Review: Tomb Raider: Anniversary

 Raiding some tombs, shooting some dinosaurs and saving the world.

Console: PlayStation 2

Even though I'm a happy Nintendo gamer I do wonder once in a while how it would be 'on the other side'. After all, there are games on PlaySation and Xbox that I want to play. The 2013 Tomb Raider is the very first game on that list. An action-adventure game with survival elements? Man, that sounds amazing! My hunger for Tomb Raider 2013 and its sequel became so great that I needed to fill it with something. Thus, I bought Tomb Raider: Anniversary for the PlayStation 2 second-hand from my favourite gaming site. A great place to start, since it's the remake of Lara Croft's very first game. A game that has held up remarkably well and is still well worth playing 15 years after its release.

Let's dive in.

In Tomb Raider: Anniversary, Lara Croft is on a quest for the Scion of Atlantis. Her father searched for the Scion before his death so when wealthy businesswoman Jacqueline Natla approached Lara with information, it was an offer she couldn't refuse. Making her way to the lost city of Vilcabamba, Peru. Across this journey to find the Scion, Lara faces some very unexpected opposition and realizes that the stakes for finding the Scion are much higher than she imagined.

The story of Tomb Raider: Anniversary is good. The story of the original Tomb Raider, which this is a remaster of remembering, was rather sparse and difficult to following along with. This game does an excellent job of fleshing out the lore and character motivations over its 12+ hour campaign. It's my first, formal, introduction to Lara Croft and I got a very good idea of who she is and why she's so beloved (aside from, well, you know).

A look at the games first level, Vilcamba, looking appropriately dark though also a bit drab.

The only real critique I have? It is outdated. This game came out in 2007 and storytelling has come a long way since then. Not a big deal, not at all. I mean, it comes with the territory of playing a retro game and is an enjoyable and engaging story nonetheless with a very good tone. It gets a bit weird at times yet the game pulls off these moments without ever compromising the stakes or breaking the suspension of disbelief.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary is, in essence, an action platformer. Each Tomb you explore (there technically speaking not all Tombs but tomatoes, tomatoes) is essentially a string of puzzles for you to solve, with platforming sections, combat and collectables sprinkled throughout. It actually reminded me a lot of Zelda in this way as the dungeons in that game is set up in a similar fashion and I enjoyed it just as much here as I do there. The Tombs can be a bit of a slog at times, there's not much, but they are broken up into sections to make them more approachable and convenient.

The levels of the game are well designed and fun to play. They have a good balance between finding out the solution but still having to pull off the solution. The first Tomb serves as a rather good introductory section to Lara's abilities and skillsets with the subsequent Tombs upping the difficulty, like some of the climbable walls start to fall apart when you hang from them.

The levels do tend to go on for a bit longer than I'd like and the checkpoints, the respawn points, are annoyingly placed at times my critique on the levels doesn't get much deeper than that.

Hidden across each level are relicts and artefacts aka the game's collectables. Each level is designed in a relatively linear fashion so the collectables are what rewards your sense of curiosity. Some can be easily spotted and only requires you to dive a bit deeper into the puzzle you're currently trying to solve while others are not so obvious and require you to search every nook and cranny for them. This alongside the time trials, gives this game quite a bit of replay value.

I do have a problem with how these collectables are how the rewards are handled. The rewards don't feel that rewarding. A lot of it is stuff like character biography's and the like, stuff that other games just give you outright and aren't that exciting on the whole. The big reward, the alternate costumes, can only be worn by Lara after you finish the game. They can only be worn on replays which is a baffling decision to me. It's the game delaying giving you your reward, essentially.

The levels are well done, but the combat sadly isn't. It's very shallow as the only thing you can do is shoot stuff. Throughout the adventure, Lara does get access to another type of weapon instead of her usual dual pistols like the shotgun but it just changes the damage output, not how you approach combat. There is a dodge in there that, if you pull it off correctly, slows down time and basically give you a one-shot kill. It is also necessary to defeat most bosses, but this move is too unresponsive to pull off regularly and can also only be used when enemies do a certain attack. This dodging mechanic is thus situational at best, unresponsive at worst.

The enemies look cool and chilling, but the shallow controls and the game's tendency to just drop them on you like a jump scare makes fighting them tedious and not much fun at all.

The first thought that entered my brain while playing this game was 'this game's production value is much higher than I expected!'. I am by no means an expert when it comes to the PS2, to how what was possible on the console or not what performances but Tomb Raider: Anniversary surprised me. The FMV's, the character models, the environment. They were all of much higher quality than expected and it impressed me.

What didn't impress me were the controls. Tomb Raider require a lot of precise platforming, jumping and close-calls. Sadly, the controls aren't tight enough. Aren't responsive enough. They're too finicky which makes precise positioning difficult. It also fails to read your input correctly at times especially when timing and a string of actions are involved. This has to lead me to my death too many times. Frustrating, to say the least.

Lastly, there is Croft Manor. A bonus level that's new to the remaster. Well, calling it a bonus level isn't completely accurate but I really don't know what to call it otherwise. It's both a regular level but also serves as some sort of hub-world. You can freely run around the manor, use the closet to change into the costumes you find and admire the artefacts and relics you found. So yeah, a bit of a weird combination but one that works.

However you slice it, Croft Manor is accessible straight from the menu the second you boot the game up. It doesn't introduce any new mechanics or anything like that, nor does it have any combat. It's platforming and puzzle-solving in its purest form. The aesthetic of, well Croft Manor, makes it much smaller than the regular levels (1 to 2 hours until you finished it) but gives it its own identity. Croft Manor is a very fun bonus level and good prologue, or epilogue, depending on when you choose to play it.

Lara standing inside Croft Manor.

Conclusion

Tomb Raider: Anniversary is a good and entertaining game that's a good time throughout that holds up rather well for a 15-year-old game. It has an engaging story and well-designed levels that serve as a very good introduction to what Tomb Raider is all about. Not surprising really as this game is a remake of the game that started the franchise. There are, of course, issues like the less than stellar controls and the shallow combat but there by no means deal-breakers.

If you want to dip your toe into Tomb Raider and if you have access to an older console like the PlayStation 2 or the Nintendo Wii (U) this is a good, inexpensive place to start.

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