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Still, what makes the game isn’t the graphics, but the combination of controls and game design. While the classic Tomb Raider rotate, walk and jump control system was a decent solution in the days before analogue pads, it was also extremely restrictive. Often you felt like you were simply programming in commands – run three squares then jump – rather than controlling your character in real time, and many was the time that a poorly timed button press meant a sudden drop to certain doom. One of the pleasures of Legend was that its controls – many clearly ‘inspired’ by Prince of Persia: Sands of Time – made for a more fluid, responsive game, where leaping and swinging your way around the level was one of the big pleasures of playing. Anniversary takes this approach back to re-imagined variants of the classic Tomb Raider levels, reworked so that they give Lara room to use her acrobatic capabilities to the full.
These capabilities include all the jumps and pole twirls introduced by Legend, but also some new moves with the grappling hook. Where there’s a grapple point in a wall, Lara can now throw the hook and run along it with the aid of the rope, racing backwards and forwards if need be to get enough velocity to make the next connection. Lara also still automatically grabs ledges and surfaces on touch (though Tomb Raider purists can switch this off if they prefer). Frankly, the thought of revisiting Lara’s old haunts with new graphics and the new control system would be reason enough for enthusiasts to give Anniversary a punt, but actually its pleasures go way beyond that.
You see, in marrying the basic plot and level structure of the first Tomb Raider to the capabilities of modern games hardware and the new, more flexible control scheme, Crystal Dynamics has produced arguably the finest collection of levels in any Tomb Raider game. You’ll recognise the bare-bones of old favourites – the dripping caves and hidden jungles of Peru, the vertiginous drops of the temples beneath St. Francis Folly – but the nature of the Lara’s trials and tribulations, not to mention the quality of spectacle on offer, has changed dramatically. It’s a perfect mix of nostalgia and new thinking. Think of it like a fantastic cover version: the iconic lyrics and the central melody haven’t changed, but the sound and the harmonies are different, exciting and intriguing.
Everything you would expect from a Tomb Raider game is here. There are creature encounters and some fiendish puzzles to get through, those these tend towards the old block and level school rather than the physics based efforts of Legend. However, the game is at its best when it’s stripped back to the bones of what makes a great platformer: impossible traverses where only guts and instinct reveal the next step; huge leaps made with heart in mouth, Lara left clinging by her fingertips to a ledge hundreds of feet above the ground. After God of War II it might all seem a little bloodless, but that’s missing the point: what game since Sands of Time has made getting from one place to another such a consistently thrilling lark?