The best of the original, with added and expanded bits and glorious new graphics. Reviewed by The Fuzz.Lara Croft: Working Girl
As far as gaming figures go, they don’t come much more iconic (nor more pleasing to the eye) than Lara Croft. First released on the ill-fated Sega Saturn in 1996, the original Tomb Raider ended up being one of the biggest sellers on the Sony PlayStation, and the franchise has since seen the release of over a dozen games on a variety of computer, console and mobile platforms, with around half a dozen of those (depending on how you count) being major cross-platform releases. In addition to the games, Lara’s memorable figure (cf. “buxom”) has graced the covers of dozens of graphic and print-text novels, as well as two feature movies (with a third rumoured to be in the pipe-line) courtesy of a proportionally-enhanced Angelina Jolie.
To celebrate 10 years in the biz, Eidos gave the go-ahead to Core Design (Tomb Raider, Fighting Force) to develop an anniversary edition of the beloved original. Slated for release on the PSP, this project was later cancelled, and Anniversary was handed over to Crystal Dynamics (Pandemonium, Legacy of Kain), most likely due to their success with the franchise by way of Tomb Radier: Legend, as well as Core Design’s ill-received Angel of Darkness. While Eidos now retains the Core Design name, as well as all of their intellectual property (which is, for all intents and purposes, the Tomb Raider franchise), they have since sold off staff and assets to Rebellion (Alien vs Predator, various console ports).
|One wrong step can result in a satifyingly grusome death|
With a proven track record in third-person adventure games courtesy of the Soul Reaver franchise, and a relatively well-received reinvigoration of the Tomb Raider series with Legend, it’s looking like Crystal Dynamics will be taking the reigns for future Tomb Raider releases. But is this a good thing, or a bad thing?
Thanks For the Mammaries
Tomb Raider: Anniversary (officially Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary, but I’m trying to cut down on your bandwidth here) is a thoroughly re-worked and updated version of the original. Using a tweaked version of the Legend engine, Crystal Dynamics has taken all of the most memorable moments from the original and made them bigger, louder, and much, much prettier.
The game is split up into the same level themes as were present in the original, and they are populated with essentially the same enemies, but each in turn has had an increase in polygons, texture sizes, shaders and size, as befits modern gaming technology. Capacious tombs and distant Peruvian vistas will swing around with vertigo-inducing depth-of-field effects. Walking from a hidden tomb out into the Egyptian sunlight will trigger HDR effects galore, while climbing out of a pool will leave Lara wet and glistening, making the graphics both spectacular and specular (HA!).
|A t-rex pops in to celebrate Lara's anniversary|
Fans of the original will appreciate the effort that has gone into using this new technology to update what have become classic moments in gaming. The Tyrannosaurus fight is back, as is St. Francis’ Folly, as is the Sphinx. In each case, their size has increased dramatically – although thanks largely to the power of nostalgia, they may not seem all that much bigger than what you remember. The levels are much bigger and more complex throughout, and they come across as much less contrived than those of, say, Prince of Persia. While this does help develop the atmosphere that made the original Tomb Raider so appealing, it also means that the levels are designed more for their aesthetic appeal, than for their compatibility with the Legend engine.
Fortunately, the save game feature is very forgiving, and the level design encourages exploration. This is a game that assumes you are going to die frequently, and tries not to punish you for it. On death, you will respawn at the last checkpoint, of which there are many. More importantly though, once you’ve obtained a level secret, that will show up as having been obtained in all of your saved games – you will never find a secret, then die and lose it, and you can use any of your saved games to find any of the secrets. Additionally, levels are designed such that you can travel back and forth across entire levels at will – with only a very few (temporary) exceptions, if you can get somewhere, you can always get back again. All this is to encourage you to find the many hidden objects in the game, which will reward you with the usual slew of cut scenes, musical scores, outfits for Lara to wear, image galleries, and so forth. There is also a commentary from Lara creator Toby Gard, which is interesting to listen to a few times, although it does become quite repetitive after a while.
|Actually, the water effects are quite nice|