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Critical Reception: Tomb Raider: Anniversary

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Tomb Raider: Anniversary, the PS2 and PC remake of the original 1996 Tomb Raider, that critics are lauding as "one of the stand-out games of the year so far" - full review
This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Tomb Raider: Anniversary, a remake of the original 1996 Tomb Raider that critics laud as "one of the stand-out games of the year so far." Released in 1996, Tomb Raider for the Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and PC platforms won acclaim from critics for its unique exploration-based gameplay, and spawned numerous sequels following its retail success. Many reviewers feel that these sequels suffered a gradual decline in quality with each new entry, however, and the series found itself in a difficult spot with the 2003 release of the widely panned Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness for the PlayStation 2. Last year's Tomb Raider: Legend marked a new beginning for the series, earning high marks from a majority of critics, despite many noting previous disillusionment with the Tomb Raider franchise. Tomb Raider: Legend's success appears to continue with the Tomb Raider remake Tomb Raider: Anniversary, which currently averages a review score of 82 out of 100 at Metacritic.com. Eurogamer's Kristan Reed is almost wholly pleased with Tomb Raider: Anniversary in his review, scored at 9 out of 10. "By re-energising and revitalising what people loved about Tomb Raider in the first place, Anniversary is, in all respects, the best Lara Croft adventure to date," he asserts. "It feels like its own game again despite 'only' being a remake of the celebrated 1996 original. But it's also a 'celebratory remake', and one that manages to improve on almost every aspect of the original by rebuilding the game from the ground up without taking anything away from what made it so special in the beginning." Reed claims that much of the game has been substantially reimagined. "Large chunks of entire levels are exactly how you remember them - or at least how you think you remember them," he says. "In truth, though, it's really only the shell that's the same. Reed continues: "While most of the basic geometry is admittedly very similar, the way Crystal Dynamics has shaped the game design to take advantage of the enhanced control and move set used in Legend turns it into a very different, and far more enjoyable game." Reed feels that Anniversary's new approach to combat is particularly effective, thanks to the new "rage attack" present in enemies. "It's not the usual lazy bullet time crap," he says, "but a genuinely tense, exciting way of capping a determined enemy just as they're about to pounce." "But less thrilling is the reliance on Simon-says Quick Time Events, in a tiresome concession to modern day action adventures," Reed criticizes. "Just like all the other games around currently using this technique, it does give a more interactive feel to what might otherwise be plain cut scenes, but they're so easy to pull off that you feel like they might as well not bothered." Despite small complaints like these, however, Reed describes Anniversary as a satisfyingly thorough remake. "Far from being a tired, cynical cash-in exercise of a brand past its prime, Tomb Raider Anniversary goes back to its roots and shows how remakes should be done," he concludes. "As such, it has ended up being one of the stand-out games of the year so far, and also one of Eidos' best ever. It's a must buy for any Lara fan, simple as that." "World of Forms" at GamePro is also impressed, and awards Tomb Raider: Anniversary a rating of 4.25 out of 5 in Fun Factor. "Most of the memorable moments [of the original Tomb Raider] are left untouched, while plenty of new surprises await Raider vets," says GamePro's writer. "If you remember certain puzzles or encounters, be prepared to have your expectations thrown off in clever, amusing, and spectacular ways." "Changes have also been made to the game's controls," the review continues, "and here we faced an odd dilemma. The movement controls are now dependent on the positioning of the camera, which is far more intuitive." This does not always work out for the best, however. One resulting situation is described in detail: "Tying the movement to the camera is fine but it does lead to major problems: for instance, in one area you must swing by grappling hook, then jump away from a wall to catch a ledge. Yet the camera angle changes while you swing, which means that the controls suddenly change as well. Let's just say we spent literally two hours trying to get past this particular puzzle; Anniversary is obviously not for the impatient." "There are other niggles, such as the A.I., which hasn't smartened up any in the intervening years, but if you are willing to deal with some frustrations, you will be rewarded with a great game experience and gorgeous, is-this-really-PS2 visuals," writes GamePro's "World of Forms." "You'll experience the wonder and awe of feeling like you are discovering lost tombs, which is what made the original so compelling in the first place." IGN's Greg Miller feels that these various issues end up detracting from the final product in a big way, though much of Anniversary is fun enough to warrant a score of 7.8 out of 10. "I distinctly remember trudging through the original Tomb Raider on my PC at a snail's pace and cursing the tank controls for our voluptuous heroine as she fell to her death for the umpteenth time," Miller reminisces. "Now, Lara moves swiftly and nimbly across ancient temples, which are updated versions of the original levels, and sprawls out to grasp at whatever ledge she can while airborne." Miller claims that a friendlier control scheme is one of Anniversary's greatest additions. "Even when you fail -- and you will -- most of the time you feel like Lara's trying just as hard as you are," he writes. "You're a team this time as opposed to when you were just guiding Lara's brain-dead body in '96. She'll grab edges with her fingertips, and you'll need to tap a button to help her regain her composure, and improvements like that -- taken from Legend -- make moving through Anniversary much easier than the original." As mentioned in GamePro's review, however, numerous control issues sometimes sap away a good amount of potential fun. "These flubs only get worse when the camera gets involved," Miller says. "Plenty of times you'll be faced with a seemingly easy leap from a ledge to a landing, but the camera -- which is almost always in too tight -- will restrict you from being able to take in the whole scene. Most of the time it's just a nuisance, but sometimes it's going to be the motivator behind Lara's grisly demise." "In the end, this is Tomb Raider for better or worse," Miller notes in conclusion. "The controls are light-years better than the original but still aren't solid like Prince of Persia's; the graphics are beyond anything the original could muster but still not up to today's standards; and the puzzles are just as tough as the original, but the enemies are just as lame." "Still," he admits, "it's hard to find a videogame feeling as good as solving a Tomb Raider puzzle that's stumped you for the past half-hour." Critics claim that Tomb Raider: Anniversary cleans up a lot of the problems present in the original Tomb Raider while introducing an entirely new set of gameplay issues. Judging by the high marks it's earned thus far, however, none of these quirks appear to be damaging enough to make a difference, and Tomb Raider: Anniversary, from most accounts, remains a worthy remake that will appeal to both series fans and newcomers alike.

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