Tomb Raider: The Angel Of Darkness
Though die-hard fans might feel differently, Core's new adventure lacks courage, balance, and something more.
After months of delays, has the latest Tomb Raider game lived up to the hype and expectations of gamers everywhere? The answer, sadly, is 'no'. Though die-hard fans might feel differently, the casual gamer would be left feeling frustrated at all the flaws and errors and the lack of excitement in the game.
Lara Croft, the star of the series, has returned for her latest adventure that involves finding the five 14th century pieces of art, known as the Obscura Paintings. An Alchemist is in search for these paintings to revive a monster from the past: The Sleeper. His helpers involve a secret cult known as "The Cabal" who seems to have its own agenda. Along the way, she is pursued by the police who accuses her of the murder of her former mentor, Werner Von Croy. While there are a few good qualities in The Angel Of Darkness, these can be quickly forgotten once you encounter the many problems (which occur quite early in the game!).
The new features include:
- Character Evolution: Improve Lara's abilities and witness her adapt to how you play
- Character Interaction: Conversations with other characters will determine Lara's path
- New Character: Introducing Kurtis Trent, a new playable character with his own distinctive gameplay mechanics
Lara comes equipped with all of her usual moves (run, jump, brawl, etc.) and she only has 1 new ability: Stealth Mode, activated by tapping the L2 button. In this mode, she'll become like Solid Snake and have the ability to sneak up on enemies and knock them out. When you first begin to play the game, you'll notice that Lara is a bit "rusty". Her speed/agility has decreased, her jumps aren't as high, and her strength has depleted. She now also has a "Grab Meter" which depletes if you hang off a ledge for too long. The novelty - which may sound quite interesting and challenging - is that all these can be improved as you progress through the game. You'll be unable to proceed at certain situations unless you've increased the attribute needed. Sadly, the "upgrade system" is far away from being a well-implemented element of the gameplay; in fact, it turns out to be just an "extension" of the typical puzzles of the series. Basically, whenever Lara says "I'm not strong enough for this", it just means you must solve some kind of puzzle or perform some action in the immediate surroundings that will let Lara learn her new ability. Three years ago, a masterpiece like Deus Ex showed how an upgrade system could be used as a constitutive part of an almost revolutionary game structure that gave players the freedom to adapt the experience to their gaming style; in 2003, The Angel Of Darkness uses its upgrade system just as another element that stresses its linearity. Even the rest of the puzzles are classic Tomb Raider stuff: levers, crates, switches - it's all here, and while many fans of the series might like this, it's all undeniably too old-style to be actually convincing. If many puzzles remind the best ones seen in the previous games of the series, others are just repetitive, unintelligent, and seem to be there just to make the experience a bit longer.
The new playable character, Kurtis Trent, starts off as the "mystery man", who appears at certain scenes in the game. This makes you wonder if he's a good guy or a bad guy. However, it turns out that he would like to destroy the Alchemist for his own reasons. He has the same basic moves as Lara but he possesses special occult abilities. His section of the game is a little more like a survival-horror than action-adventure. He makes his way through an abandoned psychiatric hospital where the bad test subjects of experiments are found.
Levels are large, but are divided in smaller sections to fit the limited memory of the system; this means you'll often see loading screens, but this isn't a big problem. Even though you're free to roam around wherever you please, it is more "goal-orientated", like in the first Tomb Raider. This is pretty nice because it helps move the story along faster. The game lets you save at any time - which I highly recommend you do because of the terrible controls I'm about to mention.
Even though the game features the new analog control system, which was designed to help you control Lara better, it's actually worse. Much worse. I cannot tell you how many times a frustrated look or shout came upon me whenever she fell off a ledge or jumped in the wrong direction. The result is MANY deaths...which is enough to annoy even the most patient gamer. Not to mention having to see the loading screen everytime.
The action is a bit dull. Core has incorporated many of the elements that made the first game a success, but somehow, it doesn't feel as exciting. The human enemies are quite easy to kill and the Stealth mode hardly comes in useful since you're better off killing instead. The non-human enemies (like monsters or the undead) aren't so easy to kill, but they become more of a nuisance instead of a challenge. Especially when you're trying to solve a puzzle or insert an object.
Overall, the new Tomb Raider introduces something important to the series: a compelling, well-narrated storyline. It also features more variety than the previous games, but it's evident the developers didn't have the courage to fully realize their original concept. The Angel Of Darkness should have been less linear than the previous games, should have featured better controls, and should have finally got rid of crate-based puzzles. After three years, all you get is a re-edition of the old game mechanics with puzzles masked into an "upgrade system", and a new playable character.