IGN Review of Tomb Raider: Anniversary
On November 15 of this year the gaming world will celebrate the eleventh anniversary of the release of the original Tomb Raider. I was eleven at the time. I remember staring at the case of Tomb Raider for hours on end, feeling a little funny about looking at the gorgeous vixen known as Lara Croft and having no idea why I felt so strange. Yes, back then the world of videogames had never seen a heroine the likes of the curvaceous Croft. Her British accent, those incredibly shaped
guns, the awesomely tight shorts that hugged her buttocks like it was trying to run away, all those factors made Lara standout in most prepubescent male minds more than other game mascots.
Here we are more than ten years later and Crystal Dynamics has taken the reigns at re-imagining Ms. Croft's first Tomb Raider adventure. Tomb Raider Anniversary made its way to the PS2, PSP, and PC earlier this year and is now taking a turn on the Xbox 360. The developers decided to implement the new moves that we saw in Tomb Raider: Legend, as well as some of the new graphical techniques that come with the updated engine to give the original adventure some added visual flare. Does the original tale of adventuring withstand the test of time or is the first Tomb Raider hurting from being on the shelf for more than a decade despite some new tricks? Read on for our final verdict on the newly realized first adventure of the world's sexiest lady lead.
For those uninitiated Tomb Raider is similar to Indiana Jones but wrapped in a sexier shell. Essentially the game is built around the dynamic of entering into fairly large rooms, surveying them, leaping around the conveniently-placed ledges, and hoping that Lara lands where you want her to--a feat that was much more complicated in the original game--all in the hopes of snagging ancient artifacts. I'm not sure whether it's the novelty of leaping around a puzzle-based environment that has worn off, or if it's just my tastes that have matured (yeah right) but venturing into massive room after massive room feels more tired and monotonous than it used to. That's not to say that the puzzle designs aren't imaginative or are lacking in any way, it's just that towards the end of the game it feels like you're doing the same thing over and over again.
Keeping the action as fresh and exciting as possible are Lara's new moves that the levels have been redesigned around. As anyone who has followed the Tomb Raider franchise knows, Legend threw several new acrobatic abilities into Lara's arsenal. Luckily those new abilities have been included and seamlessly integrated into the original adventure. Levels have been constructed with these new moves in mind and they actually do add a good bit of variety to the gameplay. Now if only they could find a way to vary the overarching level design a bit.
Sadly, all of Lara's new moves aren't exactly new to gaming, even if they are new to the Tomb Raider lineage. Take the new cutscene mini-games for instance. They're essentially a direct copy of what was seen in God of War except for the sequence doesn't change if you fail. The timing is easy enough as it is, but when you throw in the fact that the button sequences remain unchanged for subsequent attempts, things feel a little oversimplified.
Luckily there are other new moves that feel more fresh, like being able to grapple, jump from different pivot points, and the ability to activate a type of bullet-time dodge move--okay, maybe that last one doesn't feel so fresh. Still, all of the added abilities that Lara brings to Anniversary do add to the gameplay in their own way, and the development team should be congratulated for melding the new moves into the original story while still keeping a similar overall feel.
Ironically enough it's one of the constant Tomb Raider problems that is perfectly translated into Anniversary; that being the hackneyed and overly clunky camera system. It constantly gets stuck on pieces of the environment, too many jumps are made totally blind, and swimming can be a true test of anyone's patience. One of these days they'll devise a camera system that works consistently. But that day hasn't come yet.
For all the puzzle solving, lever pulling, and ledge jumping there is also a fair amount of gunplay within Tomb Raider, even if it is a bit of an afterthought. The game throws everything from gorillas to tigers to freakish creatures from the buried city of Atlantis, but the challenge from these encounters is fairly minimal. I never used anything but the standard pistols for any of the fights, despite having the shotgun and submachine guns at my disposal. Not only did I not switch weapons, I hardly ever died. The animals' total lack of artificial intelligence and inability to traverse stairs--or jump at all--didn't exactly help their chances.
Technically speaking Anniversary is a bit behind Legends, despite being based on the same engine. The texture work is flat and uninteresting, especially when you're looking at a wall covered in what is supposed to be lush green ivy. The leaves are flat, the branches are flat, the textures themselves are just plain flat. The character models are also unimpressive thanks to a lack of shaders that makes the characters look like they were ported straight out of the PS2 version with a higher resolution.
All that having been said, the greatest technical failing of Anniversary on 360 is easily the framerate which chugs at any sign of light entering the frame. There are some puzzle rooms that feature sunlight flooding into the environment and that causes the game to come to a near screeching halt. Oh, and the developers did include boob physics in the game, so they get points for that.
Aurally the game performs well, when there are things to listen to. For the majority of the adventure Tomb Raider is silent, it's only during gun battles, boss battles, and cutscenes where the cinematic score chimes in. The voice acting airs slightly on the side of being cheesy, but it does still convey the central points of the storyline. Weapon sounds sound a bit stifled.
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