While Lara Croft: Tomb Raider Anniversary does not bear the most innovative of titles, it certainly captures the essence of the game. It is hard to believe that it has been 10 years since I first saw the tight tee-shirt and short wearing heroine named Lara. I must say that she has aged well.
Tomb Raider Anniversary is a recreation of sorts. It takes the original game and sprinkles in a few treats along the way. If you are unaware of the history of Tomb Raider, it should not be difficult to get up to speed. Take India Jones, make the protagonist a female with a bit of a tragic past and a bank roll that would make James Bond blush. Also, remove all but the basics in apparel so that the heroine does not overheat in her generally equatorial adventures. Give her some weapons and survival gear and drop her in some dangerous and remote locations. Repeat this formula for numerous iterations. I may be wrong, but I believe console versions began with the Sega Saturn and Playstation and have continued to the current generation.
So many games on the Wii promise to provide controls that are revolutionary and then fall miserably short. Fortunately, Tomb Raider Anniversary makes good on its promise to add something to the Wii version of the game. Both the Wiimote and nunchuck are utilized to progress with both speed and finesse. It took some getting used to and a bit of practice, but the game’s control felt second-nature after only a short time. There were only a few instances where I thought to myself “I would have done it a different way.”
Lara’s movements are basically controlled with the thumb stick on the nunchuck. The Wiimote reticule along with an auto aim feature is manipulated using the remote. The camera movement is pretty intuitive. By using the d-pad on the Wiimote, Lara is able to pull off specific moves such as crouching, turning on her flashlight, and grappling. Once you get the hang of it you will not want to go back to thumb sticks and buttons. There is a nice tutorial available in the form of Lara’s home where you can practice various moves in relative safety. Once you are comfortable you can go out into the big bad world.
The enemy AI is decent and in some instances downright challenging. In reality, the true enemy seems to be the environment, which seems to go out of its way to stop you dead in your tracks until you can find a way around or through it. This makes for a good mixture of action with some time to think. For attention deficit suffers like myself, who quickly grow tired of repetition, the action changes frequently enough to keep you interested.
Tomb Raider Anniversary is a tribute to the original game in the series. I recall playing it on my PC many moons ago. I also remember struggling with the controls and graphics, often getting lost and scratching my head. These were long before the days of the Internet and instantaneous access to strategy guides and hints. Still, I played that game to the bitter end, even though I was forced to spend a few more hours in bland-textured areas than I would have liked.
While Anniversary pays tribute to the original, it is by no means constrained by it. I am reminded of what George Lucas did with the Star Wars re-releases in which he added what he wished he could have previously. Of course, in this case it is a different developer, but one who obviously employed fans of the series. Many of the levels are very familiar, some are new. The mix is good and the improvements to gameplay are terrific. The story is ok, but does not get in the way of the action by forcing you to pay too much attention. After all, this is about admiring Lara…I mean the scenery.
Along with the progression of the story arc, there is a smattering of what I would describe as mini-games mixed in. In some ways, levels can be mini-games unto themselves. Trying to get the right combination of parts and pieces or solving fairly basic puzzles. The puzzles keep true to the archeological roots of the game and add some fun to the whole experience without being frustrating. I could be more specific, but it would take some of the fun out of the experience.
Speaking of frustrating, my major complaint with the title, and it cannot be overlooked, is the poor camera. Although it is not a constant issue, when it does crop up, the timing could not be worse. Just when you need to uses finesse to leap or dodge, the camera slams you right back to reality and you remember you are playing a game. Trying to take on an enemy? No problem. Take on a pack, however, and you may find yourself in an uncontrolled and annoying situation in which the camera is just clueless as where it wants to be. Given the beauty of so many other Wii titles, I feel this could have been handled better.
The level design is well conceived and, with the exception of Lara’s Mansion, I did not find myself lost too often. When compared to the original, the game is just plain beautiful. In terms of graphical power, this game is closer in appearance to the PS2 version with some slight improvements, than it is to the smoother and crisper PS3 and 360 versions.
Unfortunately the frame rate becomes quite and issue at times, chugging at a noticeably choppy rate. For a game that is so polished in other areas, it is a shame that these graphical issues were not resolved before release. Still, the gameplay mechanics are such that this would probably be the best all around experience (unless graphics are much more important to you than gameplay). The sound in sufficient but noting special.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider Anniversary is not a revolutionary title in its own right. However, for any fan of the series, it is a grand romp into videogame history with one of its most memorable characters. Just like a long-term relationship, this game has its issues, but if you can get past them, the game is an enjoyable experience. So pony up some cash and show Lara some love.