Thanks, but I prefer the birthday
The original Tomb Raider
was a revolution in 3D gaming, but one that deteriorated into all sorts of exploitations and eventual decline in the years to come. After all those sequels that either changed nothing or changed too much it does feel refreshing to have a game that goes "back to the roots" while covering said roots with the gloss of modern game design.
In general, the game succeeds in re-imagining the locations of the original, be it the somber caves of Peru, the mythological mildness of Greece, the geometrically strict Egypt, or the psychedelic Atlantis. It is clear that the developers knew the original game well and wanted to capture its spirit. Just seeing those levels re-created with modern graphics is like balsam applied to a nostalgically aching heart.
I suppose the best thing to say about Anniversary
is that it doesn't "streamline" anything. The levels are at least as large as they were before, there are still secrets, and you don't have that unpleasant sensation of something being reduced or thrown out. They tried to keep the new gimmicks relatively harmless and didn't include any elements that would interfere with a classic Tomb Raider feeling - there is no stealth or driving or anything like that, and the entire game takes place in enclosed underground locations, just like the original.
For all other purposes, this is a different game, and an inferior one as well. They have removed most of the key-hunting, switch-pulling, and crate-pushing of the original. Instead, they introduced obscene amounts of ledge-climbing. If I choose between the two evils I'd rather run around seeing what I can interact with than spend hours hanging and crawling on ledges like an overweight cat. These new gameplay elements are every bit as formulaic as in the original version, the sole difference being that they now add more aggravation to a game that is composed out of repetitive activities anyway. To add insult to injury, controls haven't gotten any smoother, and the supposedly freely rotatable camera is a complete hoax: the game will stubbornly prevent you from looking where you want to look no matter how much frustration you unleash upon your mouse.
This difference manifests itself in the level design as well and serves as an illustration of the original version's superiority. The levels of the original game, their nonsensical switches and alike notwithstanding, looked like something that was created regardless of the player character's presence. Keys and crates were not part of the general design, they were there just to make progress slightly more complicated. In the remake, however, those ledges are an integral element of the architecture, clearly serving the artificial purpose of providing predictable means of advancement to the protagonist. While the original was a game of exploration where you had first to look everywhere to figure out what to do next, the remake is a puzzle game where you must do what the designers tell you to, otherwise you won't be able to explore.
Combat was hardly the strongest aspect of the original game, but it was meant to be so. It was a distraction that added more tension to the exploration, and much of it could be avoided. In the remake, it becomes a nuisance. The first thing they did was force you to press down an extra button for aiming, which makes you feel crippled for no reason. Lara can now be easily knocked down and torn apart by animals. But all this pales in comparison with the boss battles. Instead of being part of the exploration process as in the original, they have mutated into arcadish "boss levels" where you have to use an "adrenaline dodge" ability time after time to survive. Now look here, I defeated the fearsome T-Rex of the original game without
any stupid adrenaline dodges. Why am I forced to work on my twitch reflex skills in a scripted battle if ten years ago I was allowed to actually be creative?
In the original PC version you could save your game anywhere. If you failed a tricky jump you could just reload and try again. You cannot do this in the remake anymore. The game saves you progress through a series of "checkpoints", forcing you to restart monotonous ledge-hopping segments over and over again. To quote Schopenhauer: "What the f*** is wrong with you people?!?!"Anniversary
also cannot compete with its contemporaries. It does nothing that wasn't already done better in games like ICO
or Sands of Time
, while lacking all the nifty gimmicks that made those games interesting and varied. Without its nostalgic value it is pretty much a rehash of the most mundane 3D platformer ingredients. I also don't understand where the praise directed at its visuals came from, unless somebody was seriously comparing it to an eleven year older game. The original Tomb Raider
was graphically by far more appealing in 1996 than its remake in 2007. There is something cold and unfittingly abstract in the graphics, artificial features of level design stick out unpleasantly, and the feeling of awe that surrounded you whenever you fired up the original game is completely gone.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that Tomb Raider
probably didn't need a remake after all. I can see that Anniversary
is an honest attempt, but walking the middle ground doesn't work here. It is not a complete overhaul that would make it an invigorating addition to the series, but neither is it a fully faithful recreation of the original with cutting-edge graphics. There are better modern 3D platformers out there, and if I want to experience Lara Croft's adventures at their peak all I have to do is play the first game.