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[ Writer ] = Lord Kieben
[ 08/09/07 ] = Where Does She Think She's Going?

You dumb bitch.

I'm not sure at what point during Tomb Raider: Anniversary I started saying that, but once I'd realized that I had been, it occured to me that it is a catch phrase that I haven't used in years. Specifically, a phrase that I haven't used ever since the time that I rented Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness.

The original Tomb Raider engine had extremely reliable control. You knew exactly where Lara was going to go, even if the camera was in an unusual position. But after five games on the same engine, critics were complaining that it was time for Lara to go in a new direction.

Pun intended.

Eidos unveiled a new Tomb Raider engine with Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness. One of the key features of the new engine was full 360 degree movement. Unfortunately, this resulted in Lara falling repeatedly to her death, as she never jumped in the intended direction. Every adventure game has it's share of frustration, but Angel of Darkness was frustrating for the wrong reasons. The precision control of the original engine had been abandoned. Lara Croft, once as lithe and agile as a cat, was now as clumsy as an old ox. I didn't pay attention to any subsequent installments.

That is, until Tomb Raider: Anniversary. I saw it advertised on television, and had very high hopes for it. Over the years, I have always felt that the original Tomb Raider was the best one. I expected Tomb Raider: Anniversary to be nothing more than a fresh coat of paint on the original game, which in itself would have warranted the purchase. To my surprise, however, it turns out to be much more ambitious.

The game itself looks fantastic. From snow-covered mountains to hidden jungle valleys to misty waterfalls, Tomb Raider has never looked better. The stages, monsters, and all of the characters are very well designed. When Lara climbs out of the water, her
hair, skin, and clothes look wet. She eventually dries off as she runs around. Zoom in on Lara's face and you'll see her moving her head and even her eyes, as she scans her surroundings. If she stands still for a few moments she'll stretch, tighten her gloves, tie a shoe, or brush dirt off her pants. Eidos took great care to make sure that everything looks as good as it possibly could.

Every level has been completely redesigned from the ground up. I could find my way through the original with my eyes closed, yet at one point on the third stage of Anniversary I actually got LOST because I entered the same room from three different directions and didn't realize that I was going in circles. There are similar elements to each stage, parts that will be familiar to you, but throw out your old maps because they won't get you anywhere here. Among the unlockable extras are side-by-side comparisons between the original Tomb Raider and Anniversary. I suspect that they used the Sega Saturn version for the
screenshots, but I really don't remember it looking that bad.

The sound is also very well done. A mixture of old and new music produces an atmosphere of nostalgia, but also of exploration and discovery. Fans of the original Tomb Raider will immediately recognize the music that plays whenever a Secret has been
discovered. The sound effects are likewise excellent. Pistols sound like pistols, waterfalls sound like waterfalls, and dinosaurs sound like whatever you'd expect dinosaurs to sound like.

The cinematic sequences, as well as the accompanying dialogue, have been completely redone. During Lara's initial conversation with Larson and Natla, we now learn that Lara is interested in the Atlantean Scion because her father had spent much of his life searching for it. The confrontation with Larson after Lara retrieves the Scion of Qualopec makes more sense. And Lara's relationship with Pierre is more fleshed-out. It's clear that they've been rivals for a long time, and that neither one of them really wants to shoot the other. Overall, it still tells the same story, and the quality of the English voice acting is superb.

Which brings us to gameplay. As a ten year anniversary edition of the original Tomb Raider, I was really hoping that Anniversary would have the old controls of the original, rather than the full 360 movement of Angel of Darkness. What Anniversary has is a sort of blending of the two.

Without a weapon drawn, Lara moves in full 3D. Using the left analog stick will make Lara run in whatever direction you hold. Pressing the Jump button will make her jump in that direction, and she always jumps forwards. Anyone who's played Angel of Darkness or any of it's successors knows what a pain this can be when trying to make the precision jumps that Tomb Raider games require. Lara will often miss her intended destination, and fall to her death instead.

Jumps that require a running start are even worse, as there is no way to line up for them. In the originals, the Walk button could be held to ensure that Lara would not walk off a ledge, which allowed her to get as close to the edge as possible. If the jump required a running start, tapping backwards would make Lara hop back several feet, giving her just enough room to get the momentum she needed. In Anniversary, however, the Walk button serves no such purpose, and there is no backwards hop. Combined with the 360 degree movement, luck plays as much a part in your success as your aim. As for jumping to and from ropes, I'll just say I'm glad that Lara doesn't have to do it often.

But there is some good news. When hanging from ledges, Lara will only jump in a straight line, so it's either going to be up, left, right, or backwards. Additionally, Autograb is enabled by default, so Lara will automatically grab any ledge within her reach, even with only one hand, at times. Even at bad angles, Lara's grasp is impeccable. When ledgehopping, Lara will rarely die as a result of
clunky controls.

I say rarely because there does seem to be a problem with Autograb in some areas. When Lara walks off a ledge, she usually spins around and grabs it automatically. But in several areas of St. Francis' Folly, no matter how slowly I walked to the edge, Lara would waltz right off to her doom. The Walk button doubles as the Grab button, and even though Autograb was enabled, I found that mashing the button as I walked off those places seemed to resolve the issue.

Speaking of hopping, Lara does quite a lot of it in Anniversary. That's because she no longer jumps like a superhero, but like a real life acrobat. Many times I found myself reconsidering jumps that the old Lara would have been able to make without any trouble at all. But what she's lost in jumping ability, she's gained in other respects.

Perhaps the biggest ace up Lara's sleeve is her grappling hook. After ten long years of adventuring, she's finally had the sense to bring one along. It even has an auto-retractor. It's the kind Batman uses.

With her grappling hook, Lara can swing from ceilings, rappel down walls, and even run across them! But the fun doesn't stop there! Press R3 to go into first-person view mode, and a target reticle appears, allowing Lara to shoot various objects with pinpoint accuracy. In first-person view mode, she can also throw her grappling hook at certain objects to grab them, then walk around the room as she pulls on them with the Triangle button. This can have varying effects depending on what she's grabbed.

The Roll button has been significantly upgraded from the original. From a standstill, you can use it to make Lara crouch, and even crouchwalk. If you press it while Lara is running, she'll roll forwards. Keep hitting it and she will go into a series of flips that
culminate in an acrobatic leap. At any point in the sequence you can switch to the Jump button instead, to perform several different strings. While none of these are particularly useful, they're pretty cool nonetheless.

The functions of both the Jump and Roll buttons change once Lara draws her weapons. With weapons drawn, Lara flips in the traditional four directions, as well as diagonally. It's about time! The Roll button in this case serves similar purpose to the Jump button; Lara flips out of the way but doesn't travel as far. An element of realism has been added to each of these, though. Lara can no longer hit a target in front of her while she is backflipping. Her pistols are also no longer fully automatic, requiring you to press the Fire button once per shot. In the originals, every enemy in the game could be easily dealt with by holding the Fire button and jumping backwards. This is now no longer the case.

Battles are now much harder. In response to this, Anniversary introduces a new combat element known as Adreneline Dodge. As you fire at certain monsters, they build up a Rage Meter. Once this meter is full, the monster may (or may not) perform a Rage Attack. When this happens, the screen will blur into slow motion, indicating that you have the opportunity to perform an Adreneline Dodge with your Roll button. While Dodging, a pair of target reticles will appear from opposite sides of the screen and travel towards your target. Once the reticles are centered over it, you can press Fire to perform a point-blank range headshot, or in the case of the Lost Valley's T-Rex, eyeballshot. You only get one shot during your Dodge, though, so don't miss! Against normal monsters, this technique results in instant death.

The Rage Meter is hidden on normal monsters, but it is shown during boss battles. This makes normal monsters a little unpredictable, while making boss battles a little more manageable. Of course, like many adventure games, boss battles consist of a series of patterns, but Adreneline Dodge certainly makes them entertaining. It's a good thing too, because there really aren't very many battles in Anniversary.

The monsters of Anniversary do have a few quirks. Sometimes the wolves in the snowcaves would get stuck facing a wall, or trying to come through a door. The alligators in the Tomb of Tihocan are able to swim through the iron bars that keep you out. And I once fought a rat that could never die.

Anniversary also features sequences where you must input various button commands at key points in the action in order to survive the sequence. While this is not a new idea, it does make Anniversary that much more interesting to play.

You want extras? Anniversary has them in droves. Throughout the course of Lara's adventures she may find hidden Artifacts and Relics, which unlock various bonus materials such as concept art, commentaries, interviews, old vs. new screenshots, character
biographies, and even alternate outfits for Lara. The game keeps scorecards of every level for you, so if you've missed a few, (and you surely have), you can go back to look for them at any time. One issue I had with the outfits is that you can only change into them when replaying previously completed stages. As you progress through the normal course of the game, Lara is stuck in her default outfit.

All in all, it is a very impressive package. No game is without it's share of flaws, and the ones that I have encountered in Anniversary have been minor at best. The control is it's biggest shortcoming, but at least it's an improvement over Angel of Darkness.

[ Final ] = Report Card

[ Graphics ] = A+
This may not be the best looking game on the PS2, but it is certainly the best looking Tomb Raider game. Everything is lush, detailed, and vibrant, with very little clipping and no aliasing.

[ Sound ] = A
From booming weapons to dripping water to Lara's deep breath before she dives, everything is very well done. From frantic to mysterious to goofy, the music fits the mood of every location. Goofy music? There's a short tune for the rats. It's pretty funny.

[ Gameplay ] = C+
Totally redesigned levels, many new features such as grappling and dodging, and a functional blend of old and new movement control. Unlike many adventure games, the puzzles make sense, and none are so frustrating that you'll need a walkthrough. I wish I could give Anniversary a better score here, but full range 360 degree movement in a game that is basically a 3D platformer just doesn't work very well. Still, it's better than Angel of Darkness.

[ Entertainment ] = A+
If you loved the original, you'll love this one. If you don't love the original, you probably haven't played it. Obviously I can only
speak from a biased perspective here, but from such a perspective, I give it an A+.

[ Replayability ] = B
Anniversary allows you to revisit stages that you have previously completed. As the hidden Artifacts unlock bonus material, there's plenty of reason to go back. I'll definately be playing this one again.

[ Overall Score ] = B+
For 30 USD, it's a bargain for any fan. I've payed more for games that didn't deliver even half of what Anniversary has to offer.