When Tomb Raider first hit in 1996, it was nothing short of groundbreaking. When the game industry was experiencing a sea change from predominately sprite-based 2D graphics to polygonal 3D graphics, Tomb Raider was a shining example of the sort of immersive atmosphere and exploration-based gameplay that was possible. There simply weren't strong, serious, and highly competent female protagonists like Lara Croft, though in a way, Lara Croft's role as a protagonist was almost outstripped by her roles of cover girl, female role model, and spokesperson for the maturation of video games. While years of sequels that ranged from unremarkable to borderline offensive did a lot to tarnish the Tomb Raider name, developer Crystal Dynamics undid a lot of damage with last year's Tomb Raider: Legend, which focused on the strengths of the series--exotic locales, thoughtful puzzles, and incredible acrobatics--while modernizing the gameplay and streamlining the whole experience. Crystal D continues its good work with Tomb Raider: Anniversary, which effectively goes back to the original Tomb Raider and rebuilds it from scratch. Tomb Raider: Anniversary isn't as groundbreaking as the original Tomb Raider, but it's undeniably more playable.
Like the original, Tomb Raider: Anniversary follows pretty much the same basic tale of Lara's hunt for the Scion of Atlantis as she does battle with conniving businesswoman Jacqueline Natlas and her various henchmen. You'll explore ancient tombs and forgotten cities in Peru, Greece, Egypt, and more, performing plenty of death-defying acrobatics as you work your way through massive, ancient, and often deadly puzzles. The whole experience is highly evocative of the original, and there are certainly plenty of moments that seem specifically designed to create an odd sense of dÂ£jÂ£ vu; but nothing in Tomb Raider Anniversary has been regurgitated verbatim--everything is bigger and better. The environments are larger and more detailed, and existing puzzles have been elaborated upon, to an incredible degree. The experience just feels bigger, and there's so much new content that it honestly feels less like a remake and more like its own game.
A big part of that feeling comes from how much more talented Lara has become since the original Tomb Raider. Aside from a few, nominal differences, she's basically got the same abilities here as she had in Tomb Raider: Legend, which made her one of the most nimble action adventure heroes this side of the Prince of Persia. Her proficiency around ledges is incredible--she can shimmy across ledges, leap from one ledge to another, and scramble from one ledge to a higher ledge. She can swing from dangling ropes and horizontal bars, perform tumbling maneuvers to avoid projectiles, and climb up, leap from, and balance precariously atop vertical poles. All of these acrobatics feel natural, and not overly difficult to pull off, with the game allowing for just the right amount of margin of error. As good as Lara is, though, she's got her limits, which is a big part of what makes the action feel dangerous. If your timing is off just a little bit when jumping for a ledge, Lara might only catch it with one hand, which will have you furiously mashing a button to help her recover. Miss the ledge completely, though, and Lara's likely to expire, or at least incur a serious amount of damage.
She'll need to exercise each and every one of these abilities to their absolute limit in Tomb Raider: Anniversary, which features no shortage of ridiculous acrobatics. The game is essentially made up of a series of gigantic, unique set-piece puzzles. Sometimes the puzzles are traditional find-the-key, flip-the-switch-type affairs, but more often than not, the real puzzle is figuring out how to use Lara's ability to get from point A to point B. What's more, the puzzles are often nested several layers deep. While your overall goal may be to find four keys to open a door, you'll first have to figure out how to get to the bottom of a gigantic, crumbling tower, after which you'll have to figure out how to access four different doors, after which you'll have to figure out how to actually open those doors--and, of course, behind each of those doors lies a series of tricks and traps that you'll have to traverse before you'll get to the keys. Solving one of these overarching puzzles can be an involved process, with some of them taking well over an hour to complete.