Anniversary is also a noticeably bigger game than Legend. You could skip through Lara’s last effort in seven to eight hours if you worked at it, but Anniversary is likely to take you at least twice as long. That’s partly because the levels are larger and less linear in nature, and partly because the game is also significantly more challenging. We’re not talking Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones levels of frustration – checkpoints are sensibly placed before any moments where sudden death is a distinct possibility – but there are a few areas where the brutal, frequently fatal trial-and-error experience is back. Expect to spend twenty or even thirty minutes redoing the same section at times. Sadly, there are a few occasions where this is due to the one Achilles heel of the control system – the ‘will it stick, won’t it stick?’ unreliability of the grappling hook – or by a sudden and disastrous shift of camera angle, but this doesn’t happen very often. Most of the time you feel that you can crack each tough bit if only you can muster the skill and discipline required, and the game is always compelling enough to keep you glued. It’s harsh, but fair, if you get my drift.
Only once or twice does Anniversary seriously put a foot wrong. The creature AI seems pitifully simplistic, as if nothing has improved in the AI in a decade, and do we really have to have quicktime event sequences in every vaguely cinematic third-person action game going? And why is one of the first game’s crowning glories – the T-Rex – so badly misused? What could have been a fantastic chase set-piece or a spectacular ongoing fight has been turned into a depressingly basic, by-the-numbers boss battle? Didn’t anyone see how well Ubisoft’s King Kong adaptation handled its dinosaur encounters? But most of the time this remake achieves exactly what most long-time Tomb Raider fans would want it to. Even if you don’t count yourself in that number, it might reminds you why the classic platform game – now often described as simplistic, dull or dated – can still be so compelling if it’s just handled right.
Having played this and Legend, it now seems that Lara has turned a corner. She might have jumped the shark, but Crystal Dynamics seem determined to put things right. If the next Tomb Raider can take the best from Legend – its cinematic qualities, integrated real-world physics and fabulous visuals – and make it work with the rediscovered gameplay values here, we could be on our way to the greatest Tomb Raider of all time. We’ve got our fingers crossed for you now, Lara. Just don’t you dare let us down.
The visuals and controls are modern, but the gameplay is classic, old-school Tomb Raider. The results are determinedly retro, yet curiously invigorating. After this and Legend, another ten years of Lara might not be such a bad idea…