With the release of Tomb Raider: Anniversary, the franchise revisits one of the titles that started it all off. The game, recently released for the Nintendo Wii is a complete update on the game that made Lara Croft into a household name. As with all games on the Wii, the update attempts to take advantage of the system's motion sensing controls.
For those unfamiliar with the game series, or its heroine, the series involves the "tomb raider" Lara Croft going around the world in search of ancient artifacts. In this game, Croft is purportedly on a search for the Scion of Atlantis. In actuality however, the plot is merely an excuse to have Croft run, leap, and shimmy through levels, solve simple puzzles, and shoot things.
Rather than simply be a graphical improvement upon the original game (released in 1996), everything here is bigger and better than before. The levels are larger, the puzzles more intricate, and the derring-do ratcheted up a notch. There are moments that hearken back to the original (like battling a Tyrannosaurus Rex), and the overall goal is the same, but make no mistake, the game is far more a new experience than a simple remake.
Anniversary plays out as a third person platformer, with Croft performing one spectacular leap or climb, or ledge crawl, after another. The levels, which vary from jungle to tomb (and things between) are, for the most part, linear. There is but one way to progress through them, and the direction is readily apparent. They're not the sort of open-ended wide ranging levels many games opt for today (or that the series would eventually use), but they are large enough with enough to do in them that they're mainly unidirectional nature is not overly negative.
In fact, the game works quite well as a shoot-'em-up adventure, with Croft never running out of basic handgun bullets (more sophisticated weaponry and ammo can be harder to come by). Nor does Croft want for extra lives, dying in the game always results in a return to the most recently passed checkpoint.
On the whole, the software team has done a wonderful job updating the game for today's more capable systems. While the Wii is not, and never will be, as powerful as the Xbox 360 or the Playstation 3, the graphics on Anniversary still look good and are certainly a substantial improvement over the original entry into the franchise. Those that enjoyed playing the game when the series began more than ten years ago will be pleased with it's freshened look.
Additionally, Tomb Raider: Anniversary's use of the Wii's control mechanisms makes the game even more enjoyable. Running, jumping, and climbing are performed with ease and in a wholly natural way. The use of the grappling hook requires a wrist flick in the air much in the way one might actually throw such a hook in reality (not that this reviewer has every had such an opportunity). Swimming is somewhat less easy to get the hang of, which may be because Croft never swims as fast as one feels she should. The game also provides an auto-lock onto enemies within range, which allows Croft to hit a locked enemy when facing in the enemy's general direction.
However, there are still some significant issues with the game as released. The camera angle is a constant frustration, and the user's ability to change the viewing angle never seems to improve anything. It is all too often impossible to perform a jump or other dangerous maneuver correctly on the first try simply because an appropriate camera angle is unattainable (thank goodness Croft's lives are infinite).
More upsetting is the fact that at more than one location it is possible to jump "through" a seam in a wall and into a no man's land from which it impossible to escape or die. Happily, the game has no limit on the number of saves allowed and has checkpoints on a regular basis (all saved games start from the most recently accessed checkpoint). Thus, when one does happen to jump through a wall the game can be restarted from a checkpoint with little loss of progress.
While some of the mini-games feel foolish (is it really necessary to uncover hidden signs by use of a paintbrush?), and as noted above there are some other issues, Tomb Raider: Anniversary is a wonderfully fun entry into the series. Lara Croft is far more nimble than she once was, and I certainly look forward to her next leap onto the Wii.
Tomb Raider Anniversary is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Mild Suggestive Themes and Violence.