Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness
Game Info
Platform(s)
Playstation 2
Publisher
Eidos Interactive
Developer
Core Design Ltd.
Genre
Action/Adventure
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Violence, Blood
 
Grade
The Good

• Play as Lara and newcomer Kurtis
• New gameplay elements are a nice change
• Levels look great

The Bad

• Blocky character models
• Lots of loading
• Slowdown
• Serious control and camera issues

 
Grade
C+

At the start of Angel of Darkness, our heroine finds herself blamed for the murder of an old colleague in which she was actually at the scene of the crime but cannot recall what occurred. From that point, she must flee from the authorities through the streets of Paris, all the while attempting to discover what is going on. Also, she discovers a serial killer seems to be shadowing her, making life all the more interesting for her. With the introduction of a new playable character in Kurtis Trent, the story for the new game is at least a far cry better than the original games.

If you've played any of the original games, the base gameplay and Lara's moves should be immediately accessible. She has the ability to jump, crouch/crawl, duck and roll along with climbing ladders, pushing/pulling blocks and shimmying along edges for limited periods of time. Also, with a click of the R1 button, Lara can pull her equipped weapon, which can be fired with the X button as it auto-aims to the nearest threat. You'll find that most areas require you to climb or jump around as part of a larger environmental puzzle just to move onto the next location or complete your objective. From time to time, you'll stop into a nearby room, be it through a window or door you'll unlock or just shove open, to open a cabinet or drawer or just pick up some ammo and health items along the way.

There are a few new aspects built into the game to make it feel less like a complete copy of the older games. First and foremost is Lara's need to improve physical stats to make certain jumps, improve her grip gauge (for shimmying) or her strength to improve being able to push and pull blocks. While this concept is initially interesting, it quickly becomes apparent that it nothing more than just cleverly disguising another "find a switch" puzzle. In most areas when Lara tells you she isn't strong enough, just look around for something to push, grab and shimmy along and things will be all right.

On top of this, Lara is given the ability to walk around stealthily, and use moves reminiscent of the Metal Gear Solid series. Unfortunately, the moves are really only for show as your enemies are never smart or dangerous enough to require a stealthy approach. Also available are certain areas where Lara can walk around, talking to NPCs and locating items/performing tasks, not unlike Shenmue 2, if only in a more scaled back way as to push the game along. There does seem to be an obvious influence from the Shenmue series as you can pick up money and pawn off found items for cash. You can even use the money to buy information or even make a wager. During these more open-ended portions, you can carry on conversations with NPCs and even find clues on how to progress further, often by getting a requested item from one location or another.

In the few scenarios where you play as Kurtis, you'll find the game controls and plays much like with Lara, except that the action is more action/survival horror influenced. Since Kurtis doesn't have the "stat-building" aspect that Lara does, you'll find his scenarios as more of a stripped-down diversion from the main game than anything else.

Graphically, it has to be said that Core has tried to build this new game from the ground up, and for the most part, it looks like it. Locations are sizable and usually show off a nice bit of detail. There are some wonderfully realized lighting and particle effects used at times that really help to flesh out the locations. Lots of little elements to each location do wonders in drawing you into the world of the game. It's too bad that the character models still look like upgraded Playstation models. Yes, they have better detail, but they're still blocky and are animated only decently. Lara herself is animated like a stiff puppet and only rarely does she seem to move with any grace. And when someone dies, they crumple to the ground like a marionette. In the end, the character models can be ignored in light of the depth of the locations that you have to visit.

I would have to say that the audio portion of the game is one of its stronger points. The voice acting is pretty good, even if a little dry at times, but considering the stronger focus on story and interaction with NPCs, it helps a good bit. The sound effects and ambient chatter from enemies really help set a tone for each of the stages. The musical score is dramatic and effective in carrying the darker theme of the story well. If you have a good audio setup, you should enjoy the new Tomb Raider from this aspect.

While most of the game has been a mixture of good and bad, it has to be said that there are just some things that drag the whole experience down. First and foremost is what has to be some exceptionally bad controls. Not that the scheme is bad but that the controls just seem to lag terribly. Imagine trying to make a tough jump, only to have Lara fall to her death because she didn't jump when you hit the button. Try to hit the R2 to "look around" only to wait a few seconds for it to register at all. Throw in the fact that she barely walks up to a decent jog and that the effect of the changing camera angles can make controlling her a chore. Just getting her to line up for a jump or to a ladder can be painfully frustrating. Tack on a camera scheme that can't decide whether it wants to follow Lara or stick with static angles, and when it does follow Lara it's often slow to change and redirection. Add on lengthy load times when you enter a new area, or die (and you will die often until you get adjusted to the control scheme), and the whole game may not be worth the time to weather it out. Oh, and did I mention the massive amounts of slowdown that randomly occurs for no reason at all?

In the end, they should have just called this game Tomb Raider: The 1001 Deaths of Lara Croft. If it were not for the ability to save anywhere, this game would be overly frustrating. As it is, with the flaws that the game exhibits and the relatively unfinished feel that the gameplay has, I can only suggest this title to hardcore fans of the series. It's unfortunate that Core seems to have taken a step back in so many aspects when the game begs to be a serious step forward. Here's hoping for a more polished sequel.

- - Vane

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