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Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness

Developer: Core Design | Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 06/20/03 | Genre: Adventure

I love the Tomb Raider series... or at least I used to. I recall vividly when the original came out and how it revolutionized both busty women staring in games and making 3D accelerators a necessity on PC's. This game was the reason why I had to get a Voodoo 1 card. The second game in the series was more of the same and while I didn't enjoy it as much as the first it was still fun. From there, the series has gone downhill with the exception of two really great Game Boy titles. With the release of the highly anticipated, and much delayed, Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness, developer Core has sunk this series to an all-new low.

Before we discuss what makes this game so bad, there are a few redeeming aspects of the title. Gone are the low-resolution visuals that existed with the Tomb Raider titles on the PlayStation. Lara looks great and so do the enemies and environments within the game.

As they should be, the graphics are much nicer. However, that is not the only thing that is new in The Angel of Darkness. Since the last time Lara has been adventuring, she has gotten a bit out of shape. This is evident when you have Lara climb up objects or hang off edges. Instead of being able to hold on for an unlimited amount of time, there is a meter that appears below your health bar that slowly diminishes. Most of the time, there will just be enough time to reach where you need to go. But camera problems make this harder than it should be. We will discuss the camera issues in a second.

Another new addition to the series is the ability to choose different dialogue choices. This may be a very small addition--but I really like it.

As you continue through the game and solve puzzles, make tough jumps, or do other things, Lara will say that she feels stronger. What this means is that she can jump a little bit farther, do other things like kick open doors, and reach previously unreachable areas. This sounds good on paper but it doesn't translate well in the game. There is no way to tell how much farther you can jump until you fall to your doom.

The story in The Angel of Darkness is probably the best reason to play the game. At the start of the title, it appears Lara has murdered her former mentor. She quickly runs from the scene of the crime and tries to escape from the police. As the player progresses through the game, they will uncover that there is a serial killer following Lara wherever she goes. To make things more complicated, a secret society is involved and Lara must clear her name and avenge her mentor's death. She won't have to do this all alone. For the first time in the series, you will control a second character--Kurtis Trent.

Unfortunately, as good as the story is, the large majority of players who pick up this title won't get very far to see how good it is. There are several reasons for this. The controls are horrible, the camera is awful, and the frame rate is unacceptable. Lets look at each of these areas.

First the controls. Lara may look good but she moves like a cement block. There seems to be some sort of delay whenever you move Lara, or Kurtis, around the screen. And if you try to move left or right, you may find that you quickly are turned around in the opposite direction. For the first time in a very long time, you can actually blame the controls for most of your deaths. It is a good thing developer Core included the ability to save at anytime or The Angel of Darkness would have been so tough, you would not have been able to complete it. Besides moving around, the jumping is even worse. On average, players will miss four out of six jumps. This makes jumping an act of luck rather than skill.

The camera is just as bad as the controls. When trying to climb or hang from a ledge, players will have a very difficult time seeing which way to go. And with the inclusion of a grip meter, you need every precious second to see where to go. There are also many other occasions when the camera won't move or you can't get it in a position where you can see what is going on. While most 3D games have camera problems, it looks like Core didn't try to fix any of the camera issues at all.

Finally, the frame rate is so terrible. For an anticipated game like this that was delayed countless times, there is no excuse for the developers to not clean up the frame rate. There are several times throughout the adventure where the gameplay will slow down to a crawl. Lara will walk even when you have the analog thumbstick pushed all the way. After several seconds, the game will speed back up--although I had several times when it slowed down again.

You can say I am being a bit nitpicky about a few problems with Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness. However, it is a title that you want to like but there are just so many issues that sap all the fun out of it. Who wants to constantly worry about saving their games because the developers made jumping so difficult? Who in their right mind approved the release of a game with this many frame rate problems? I expect an AAA
quality title and what we got was a bunch of crap. Avoid this title like the plague and I pray that the F rating I am giving this title will help remind Eidos and Core that we will not put up with over-hyping games that are this poor. This is the most disappointing title of the year.

By Kaleb Rutherford - 08/25/03
ESRB Details: Blood, Violence
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Screenshots for Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness

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