Tomb Raider: Anniversary Hands-On

We play through the first few levels of Crystal Dynamics' Tomb Raider remake on the Wii.

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Over 10 years after Lara Croft first appeared in Tomb Raider, her first adventure has been successfully remade as Tomb Raider Anniversary on the PC, the PlayStation 2 and, to a lesser extent, the PSP. A Nintendo Wii version of the remake (along with an Xbox 360 version) is currently in development at Crystal Dynamics, and we recently had an opportunity to play through the first few levels. Given the way that Wii-specific controls are shoehorned into many games that have previously appeared on other platforms, we were primarily on the lookout for control issues. Along the way, we were also able to check out some of the new puzzles that have been added for the Wii game.

Tomb Raider Anniversary didn't make a great first impression on this occasion, mainly because a number of the moves that you learn to perform early on with Lara require you to shake the Nunchuk controller like it's a maraca. For example, you have to flick it up and down anytime you want to throw Lara's grappling hook. Likewise, the only way to speed up Lara's movement when she's hanging from ledges or climbing ladders is to shake the Nunchuk left and right. A similar technique also needs to be employed to speed up when swimming, because moving through the water at Lara's regular, sedate pace can prove fatal given the limited capacity of her lungs. It didn't take us too long to get comfortable with all of the Nunchuk-shaking, but surely tapping a button rhythmically would work just as well.

You throw Lara's grappling hook by flicking the Nunchuk controller up and down.
You throw Lara's grappling hook by flicking the Nunchuk controller up and down.

Fortunately, not all of the Wii-specific controls in Tomb Raider Anniversary are so counterintuitive; some of them actually work very well. For example, you can use small and large medical kits simply by tapping the Wii Remote's "-" and "+" buttons respectively, which is certainly a lot better than having to visit an inventory screen to sort through the contents of Lara's backpack. Combat also feels good on the Wii, although we should point out that it's a little more challenging than in other versions of the game. You need to keep the Wii Remote pointed at the screen as a crosshair at all times, and although you can lock the camera on to enemies when they appear onscreen, you still have to aim manually. Of course, Lara can still perform all of her trademark gymnastics without hampering her marksmanship, but having to shake the Nunchuk controller to perform her "adrenaline dodge" moves doesn't always feel like a quick or precise-enough system in situations where a well-timed dodge can literally be the difference between life and death.

As we played through Tomb Raider Anniversary's first three levels, we were pleased to see that a number of new gameplay features are being introduced for the Wii version that put the console's controllers to good use. The ability to use the Wii Remote to point Lara's torch in any direction regardless of which way she's facing is definitely a neat addition. We suspect that this option will come in handy when you're searching for some of the other new features that we noticed scattered through the environment. Ancient carvings can be found in all kinds of places if you take the time to look for them, and every time you find one, you'll be prompted to uncover and then take a rubbing of it via a couple of simple minigames.

For example, the first carving you'll find--which you need to take a look at prior to solving a nearby puzzle to open a door--needs to be dusted off with a brush before you can take a rubbing of it. Both the dusting and the rubbing motions are achieved by using the Wii Remote as a brush and as a wax crayon, respectively. Another of the carvings that we found, which was more hidden and appeared to be a bonus rather than necessary for solving a puzzle, was covered in a layer of sediment that needed to be removed with a trowel. With your Wii Remote in hand, you have to hover over the area in question until its vibration alerts you to a weak point where you can use the trowel to pry a chunk of the sediment off. Neither of the minigames poses a significant challenge, but they're neat additions all the same.

Ancient machines will no longer work at the push of a button.
Ancient machines will no longer work at the push of a button.

Puzzles like the aforementioned replace what were straightforward levers in the already-released versions of Tomb Raider Anniversary. However, there's still plenty of lever-pulling to be done, and because this is a Wii game you'll be going through the motions of performing said actions rather than simply pressing a button. Puzzles near the start of the adventure that task you with locating cogs to get ancient machines working again have also benefited from some Wii-specific improvements that make them more interesting. In other versions of Tomb Raider Anniversary, you needed to find the missing cogs and then hit a button to position them, nothing more. In the Wii version, every cog mechanism is a puzzle for which the cog you've found is a missing piece. Using the Wii Remote to pick up and reposition three or four different cogs, you'll have to figure out how to connect them all so that the mechanism works. Again, none of the puzzles appear to be particularly challenging, but they're satisfying nonetheless.

It remains to be seen whether there's more all-new content in the Wii version of Tomb Raider Anniversary, but what we've seen so far leads us to believe that this could well end up being the best version of the game. It's unfortunate that some of the controls are as unnecessary as they are unusual, but we've yet to find ourselves in a situation where they've really hampered our progress or enjoyment. Tomb Raider Anniversary is currently scheduled for release in November. We look forward to bringing you more information as soon as it becomes available.

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