Reviewed: December 17, 2007
Released: November 13, 2007
Lara Croft is celebrating her tenth anniversary and unparalleled grip on at least two generations of gamers, and as one would expect with any franchise that can endure for over a decade Eidos treats us to Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary, a next-gen title that returns us to the roots of Lara’s origins, at least as far as gaming is concerned. Many gamers and a lot of critics will tell you that Lara’s first adventure was (and still is) her best, so now a whole new generation of players can find out for themselves.
Previously released on PC, PS2, Xbox 360 and even the PSP, the Anniversary edition has finally made its way to the Wii, but can a title more than ten years old stand the test of time, even with some substantial updates and Wii specific gameplay features? The answer is an absolute YES, and by the end of the first level I had totally fallen in love with Lara all over again.
I’ve probably played the original Tomb Raider at least eight times. It inspired my very first online strategy guide, which has ultimately led to the site you are reading this review on today. I know the game like the proverbial back of my hand, and it was instant déjà vu the moment I started playing Anniversary on the Xbox 360.
I was amazed at how well the original game content was brought over, almost fully intact from ten years ago, then infused with some next-gen gameplay elements we saw in Legend including new moves like the diagonal jump, her magnetic grapple, and those timed Super Actions (QTE’s). Most of the original level designs and puzzles are just as I remembered, and there is enough new features, mostly to include the new moves and action sequences, to keep things fresh for gamers with memories as good as mine.
While Tomb Raider: Legend tried to turn Lara into some sort of James Bond super-agent, Anniversary reaffirms her status as a female Indiana Jones, exploring lost ruins in search of ancient relics, discovering lost worlds and doing battle with raptors and a T-Rex. All the adventure elements and sheer wonder of discovery have been captured from the original story, and thanks to next-gen controls and new moves, Lara moves and reacts with much more speed and grace than she ever could, even on a 3DFX-equipped PC.
Combat is pretty repetitive and mindless, much like the original. You have your twin pistols with unlimited ammo and additional weapons appear later in the game. You can lock onto enemies and simply unload until they are dead. Sometimes a bat, wolf, bear, or dinosaur will charge at you enabling you to do a slow-motion dodge-roll giving you extra seconds to unload an extra clip into your target’s back. This becomes a required strategy for certain boss fights.
The Wii version includes exclusive gameplay features not possible on other systems as well as some problematic controls when it comes to movement and camera control. The game does an admirable job of tracking Lara but you will ultimately have to hold C and point the remote to pivot the camera. If you get totally lost you can tap C to reset the camera behind Lara.
You can crouch or tumble forward by pressing down on the D-pad and interact with the world, pick up objects, or do a safety grab after a leap by pushing up on the D-pad. To use the grapple you flick the nunchuk down, which makes no sense since you are almost always shooting above you. The +/– buttons provide instant access to large and small med kits without accessing the inventory.
Movement controls include shaking the Wii remote to swim rapidly or shimmy along ledges faster. You also have a point-and-shoot weapon system. The Z button locks onto a target but you still have to aim your crosshairs into the target box. The problem is that this also locks your camera so when the enemy jumps on top of you or runs past the camera can’t keep up and you end up fighting blind, especially with fast enemies like wolves and raptors, not to mention some of the stuff you’ll fight near the end of the game.
The Wii controls do much better with the exploration part of the game. You can down dust artifacts with a brush, perform rubbings of symbols, and use hand movements to interact with gears and tumblers. Sure, it feels a bit gimmicky at first, but after a few of these interactions you really start to feel like you are part of the adventure.
But Tomb Raider is more about exploration than combat, and Anniversary fits the bill flawlessly with some of the best mythological locations in the history of gaming. Nothing can quite prepare you for the dizzying heights and complex puzzles of St. Francis’ Folly or the first time you exit the dark cave into a lost world of tropical green just in time for a T-Rex to come storming at you.
Navigating these levels requires incredible skill, both on your part and Lara's, as her run, jump, grab, shimmy, and vault lines resemble something more like a Tony Hawk trick line than an escape from an ancient ruin. You’ll be dodging traps, fighting monsters, and basking in the sheer awe of the scenery as you take part in what remains one of the best action-adventure games in video game history.
I’ve seen and played all the versions of Anniversary and the Wii version, while certainly not the prettiest of the bunch, is certainly nothing to dismiss. It supports widescreen and progressive scan and is certainly a significant improvement over the PS2 version, but it pales in comparison to the 360, PC, or PSP editions.
Expect some jaggies and lower textures resolutions. The cutscenes still look great, although a bit dated, but then again, the entire game is over ten years old. The colors aren’t leaping off the screen, but that is more to realism than design. Lara is exploring some very “earthy” locations so expect a lot of browns and grays and sub-par lighting in the depths of these ruins. Her flashlight effect isn’t quite as subtle as it is on the other systems.
When she does venture outdoors the lighting picks up and there are some truly majestic levels in this game that will take your breath away – even on the Wii. Then you have those WOW moments like the first time you enter the enormous cavern with a giant waterfall and complex waterwheel gear assembly or the first time you peer town the abyss of St. Francis’ Folly. It’s not next-gen crystal clear, but it sure looks good for the Wii.
I love the fact that most of Anniversary is played in silence. This is not only realistic but even a bit creepy and it certainly allows you to hear all the subtle environmental effects the designers have stuck into the game like water and reverb. When enemies do show up the music will kick in to fuel the moment then slip back into nothingness. I also enjoyed the familiar chimes you hear when finding a secret location - a nice nod to the original game.
Wolves, bears, raptors, bats, and dinosaurs all make their presence known with excellent sound effects. You’ll often hear a wolf howl then the pitter-patter of feet as you spin around trying to target the approaching beast. There is some decent 3D surround effects thanks to a fantastic Dolby Pro Logic II mix.
There is plenty of speech and quality voice acting in the cutscenes as well as the murmurings of Lara as she reflects on certain situations. Some of her journal entries are spoken but the load times for the voice is often longer than it takes to read the notation and it’s not worth sticking around for.
Even with my advanced knowledge of the original game, and having recently played it on the PSP and 360, it still took me a solid 14 hours to finish Anniversary. It actually took me longer on the Wii than the 360, because I wasn’t accounting for some Wii-specific puzzles, plus I had ongoing control and camera issues that had me dying a lot more in combat.
True adventures will want to explore all the levels thoroughly and grab all the secrets, relics, and artifact. Perfectionists will be compelled to revisit those levels and look for the missing treasure, so look for a solid 20-hour adventure. There is also the entire Croft Manor to explore which rivals any of the game levels in size and complexity, as well as unlockable costumes and cheat codes.
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary might not be the prettiest girl at the dance, but she’s got some new moves that will certainly make the other consoles jealous. The first time you dust off an artifact to reveal some ancient symbols, then do a rubbing of those symbols to unlock a puzzle somewhere else, and you’ll feel like a true adventure.
And even though the controls and camera provide ongoing problems through the entire game, you’ll eventually learn to adapt, or at least deal with them. The game is certainly more than enough fun to tolerate a few minor combat quirks. For Lara veterans, this is a great way to relive one of the most influential games of the past decade, and the Wii adds some remarkable interactive gameplay features that make it worth a second visit.