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Getting reacquainted with Lara Croft 1.0

Evan Narcisse gets reacquainted with Lara Croft 1.0 in a beefed-up version of the original ”Tomb Raider.” Plus: Jon Grover on a game that’s for the birds — in a good way!

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Tomb Raider: Anniversary
(Eidos; PS2 and PC, Teen)
Pac-Man. Mario. Sonic. Master Chief. The VIP room of gaming icons is pretty much a boys’ club. The one woman to get past that virtual velvet rope was Lara Croft. (Okay, and maybe Metroid Prime‘s Samus.) Lara’s debut in the first Tomb Raider title — way back in 1996 — changed the way a generation looked at videogames. The game sported sprawling deathtrap-laden levels, all sorts of menacing beasties, and a cinematic feel that imparted a sense of grand adventure. Oh, and it didn’t hurt that Lara, with her short shorts and deliriously form-fitting top, made players hot and bothered — and turned her into a genuine pop-culture icon. Eventually, though, success spoiled the series. The developers got the crazy idea that players were more interested in Lara’s curvy bod than the epic plot lines, the devilish puzzles, and the sense of wonder and discovery — the things that made us care about the game in the first place.

Thankfully, last year’s Tomb Raider: Legend rescued the character from a three-year limbo of irrelevance with its smooth and intuitive controls, improved combat, and sharp next-gen graphics. With Lara’s future as a franchise character seemingly redeemed, publisher Eidos chose to revisit Ms. Croft’s initial foray into catacomb crawling. Tomb Raider: Anniversary is a remake of the original PlayStation title, with the addition of the upgraded features that made Legend a success.

The story remains essentially unchanged: Lara trots all over the globe gathering artifacts that will eventually reveal the lost history of Atlantis. Iconic (and, we’ll admit it, heart-stopping) moments from the original title — like the gunfight against a giant T.rex — benefit greatly from the more powerful graphics of the PlayStation 2. A new targeting system and the inclusion of Lara’s magnetic grapple also distinguish Anniversary from the original. But, as you’d expect in a faithful remake, it also repeats many of the older game’s flaws. For example, still present are the dumb animal predators who are easily taken out because of their inability to follow Lara to higher ground. Anniversary also fails to properly mesh Legend‘s improved control scheme with the original’s jumping puzzles: A combo of poor camera work and collision-detection glitches make Lara slip, slide, and fall even when it looks like she should’ve nailed the landing.

One could (and should) call Anniversary a loving tribute, as it illuminates most of what was so great about the original Tomb Raider. It’s ironic then, that the game stumbles when it tries to incorporate elements from Legend, the most creatively successful entry in the series. Hopefully, Eidos will figure out that Lara’s future is probably better served by blazing new trails instead of revisiting past glories. B- —Evan Narcisse

NEXT PAGE: A game based on…bird watching?!?

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