Hello and welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee!
As part of the Writer’s Raid collaborative effort started by the one and only NekoJonez to celebrate the Tomb Raider franchise, here is the second of my major contributions! Check out the hub here and be sure to check out the works from my other fellow bloggers on this amazing franchise!
Now, I’ve written about the first game and the impact that Lara Croft had on the gaming industry and on society as a whole and you can read up on it in the hub or check it out here. Today, I’ll fast forward ten years after the release of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider to talk about Tomb Raider: Anniversary Edition. I was quite intrigued about the game on its release, but as I was a broke university student at the time of its release, I was not able to get it. Luckily the game is now available on Steam at a reasonable price, so I made the decision to pick it up for myself.
I played the original Tomb Raider to death and while the game itself is incredibly dated and had plenty of frustrating moments, I enjoyed it still. So I was curious if the remake was either just the original game with a fresh coat of paint, or a completely new experience that uses the original game as a base and builds up from it? I’ll tell you in today’s Espresso Shot Review!
After the success of Tomb Raider: Legend, developed by Crystal Dynamics and published by Eidos, Core Design (the developers of the first six Tomb Raider games) proposed to develop a remake that would commemorate the tenth anniversary of the series. With Eidos’ permission, Core started work on the remake in 2005 and planned for it to be released in late 2006. The idea was to rearrange puzzles and the layout of levels to make it simpler for new players but retain the story and the overall flow of the game for fans. Lara too would have been updated to look closely to her appearance in Legend.
Midway into development, Core Designs was bought out by a developer named Rebellion Developments, known for the Sniper Elite and Alien vs. Predator series. The remake was subsequently cancelled after the sale, with the general assumption that Core didn’t want the game to be developed by third-party studios like Rebellion. Prior to and after the cancellation, some footage of the game was leaked, garnering attention from fans and creating the demand necessary for the remake to happen.
Eidos then requested Crystal Dynamics and Buzz Monkey Studios (who created the Legend port) to create the remake planned for release on June 1, 2007. Tomb Raider: Anniversary was first released for the PlayStation 2, PSP and PC. A Wii version was released afterwards which uses motion controls to solve puzzles or interact with the environment. Later, the game was ported to PS3 and Xbox 360, with the PS3 version released as part of the “Tomb Raider Trilogy” series, which included Legend and its sequel, Underworld. A Mac OSX port was also released a year after the game’s launch on console and PC. While the game was received well by critics, it only sold 1.3 million copies worldwide, making it the worst-selling game of the series. In the United Kingdom however, both the PS2 and the PC versions topped the charts on its release. Despite the low sales numbers, the game helped pave the way for more Tomb Raider games to be developed, culminating to the second reboot of the series titled Tomb Raider.
The team brought on Core Design’s Toby Gard to work as the story designer. Crystal Dynamics stated that the story in the original game was sparse and one-dimensional but also desired for the story to fit in the new rebooted universe, so one of the main goals of the remake was to flesh out the story and tie it to Legend – that is Lara’s search for knowledge that her father sought, which eventually leads her to search for her mother. Gard also expanded upon the lore of the game and on Lara’s character, describing her as a woman with an unstoppable madness contained within a proper British lady. They also revamped several characters, with Larson undergoing the most change. His death late in the game in the Atlantis levels (written in as Lara’s first human kill) was written in a way to show players how far and what moral boundaries Lara would cross in order to achieve her goals – tying into the unstoppable madness I mentioned earlier.
The story stays the same for the most part: Lara is approached by a man named Larson, who is under the employ of a rich industrialist named Jacqueline Natla. After introducing herself, Natla proposes a challenge for Croft – retrieving the three pieces of the Scion of Atlantis.
Initially, Lara is dismissive, but becomes intrigued when Natla dangles the fact that her father also sought after the artefact for the knowledge it possessed. This is where the story differs from the original, since in the first game, Lara was convinced to take the job based on the challenge and thrill it possessed. The rest of the story progresses in the same fashion, but with the original characters being more developed. Pierre, for example, is shown as a rival raider to Croft. He was more sarcastic and conniving than he let on in the original game, which made for an interesting character. His untimely death with the Centaurs at the end of the Greece levels was also different from the original, since Lara kills him off after a gunfight in the first game.
Overall, I liked these small story enhancements. They added plenty of depth and purpose that was sorely missed from the first game and it allowed Lara’s gritty and sardonic nature to shine forth.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary uses a mouse and keyboard set up and has controller support. I played the game using an 8Bitdo NES30 Pro controller, which is what I’ll be referring to throughout the writeup. Compared to the clunky tank controls in the original game, I found that Lara controlled more smoothly and naturally with this control scheme and I enjoyed how fluid and natural her movements were. One major difference between the original and Anniversary was how Lara traversed across outcroppings and cliffs. In the original, you could grab ledges and such and shimmy left or right, but you couldn’t leap to or back towards other ledges, unlike in the Anniversary edition. What I also liked was how most of the puzzles were revamped to make them more intuitive and easy to navigate. The first game’s puzzles had a lot of trial and error associated to them with a focus on item collection and switch pulling, but they are not as prevalent in the Anniversary edition and I welcomed that change.
Along with updated climbing mechanics, Lara also retains the grapple rope introduced in Legend. Grappling and swinging to platforms was a very satisfying feeling for me and I wished this was introduced in the original game, since it would make things much more exciting. The wall running mechanics with the grapple could use a bit of work, like a visual cue to let players know they can jump backwards from the wall once they reached the apex of their run, but it’s not enough to write it off.
Combat also received a massive overhaul. When faced off against enemies, Lara can either quick draw (best for small creatures, like rats and bats) or lock on (for all other enemies). When locked on, Lara will always face the direction of her target. After shooting an enemy for a period of time, it will get angry and start to charge at Lara; dodging at the perfect moment slows down time and causes two reticles to overlap. Shooting once they overlap and turn red instantly kills the enemy. This mechanic is called the adrenaline dodge and it makes combat very exciting. I only wish there was a better visual cue to initiate the dodge, but I suppose with enough practice I wouldn’t need it.
Another thing that was added to the game was the use of Quick Time Events (QTE), famously used in the God of War series. QTE’s are the game mechanic that you either loved or hated; in my case, I was indifferent to it. Had I played this when it first came out though, I would have said that I liked its inclusion.
What I really liked about the new combat system compared to the old one is that switching weapons is a breeze; no need to go into the inventory and select a weapon like in the old version. Anniversary allows Lara to quick-switch her weapons mid-combat by tapping left or right on the D-pad. This mechanism extends to healing as well; tapping up uses Large medi-packs, while tapping down uses the Small medi-packs. It’s a major improvement from the inventory navigation from the old game.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary pushes the player to prioritize item and ammunition management In the original Tomb Raider, Lara could collect as much ammunition as she could want without worry. In comparison, Anniversary limits how much ammo that Lara can carry, with the exception of her default pistols. This brings an element of strategy into combat; do you spend your ammo to get through an area quicker or save your ammo for when you’re surrounded? It also helps that there are plenty of ammo pickups tucked around in nooks and crannies in each level.
While I enjoyed the remade levels, my personal favourite was Lara’s House. In the original, her house was touted as a tutorial level designed to introduce gamers to Lara and her actions. The Anniversary edition overhauls the home to be a test of how well a player can manipulate puzzles. There are no enemies but there are eight artifacts for players to find. Finding them requires a sharp eye, a bit of reading and some thinking about how the puzzle mechanics operate. Plus, the music is relaxing to listen to (more on that below).
Artifacts and relics are hidden throughout levels and can be used to unlock extras in the main menu, like additional outfits, commentary and such. There is even a time trial mode. Beating time trials for all levels unlocks cheats that can be used in the main game, such as having all weapons, or having infinite ammo.
The only gripe I had was the camera controls, which were finicky at certain points, but I found that they didn’t affect my experience too much.
One of the stated goals of the remake was to recreate iconic locations from the original game on a grander and more detailed scale while designing levels under modern gaming conventions. Large parts of the games original levels were cut out, including hallways, complicated and nonsensical puzzles and traps, to give players a clear sense of where to go. It was a smart move on their part as I found the levels in Anniversary easier to navigate than those of the original game. Some of the cuts were jarring; in particular I speak of the combination of the Cistern and the Tomb of Tihocan in the Greece levels, but I welcomed the change as in the original, the Greece levels dragged on for a while. Condensing two levels into one helped with the overall flow of the game. Overall, the levels look like they popped out of a movie set – in that they look alive and lived in compared to the dull aesthetic presented in the original game.
When Tomb Raider: Legend was released, one of the criticisms was that the levels were too linear, so Crystal Dynamics addressed that by emphasizing multiple pathways and exploration in Anniversary, all while remaking the levels. Doing so allowed them to recapture the feeling and exhilaration of exploration from the original game.
Graphics-wise, Lara looks well detailed and her animations are fluid, in comparison to her first outing. A neat extra feature in the game allows for Lara to change into iconic costumes, from her Legend look, to her training look from tutorial level in the original.
The enemies Lara faces are a lot more imposing and dangerous looking than in the original. I remember the bears, lions and gorillas being much smaller and less intimidating than the remade versions. The audio cues that go along with some of the encounters only heighten the danger associated with these creatures. I have to say that two of my favourite encounters has to be the T-Rex in Peru’s Lost Valley and the Centaurs at the Tomb of Tihocan – both being boss fights. They were both visually impressive to look at.
Audio-wise, the music was orchestrally scored, similar to the first game. Much of the original game’s soundtrack was remade, with a few additional tracks created to suit each area, all while sticking to to the symphonic style of the original game. Also similarly to the original, the audio relied mainly on environmental ambiance, with musical cues indicating dangerous or interesting/awe-inspiring locations.
My favourite track has to be the one played in Lara’s House. It’s a play off of the original Tomb Raider theme and it gives me the feeling that I’m solving a mystery within the house.
There is a multitude of things to do in Tomb Raider: Anniversary after the main game is completed. You can return to levels to pick up missing artifacts and relics, undergo the time trials for each level and access the commentary, in which the developers talk about designing the game the levels and the ways they differentiated the remake from the original source.
The Last Drop
I really enjoyed this remake – it captured the spirit of the original game while removing its more frustrating and tedious parts. The game, in my opinion, was more than a fresh coat of paint, it was a transformation that helped to reinvigorate the series. However, the game is definitely not perfect; there are a few spots like the grapple sections that could’ve used some work, along with the camera. But overall, as a fan of the series, I have to say that Crystal Dynamics did a wonderful job remaking the original game. It added more depth to the story and fleshed out Lara’s character, which I appreciated.