Editorial - 'Angel of Darkness'

Update - 4 February 2004

The opinion below is based on my early experiences with the PlayStation 2 version of the game, along with comments on the PC game on a couple of TR forums I visit. They don't necessarily apply to the Mac release, which does not have either of the two worst problems, the controls and camera - these are as we know them from the previous TRs, and this alone turns the game from a marginal performer to something much more playable and enjoyable! However there are other issues that are applicable, and these should be recognised and understood! Kerrie



Quality Control and Bugs

Is this TR as we know it?

Graphics and Gameplay

Conclusion

 

 

 

 


21 July 2003

The recent release of 'Lara Croft, Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness' has caused a great deal of controversy, some of it earned, but much not...

Quality Control and Bugs

The PC release has, quite rightly, come in for much of the criticism. There are a number of issues with this release that should never have been allowed - for example the graphic problems, and the general fussiness of the game for certain hardware configurations. Not to mention that it needs a lot of grunt to run well.

The PS2 release has also been criticised for a number of bugs, but my experience has been that these may be batch issues, or regional differences, as I've seen very few in the Australian PAL release, and no crashes or slowdowns in 15 or more hours of play (although I'm now approaching an area reputed to have a savegame bug so I could yet find something).

But quality control issues aside, what of the criticisms regarding the concept and changes to the game?

Is this really a 'Tomb Raider' game?

Well that depends on whether you are prepared for changes to the original classic TR style. Yes, it isn't 'Tomb Raider As We Know It', but for years we've been asking for some significant updating to be done to the game engine, instead of just bolting extra bits on the old one. So now we have an all-new game engine capable of enormous improvements, and the cry is sounding that it's not the predictable old TR any more! Get real, what did you expect?

The fact remains that it does have many great TR set-pieces, and the underlying concept has changed little. What about the laser guarded rooms in the Louvre Museum? Or the fantastic 'Serpent Rouge' disco with all its lighting effects, high platforms and gantries? Or the wonderfully intricate archaeological site? How about a pillar jump across a lava pit where the pillars are half the size we're used to and sway in the wind? This definitely has 'Tomb Raider' elements, just not quite as we've become used to in the past - they're better...

Maybe it should have been called 'Lara Croft: The Angel of Darkness', then we'd know to expect something a little different? Maybe the tie-in with the movies has not been a good idea? Maybe the first movie should have been called 'Lara Croft and The Triangle of Light'? I like it! But those never happened, and we're stuck with the names we have. Anyway, what's in a name? 'A rose by any other name would smell so sweet...' Let's just deal with it, and get on having fun! Face it, the classic TR games are great, but there are a lot of great games out there that aren't called 'Tomb Raider'. The name doesn't matter - the enjoyment does!

What about the graphic style and gameplay?

Lara's familiar chunky look, bland skin tones, joint dislocations, and detail limitations have gone. The square-based map structure, with its shape and angle limitations, and the blocky terrain (the combination of which was so loved by TR fans as it made the old 'backhop-run-jump' so easy to perform) have gone. The sterile environments have also gone. In their place we now have a far better Lara, with proper joint movement, graded skin tones, finely detailed costumes, and new moves. We have a free-form environment, with none of the blockiness of the classic games. There are narrow beams to walk, odd shaped ledges to negotiate, and structures set at angles to each other. The old sterility that we loved so much has gone and I have to say that doesn't bother me...

Along with that, Lara now has more movements, although the old 'backhop' has vanished. But it has to be said that the original trademark Lara move in all the games - the handstand - is still with us, as is the Swan Dive! Lara can now take a short forward hop, and the standing forward jump, running jump, and back- or side-flip are still there. She can now run backwards or sideways while fighting (she must be in combat mode to do that) and she now has a reasonable set of stealth moves. Lara's feet kick up dust and leave footprints in soft dirt. She splashes her way over wet ground. And an extra touch is that her 'assets' have their own inertia and can be seen to bounce or wobble. Not sure whether that's a Good Thing, but it always seemed a bit odd that they never moved at all - no bra on earth is that good!

And the controls are different! But it has to be said that with the disappearance of the blocky terrain, the old style controls became obsolete. There is less precision now (just like the real world), and the free moving camera can take some getting used to, but with the PS2 controller these do make a strange sort of sense. Left thumb, left stick, move Lara - right thumb, right stick, move camera. It does take some time to get used to, but in the end it seems to add to the feeling that you're playing in a world that's not so far removed from the real one we live in, warts and all. And if you get it wrong, there's an automatic safety feature built in - go over an edge accidentally, and as long as you release the control quickly chances are that Lara will turn, grab the edge, and save the day! In the time I've played that's happened to me quite often, but I've rarely fallen off an edge and seen Lara plummet to her doom, other than when mistiming a jump...

Conclusion

'Angel of Darkness' is not a bad game! But neither is it yet a great game! The changes made to the gameplay need a bit more fine tuning, the game engine needs tweaking to get it working better and more reliably, but underneath the covers is a game with a heap of potential waiting to be exploited! However, the criticism (in some cases more like invective!) is damaging the prospects for future development and we're now at risk of losing Lara for good - will Core/Eidos pour more money into a game that's generated this much controversy? Have the most vocal critics of the gameplay changes actually played more than a few minutes of the game - have they given it a real chance? I get the disturbing feeling that a lot of the criticism of the gameplay changes is the result of a quick look, and not a serious assessment - the new concept is just not as bad as some are saying.

I for one would hate to see Lara vanish! And she could, partly because the changes we've been wanting for years have finally arrived and some people are not sure they wanted them after all! I despair...

(The above is a personal opinion. Feel free to disagree...)

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