Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness
We should all be thankful for Core and Eidos’ Lara Croft; if it weren’t for her, the graphical revolution that we are enjoying today may have taken another 10 or 20 years to come about. For you see, the well-endowed tomb raider nearly single-handedly launched the 3D graphics card revolution and put the relatively unknown 3D-graphics chipset maker 3DFX on the map. Yes, we should all pay homage to Lara Croft for helping establish our past so that we could redefine our future.
The keyword here is past.
Former chipset giant 3DFX was knocked off by up-and-comer nVidia (who in a bit of irony has since been surpassed by up-and-comer Ati) and the Tomb Raider franchise has been pedestrian at best. Each sucessive iteration has been blasted by gamers for their increasingly bland game play and horrifically unintuitive controls. Core has been listening to the public, taking the franchise back to its roots in hopes of returning the series back to its former glory. Sure the company has been listening, but has it been taking notes? Judging by its latest entry in the franchise, Angel of Darkness, I would say that the answer to this question is a resounding no.
What makes this most painful is that this latest entry contained a lot of promise, and while most of it was lost in the numerous delays and setbacks, it seemed to be the title that would get the series back on track. Featuring a brand new engine, new game play mechanics and a second playable character, Eidos’ well-endowed heroine seemed ready to compete with the big boys; it’s just a shame that appearances can be misleading.
It’s not that the game hasn’t found its way back to its roots. Quite the contrary. In actuality the game does its best to exploit its roots but in doing so, spotlights all of the problems that have plagued the franchise. Tomb Raider Angel of Darkness feels amazingly dated as most of its features and facets are archaic, lagging light-years behind what the competition is offering.
From the start its apparent where the problems lie. What is supposed to be a training level that should get you acquainted with the control scheme becomes a highlight reel that exemplifies the game’s Achilles Heel. Instead of updating to accommodate the times, Eidos opted to go with the obsolete tile-based control scheme that doesn’t exactly cozy itself up to precision. Lara’s supposed to be agile and nimble but she’s actually lethargic and maneuvers like a boat on wheels. The game has an inept control scheme so what’s the next logical step? Adding in an abundance of jumping puzzles and areas that require tight maneuvering. Seriously, it’s like trying to drive across a 2x4 plank with a Humvee, it just ain’t gonna happen.
If doing combat with an archaic control system weren’t enough you will have to do battle with an inept camera system as well. Professional isn’t the best word to be using here, nor is steady. Basically you play the game from the vantage point of a four-year-old who was handed a handheld camcorder at the family picnic. It has problems showcasing the action both in fast and slow situations. Combat is a pain because the camera system has difficulties showing them in your point of view. Simple tasks, such as shimmying across ledges, become a chore because the camera has a tendency to swing back-and-forth, causing you to plunge to your death.
To try to make amends the designers added some character building elements into the fracas but it’s quite forgettable from the start. As you progress Lara will be able to improve her attributes allowing her to jump farther and such. This is a fine addition and all but the fact that the game does nothing to inform the gamer about the extent of Lara’s abilities nullifies this aspect entirely. Sometimes you’ll come to a gap, frightened because you’re afraid that you’ll barely be able to make it, when suddenly you’ll soar across the opening with the slightest of ease. Perhaps if there were some visual indicators or a means of notification this aspect would have served a better purpose.
The fun doesn’t stop there though, Eidos decided to incorporate stealth into the game, the most over-used game play element of the 2003. As we established earlier Lara doesn’t exactly control like Solid Snake so one shouldn’t expect her to slink around like him either. She does have some very Metal Gear Solid-esque maneuvers but they’re all for naught. Enemies are generally inept, to the point where you can just rush headfirst and incapacitate them before they know you’re there. This enables you to avoid the whole stealth aspect entirely as opposed to being forced to saunter around cautiously. This makes the game a whole lot easier on the nerves, especially when compared to games that ask you to mow down 50 guys in one mission and then expect you to pacify your weapons just one mission later.
Also new to the franchise is the addition of Kurtis, a second playable character. In the beginning it might feel like you’re playing Eidos’ take on Resident Evil but it soon becomes clear that there are few, if any, differences between controlling Lara or Kurtis. It’s a novel take but after seeing how similar both of them look and feel, the effect is significantly diminished.
Like the previous Tomb Raider games you’re able to save your progress at any point in time. In a day and age where games still rely heavily on checkpoints and segmented levels, I’m glad to see that some games still offer this type of functionality. It makes the bitter taste that the God-awful controls leave in my mouth just a little more tolerable. As with most of the other functions in the games this comes with a price. There’s nothing quick about the load times in the game. Every time you fall off a precarious ledge or miss a tough jump you can expect to wait upwards of 20-to-30 seconds just to have another go at it. Nice reward isn’t it?
Although the series has received a complete graphical overhaul one shouldn’t come into this game expecting to see a masterpiece. Instead it’s sort of like a masterpiece of yesteryear. It features elements that were eliciting “oohs” and “ahhs” a few years back. Elements such as colored lighting and rag doll physics are present here but are executed in poor and unconvincing fashion. Equally disappointing are the enemy models which could have benefited from some more polygons. Lara looks great when she’s running and moving but looks equally unrefined when the camera gets up close and personal. Perhaps most embarrassing (and also a sign of the series’ behind the times nature) bodies even blink out of existence instead of littering the landscape.
I wouldn’t say that the aural portions are music to my ears but they definitely get the job done. Thanks to some decent Dolby Pro Logic II support, effects come at you from all angles in pretty convincing fashion. Like most of the other Tomb Raider games the musical score is rather excellent as is the voice acting. On the downside there are times when the sound and music cut out for no apparent reason.
We all owe Core and Eidos a big thanks for all of their time and effort but the fact of the matter is, Tomb Raider’s ship sailed well over three years ago. Its place in the history of video games is solidified and unless it wants to move from the hall of fame to the hall of shame, Eidos it should cut its losses and be happy with what it has accomplished. Even with the numerous delays the game feels woefully incomplete. Angel of Darkness is by no means a great game or even a decent one. In fact, it’s a highly mediocre one that should be avoided at all costs.
It's difficult to recommend a game when it's so far behind the times. It shows promise at times but like a red-headed step child, it always manages to find a way to disappoint when it matters. Don't pick this one up unless you like playing five-year-old games on your next-generation hardware.
Rating: 5.3 Flawed
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.
It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.
It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.
When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."
As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.
When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.
Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile