Thursday, May 31, 2007

Tomb Raider: Anniversary - first impressions

It's here! It's finally here! Our copy of TRA arrived from Amazon yesterday (two days before the cited release date, but whatever). Had to resist all tempation to just rip it out the packaging and play it at once; it just wouldn't be the same without me, Dad, and my sister taking turns to play, or heckle: "Go, jump. Jump. Aargh! Oh, my God! Pull out your guns! No. Over there. Over there. What the hell are you doing?! Oh, give it here." Repeat.

As we all know, Tomb Raider: Anniversary is the remake of the original PS1 game, which saw Lara, hired by businesswoman Jacqueline Natla (boo, hiss) to recover the mystical Atlantean Scion, globetrotting to Peru, then somewhere that was probably Greece, then Egypt, then finally onto Atlantis itself. The basic storyline seems to be the same, but there also seems to be a new twist in that Lara and her father had been searching for the Scion already, but hadn't been able to find the hidden city of Vilcabamba. I expect something else will be made of this, but I can't be sure, having only played the Mountain Caves level and part of Croft Manor.

Of course, graphics have moved way, way on in the eleven years since the original. Gone are the square caves with very flat walls and ledges positioned at right angles to each other, and every screen is now crammed with lush, organic scenery, from trailing vines to pillars with intricate Inca-style carvings. I can't wait to see the Egyptian levels. Lara's movement is also much more fluid than the original, as is the camera.

Luckily, Anniversary already seems to be much more than just a remake of the original with prettier graphics. Familiar locations are immediately recognisable, but while some scenes were simply big empty spaces with a couple of vampire bats, every screen so far has been crammed with more opportunities to explore. Lara's moves have gone well beyond the original run, jump, catch, shoot, and it looks like you'll need every trick at your disposal to complete the puzzles. Another welcome addition is the grapple-hook, which was only seen in the original during a cutscene. And Croft Manor is no longer the training level, but a whole location to itself, as it was in Legend.

The real plus with Anniversary is the puzzle-solving. The manor is a big puzzle, and while the timed door from the Caves level makes a return, it's far more sophisticated this time than simply pulling a switch and racing like mad to get through before it closes. The darts that shoot from the walls are back, and there's more head-scratching involved with them. While in the original you could get away with running and jumping over them, Anniversary makes you stop and work out whether you run straight through, jump over, or crawl under.

Of course, one of my favourite parts of Tomb Raider was the sense of atmosphere, and it was great to see it was back, too. Instead of the creepy "tomb noises" of the original, though, the Caves are filled with the sound of dripping water and wind, and the wolves howl to announce their presence.

To sum up, then, Anniversary already looks like a brilliant reworking of an old classic, because it brings so much freshness to the old structure, the enhanced abilities and trickier puzzles being the big pluses. The levels I'm looking forward to the most are the Lost Valley, Saint Francis' Folly, the Palace of Midas, and all the Egyptian ones. Can't wait to see those mummies!

'Scuse me now, I've got to go and explore the City of Vilcabamba...

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