Reviews

Tomb Raider: Anniversary

G. Christopher Williams

While Tomb Raider: Anniversary succeeds in recreating the isolated mood and tone of the original, it lacks some of the nostalgia for the original's genre-blending conventions.


Publisher: Eidos
Genres: Action/adventure
Price: $29.99
Multimedia: Tomb Raider: Anniversary
Platforms: PlayStation 2 (Reviewed); Xbox 360; PlayStation Portable; PC
Number of players: 1
ESRB rating: Teen
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
US release date: 2007-06-05
Developer website

I had forgotten what a complicated woman Lara Croft was.

It has been 11 years since we first first began raiding tombs with the buxom and well bred Ms. Croft, and she has gone through a variety of iterations. The series is generally agreed to have declined as near-yearly retreads of tomb raiding grew a bit more action packed and a bit less cerebral than the original.

Indeed, action was not necessarily at the core of Lara's first adventure, as her infamous dual pistols often remained holstered throughout more of an adventure that emphasized thoughtful and graceful movement and acrobatics than fighting and combat.

In fact, when the original Tomb Raider came onto the scene, it was hailed as adding new life to the ailing genre of the adventure (those old point and click games that largely resembled puzzle games wrapped within a rather linear narrative) because of its emphasis on puzzling out the manner in which Lara moved around environments rather than the combat systems that are often at the core of action games. What Tomb Raider managed to do was create a hybrid between the two genres that allowed older school puzzlers the chance to figure out the mechanics of manipulating and moving through space while letting newer twitch gamers also enjoy themselves with the occasional shootout and boss battle.

Oh, and, of course, there was Lara. Puzzles and shotgun blasts aside, Lara was also there as delicious eye candy to become, perhaps, the video game's first legitimate, pixelated sex symbol.

In a note to the game's fans available in its "Unockables" section in the new remake of the first Tomb Raider, Tomb Raider: Anniversary, Crystal Dynamics mentions that largely what they wanted to recapture in this revision of the original game was Tomb Raider's sense of "isolation."

This note seems to me a perfectly apt way of describing the mood and tone of the original game and also emphasizes the very elements that I have mentioned thus far about Lara's original adventure -- both its emphasis on solving visual puzzles and watching the solitary Lara penetrate the depths of underground tombs. As my wife so succinctly put it to me the other day as she watched me play this remade version of Lara's first exploration of the world's tombs, "its like Myst with shorty shorts."

She hit the nail on the head.

Lara reaches for a conveniently-placed post

Like the purer puzzle-based adventure Myst, Tomb Raider is a game about watching and observation. Viewing the landscape and then figuring out how to progress through it is a serene and nearly static process in both games. The beautiful panoramic scenery of the world of Myst is present in Tomb Raider, as is (generally) the opportunity to take time to study it and consider how to advance in it, given that Lara -- as an isolated explorer in the tombs of the dead -- is usually unharried by enemies and the fast frenetic energy that they require to respond to. But, what Tomb Raider adds to the voyeuristic subgenre of the puzzler is a little voyeuristic thrill due not simply to the aesthetics of a picturesque landscape, but also the aesthetics of a picturesque ass in khakis.

Lara's body becomes the main visual cue for processing and executing puzzles that otherwise might have remained in a simplified abstract form. This notion was especially true of the original Tomb Raider, given the very precise nature of Lara's locomotion. Lara's original movement was, as some observed, more like moving a tank than a person. Moving Lara right and left simply pivoted her body in place, and thus she always moved in perfectly straight lines either forward or backward.

While gamers complained about this unnatural movement as the series advanced alongside other games that introduced the more natural movement physics of modern 3-D game characters, this more simplistic system had the elegance of an abstract puzzle game. The precision of this more mechanical motion allowed the player to worry less about precise reflexed movements and allowed the player instead to consider exactly how Lara-as-object would leap to the next ledge. The tank-like movements, in fact, made her motion more predictable, like the predictability of gauging the distance needed to slide blocks into place in a true puzzle game like Tetris. Thus, motion was not used as an action-oriented occupation but as a way of advancing a "piece" along a 3D board with the object of resolving the puzzle. Most often, the solution was getting your piece from point A to point B.

Tomb Raider was an advancement in the puzzle or adventure genre, as it simply gave the puzzle or adventure game enthusiast something more interesting to consider than an abstract shape. It gave them what was clearly a "piece."

Tomb Raider Anniversary -- rightly or wrongly -- moves away from this format. Like last year's Tomb Raider Legend, Lara's movement has been "upgraded" to the more modern movement physics introduced in games like Super Mario 64, in which a left flick or right flick of an analog stick moves the character immediately right or left. Lara's new movement feels more authentic and natural as it has been mordernized, but, while the game succeeds in recreating the isolated mood and tone of the original, it lacks some of the nostalgia for the original's genre-blending conventions.

If Anniversary is intended to showcase the watershed nature of Lara's original adventure in the history of video games (which, again, the note to the game's fans suggests), this seemingly archaic element of Tomb Raider may be the cardinal omission of its translation. Lara's abstracted motion may be the link between the past and future of action-adventure hybrid games and reveal in some sense why contemporary action-adventure games like God of War or Prince of Persia have leaned more toward fluid action and away from the isolated and serene aspects of the adventure that made Lara's first foray so compelling.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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