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Rediscovering Tomb Raider

In the summer of 1998, I borrowed both Tomb Raider 1 and 2 from a friend and was completely engrossed. I beat them both, back to back. They were each completely different experiences to me, but I enjoyed each of them in their own frustrating way.

No... not like that, pervs. I meant playing the games.

For their time, they were amazingly original 3D adventures. They did new things no one had really done before at that time. It was fun going through the levels very slowly figuring out how things work, and what you needed to do to get to the end of the level. Pretty simple really when put like that but over time I learned to appreciate them for that. Even with their quirky camera, shoddy aiming and tank-like movement. It took a level of patience I never knew I had before. The full motion video cut scenes helped to make things better though.

They made all the hard work, worth it. Back then, FMV anything was still amazing and Lara Croft was a joy to watch in action. She moved like an acrobat, had great voice acting, and preformed some pretty impressive stunts. Yeah, she was sexy, but above all things, she was an interesting character that wasnít full of herself. She had the right level of cockiness and confidence. She was the female version of Indiana Jones, and it worked.

What? The original games are VERY old 3D graphics. Retro Lara Croft is much easier on the eyes, trust me.

Then I tried the 3rd installment of the series... I choked back the bile in my throat and decided to stop playing the series. It didnít feel like Tomb Raider anymore. It was something else and I had had enough. I was more than okay with that decision after seeing what Core Design did with the series in the following years. The Last Revelation in 1999, Chronicles in 2000 and The Angel of Darkness in 2003, by all opinionated accounts were all sub par games. I figured I wasnít missing much.

Recently however, I heard mixed things about the new Tomb Raider game, Underworld. After reading reviews/comments and hearing random podcast discussions (Destructoid, I love you) about how good/bad it was, my interest in the series was sparked once again.

Where has the series gone since I last left it?

Where the games really good again?

I looked into who was making them these days and was shocked to find that Crystal Dynamics had taken the reigns from Core Design. How did I miss this news?? As a big fan of the Soul Reaver/Legacy of Kain series, I knew there was now potential for worthwhile Tomb Raider games once again. Not only did they do Underworld, they also made the last two games in the series, one of which was a remake of the very first Tomb Raider! Wow! Where the hell have I been? Oh well, itís never too late to play a good game. So I did just that.

Tomb Raider Anniversary (slight spoilers, not really)

Tomb Raider Amazing, is what they could have named it. I am blown away by how much difference 10 years can make in a game series. From beginning to end, I felt like this was the absolute perfect Tomb Raider experience.

No longer does Lara Croft move like a robot. She is agile, quick, and easy to control. Everything about her movement, feels very tight. From wall running with the newly added grappling hook to pole swinging acrobats onto moving ledges, everything has a smooth feel with seamless animation that makes for fun, not tedium. I can do so many cool things with relative ease when years before, I could only watch them in cut scenes. Its almost as if the FMVs of the old games are now the gameplay. Well, almost.

The level design in Anniversary has got to be some of the best out of all the Tomb Raider games. There were parts I remembered vaguely from the original game, and it wasnít surprising to find out that Crystal Dynamics purposefully worked memorable sections in to the new designs. They kept the original feel and look of almost all of the levels, and then added so much more with traps and puzzles galore. It became very addicting solving things on my own without a guide.

Told you Tomb Raider 1 screens are hard on the eyes, lol. Back then, it was amazing I swear.

Seeing how everything else is fun in this game, it comes as no surprise that fighting enemies is too! Flips, spins, rolls, along with the new dodge mechanic are all a delight to work in combination with the lock on aiming. Boss fights no longer suck the fun out of exploring! They are a welcome and exciting change of pace now. Enemy encounters are still as short and intense as I remember them, only now they have a seemingly cinematic quality to them.

The biggest change from TR1 to TR2 was the addition of human enemies. It always felt like killing people was wrong. Add a flawed aiming system (or lack of) on top of that and you have a recipe for fail. TR1 was full of creatures, monsters and critters. Then, out of no where, Lara Croft found herself in a John Woo movie, complete with motorcycle tricks and all. While it was entertaining to watch, the developers kind of missed the point of their first game. Lara had now become a cold blooded killer with zero explanation as to why. I have no problems killing people, if thatís where the creators want to take the character. They just forgot to lead us there story wise.

Anniversary did something very clever with the writing in that regard. They added an element of character development for Lara, by including the emotions, feelings and events that surrounded her very first kill. I wonít give away the exact details, but it is very cool to witness and once again especially because Lara now has actual facial expressions to show a mixture of emotions. Like everything else in this game, it felt right.

Why are the quick time events awesome in Tomb Raider Anniversary? Because my friends, the action on screen slows down when a button press is about to be present. That way, you can focus both on which button to press, as well as what is happening to the characters on screen before, during, and after a button press. What a novel concept! With most games, QTEs have things moving at an unbelievably fast pace. So fast that you canít enjoy whatís going on, because the second you get absorbed by the action, you miss the button. By slowing things down momentarily and then speeding up again, it gives the player a chance to both be a part of and enjoy the event. Sweet!

Musically, I have no recollection of the original games. None. Not to say they werenít good, but 10 years ago, they really didnít make an impression on me. Anniversary however, is another story. It took Troels Brun Folmann 5 months to compose the score, and it is outstanding. The title music is wonderful and if you play through the Croft Manor side quest, turn up the volume! It never once got old to me. Subtle changes in track from room to room while keeping the main Croft Manor theme going was a very impressive artistic choice. More games need to do this.

Needless to say, I love this game. I know, I probably should have played Legend first since that is Crystal Dynamicís first attempt at Tomb Raider, but I just couldnít pass up the original Tomb Raider experience of isolation and exploration. I love that feeling, and they recaptured it very well.

From what little I played of Legend just recently, it is easy to see how much extra polish they put on Anniversary. Everything just feels a little bit better. It is also weird to be killing people again, but not nearly as jarring as TR2 was thanks to Anniversaryís story. Iím glad I went back in to the series in this order as things make more sense.

Iím looking forward to completing Legend and then playing through Underworld. By that time, theyíll have screwed up the series again Iím sure. From what I hear, Eidos wants another revamp in gameplay, another re-image for Lara in another sub par game. They just donít know a good thing when they have it, do they? In any case, at least Crystal Dynamics was able to attain near perfection with Anniversary.
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About Demtorone of us since 3:10 PM on 02.28.2008

I love me some pixels and retro games from the 16-Bit era and I miss the arcades of early 90's. Recently bought a PS3 followed by a 360 but I tend not to keep up with new releases, instead I often play older games I missed out on. Lately it's been hard though. Gamefly just keeps sending me games, and I keep beating them =)

Now Playing
Dragon Age: Origins
Rainbow Six: Las Vegas 2
Zombie Shooter 2
Zombie Driver

Favorite games
Demon's Souls
Shadow of the Colossus
Metal Gear Solid
Thief 2:The Metal Age
Doom 2
River City Ransom
Castlevania:Symphony of the Night
Bushido Blade
Secret of Mana
System Shock 2
Super Metroid
Final Fantasy III(j6)
Tie Fighter
Deus Ex
Baldur's Gate 2
Zelda: Link to the Past

Love this site, and the people involved in making it great. Its nice to have a gaming news blog that lets me curse unchecked when I fucking need to! I feel fortunate to be a part of such a great community. I became a big fan of the site when I stumbled across RetroforceGo! and fell in love with retro games all over again listening to others share their memories of the early glory days of gaming. Yeah, I'm an "old timer" that dislikes online console nonsense, misses the arcades and the fact that 2D games still take a back seat to 3D (the uprising is coming, I swear it!) but allow me to tell you how I came to be the gamer I am today.

I'm 27 and grew up on Nintendo and PC Gaming. Basically when my brother would have the TV to game I would be killing Nazis in Wolfenstein 3D or mapping out dungeons for Eye of the Beholder. When the SNES was released, the same pattern was repeated only with Doom and Lands of Lore in the mix. Throw in some Warcarft and Duke Nukem and I was two mouse clicks away from being addicted to PC gaming for life. Thankfully my brother was gracious enough to have a life so I could waste mine on our consoles when he had things to do, lol.

Back then every Friday it was almost an unspoken tradition to ride our bikes to Video Action down the block and rent a game for the weekend. Good lord we rented some terrible Nintendo games, but hey, we hadn't played them yet, so we had to try them. Home Alone and Cliffhanger would teach me otherwise.

I, like many, was duped by Nintendo with the 64. What a piece of shit system! At least I got to play Zelda and I did beat Turok (3D pitfall jumps and all). Mario 64 and F-Zero round out the few games I actually enjoyed on that system. PC games filled A LOT of my time then. Baldurs Gate, Thief, Tie Fighter, Diablo, Half-Life, Jagged Alliance, Mechwarrior 2, Warcraft 2, Starcraft, Hexen, Counter-Strike, etc. It wasn't until I convinced my brother that he had to get a Playstation for Final Fantasy 7 that I truly became a console junkie.

Getting a PS2 was a no brainer for me in high school. How could I not after devoting countless hours to my PS1 with games like Resident Evil 1 & 2, Alundra, Bushido Blade, FF8, FFTactics, Wild Arms, BoF3, Vagrant Story, Syphon Filter, Grandia, Silent Hill, Castlevania:SotN, Metal Gear Solid... I mean, sweet Jesus there were A LOT of great games for Playstation. Yeah they look old and busted now but back then they were amazing. So PS2 was just the next natural step up.

I PC gamed a lot more after that, heh. For some reason the PS2 console couldn't hold my attention past the obvious choices like GTA3/VC/SA and MGS2 & 3. Probably had more to do with my upgraded PC and the fact that PC games had a lot more appeal to me during the PS2's life cycle. Morrowind, Fallout 1 & 2, Diablo 2, Half-Life 2, Farcry, Deus Ex, Thief 3, Warcraft 3, Call of Duty, Gothic 1 & 2, Oblivion and then... World of Warcraft. Above all other reasons I find myself so behind on games, its because of WoW. That and around the time of WoW's release I started dating girls. I am now 3 years clean from WoW and am a better gamer for it. Only a few years clean from women, and also a better gamer for it, lol.

These days I'm catching up on games I missed. After two failed engagements and finally graduating from college with a BA I find I have LOTS of free on my hands but I'm loving every second of it. You realize how much you really take for granted when your freedom is limited for a time, and then given back to you.

RetroforceGo introduced me in to a new genre of games - SHMUPs!! I never get tired of some arcade shooting action. Can you yell DO DON PACHI!?! I can and do when I'm drunk and shooting spaceships in droves, muwhaha!

Bought a Gamecube for Twilight Princess and Metroid Prime. Then there was Ikaruga. I suck at it but man do I love playing that game. I plan on getting through Windwaker one of these days, but that damned jail sequence at the beginning really pissed me off.

Bought a PS3 for GTAIV because I knew MGS4 would be out soon and I'd have to have that as well. The 360 came soon after I realized games like Castle Crashers, Braid, Crackdown, Dead Rising and various SHMUPs needed my attention. Games like Dead Dishwasher Samurai still make me happy about my 360 purchase. Doubt I'll ever buy a Wii, though the new Punch Out was a lot of fun.

My DS begs for my attention as I attempt to play Piano for the first time ever. I also love reading fantasy novels from R.A. Salvatore and George R.R. Martin, watching movies and GOOD anime as well. I'm really in to TV shows like Dexter, House MD, and Sons of Anarchy as well as good independent pro wrestling like Ring of Honor and real sports like the NFL. Greenbay Packers 4 life! There just isn't enough hours in a day. Man, it is a great time to be a young nerd these days.
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