It’s been 10 years since “Tomb Raider” burst onto the gaming scene, ushering in a new era of 3D technology and heroine fetish. Since then, the series has ping-ponged awkwardly among puzzle adventures, action games, two movies and some truly shameless cash-ins. But to celebrate the franchise’s 10th anniversary, developer Crystal Dynamics is returning the renowned raider-ess to her roots, with “Tomb Raider: Anniversary,” an elegantly satisfying remake of the first game.
“Anniversary” is a relatively staid and elegant tomb crawl, presented as a re-imagination of the original game for newer, more powerful systems. It’s not a slavish corridor-by-corridor, jump-by-jump remake, like Gus van Sant’s re-shoot of “Psycho.” Game is inspired enough by the original “Tomb Raider” that longtime fans will recall moments from the first game, but original enough that they won’t simply relive them.
Unlike last year’s highly regarded “Tomb Raider: Legends,” it’s not about big action sequences and cinematic set pieces. In fact, the game is at its weakest when it tries to force heroine Lara Croft through a scripted T-Rex attack or into gunplay with angry gorillas. Combat is a sloppy exercise in finicky timing, frantic clicking and careful conservation of med kits and ammo. Hardly the stuff of your favorite action movie.
At its best, “Anniversary” relaxes and lets players guide Lara, at their own pace, through impressive environments. The real star of this game is the epic scope of the levels and the detailed animation of the lovely Croft. Thanks to some slick technology, particularly in the PC version, “Anniversary” will have players running, jumping, swinging, and dangling by Croft’s fingertips with the greatest of ease. The heroine is as busty and scantily clad as ever — must she really go up into the Andes dressed like that? — but she’s come a long way since the vacant zombie gaze and harshly squared polygons of 1996. There are times when her eye line sweeps by the camera and players might swear she was checking them out.
The settings are vast caverns, dungeons and temples, along with massive monuments and deadly traps. The different locations are more atmospheric than flashy, happy to get by on a stately obelisk or a majestic waterfall. The story moves through three relatively realistic environments before getting a little crazy in the last act.
The game is almost meditative, except for the occasional angry gorilla. But the key word here is “elegant.” With the exception of its dazzling acrobatics and obligatory cheesecake, “Anniversary” shows restraint that’s too often absent in this age of over-the-top videogames.