In September 2003, one of the most popular game series of all time was taken away from its creators, Core Design, and entrusted to Crystal Dynamics of Legacy of Kain fame. After seven years, which saw the release of six Tomb Raider titles (not counting the expansion packs), Eidos Interactive’s decision wasn’t much of a surprise. Starting with the third title of the series the games began to go downhill quality-wise, with poor level design and a larger emphasis on action rather than puzzle solving, not to mention the introduction of some frustrating gameplay elements. This culminated with the release of Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness which was a total failure, partly due to the number of bugs and unpolished state and partly due to the lack of a grid system, the odd player perspective and disastrously imprecise control scheme.
Launched in April 2006, Tomb Raider Legend was a test for Crystal Dynamics to prove themselves to the most devoted fans of the series. And they did, but not entirely. Among other things, players complained about the short game time, the simplicity of the puzzle and the large number of fighting sequences, which ultimately made Tomb Raider Legend to be considered a 3D action arcade rather than an action adventure game. On the other hand, the above mentioned “shortcomings” drew in a lot of new players to the series, thus Tomb Raider Legend became the highest selling title of the franchise. Therefore, the announcement that a new Tomb Raider would soon see the light of day didn’t come as much of a surprise.
Previously known as Tomb Raider: 10th Anniversary Edition, Tomb Raider Anniversary is a remake of the first TR, with the advancements of the TR: Legend engine and some new gameplay additions, some from the previous titles and some others which are brand new. The first major difference between Anniversary and Legend is the lack of “next generation graphics / content”, a loss which I won’t mourn over. The reason for this omission is that TRL with Next Gen Content didn’t necessarily look better, but different, and sometimes even worse that the “normal” version. Even though a year has passed since the release of TRL and many players have new CPUs and video cards, I very much doubt that we could have run Anniversary with Next Gen Content, considering the huge size of some of the levels in the game. Like I said in the Legend review, I’ll take a longer and more complex Tomb Raider over a shorter but better looking one anytime.
This doesn’t mean that Anniversary doesn’t look good, quite to the contrary. Like its predecessor, TRA has plenty of chances to win to be nominated as one of the best looking games of the year, thanks to the improved Tomb Raider Legend engine. Among the things that delight the player’s eyes is the high polygon count for Lara, the new animations, depth of field, reflections, and shadows. Most of all, I was impressed by the size of certain areas and the level of detail as well as the color palette, which is spot on. Nothing is out of place or faded, each texture has its own color and details which perfectly blend with everything around it and underlines the visual style of the respective level. And speaking of visual effects, there are also some nice little touches, like the eagles flying high above your head when you’re outdoors, the smoke coming from Lara’s gun barrels after she uses them, the dust particles which she leaves behind when she runs or moves a crate as well as the water drops left on her body after she comes out of the water.