While we're all gagging for a true next-gen Tomb Raider we'd gladly settle for a re-make inspired by the original. Tomb Raider is considered by many as the best of the series, though we suspect that's a vision being viewed through retro-tinted gaming glasses.
A few weeks ago I found a copy of the PSone original and couldn't resist picking it up. The disc was scratched to death and the guy behind the counter said it might not even work. But for two quid I was willing to take a punt. To my surprise it worked and thanks to PS3's upscaling efforts, it looks as good as expected on a 32" HD telly. A few levels in and you can immediately see why Tomb Raider: Legend's new control scheme has become vital to the survival of the series.
The old Lara feels clunky, unintuitive and slow compared to the new one. Improvements have constantly been made to Lara's flexibility during the series but US studio Crystal Dynamics nailed it in Tomb Raider: Legend. We can thank advancements in technology for most of that, but the best thing about the original was its level design, ambience and atmosphere. They were three elements that brought the game to life in the face of fiddly controls. Technology is no substitute for pure coding talent at the end of day.
Anniversary isn't a direct remake of the '95 original so let's not get bogged down comparing every corridor, level, secret (yes, the original chime is back when you find a secret) puzzle and cut scene from the two games. That wouldn't be fair to the time and effort that's clearly gone into Anniversary. For all intents and purposes this is a new Tomb Raider game. Even if you played the original several times, chances are you won't remember its structure. You should remember its theme music though and I was glad it greeted me in the menu, albeit in a re-imagined state of course.
The names of levels may be the same as the original but there's a lot more to them now. Environments are much bigger to accommodate Lara's new moves, the puzzles have been fleshed out to make you think more, and there are more enemies to dispose of ensuring you're kept on your toes at all times. Re-playing the original, I was surprised to see the levels populated with only a few enemies and once they're gone, they're gone, leaving you in a massive level all by yourself.
Thanks to Tomb Raider: Legend's control system, playing with Lara is again fun. She can traverse the cave-like tombs with ease and the camera always helps you out by nodding in the direction you should be jumping towards. You'll occasionally die while figuring out which jump to do next but checkpoints are so frequent that you never end up backtracking very far. It's a far cry from the few-and-far-between save crystal system of old.
A couple of new abilities have also been added to Legend's set of moves. The biggest makes use of her grappling hook so Lara can run along walls. Level design dictates when you can and can't use this new ability but it opens tombs up to even more raiding possibilities. Lara can now attach herself to vertical columns and shimmy up and down them before making a jump and she can even balance on the tops of thin structures. Making a jump and landing on a platform no bigger than a plate serves up some heart-wobbling moments. But if you don't land perfectly you get a split-second to hit triangle and balance yourself out. The game doesn't want to you die too often and give up playing so it gives you plenty of second chances.