Tomb Raider: Chronicles
So this is Christmas, and what have rou got? Another FIFA game and another Tomb Raider game, obviously. Waaaidd-a-minute - wasn't the lovely Lara missing, presumed brown bread, at the end of the most recent game, the aptly-named The Last Revelatiorfl She certainly was, but that was never going to stop Eidos from claiming its Christmas bonus, and here she is again in all her glory. So has she risen from the dead in a Christ-like fashion? Or emerged from the shower having forgotten the previous year, Bobby Ewing style?
Not quite, as this is something of a history lesson, recounting not one but four of Lara's previous adventures. But don't worry, they haven't simply rehashed the old games - these adventures are secret ones that weren't documented in any of the previous four instalments. So how do they come about?
In an admirably contrived manner, as it goes. At a memorial service to commemorate the life of dearly departed Lara (whose body hasn't actually been found, sequel fans), her best friends begin openly weeping and drunkenly recounting their favourite Lara stories. Flashbacks kick in and before you can say "Lara Croft's Cruelty Zoo" you're thrown into an all-leaping, climbing, swimming, animal-shooting escapade, sporting nothing but safari pants, a skin-tight top and a huge pair of pistols.
Same Old, Same Old
Business as usual then, and indeed the first adventure is classic Tomb Raider stuff, depositing Lara in the back-streets of Rome in traditional garb with a hankering for ancient artefacts. New moves include the largely cosmetic tightrope walking, and the slightly more useful ability to swing from bars like an orang-utan. Fortunately, dogs can still be killed, and the story opens up via the traditional insertion of oversized keys into the relevant locks. It soon gets reasonably interesting, and if nothing else provides a swift reminder as to the series' merits.
Next up is a major step back in time, with a 16-year-old Lara paying a visit to a sinister Irish island populated by ghouls, demons and rambling priests. Her impromptu catapult aside, no weapons are used in this section, which has more in common with traditional adventure games in that it involves a lot of wandering around and the occasional combining of unlikely objects. It's a change of pace from the opener, but still a reasonably intriguing affair, providing you can come to terms with manipulating a teenage girl.
The third outing sees a fully-grown Lara in SAS-style camouflage outfit investigating a Russian U-boat base. Again, plenty of shooting and jumping, some reasonable set-pieces and a ludicrous selection of larger-than-life villains to contend with.
The final adventure sees another new costume, and it's probably the pick of the bunch. A skin-tight leather cat-suit with headset, the ensemble bears a freak resemblance to those worn in The Matrix, and indeed this section of the game has a similarly hi-tech feel, with Lara infiltrating a tower block aided by a typically annoying computer hacker.
Naturally, Tomb Raider Chronicles doesn't break the mould. It's varied enough for long-time fans of the series, and an ideal debut for newcomers. It's not Deus Ex by any means, but it isn't supposed to be. Of course, the PC can boast far better games than this, but it is also blighted by far worse. It would be easy to snobbishly dismiss it as a mere console game, but that would be denying yourself several hours of mindless fun. Not to mention staring at a posh bird's arse.
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Announced back in May at E3 (we must have missed the press conference) was the fifth in the long-running Tomb Raider saga. Due for release in November, Tomb Raider Chronicles will again see the pendulous charms of Lara Croft bounding across our screens in a similar 3D adventure to the last four.
Curiously, Tomb Raider Chronicles starts off at the side of Lara Croft's grave. Missing and presumed dead, mourners will reminisce over her life in between which a number of levels will kick in where, once again, we can control Lara's actions as she hurls herself around ancient cities dispatching the indigenous wildlife and locals with her trademark panache, using new weapons and skills, one of which is her newly discovered ability to walk across tightropes. No doubt as the game goes on we'll discover Lara is alive and well, especially since next year will see the release of both the TR movie and a new game, set for release on PlayStation 2.
The cameras have started rolling for the movie, with filming around London and at Pinewood Studios well under way. The cast, which includes Angelina Jolie, lain Glen and Carry On's Leslie Phillips, are all no doubt looking forward to moving on to Iceland and Cambodia, where further shooting is due to take place later this year. The film should be out next summer.
Lara Croft is dead. At least that's what Eidos is hinting at for this next Tomb Raider installment. "In Chronicles we're not actually going to say that Lara Croft is dead,"
Core Designs' Adrian Smith told EGM, "and we're also not going to say that Lara Croft is alive." TR Chronicles is designed to be a consolidation of the series thus far before Core takes it onto the PS2 next year. The game will offer four separate adventures (Rome, U-boat, Spooky Island and Tower Block) that take place in Lara's past. "What we're actually focusing on is all the old characters from Tomb Raider," says Smith. So Tomb fans can expect to see some familiar faces returning (besides Lara's of course). We'll be back with more details as the November release date approaches.
What's that you say? You thought Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation was supposed to be the final time you'd see Lara's face on the PS one? Silly rabbit. Haven't you noticed Eidos says that every time a Tomb Raider game goes on sale? Surprise! Lara's back for one final--really final--PlayStation adventure. Really. One last one. We promise.
If it makes you feel any better, this isn't exactly a sequel. Chronicles takes place at a memorial service for Lara (that's right, she's dead. Check out the sidebar on the next page). On a cold, gray afternoon at the Croft estate her closest friends gather to recount some of her more exciting adventures. So basically the entire game is made up of four elaborate flashbacks in locations like the Ruins of Rome, a German U-Boat and a high-tech high-rise. Oh, and "young Lara" makes a return appearance (pedophiles rejoice!). You have to admit the story is pretty original, and Core is adamant that the rest of the game will please Tomb fans as well. "Without a doubt, this is the best game in the series so far," says director of development Adrian Smith, "It enhances what we've done in the past--it's the consolidation of everything we've done before. It adds a little bit of backstory to Lara, and it actually ties up the loose ends for us so we can start Tomb Raider the Next Generation." What he means is that most of Chronicles plays like different games in the series' past: In the Roman Ruins, Lara's exploits are a lot like the original game: a decent balance of action and puzzle solving. The German U-Boat resembles Tomb Raider III in that Lara has to rely on her guns more than her wits. Finally, young Lara returns from Tomb IV--once again without any weapons--to trap ghostly antagonists in a spooky setting.
So is this just a bunch of bits from all the old games rolled into one and slapped with a new price tag? Not quite. The real reason Eidos thinks it's worth your time to play through yet another Tomb Raider is the totally new high-rise setting. Probably the most original thing to be seen in a Tomb Raider title since the first game was released, the whole point is stealth (think Metal Gear Solid meets Perfect Dark). Rather than shooting guards and other ne'er-do-wells, Lara has the option to sneak up behind them and knock them out with chloroform. The enemy Al has been adapted to this new play mechanic as well. "Baddies are triggered by sound now. If you run through the level with guns a blazing, it's going to make the level four times as hard as if you sneak around and take baddies out selectively." says Smith. Better watch out for traps, too. They include metal detectors and lasers, not to mention a very cool X-Ray scene (big pic at the start of the preview). The one thing PS players will miss out on is the full-featured level editor being included in the PC version of Tomb Raider Chronicles. Ah well, we figure that's the price of owning an aging console with no form of mass storage.
Speaking of aging console, why isn't Core just waiting for the PS2? Why not add new features like the level editor to the first outing on hot new hardware rather than showing your hand on a system who's days are numbered? Apparently they wanted to release the game in tandem with the movie (due this May), and didn't have enough time with the PS2 development tools to do the game on the new system. The irony is that Chronicles has been finished so quickly that it should see release before the end of this year, and well before the feature film.
At least with all the new play mechanics and episodic setup of the game, there's something to be excited about this time. Chronicles is the closest we've seen to emulating the original TR concept. That in itself is worth checking out. Whether or not that makes it worth your hard-earned cash is something we'll discuss in our review next month.