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Wii Review - 'Tomb Raider: Anniversary'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Dec. 22, 2007 @ 1:38 a.m. PST

Using an enhanced 'Tomb Raider: Legend' game engine, the graphics, technology and physics bring Lara's adventure and pursuit of a mystical artifact known only as the Scion right up to today’s technology standards and will offer gamers a completely new gameplay experience.

Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Release Date: November 14, 2007

Tomb Raider was a pretty influential game for a lot of reasons. It was the grandfather (grandmother?) of today's modern action-platforming games like Prince of Persia and Assassin's Creed, and it combined platforming, puzzle-solving and survival elements in a way that no console game had really done before. It had its fair share of problems, including a frustrating camera and aggravatingly durable enemies, but at the time, it was amazing, and raiding tombs with a female version of Indiana Jones was just what video games called for.

Of course, what Tomb Raider is more infamous for is being one of the earliest console games to use the sex appeal of its female heroine as a selling point. Unfortunately for gamers, the latter is what Tomb Raider became most famous for, and with each successive game, it focused more and more on getting heroine Lara Croft into skimpier outfits and less and less on the actual raiding of tombs. While recent games, like Tomb Raider: Legend have started to try to rebalance this, none have quite lived up to the example inspired by the classic Tomb Raider. It seems like a remake of Tomb Raider, adding Lara's new abilities to her old adventures, would be a great way to balance the two, but it doesn't work out quite so well in practice.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary takes gamers back to Lara's first adventure. Already a renowned adventurer, Lara Croft is approached by the mysterious businesswoman Jacqueline Natla, who informs her of the location of the long-lost Tomb of Qualopec, and of a powerful Egyptian artifact, the Scion, located inside. Naturally, a tomb raider like Lara isn't going to turn down a chance to be the first to explore a new location, and she accepts Natla's offer rather quickly. Of course, before long, Lara's "simple" adventure turns into a globe-spanning quest that takes her from Greece to Egypt, to the remains of Atlantis, in a race to stop an ancient conspiracy that threatens the entire world. If you've played the original Tomb Raider, there are no surprises here for you, and if you're a newcomer to the franchise, you'll discover a fun, if not particularly original, pulp-style adventure story awaits.

Most of the Tomb Raider gameplay is basically untouched from Tomb Raider: Legend. Lara can still climb, jump, throw her grappling hook, and perform complex and illogical acrobatics. The only difference is that this time, she's actually spending most of her time back in ancient ruin, so gamers have to worry a lot more about traps and pitfalls than guns and monsters. That isn't to say that Tomb Raider: Anniversary has done away with enemies altogether, just that there seem to be far fewer of them than in previous titles. This may be a blessing in disguise when you consider that the Wii-based combat is a bit of a mixed deal.

Aiming and firing using the Wiimote is fairly easy, but when combined with the incredibly awkward camera, it can become aggravating. The slow-motion "dodge sequences" that can be activated during certain enemy attacks can be rather uncomfortable to perform, and there were a few occasions when the Wiimote didn't respond during these sequences at all. It's also aggravating that you have to press the Wii button to fire every single bullet, which means you end up mashing the B button wildly, since many of the later foes can absorb quite a lot of ammunition. When the combat works, it works well, although it's not particularly any better than the shooting found on the other versions of Anniversary., and is far more overshadowed by its problems.

Tomb Raider was an amazing game for the time, but it just hasn't aged very well. While many of the same locations that were in the original Tomb Raider make their return, they're interspersed with lackluster new areas designed to show off Lara's new moves, and unfortunately, a much heavier emphasis on Lara's athletic abilities. The original Tomb Raider's acrobatics and stunts were impressive because nothing like them had been done before, but in the day and age of characters like the Prince of Persia and Altair the assassin, Lara just feels slow and unwieldy. Areas that were exciting and interesting in the PlayStation era just haven't aged well, and having them ported almost identically from the PlayStation original means that these areas can't help but feel a bit dated and almost agonizingly slow.

However, the real problem comes with the new areas designed just for Tomb Raider: Anniversary. The ported areas feel outdated, but the new areas are just boring and uninspired. You'll do the same few tasks over and over again, using the same few moves, all in what feels like an attempt to show off Lara's new abilities, almost all of which were already shown off, in better ways, in Tomb Raider Legend, and their addition to the classic Tomb Raider levels stick out like a sore thumb.

The weird mishmash of level designs is made all the more aggravating by the unbelievably bad camera. Rather than being designed to ensure that Lara always has a clear view of the enemies she's fighting or the life-or-death jump she's about the make, the camera seems to insist that it must focus on her ample "assets" instead. It's incredibly aggravating trying to make a pinpoint jump over a pit of spikes when the game insists on pointing the camera at Lara's short shorts instead of the ledge. Trying to force the camera to look where you want is an exercise in futility. Half the time, it will simply refuse to move, stick to walls and ledges, and force Lara to try a blind (and almost certainly fatal) jump. In combat, it's even worse, and you'll spend most of your battles watching Lara shoot wildly at some off-screen enemy because the camera got stuck on a rock or the enemy is just too fast for the camera to keep up with. If the game were less focused on Lara's sex appeal and more on her survival, the entire experience would have been a lot more fun.

The big problem with Tomb Raider: Anniversary is that the controls are clearly not designed for the Wii. Most, if not all, of the Wii-exclusive controls feel either awkward or incredibly shoehorned in, and it's difficult to think of them as feeling anything resembling natural. For example, the "action" button used to interact with objects, catch hold of ledges or prevent Lara from falling to a grisly death, is the Up button on the d-pad on the Wii remote. As anyone who's held a Wiimote knows, the Up button is not exactly the easiest or most comfortable object to reach, especially when you have a split second to do so.

Meanwhile, the easy-to-reach d-pad Down is bound to dodge, which is also bound to the shaking of the Wii Nunchuk. Admittedly, the d-pad Down dodge can be used without holding your guns, but the number of times you need to do that in the game can be counted on one hand. It's not a game-breaking fault, but the controls never feel comfortable or natural. Likewise, in order to swim faster, you have to shake the Wii Nunchuk, which turns the game's many underwater sequences into an annoying and arm-tiring exercise. When combined with the terrible camera, you'll end up dreading every time you have to take a dip; although the d-pad Down can also function as a dodge, it can't function as a speed boost underwater. The basic move-shoot-jump controls work fine, aside from the camera problems involved with every aspect of the game, but it's the little things that really bring down the experience, making one wish for a classic controller setup.

Beyond the modified controls from other consoles, there are also a few Wii-exclusive bits involved in Tomb Raider: Anniversary. Some of these actually work quite well, such as the mini-game where Lara has to brush dirt off a statue and then make a rubbing of it for use in a later puzzle. Although they're rather neat, they also feel really shoehorned in, especially the pointless "pull the Wiimote like a lever" bits that would be a lot more fun if you could just push a button. One area where the Wii controls fail pretty heavily involves the God of War-style quick-time events, which replace the already frustrating "do this or die" events with Wii controller motions. The split-second timing is difficult enough to catch without the awkward way they choose to show the motions. The game displays a model of Lara Croft performing the Wii action, forcing you to waste precious seconds trying to figure out exactly what Lara is doing, which can lead to unfair deaths. Of course, even if you can figure it out, you have to hope that the Wii detects the motion you make or … whoops, another painful death for Lara Croft. It's another case of an idea that worked fine on the PlayStation 2 or Xbox, but didn't port well to the Wii.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary is only slightly better looking than its PS2 counterpart, for all the good and bad that implies. The updated Tomb Raider locations look quite good, with detailed and interesting, if sometimes difficult to decipher environments, and the nostalgic factor of certain areas helps as well. The lighting and art direction is excellent, and the remake does an excellent job of updating the look of the originals levels. The character models leave something to be desired, though; humans look like bizarre plastic dolls, and the animals just seem half-done and strange-looking. Lara has more realistic proportions, but her plasticy new model leaves her looking like a Barbie doll, not a human being.

Unsurprisingly, Tomb Raider: Anniversary features much of the same soundtrack as the original title, from the familiar musical cues to the pounding music, updated for more modern times. It works fairly well, although as with the original Tomb Raider, most of your time is spent in silence. The new voice actors do an okay job, but seem rather heartless and forced most of the time; while they do a better job than the original cast, that's faint praise at best, and they're a bit weak compared to modern standards.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary is the video game equivalent of giving your old car a new paint job and a spoiler and claiming it's as good as new. The combination of the dated Tomb Raider areas, mixed with the uninspiring and boring Tomb Raider: Anniversary alone, feels like a patch job, and the addition of the Wii elements to the original versions of Tomb Raider: Anniversary only serves to increase the feeling that most of this game is just new elements stapled haphazardly onto a prettier version of a 10-year-old game. If you're really eager to retread Lara's first adventure, the Wii is not the system on which to do it. The slightly interesting new features certainly don't make up for the awkward and uncomfortable new controls. Look to the PS2 or Xbox 360 versions if you've really got the itch to re-explore Lara's old haunts.

Score: 6.5/10

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