Just like they did with Tomb Raider Legend, the sales success of Tomb Raider anniversary has prompted Eidos to publish it on every system known to man, and now it's available on the Xbox 360. While it is still the definitive version of the game, it's a shame that the experience wasn't more optimized for the 360's capabilities.
I missed the original Tomb Raider during its original run in 1996. My experience with the game is limited to a demo disc that came with my PS1 back in the day. Still, my memory of the game and especially its sequel is vivid enough to remember the awkwardly vague solutions to puzzles, the frustrating controls, and the looming and challenging level design. Anniversary dispenses with all of that, and starts fresh, using only the most basic template set forth by the original game in this remake.
The game begins in snowy Tibet, as Lara has been tasked with tracking down a mystical artifact known as the Scion. The Scion is broken up into three pieces that will have you scouring some of the most remote places on earth to find them. Along the way, you'll have to navigate some lethal tombs and environments, in addition to rival Tomb Raiders and a variety of enemies such as dinosaurs, bears, lions, bats, rats, and other enemies that PETA would love to know about Lara slaughtering.
The game consists of four main Tombs that are split up into smaller sections. Don't worry about there only being four, as these tombs are absolutely titanic. Getting from the entrance to the Scion piece in each one will take several hours each. There are some individual rooms within these tombs that will take hours upon themselves to solve. This is definitely not a game for the impatient. Rather, it is a slow paced, pensive game with a focus on exploration and discovery, rather than blasting everything you see.
Exploring the tombs is a snap thanks to the streamlined controls that allow you to do what you want to do 90% percent of the time. Occasionally you'll have trouble lining up a jump and fall to a sickening death, but for the most part, Lara controls every bit as well as she did in Legend. This means that you can leap from ledge to ledge with ease, and the sheer amount of moves that Lara can execute borders on staggering. This is also one of the few 3-Dimensional games that features great swimming controls that make it easy and efficient to swim where you want to go. Problems arise when Lara simply doesn't do what she's programmed to do. An example: whenever you run off a ledge, Lara is supposed to grab the ledge and save herself from plunging hundreds of feet to hard concrete. Sometimes, she simply won't grab the ledge, forcing you through the same gauntlet of hazardous jumps to get back to ledge that you can only hope she'll grab this time. It's not a frequent issue, but enough to cause some periodic cursing at the screen.
Make no mistake though; most of your deaths will be a direct result of your own errors in judgment. You're going to die in this game; a lot. The level design is absolutely punishing in some places. There are environmental puzzles that are as deadly as they are intricate, and managing to solve them is a rewarding experience. Solutions to puzzles are occasionally quite obscure, although in retrospect you'll probably slap yourself on the forehead for not figuring out the solution earlier. However, I encountered on at least two occasions that I had the puzzle all figured out, but the solution simply wouldn't register. I therefore wasted upwards of an hour or two running around the tomb looking for another solution to a puzzle that I had actually already solved, but wasn't aware of it. But this also was a rare occurrence. Just remember this while you're playing; If you're certain about a solution of a puzzle, don't be so quick to disregard it simply because it doesn't register. Keep forcing that block onto that stream of water, and eventually it will work.
The game's outstanding physics engine also makes way for some creative and new solutions to certain puzzles. For example, Knocking out wooden planks on one level will cause a pillar in the upper level to collapse, therefore changing around the entire make up of the tomb. Environmental objects such as boulders, water, wooden suspension bridges, ropes, and pendulums all react almost exactly how you would expect them to in the real world. The amount of effort that Crystal Dynamics has put into the physics engine really shines through, and they should be applauded for it.
Of course, Lara Croft wouldn't be Lara if she wasn't wielding her dual pistols, kicking ass and taking names. Unfortunately, combat has issues. Namely, it's too simple and easy. Combat essentially consists of constantly circle strafing, and unloading clip after clip into your enemies. Occasionally your enemies will enter a rage mode that will cause them to charge at you directly. When this happens, if your timing is good, you can dive out of the way in slow motion and cap them with a well placed headshot. The slow-mo dives add a small bit of depth to the combat, but not enough to make it feel like anything more than filler in between environmental puzzles. There's also a few fun Resident Evil 4 style cut-scenes in which you have to press the corresponding button on the screen quickly in time to survive Lara's current situation.
The 360 version of the game improves the graphics over the PS2 version, but minimally so. What was very impressive on the PS2 is only middling here. The textures are blurry, and the environments are as well defined as they were in Legend. Essentially, it looks like an HD version of the PS2 version, and even runs at the same frame rate.
The audio in the game also plays a big part in creating a solitary atmosphere. There's rarely any music, and Lara's gunshots satisfyingly echo in the large rooms. It also bears mention that the voice actress who portrays Lara has got the character down pat, and does a superb job. It's rare in video games that you can actually detect nuance in the voice acting, but Keeley Hawes gives a confident and convincing performance. Everything else sounds like it should, such as footsteps and crumbling boulders. The game made occasional use of the surround speakers, but since the game is so quiet anyway, it does become a little irrelevant. For the entirety of the game, it's just you and Lara, and the sparse sound effects in large part help to create that solitary atmosphere.
If you missed the game on its first go-around on the PS2 or PC, then the 360 version really is the definitive version based on its higher resolution graphics alone. On the other hand, it's disappointing that the graphics are barely improved, and little else of consequence was added to the package. Anniversary is still a fantastic game, and well worth playing, that is, if you haven't already.