Lara will need to exercise each and every one of her 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. Additionally, 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. Then you'll have to figure out how to actually open those doors. But 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.
The environments are your biggest adversaries most of the time in Anniversary, though through your exploration, you'll regularly run into some antagonistic fauna. These include rats, bats, wolves, bears, tigers, gorillas, raptors, and the occasional tyrannosaurus rex. Combat is limited to gunplay, which operates with a simple lock-on system. Lara can also tumble and flip through the air while keeping a bead on an enemy. New to Anniversary is the adrenaline dodge, which at specific moments allows Lara to dodge a charging enemy in slow motion. When time slows, a target will also slowly move toward the enemy, and if you fire the weapon right at the moment it locks on, it'll produce an instant kill, usually when the ferocious beast is just inches away from your face. It still feels like Tomb Raider combat, which has always been a minor part of the experience, but the adrenaline dodge is a nice little touch that adds a little more drama to the action. Tomb Raider: Anniversary also makes use of the same type of interactive cutscenes seen in Tomb Raider: Legend, where you'll have to quickly react to an onscreen button cue to keep Lara alive. It allows for some beautifully choreographed action sequences, but they're rarely very challenging.
It's almost enough to make you forget about Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness.
What keeps Tomb Raider: Anniversary engaging throughout is the strength of the gameplay, as well as the quality of the presentation. Even though you're basically just going from one tomb to another, they feature enough individual detail to make them unique. The environments are also huge, using the occasional curvy hallway to mask load times. Aside from some minor gameplay contrivances, they feel pretty real. Lara looks great and moves with a natural grace that makes her incredible acrobatic feats look feasible instead of ridiculously superhuman, while the various wildlife you confront also moves convincingly. The quality of the design and the animation comes through intact on the PSP, but a few of the finer touches in the PC and PS2 versions are absent. These are specifically lighting and atmospheric effects. But of greater concern is Anniversary's inconsistent frame rate, which can obscure the game's lovely animation and also make the timing of jumps trickier than necessary. While the fidelity of the sound elements seem to have been reduced, the game's sound design still carries a lot of the weight in establishing atmosphere. You'll hear plenty of small ambient effects, such as animal calls and dripping water. Lara's grunts and yelps as she scales these incredible antiquities will also resonate differently depending on the size of the room. Music is generally used sparingly, but it always swells to a flourish at all the right moments.
Tomb Raider: Legend did a lot to make Lara Croft feel relevant again, and Tomb Raider: Anniversary is another step in the right direction. The acrobatic action is consistently exciting and challenging throughout. Thus, despite being a remake, the experience feels new and fresh. This is the best Tomb Raider game in years, and for the first time in a long time, that actually means something.