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Platforms: PS2, PC
Before last year, who would have thought that Lara’s ten year anniversary would have been worth celebrating? After the uninspired sequels, the movies and the whole Angel of Darkness debacle, it was getting hard to remember what an important game that first Tomb Raider was. Along with Quake and Super Mario 64, it virtually laid down the foundations for true 3D gaming. While its ridiculously well-endowed heroine got all the headlines, Tomb Raider’s biggest assets were actually its groundbreaking graphics and its understanding of the potential of 3D space. Like iD and Nintendo, Core Design realised that 3D could produce awe-inspiring environments, rich in opportunity for daring deeds. More than any other company, Core also understood the cinematic potential of the technology. Who can forget Tomb Raider’s legendary set-pieces? That first swan-dive down the waterfall? That moment when the mighty T-Rex bursts onto the scene?
The fact that this tenth – well, nearly eleventh – anniversary remake is getting any kind of welcome at all comes down to last year’s Tomb Raider: Legend. With this ‘franchise reboot’ the team at Crystal Dynamics managed something special – they updated the stale aspects of the series and give it a new cinematic gloss without totally losing its core appeal. The fact that the same basic team – including Lara’s co-creator, Toby Gard – is behind this one-off, celebratory remake offers some hope that Anniversary might continue Ms Croft’s rehabilitation.
In fact, Anniversary goes better than that: it’s the purest Tomb Raider game in years. Gone are the John Woo gun-battles and motorcycle chase sequences of Legend, Out too are the endless cinematics and constant chatter from Lara’s team. For the vast majority of Anniversary, it’s just Lara, alone against the elements, back to basics: one woman, one tomb, a small selection of critters, and a lot of perilous platforms, traps and puzzles. Some of you might not like the approach, but for those of us who got tired of Lara as the games grew more action oriented – or who feel the first of the recent Prince of Persia trilogy is still the best – it’s music to our ears.
Of course, some things have changed since the good old days. Visually, the difference between this game and classic Tomb Raider is like the difference between Stone Age statues and Renaissance sculpture: Lara is smoother and rounder, the environments are larger and more lushly decorated, and everything looks that bit more natural. Happily, the classic, totally impractical vest and hotpants costume is back, and the Legend breast-reduction surgery appears to have been reversed, but Lara is just as beautifully animated as she was last year. The PS2 version of Anniversary isn’t quite up there with the glories of God of War 2, but it’s certainly not a bad advert for the platform’s continuing existence. The rich textures and lighting effects from Legend make a reappearance, and the water effects have, if anything, been improved. I suspect, however, that Sony’s best-selling console was the game’s target platform; the PC version looks fine, but the bump-mapped texture detail and rich lighting that made Legend’s PC and 360 incarnations so beguiling seems to have gone missing, and some creature models definitely have that tell-tale PS2 look about them. On the PC, anniversary is still a pretty game, but only occasionally is it a stunning one.