Summary: Lara Croft is back in action on the PC, coinciding with her silver-screen return. Brett admittedly likes Jolie, but will this help him alleviate some of the darkness he found in reviewing this title? Read on to find out!
A long time coming…but not long enough
It’s been almost three years since the last Tomb Raider game. As the movie franchise revs up, Core Design and Eidos Entertainment have geared down. Angelina Jolie has been left to shoulder the weight (I’d say “weights,” but I promised the editors that I’d hold off on the big boob jokes until at least the third paragraph) of keeping Lara Croft in the public eye, which isn’t so bad since most of us would rather ogle her than play yet another action-adventure game. This tactic had another side benefit of granting the designers the opportunity to recharge their batteries and breathe new life into a series almost as musty as one of Lara’s fave crypts.
That hasn’t happened. Judging by Tomb Raider: Movie Tie-In—er, The Angel of Darkness, the hiatus should have lasted longer. A lot longer. Hell, let’s go for broke here and say forever. It’s a certainty that anyone who spends the 20 or so hours required to finish this game will be forever cured of lusting after this Maximized take on Indiana Jones. Instead of moving the seven-year-old series in new directions, freshening up the spirit that made the original two releases such a hoot, Core has trashed everything that ever made the Tomb Raider games popular. Plot is now more James Bond than Dr. Jones, with a smattering of the X-Files. You spend more time in modern cities than ancient ruins. All of the new stealth and hand-to-hand combat options are a waste of time. The control system is probably the worst that I’ve ever experienced in a computer or video game—and, man, I own an Intellivision.
SIDEBAR: Official Website
I’d rather be playing Astrosmash
And in all honesty, I’d rather spend time with that classic 1980s system and its touchpad-telephone controllers than play Angel of Darkness. Every single aspect of this game presents one annoyance or another, starting with install bugs (I had to restart the install process three times because of various run-time errors) and continuing with the plot, which involves Lara coming under suspicion for the murder of her old mentor Werner von Croy. Unlike the previous Tomb Raiders, the new release is largely set in present-day Paris and Prague. Yes, they’re old cities, but they’re not exactly Angkor Wat or Cairo. You spend much of your time in modern apartment buildings, alleyways, rooftops, cafés and the like, playing secret agent. There isn’t more than a hint of archaeology until level 12, when you visit a dig site and underground tomb. Even then, you’re down there for just a few levels before it’s back to the surface and more action-hero stuff in city streets and research labs.
Yawn. Maybe Core has changed the focus of the game to better represent the new Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life movie, which by the advertisements seems to be more of a female XXX or Bond movie than anything to do with the original Tomb Raider focus. Regardless, a lot of character has been lost. If not for Lara’s clipped accent and two other trademark assets (three if you count the ponytail), this could be a generic action-adventure with any run-of-the-mill, non D-cup protagonist (hey, I made it to the fourth paragraph). You even get to play such a nondescript character at certain times during the game, a shoot-first, screw-the-questions guy named Kurtis Trent who seems to have been dropped in from one of Capcom’s survival horror titles. I understand the marketing need to line the game up with the new movie, although I don’t see the point of making play so damn beige in the process.
SIDEBAR: Awful control systems make me want to break things. Nothing destroys a game as quickly and as effectively.
Level design is just as bland. Progression through the game is linear, which makes a joke of all the new movements available to Lara. Yes, contortion fans, you can finally twist and turn the Brit babe in all sorts of neat and semi-kinky positions. You can make her crawl on her belly, get down on all fours, bend over, slide along walls, push and pull heavy objects, sneak up behind enemy guards, beat up enemy guards with punch and kick combos, do the watusi, and so on. She even gains arm and leg strength as the game goes on, in a nod to RPG-style character development.
Getting sweaty with the undead
All this newfound agility was clearly supposed to be a big deal. Which makes me wonder why Core didn’t bother with a half-decent control system. Lara’s supposed to be more athletic and nubile than ever, so why does it feel like I’m guiding a Sherman tank with two broken hands? Controls are terrible no matter if you’re using the mouse, keyboard, or gamepad. Each is clunky, though oddly enough for a console port the gamepad is probably the worst of the bunch. It simply isn’t responsive. The effort required to maneuver Lara across a room can cause your thumbs to go numb, and there’s an extremely irritating hitch in Lara’s stride whenever she moves forward. Rather than immediately launching into a trot, she takes a couple of measured paces, as if she’s deciding whether or not she thinks escaping the undead skeleton on her heels is worth getting all sweaty.
Cirque du Soleil hires Shamu
Combat is even worse. While Lara may be some kind of jujitsu specialist these days, the new hand-to-hand combat mechanics are difficult to employ with any success. Maneuvering into position so that you can hit an enemy is more challenging than actually hitting him. Attack options are so simplistic that you need to do little but mash buttons. And graphical slowdown makes every close-range fight seem like some kind of surreal underwater dance routine. Think Cirque du Soleil at Sea World. Fighting with guns is exactly uses the same old auto-targeting system, so there isn’t any real challenge there unless you like the ducks-in-a-barrel approach.
Blurry, dumb bad guys
At least the game is clear about some things. Enemies are as dumb as dirt. They always run directly at you and dodging fire or taking cover is a concept as foreign as an arranged marriage. This seems like a negative, but it’s actually a blessing in disguise given the horror-show controls. The game always points the way forward. Objects that can be picked up shine intermittently, just like in the old Alone in the Dark games, so you never have to hunt pixels. Lara is intuitive regarding her surroundings. Walk up to a ladder and she’ll hop on, ready to climb. Leap to a ledge and she’ll grab on with both hands to pull herself up. It’d be easier to appreciate these refinements, however, if I weren’t so sure that Core added them just to compensate for the awkwardness of everything else.
Out of control
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