Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tomb Raider: Anniversary

I might have appreciated it more if I had played the original, but Tomb Raider: Anniversary is a solid remake that updates the game to a more modern style with grace. It plays very similarly to Tomb Raider: Legend, the first game in the series by Crystal Dynamics after they took it over, with the same combat and platforming mechanics with a few updates, but the focus is much different. Legend felt a lot like an action movie, with car chases, large gun fights, with lots of characters and cinematic moments. Traversing around tombs and solving puzzles was part of it, but it didn't seem like the focus. Anniversary is very much about this, almost exclusively. There's not much opportunity for one liners or big explosions when most of the game is spent alone in remote locations. Combat is rare, and is almost always against wild animals that have somehow survived long enough in these deserted temples to attack you. They don't make for very interesting opponents, but the dodging and counter attack system makes it a little more fun. The very few times you're confronted with humans, Lara does everything she can to avoid murder, and is clearly against the idea of it, which is weird when she just mows 'em all down in Legend. I guess time changes everyone.

Anyway, the meat of the game is the environment, whether it's testing your wits or your reflexes, and for the most part, it really shines. It combines the best aspects of a lot of different action/adventure games, and has some of the most elaborate and interesting setups I've seen in a game like this. The problem is that the execution isn't always the greatest. There are two things that hurt it, the controls and the camera. The controls work for the most part, and are certainly better than what the series used to be, but they're not precise enough that every mistake seems like it's your fault, and that makes it a problem. Sometimes things work, and sometimes they don't, and when them not working forces you to start over, it can quickly get annoying. The camera seems worse than Legend, as it doesn't show you what you want to look at as much as you'd want, which compounds the control problem. Both problems get worse as the challenge ramps up, and every single mistake results in instant death, or at least having to do a long sequence of jumping and climbing over again. They could have gotten really creative later on and made you really think about what you had to do, but instead they elected to make you race through gauntlets and threw some lava on the floor. Legend had the same controls, but it wasn't as frustrating because it didn't demand as much from you. I still quite enjoyed the game, but not as much. It looks and sounds nice enough for a PS2 game in this age, and the story is a reasonably entertaining Indiana Jones-esque tale. I wonder how well they'll balance the puzzles in action in the new Tomb Raider coming out in November.

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