Tomb Raider - The Angel of Darkness
Successfully changing an established formula takes time, and, as Development Director Adrian Smith told us back in late January, this ain't the same old Tomb Raider. "Angel of Darkness offers significantly different gameplay from the other games in the series. We are simply making sure all of the bits work well together. At this point in the development process, we are not working on design or adding any new game mechanics, but rather polishing the game."
Prognosis: Shrouded in darkness
It's entirely possible that the new Raider will make its April release date and be in stores by the time you read this. But two things make us wonder: 1) We didn't receive a review copy in time for this issue, as we usually would have for an April release. This could mean publisher Eidos isn't confident enough to want reviews out before the game itself hits shelves, or it could mean another delay (rumors of yet another delay are afoot as we speak); and 2) Eidos refused to comment for this story.
Download Tomb Raider - The Angel of Darkness
You can glimpse Angel of Darkness' potential before even starting the adventure. Just flip to the Extras portion of the Main Menu and watch the game's making-of movie, in which moody Core Design designers crow about what they achieved with this much-delayed PlayStation 2 installment in the blockbuster Tomb Raider series. They ramble about revamped controls, darker characters, and questions that'll be answered in later episodes of this planned trilogy. OK, now just eject the game disc and play it nevermore, lest you risk disappointment with yet another average Tomb Raider installment that-- like the last few churned-out PS1 sequels before it--fails to deliver on Core's promises. Darkness is full of half-realized ideas, including strength power-ups (see the Body sidebar below), a multiple-choice conversation system that barely affects the intriguing but muddled story, and a new tippy-toed stealth pose that I never felt the need to hunker into. But of all the big ideas that fall flat, only the revamped controls damage the gameplay. Core's goal was to finally make moving Lara an accessible experience. Instead, Darkness' scheme is more ponderous than ever and feels like it was designed by 10 people who didn't get along. Tapping the Walk button does one thing. Holding it does another. It takes two buttons to perform a small hop. Lara's jitters made me miss many crucial jumps--to the point where I'd save after every successful leap. Even if Darkness' new controls had worked, much of the game is still missing that sense of exploration--that feeling of "Whoa! Lookit the size of this place! Now how do I get up there?"--that made the first two Tomb Raider titles so compelling. Out of the catacombs, Lara now wanders through realistic stark environments (Paris, for instance, teems with one whole person) filled with the usual switch-throwing and block-shoving puzzles. Ironically enough, the game hits its high notes in the few levels actually spent raiding tombs. Maybe Lady Lara should stick to what she knows best.
Crispin and Greg must have been blinded by the way this new Ange/jiggles when she wiggles. Her game's an inexcusable mess. Despite a three-year development cycle, The Angel of Darkness is packed with graphical, aural, and gameplay glitches. Slowdown occurs with jarring frequency. Sound effects drop in and out. There are misspellings in the dialogue text. And the game logic is nonexistent--why is it that I can kill a guard dog with a couple of kicks, but sixty bullets won't bring it down? New moves, like stealth kills and melee punches, are a total joke. They're awkward, clumsy, and unnecessary. You don't need to worry about making noise or leaving bodies when enemies can't hear anything happening from more than three feet away, and thug corpses simply evaporate into thin air. The old moves are as robotic and frustrating as ever (particularly Lara's jumps--you're guaranteed to accidentally hurl yourself off hundreds of cliffs before the game is through). Fanboys--like Greg Sewart--will insist that this is the best Tomb Raider since TR2, and I wouldn't disagree. But that doesn't mean Angel of Darkness is good--it just means the whole series has been crap since 1997. Clearly, a lot of real development time was poured into the game; its story is deep and involving, and the visuals are gorgeous. But who cares about pretty graphics and cool characters in a game that's absolutely no fun to play?
I bet Ethan wouldn't be half as tough on this game if it starred one of his idols, like Indiana Jones or Britney Spears. Yes, this series has sucked for a long time now. And yes, Angel of Darkness is a bit rough around the edges. But that's no reason to be so hard on it. I think the biggest problem is that the developers are trying to do too much here, and none of it comes together quite as well as it could. It's as if the game could have used a few more months' refinement. That said, at its most basic level, this is a return to the original Tomb Raider formula that j worked so well so many years ago. The levels 1 are well designed and inventive, and Lara j| actually raids a tomb or two. There's very / little fighting, and the puzzles are engaging and intelligent enough to keep me interest-ed in the game. And the controls--despite Ethan and Crispin's whining--work great once you get used to them. Overall, it's simply a solid addition to the Tomb Raider legacy. Glitches? OK, I noticed a few, but not nearly the number that Ethan's talking about, and certainly not enough to keep me from playing.
Body by Tomb Raider
A puny girlie-girl at the game's outset, Lara can bulk up her upper- and lower-body brawn by shoving blocks and performing long-distance leaps--strength-blasting moves that increase her hang time from ledges and let her kick in doors. Core Design refers to this on-the-job fitness training as Angel of Darkness' role-playing infusion. But in reality, Lara's strength power-ups are just a thinly veiled twist on the old fetch-the-item puzzles. Stumble on a stubborn door, for instance, and chances are you just need to mosey around until you find a nearby crate, shove it two feet, and voila--you instantly get the necessary boost in strength. At least Core deserves credit for evolving the ubiquitous crates from a bland puzzle piece into fitness equipment. Could a workout video be far behind?
Do we dare to imagine jumping across the game's deadly fissures without dying dozens of times? We dare. Here are 10 ways to avoid Angers frustrations.
10. Turn with the Camera
Turning with the left analog stick is a pain, but there's a better way: Press forward on the left stick and maneuver the camera (and Lara) with the right. This way, you have much more control.
9. Jump and Hit Walls
Leap at a wall, hit it, and slide down onto a ledge. This technique will save you hours of maddening trial-and-error jumping, especially when guiding Lara over gaps of indeterminate distance.
8. Close in for the Kill
Don't be shy. Boldly sprint into close quarters and fire. You will save on ammo, spend less time fighting, and generally feel better about yourself.
7. Confuse Your Foe
Your enemies have restricted vision and don't cope well if you circle them. Use this to your advantage.
6. Record Cabal Codes
Every number puzzle in the game has a five-digit solution. Whenever you see a five-digit number, jot it down--you'll be using it soon.
5. Talk to Everyone
Talk to anyone who isn't trying to kill you and always save your game before you do in case the conversation goes awry. For example, Margot Carvier gives you a notebook if you answer a few questions, but she's easily insulted.
4. Doors to Nowhere
Most of the doors in Paris and Prague don't lead anywhere. If a door is jammed, sealed, or doesn't display the hand icon, ignore it. Make a note of doors that Lara cannot yet kick open and return to them later when she's stronger. Locked doors require keys, which are usually nearby.
3. Puzzle Proximity
When a puzzle requires a specific item, the object in question is probably close, usually within two or three rooms of the puzzle. Search the immediate vicinity.
2. Have Gun, Will Travel
Carry your weapons out of their holsters. If foes appear, Lara autotargets them before you spot them (even if they're offscreen because of the uncooperative camera).
1. Save, Save, Save!
Remember to save your progress before you enter an ominous room, prior to engaging an enemy, and most of all, just before a jump of unknown distance. And once you've done a thing right, save it so you won't have to reprise the feat after Lara's next death.