without a manual, which is pretty bad for a game with such complex controls. I obtained the manual from replacementdocs.
All spoken dialog is subtitled.
The game does not feature proper saves. Instead, it uses an awkward system of automatic checkpoints, which means that you often have to replay sequences. You can save the game anytime, but upon reloading, you will start at the last checkpoint before the save. This forces you to replay certain sequences lots of times, and is rather annoying, proper savegames would have been much preferable.
OTHER THINGS OF NOTE:
The game is quite long, much longer than contemporary games of this genre - this is a welcome effect of remaking a game from the 90s, when games tended to be longer and have more content. Replay value is provided through three hidden secret artifacts and relics - you are unlikely to find all of them during your first playthrough, so they provide an incentive to revisit levels that you already completed. Finding secrets unlocks various extras, such as concept art, character background information, different outfits for Lara, or comparisons between the original "Tomb Raider" and this remake. Each "relic" is an individual object, which enhances the immersion, but the more common "artifacts" are just copies of the same generic item. Completing a level also unlocks a "time trial" mode for it, in which your objective is simply to reach the end as quickly as possible, which makes for a nice diversion.
The game's difficulty is moderate, with a good balance between puzzles, platforming, and shooting. The difficulty can be set at the beginning of the game (three options are available) and can only be changed when replaying a level. Many fights, especially some of the later boss fights, require a special timed move, the "Adrenaline Dodge". The game is a bit deceptive in that regard - you can play for a long time without using that move, but later you will run into fights that absolutely require it, which can be frustrating if you have never used it before. I suggest training it throughout the game so that you know the timing when it's needed. I played the game on medium difficulty and found it challenging, but not too hard, except one fight against two centaurs, for which I had to look up a trick.
The game has SecuRom DRM. I don't believe that DRM is really necessary on a 6 year old game.
"Tomb Raider Anniversary" is still the best Tomb Raider game to date. Mixing the intricate, complex, non-linear level and puzzle design from the 90s with modern day graphics, sound, and controls combines the best of both worlds. The result definitively deserves five stars.
Review Date: 2013/Apr/28
Progress: one complete playthrough