STAFF REVIEW of Tomb Raider Anniversary (Xbox 360)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007.
by Jake Reardon

Tomb Raider Anniversary Box art Lara Croft is taking center stage yet again but this time she?s going back to her roots. In her ten year history she has seen many successes, and lived through many failures. From sequel after sequel and Hollywood block busters, this girl has been around the block a few times. Originally conceived on the PC Lara has always been known for her exploration skills, crafty puzzle solving ability, witty charm, and of course her two best polygonal shaped assets. Anniversary is a re-imagined remake of the original Tomb Raider that we first fell in love with all that time ago. Replacing the once clunky keyboard based controls with the controller centric ones from last year?s well received Tomb Raider Legend makes a huge difference, and even old veterans will want to relive the glory.

The main story involves the search for the ?Scion of Atlantis? that Lara and her father spent years searching for. Your adventures will take you through the mountain caves of Peru, the cathedrals of Greece, some temples in Egypt, and you even make a stop at the great Pyramid. As always, the vibe here is very Indiana Jones like, and the exaggerated environments and puzzles you face and ultimately escape will leave you wanting more. Story elements are loosely tied together via cut scenes and grand set piece puzzles as you work your way to finding all the pieces of the Scion. It works as a nice backdrop for the real star of the game, and that is the excellent gameplay.

Tomb Raider Anniversary, despite being a remake of an older game, shows that regardless of graphics and technology, a "good game" is still a "good game". The environments you navigate through have been stunningly reworked and you will often find yourself in awe as you enter new areas. The way you play the game can best be described as an action/puzzle hybrid. Upon entering each zone, you are given a fly by of the area, and then it?s up to you to figure out how to get from point A to Point B. This has always been the beauty of Tomb raider. Ledges, cliffs, and conveniently placed poles are placed in precarious locations and it?s up to you to navigate them to the best of your ability using Lara?s ape like abilities.

The control here is spot on. Lara jumps and attaches to ledges that look impossible to grab, acrobatically swings around poles, and back flips with the ease of a world class gymnast through dangerous spike traps. That?s not to say things always work out though. When Lara doesn?t quite reach that ledge or land just on the other side of a menacing wall of spikes, things get messy. Not messy in a ?Holy Crap that?s a lot of blood? way, but more like a ?ouch that had to hurt? kind of way. Falling hundreds of feet to your death or being impaled has never looked so painful, as you can almost feel the impact of Lara meeting her maker. Thankfully for you, there is a generous auto save feature, but I also recommend saving more often which will avoid some frustration.

Not only will you need to be good on the pole, but Lara is also adept at gun play. An easy auto targeting system helps keep enemies in focus as you acrobatically flip around the world shooting and avoiding their attacks. Shoot one of the beasts (more on them later) enough and it goes into rage mode. Once in rage mode, they charge at you and you need to align two targeting reticules with your sticks as the game slows to a matrix like pace. This targeting system also applies to shooting switches and solving puzzles. New to Anniversary is the grappling hook that was introduced in Tomb Raider Legend. A lot of the old puzzles have been given new solutions as you have to use the grappling hook to swing across chasms, move large objects around the environment, and run along walls as you ascend ancient structures. Overall, these new control options are head and shoulders above what we first experienced back on the PC all those years ago. It?s true; Lara Croft no longer controls like a tank!

Those all too common ?Quick Time Events? (press the button that flashes up on screen in time) have also been added to the fray, as every game under the sun seems to be using these as an excuse to make you feel like you are actually participating in the cut scene as it unfolds. In theory, these are supposed to be fun, but in reality they just reduce you to a button pressing moron. It worked well for games like Resident Evil 4 and God of War, but doesn?t feel quite right to be used in the Tomb Raider universe.

The visuals have obviously been given a boost from the original, and many previously sharp and blocky objects and assets have been ?rounded? out. While definitely not as visually stunning as Tomb Raider Legends, you still get a nice looking game. The Lara character model is fairly well animated, and she even shows signs having been for a swim as she will appear wet for a period of time after leaving water. (Mind of out gutter please). There are also a host of well crafted enemies that you?ll be facing, and most seem to come from the animal kingdom. It won?t be uncommon to face off against giant Gorillas, ferocious lions, cougars, and even a prehistoric T-Rex. What really shines here are the expansive environments and awe inspiring locales you will need to navigate.

As this is a celebration of the franchise, Eidos was sure to include plenty of extra in the package. These are unlocked by doing well in the various levels, such as finding a certain number of hidden relics, or beating a level in a certain amount of time. Some of the things you can unlock include developer commentary, additional outfits, cinematics, art galleries, character bios, cheats, music, and more. To unlock all of these you?ll have to do a lot of extra exploring but fans of the series will want to take the time to do so. The Croft mansion is also available for exploration right from the start of the game, and that can be used to learn the game?s controls and unlock additional secrets.

It?s been a long and tumultuous ride over the years for our girl Lara. It?s nice to see her go back to what made her the woman she is today. Solid controls, huge areas to explore and conquer, and larger than life ancient block puzzles to solve all make an appearance. And while it?s not normally important to talk about a games price in a review, the 29.99 price tag makes this a must buy even for those who are a little ?Lara Croft? curious. Pick it up, you won?t be disappointed.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10


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