Welcome back to Survivor Reborn’s Retrospective series, where today we’ll be delving into the development and reception of Crystal Dynamics’ ten-year celebration of the very first Tomb Raider – Tomb Raider: Anniversary.
Setting the scene
In 2006, even before the release of Tomb Raider: Legend, the thoughts of publishers, developers, and fans alike were inevitably turning towards the ten-year anniversary of the very first Tomb Raider game. In August 2006, Ian Livingstone hinted that a special new game was in the works and that formal details would be released later in the year. In October 2006, Eidos officially announced that Crystal Dynamics was developing Tomb Raider: Anniversary – a ‘completely new vision’ of the original Tomb Raider story.
Anniversary mirrored many iconic cinematic moments from its predecessor
Tomb Raider: Anniversary, published by Eidos Interactive and developed by Crystal Dynamics and Buzz Monkey Software, was released on the PlayStation 2, Windows, the PlayStation Portable (PSP), and the Nintendo Wii in June 2007. It was later released on the Xbox 360 and Mac OS X, and in 2011 a remastered version was released on the PlayStation 3 as part of the Tomb Raider Trilogy Collection (Legend, Anniversary, and Underworld).
Retelling a classic
The story underpinning Tomb Raider: Anniversary was, with one of two very minor changes, a direct retelling of the 1996 Core Design original.
Back in 1945, atomic testing in Los Alamos unexpectedly unearthed an arcane device – and its decidedly non-human occupant – from deep beneath the desert. Skipping forward to the present day, business entrepreneur Jacqueline Natla retained the services of one thrill-seeking British archaeologist-adventurer, Lara Croft, to retrieve the Scion of Atlantis (as opposed to the unnamed ‘little trinket’ in the original). In Tomb Raider: Anniversary, Lara was doubly tempted by Natla’s offer because the Scion, and the legendary lost civilisation of Atlantis, had been twin obsessions of her father, Lord Richard Croft – a plot point that had not been present in the original story, but which tied into Crystal Dynamics’ other titles – Tomb Raider: Legend and the as-then still unfinished Tomb Raider: Underworld.
Lara Croft – ushering fantastical species towards extinction since 1996
High in the mountains of Peru, Lara fought her way past wolves, bats, a bear or two, devious traps and a pack of ferocious dinosaurs to reach the Tomb of Qualopec. There, she discovered the object of her quest – the Scion. Or at least, one piece of it. Upon Lara’s escape from the tomb, she found Natla’s cowboy henchman, Larson Conway, waiting for her at the entrance. He promptly demanded that she hand over her hard-won Scion piece. Lara refused with her typical emphatic style, and demanded in turn to know the location of the remaining piece(s).
Interestingly, in the original story it was Larson who told Lara that Qualopec’s artefact was only one part of the Scion; in Tomb Raider: Anniversary, it is Lara who tells Larson.
Larson revealed that Natla had sent another archaeologist-for-hire, Pierre DuPont, after the second Scion piece. Eager for answers, Lara broke into Natla’s high-tech offices and discovered video-call logs between Natla and Pierre. These revealed the second piece to be buried somewhere beneath St Francis’ Folly, in Greece (in the original, Lara discovers this information in a monk’s diary).
Pierre’s greater part of valour was no use against Tihocan’s guardians
Lara arrived at St Francis’ Folly and proceeded to descend past its devious architecture, wild beasts, and hair-raising traps. At the very bottom of the complex she found the sunken Tomb of Tihocan and the second Scion piece. Pierre, who had dogged Lara’s footsteps since her arrival, was treated to the same harsh lesson in manners as Larson, but was subsequently killed by two monstrous centaur statues at the tomb’s entrance. After beating these two guardians, Lara brought the two Scion pieces together and was treated to a brain-watering, yet indistinct, vision of two figures – Tihocan and Qualopec – standing in judgement over a third figure. It was clear that some monstrous event had destroyed Atlantis and that the third figure was responsible. The vision ended with the sight of a site in Egypt – the location of the missing third piece of the Scion.
Lara hop, skipped, and jumped from Greece to Egypt and set about Scion-hunting in the ruined lost city of Khamoon – where the traps were just as vicious as the mummified Atlantean tomb guardians. Eventually, Lara made her way deep beneath a grand Sphinx and a partially-flooded gallery to the innermost Sanctuary of the Scion. After combining all three pieces to fully reassemble the Scion, Lara’s vision was finally revealed in all its full-sensory glory. Tihocan and Qualopec denounced the third co-ruler of Atlantis and condemned her to an eternity of frozen agony; and who else was revealed as this third figure? Natla, naturally.
Lara witnesses Atlantean justice first-hand
Emerging from her vision, Lara was startled by the actual flesh-and-blood Natla – the former Queen of Atlantis – plucking the Scion from her grasp. Surrounded by armed henchmen, and with her own weapons confiscated, Lara did the only sensible thing and swan-dived to safety down a steep ravine. She then tracked Natla’s party downriver and stowed away on board their small yacht.
The boat docked at a remote island – one of the lost (and last) fragments of Atlantis. Lara tracked Natla and the Scion through the mines and lava shafts, but was stopped in her tracks by Larson. Despite Larson’s cajoling, Lara decided that the pursuit of her goals was more important than a single human life and promptly shot Larson in cold blood.
Larson was marginally less of a prat this time, but was still a champion at getting in Lara’s way
Lara was also given pause by Natla’s remaining henchmen – Jerome “The Kid” Johnson and Kold Kin Kade (in the originals, these unnamed characters and their roles were spread out over several, more anonymous cowboy-like individuals). After overcoming them both in a brief struggle, Lara entered the Great Pyramid at the heart of the island.
The Great Pyramid and its mutated Atlantean denizens fought Lara at every turn, but nothing could deter her from reaching the throne room at the very apex of the grand structure. There, Lara was confronted by Natla in full Atlantean Queen regalia, and openly boasting her natural Atlantean appearance, wings and all. Natla planned to use the Scion’s limitless knowledge to breed entire armies of Atlantean minions and usher in the Seventh Age – wiping out humanity in the process. The Amazonian and triumphant Lara, however, was offered a place at Natla’s right hand (in the originals, Natla’s appearance is far less flamboyant and she makes no such offer of allegiance). The Scion offered Lara secrets her father could never have dreamed of – including information that might lead to the truth behind Amelia Croft’s disappearance. Natla even referred to Lara’s recent act of cold-blooded murder to show how much more they both valued their ideals over petty human affairs.
The new Natla dressed to impress
Lara, however, stepped away from temptation and fired her gun at the Scion – destroying it. In a fit of rage, Natla tried to push Lara into a pit of lava – only to fall in herself. Lara began to fight her way out of the Pyramid, dodging lava and enraged Atlanteans – including Natla’s gruesome torso-creature experiment – at every turn.
Just as she was on the verge of escaping, Lara was was once again confronted by Natla – a scorched, blackened harridan intent on salvaging her shattered plans for world domination (in the original, Natla retained an unburnt human appearance, albeit with mutant, fireball-flinging appendages). The two women fought, but although Natla was stronger and more resilient, Lara used her agility and wits (and ever-useful grapple-hook) to topple a pillar onto her nemesis and make her escape. Lara managed to swim for the boat just as the whole island collapsed in on itself – taking Natla with it.
Or so we thought…
Re-inventing the past
Although the storyline in Tomb Raider: Anniversary retained almost all of the features of the game it paid homage to, its gameplay mechanics, naturally, reflected contemporary sixth- and seventh-generation consoles. The game used a refined version of the Tomb Raider: Legend engine to allow Lara to freely and fluidly perform acrobatic moves in highly-detailed environments.
The environments were closely modelled on those from the original game. Most of the differences between the two were cosmetic, such as the renaming of two of the ‘god rooms’ in St Francis’ Folly (i.e. Norse Thor and Roman Neptune) in order to bring them into line with their Greek personas (Hephaestus and Poseidon, respectively). However, some areas were redesigned to take full advantage of contemporary technology; the wide-open Lost Valley and Colosseum levels, for instance, no longer suffered from black distance fog and had smoother, more rounded geometry. The aforementioned god rooms were also given more detailed puzzles.
Fond memories reimagined – Lost Valley, Obelisk of Khamoon, St Francis’ Folly, and Atlantis
Some iconic moments, such as the torso-boss fight and the final showdown with Natla, were re-imagined as larger, more complicated boss fights and – to the annoyance of some fans – QTEs (this was especially true for the initial appearance of the infamous T-Rex). Other originally minor or cutscene-based events were either expanded upon or turned into QTEs, such as Lara’s final, fatal confrontation with Larson. As Toby Gard says in his commentary:
“…the goal was not to rewrite it [the Anniversary story] but to invest it with some kind of emotional depth…. the Larson character therefore, expanded into the real test for her of, [you know,] are you going to shoot some guy just in order to get what you want… the remake gave us an opportunity to really focus on how, what a difficult choice that really should be for a person… We basically created the ‘Super Action’ and instead of it being really for gameplay, it’s really for an emotional connection of the player with this act that is basically Lara stepping too far over the line—over the moral line—and taking down this guy, and feeling bad about it.” – Toby Gard, Tomb Raider: Anniversary commentary
This was, in fact, the first (and so far only) time a Tomb Raider game included in-game developer commentary. Players could activate audio snippets from Toby Gard, Creative Director Jason Botta, and Art Director Andy Wood via floating blue crystals after completing each chapter in the game.
Other changes from the original game included a less-fleshy-looking Atlantis, a larger and more puzzle-orientated Croft Manor (with new outdoor gardens and hedge maze), and small but significant character redesigns.
He’s back and more disgusting and disturbing than ever!
Nathan McCree’s iconic score was lovingly re-imagined by Tomb Raider: Legend composer Troels Folmann. He dispensed with Legend’s occasional techno-/electronic style and instead opted for a more orchestral, cinematic score. Keeley Hawes returned once again to voice Lara Croft, and Tomb Raider newcomer Grey DeLisle made her debut as the sophisticated Atlantean Queen, Natla.
Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider: Anniversary, backed by Eidos Interactive, was officially announced in October 2006. However, this announcement made no mention of the fact that Core Design – Lara’s home studio – had been in the process of developing a one-off 10th-anniversary edition of Tomb Raider themselves since November 2004.
In 2004/5, after the perceived commercial failure of Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness, Core Design pitched the idea of a 10th anniversary Tomb Raider game to publishers Eidos and their parent company SCi (Sales Curve Interactive). Studio manager Gavin Rummery, and fellow Tomb Raider veterans Richard Morton and Phil Chapman, were given the green light to develop such a game using the still-in-development Freerunning engine on the PSP.
In 2006, and with Core Design’s game in full-swing, Crystal Dynamics pitched their own demo for a Tomb Raider anniversary-inspired game to Eidos/SCi. The publishers decided to scrap Core Design’s late-alpha/early-beta game development and instead support Crystal Dynamics’ version. In the words of Gavin Rummery:
“They convinced whatever the politics in SCi was like that it made more sense to just keep it all in one studio… Keep the franchise in one place. And so ours was killed, and you’d have never heard if it hadn’t been leaked by someone.” – Gavin Rummery, Studio Manager, Core Design
The ‘leak’ in question consisted of a 2.15 minute-long trailer of the game in-progress, which was anonymously leaked into the public domain on the 8th June 2006 – a full year before the release of Crystal Dynamics Tomb Raider: Anniversary.
This episode spelled the end for Core Design. The remaining team members went onto produce titles for which they had little or no personal investment, before the studio was bought by Rebellion and eventually dissolved for good in March 2010.
Legacy and conclusion
Tomb Raider: Anniversary received critical praise from almost every game reviewer and critic. IGN gave it 7.8/10, while the Official UK PlayStation Magazine gave it whopping 9/10. Eurogamer praised it as, “the best Lara Croft adventure to date”. However, by 2009 the game had sold only 1.3 million copies – the lowest figure of any title in the franchise to date.
By 2007, the release of Tomb Raider: Anniversary had solidified Crystal Dynamics’ hold on the franchise. The game marked the second part in a three-part trilogy that would come to a dramatic conclusion in 2008, and leave the field open for an entirely new, second reboot of Lara Croft.
We’d love to hear your thoughts and memories of Tomb Raider: Anniversary, so feel free to leave your comments here or over on the Survivor Reborn forums.
Article written by J. R. Milward.
Images courtesy of J. R. Milward.
Copious thanks to Stella’s Tomb Raider site for providing all those useful savegames!
- Living Legend – an interview with Ian Livingstone on Eurogamer.net in August 2006
- Tomb Raider: Anniversary on WikiRaider
- Tomb Raider: Anniversary on Wikipedia
- Stella’s Tomb Raider site, commentary transcripts
- Keeley Hawes at IMDB
- Grey DeLisle at the IMDB
- Opposable Thumbs (Ars Technica gaming and entertainment website) by Richard Moss 31st March 2015 article
- Tomb Raider: Anniversary Edition ‘leaked’ trailer
Retrospective: Tomb Raider: Anniversary by J. R. Milward / Survivor Reborn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.