Friday, February 5, 2016

Tomb Raider Anniversary

Played on: PC
Release Date: June 1, 2007

I had a dream last week where I was exploring an Mayan temple and it gave me a craving for some old style Tomb Raider.

Luckily, during one of the Steam sales a few years ago, I picked up every Tomb Raider game up to the 2013 reboot for roughly $15.

Unluckily, the PS1 ports of those games don't support controllers and are basically unplayable with a keyboard. So I have four PS1 Tomb Raider games in my Steam library that I may never touch.

The original Tomb Raider has a special place in my heart. It was one of the first times I thought, "Videogames will never look more realistic than this."

In 2007 (during the second reboot of the franchise) we got Tomb Raider Anniversary which was a remake of the very first game with some of the additions from Tomb Raider Legends.

What I didn't like

Despite having controller support, the controls don't feel great. They removed the need to press a button to grab ledges or to carefully walk to a ledge before jumping like in the PS1 predecessors, but they added a grappling hook introduced in 2006's Tomb Raider Legend.

This grappling hook is the new "walk to the edge and probably fall to your death" mechanic. Often times you have to leap and then throw the grappling hook out hoping to grab the ring, but often times this results in failure.

I'm not sure if this is true for everyone, but my finger naturally goes to the "B" button rather than the "X" button where it's mapped on the Xbox 360 controller. There are alternate control schemes, but none of them really work as well as the default.

They also added a lot of gimmicks introduced in Legend that aren't fun. There's horizontal poles where you have to flip around like a gymnast to propel yourself forward. Vertical logs where Lara slowly crawls up before precariously perching on top to jump to whichever tall surface they want you to go to.

These could've been used much better, instead there are entire rooms not in the original game dedicated to flopping around on this stuff. It feels jarring in the world of Tomb Raider.

What was OK

These tombs should be completely dark, barring light sources Lara brings with her. It was always a suspension of disbelief problem I was willing to ignore because I enjoyed the game so much.

Crystal Dynamics did try to address this a bit. Often times water falls come in open ceilings or the ancients decided to build large vents in the roof of these tombs and sunshine pours in through the holes. They explained why there is light in the tombs, but the way they explained it looks pretty cheesy. Especially considering that when you enter the Peruvian mountain temple, it's overcast, snowing like crazy, and pretty dark. But looking at the temple ceiling reveals what looks like a jungle.

Another thing that never felt right in the Tomb Raider games was the combat. Sure, it was fun flipping around with your unlimited ammo dual wielding pistols, but the things you were shooting, endangered tigers, wolves, bears, it never felt right.

I liked it better than if there were a hundred guys hanging out in the tomb (cough cough Uncharted), but Lara's sort of an asshole to endangered species. She comes into these animals homes and then murders them when they attack her.

Saying that though, the combat has been enhanced in a good way. Eidos added a way to quickly dodge one way and if you dodge correctly you get a chance at a critical hit. These additions feel like a dance in the heat of battle. Sure, it's not much use against smaller enemies like bats and wolves where the strategy is largely still fire directly at them until they fall,  but against larger things like bears and the fight against the T-rex is sure to make you sweat and feel incredible accomplishment at the end of it.

What I liked

When I was younger, I remember the silence running through corridors. The excitement of what the next room would look like. I sat cross legged in Walden's books, flipping through the strategy guide looking at the Egyptian temples ahead of me in wonder.

Anniversary nails this exploration with enhanced graphics. Gone are the broken seams between polygons and low resolution repeating textures. Instead, you have a 3d, fully realized Indiana Jones' quality adventure.

There's something really relaxing in the slow melodic symphony music and the lack of machine guns and explosions.

The Tombs, the story, the exploration, the sound all come together in a way that Naughty Dog and Lucas Arts have never really delivered on with their respective tomb raiding games.

Final Thoughts

The newest Tomb Raider reboot seems to be trending more toward the Uncharted territory with it's murder filled set pieces. And really, by the time Tomb Raider 2 launched, Eidos was already trending that way.

I miss the quiet exploration of well designed Tombs with the occasional murder of protected/extinct species of animal.

It was nice going back to a simpler time when you aren't firing off 1,000 bullets a level. Where the music really could sell you on an emotion. Where a tank top, short cargo shorts, and a half dozen types of weapons were all you needed for a perfect 8-10 adventure.

Rating: Only buy this game if it's under $15 and you really loved the old Tomb Raiders. Otherwise this is one of those games that will sit in your Steam library forever, untouched.

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