Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Tomb Raider: Anniversary (PC)

Some days ago I picked up Tomb Raider: Anniversary for the PC (yes, thats the old one, not the new Underworld). Its a standard Windows game, of course, but it actually works near perfectly under Linux in. No hacks or cracks requires, it works out of the box. The only issue I could find is that one has to disable reflections in the display setting of the game, since they cause some graphical glitches. Those aside the game runs wonderfully, it loads in seconds, runs fluently and supports all kinds of resolutions and aspect ratios, gamepad support is fine too and it doesn't even require a DVD in the drive.

Now to the game itself. Anniversary is a remake of the very first Tomb Raider game and as far as I can tell it stays pretty close to the original, while upgrading the core gameplay with what was provided by Tomb Raider: Legend. The core gameplay aside Anniversary however is quite different then Legend, mainly due to its level design. Anniversary doesn't follow a linear structure with lots of cutscenes like Legend, but instead follows the style of the original game which has has a less linear structure. The levels in Anniversary structure follow a structure like this, you approach a main room, from which multiple challenge rooms branch off. In these challenge rooms one collects items, keys or other stuff that is then used in the main room to advance or unlock other challenge rooms. While this feels a little old school as first, it actually works quite well and makes things more interesting when replaying levels the levels later. Another thing that makes Anniversary different from Legend is that Anniversary is limited to four scenarios, namely Peru, Greece, Egypt and Lost Island, with each of those having three or four levels. In addition there is the Croft Manor again, Tomb Raiders tutorial level, which is this time a little larger then in Legend and features more adventure style gameplay with item collection and use, which while using the same mechanics like the rest of the game is quite a chance in basic gameplay.

One thing missing in Anniversary is a form of light, Legend had a flashlight and flares, while Anniversary has nothing. Its not a big issue, since Anniversary is never really dark, but its a thing that could have given the game a little bit more interactiveness. Gone are also the binoculars and the quick access to the health pack, the later can kind of be fixed by remapping buttons a bit, but the way Legend used the Dpad felt more natural. The grapple on the other side is still present.

Another issue I have with Anniversary is the swimming, just like Mario Sunshine, it got changed from having full 3D control to having a swim-up and a swim-down button. I assume this change was made to simplify the gameplay, but I don't like it since it takes the fun out of swimming. Also the underwater graphics are a little lacking. The original Tomb Raider was very impressive due to the light effects it had under water, those are lacking here, which makes the underwater world look a little to much like the over water world. The water level itself is also a little hard to see, making it hard to judge the depth one is in. No big deal, but one of the few things that could have been done better.

On the first play through Anniversary takes around 10-15 hours, which makes it a good bit longer then Legend. While some of that length results from harder traps, some of which are quite meanly placed, most of it is simply the result of more complex levels, which require more exploring and don't follow the linear nature of Legend. The harder traps, while they can annoy a bit at first, are however never really a big issue, since one learns their pattern and has plenty of fairly placed checkpoints.

Just like Legend Anniversary features treasure hunting and a time trial mode. The treasures are additional optional objects places in the levels, sometimes quite will hidden. They are this time much rarer and much more intelligently placed as in Legend, which makes hunting them more fun and their rough positions easier to guess, i.e. when you have four treasures in a level with four sub-rooms its clear that one treasure is in each room. The time trial mode simply requires you to play through the levels with a given time limited, which due to the non-linear nature of the levels becomes quite interesting, since you have to hunt for the optimal route before you can start a time trial. Finishing a time trial or collecting enough treasures unlocks new costumes, artwork and cheat codes, which then in turn can be used to ease other time trial or treasure hunts. This constant stream of rewards makes the replaying of levels quite enjoyable, since one actually ends up using them while playing the game, which in turn chances the game a little bit to keep it interesting. Anniversary also features audio commentary for the levels that gets unlocked after the first play through and can be listened to when tressure hunting.

Another little thing that is worth mentioning is that Anniversary features, just like Legend, a few "useless" actions, namely a series of acrobatic flips that one can achieve by pressing the jump and roll buttons repeatable. While these actions are useless for practical gameplay, they make the game interesting in that they give the player something to play with when the game isn't actively challenging him. This is very similar to the double and triple jumps in Mario64, which also where in large part just there to give the player a chain of events to complete while nothing else was there to do. It is an interesting mechanic that one doesn't see all that often in other games.

The story of Anniversary is more simplistic then Legend and the game only features a handful of cutscenes and misses the all the radio communication that Legend had in the levels, which is a little bit of disappointment. But that little bit of story that is there is actually interesting and its focus on the morality of your action is something that isn't much seen in other games.

Overall Tomb Raider: Anniversary is a highly enjoyabel game, especially since it runs so well in Linux and thus doesn't require all the dual booting. While some elements of Legend are missing here, it has strength in different areas that were lacking in Legend.

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