Revisiting the tombs of Tomb Raider: Anniversary

With some trepidation, I approach Anniversary the second time around. There’s a double dose of nostalgia lying in wait here, first for the console-defining original Tomb Raider and second for Crystal Dynamics’ outstanding remake, which, through my rose-tinted bifocals (available at selected opticians), is the series’ finest hour. Not to mention Rise of the Tomb Raidercoming on the horizon.

In the intervening years, Lara has changed – some argue for the better; I argue for the worse, but then I’m an old fart who holds no truck with all this newfangled ‘exploring her vulnerability’ characterisation and combat-focused claptrap of the latest Raider. That said, gaming has shunted on apace since Anniversary’s 2007 release, so can I expect to be disappointed on a second playthrough? Thankfully not.

Ten minutes into the cavernous Peruvian opening level, I’m reminded just why I love Anniversary above all other Tomb Raiders. The adventure combines the most appealing elements of the janky original – the fiendish level design, daunting architectural scale and an all-pervading sense of solitude – with an acrobatically revitalised Lara whose movement is fluid and natural rather than rigid and confining.

Scaling the ancient architecture with leaps, grabs, shimmies, swings and grapples remains heart-in-mouth stuff, but I soon ease back into what is and isn’t possible and find a good tempo. The original game would often call for mathematical precision when guiding Lara around the many precipitous perils – Anniversary’s triumph is making her so much more flexible, as typified by the ‘recover’ feature if you only just manage to grab a distant ledge. With the first two cogs of the first puzzle in place, I scurry off to find the third. You know what’s coming.

If the original Tomb Raider defined a console generation, then the Lost World level defined the game. Second time round, the iconic T-rex battle is a letdown. For one, it drags the combat front and centre, and gunplay was never ‘old’ Lara’s strongest suit. For all she liked to pose with dual pistols, the actual firing felt like a distraction more intended to heighten the tension than be a serious gameplay component.

The battle itself is pretty dull, built around peppering the beast with lead until it becomes enraged and allows Lara to enter ‘adrenaline’ quick-time targeting. The fight is reduced to a continual emptying of magazines while leaping hither and thither to avoid snapping jaws or lunging claws. The T-rex scrap – as with the battles that follow – is little more than a glorified interactive cutscene, with all the menace of an episode of CBeebies’ Dinopaws. But, hey, who really comes to Tomb Raider for the combat?

With Peru done and dusted it’s off to Greece – and I’d argue the best level in any of Lara’s outings, St Francis’ Folly. It’s a giant chamber hundreds of feet deep containing a plethora of switches, gates, ledges, moveable platforms and four keys to collect, each hidden in its own puzzle chamber, their menaces themed around one of the Greek gods.

I’d forgotten just how epic a task it is to collect those four keys, and my aged brain struggles to keep track of the routes I need to take (and retake) to progress. Yes it’s tough and I have more than a few ‘er, what now or where next?’ moments, but hooray for a serious challenge of mind and agility, and boo-sucks to ‘psst, over here’ hand-holding. That said, the frequent checkpoints are most welcome.

And so onwards through Greece and Egypt, where puzzles continue to tax, the towering environments continue to wow and the combat continues to drag (and remind you of Lara’s PETA-baiting past, as she churns through various endangered species without flinching). In Egypt, one question still bothers me – who the hell left an ammo clip on top of this Sphinx’s head?

When you’re playing the game for a second time, the fun-but-hokey plot carries far less importance; taken out of narrative context the finale in Natla’s Mines is quite a deflating, difficult stage, with death coming all too frequently in the Great Pyramid. Perhaps I’ll leave it alone now. Or maybe just one more go… Anniversary does that to a man.

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