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Tomb Raider: Anniversary

For: PSP   Also on: Mobile, Steam

Happy birthday, Lara

Product: Tomb Raider: Anniversary | Developer: Crystal Dynamics | Publisher: Eidos plc | Format: PSP | Genre: Action, Adventure | Players: 1 | Version: US
Tomb Raider: Anniversary PSP, thumbnail 1
Over the years, the Guinness Book of World Records has meandered from the clearing of measurable fact into the undergrowth of glorified opinion, and lost its way. The longest whale has been replaced by things like the 'happiest dog,' the tallest sunflower by rubbish such as the 'nicest-tasting boiled sweet.' Few could argue, however, with the 2006 verdict that the most popular video game heroine of all time is Lara Croft.

Tomb Raider has generated almost 20 sequels in the decade since its seminal appearance. As its much-admired star has become glossier and more agile, however, the games themselves have stagnated. For a long time, Lara Croft has been in danger of becoming the most beautiful woman ever to outstay her welcome.

For those who don't know, and there can't be many, Lara Croft is a flexible archaeologist who fills her days visiting sites of historic interest and stealing objects from them. Her reputation in this field is such that, in this first episode, she's employed by an American businesswoman to retrieve an artefact from the Peruvian mountains. Other people get involved, conflict ensues, animals snarl, guns are drawn, and that's the story.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary is a canny return to the first principles, a vintage engine divested of its gaudy modifications. While short of being a direct remake, Anniversary takes the levels from the 1996 original, gives the mossy caves a facelift, and puts you in control of a more nimble Lara Croft who, free from the constraints of grid-based leaping and cube-dragging, can make the most of the ingenious level design that made the first game a success.

Half action and half puzzle, Lara Croft's world resembles the inside of a giant clock, the parts all intricately joined by ancient ligaments of stone and wood.

A gate falls and so you need to pull a switch several chambers away by clambering up sheer rock faces, shimmying along narrow ledges, swinging from bars, balancing on poles, avoiding traps, and keeping your bearings in the vast warren-like environments – while the acrobats take skill, Anniversary's real difficulty lies in finding the switches and the means of reaching them.

Whereas last year's Tomb Raider: Legend was criticised for holding your hand too protectively, Anniversary sometimes tilts too far in the other direction. Although the difficulty is generally well-pitched, rarely detaining you too long in a single location, there are times when a difficult leap or troublesome trap will cut you down repeatedly. Coupled with some long loading times and the often circuitous routes back to the tricky places, these niggles can tip the difficulty from bracing into tedious.

The improvement in the graphics is inevitable and unremarkable. While Anniversary looks solid on the PSP, nothing is stunning and there are no surprises. In a way, in fact, there's almost something lost from the spare, craggy emptiness of the original, but what the games loses in atmosphere it recovers in cinematic pomp. Thankfully, everything takes place in the same cavernous, belittling silence.

Control is the area of Anniversary where the last decade's slow refinement most obviously shows. Not only have some moves been added – most notably the grappling hook swing – but the existing ones have been tweaked. It's now possible, for instance, to shimmy quickly across long ledges, and you can drag objects wherever you like on a flat surface, rather than within the boundaries of an invisible grid. Interacting with Lara's world is now a more fluid, organic experience.

Another nice touch is the balance recovery feature, whereby a dicey jump is followed by the necessity to press Triangle before you stumble or lose your grip. For those that are wondering, nothing has been lost in the translation from PS2 to PSP, with urgent functions like weapon change and health bound to the D-pad for quick access in sticky situations, and gun-drawing mapped to the two shoulder buttons simultaneously.

As always, though, drawing your guns never attends the game's most exciting flashpoints. The creatures that charge and pounce have the AI of sperm, and the human opponents are scarcely better. Combat is simply a matter of leaping and firing until the poor victim slumps.

A new feature, which enables you to enter a Matrix-like slow-motion state and inflict greater damage whenever an animal charges, makes things marginally more interesting, but combat still feels dispensable, and bull-fighting the T-rex still has the dramatic impetus of digging a hole.

Nevertheless, galling frustration and tedious combat weren't enough to keep Tomb Raider from respected video game magazine Edge's recent top 100, and they aren't enough to spoil its anniversary celebrations. Despite the frustration of long loading times and pedantic jumps, this is a return to form in the truest sense. Both auto-homage and renaissance, Anniversary doesn't just succeed on its own; it suggests that better may be yet to come.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary
Reviewer photo
Rob Hearn | 7 September 2007
A happy coda in a symphony that had lost its flow, Anniversary cannily pairs the refinements of the last decade with the peerless excellence of the original Tomb Raider
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