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Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness Review
publisher: Eidos Interactive
developer: Core Design
genre: Action Adventure
PIII 500, 128MB RAM, 16MB Video Card, 200MB HD
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Jul 01, 03 (released)
|» All About Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness on ActionTrip|
It took me only 10 years of my gaming life to realize it's all about boobies (that's true of everything else in life, ain't it?). Yep, Lara Croft is back, baby, and her boobies are bigger and more, err, tempting than ever? (God, that sounds so lame - Ed.) Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness was in development for almost three years. We were most eager to check out Lara's enhanced model, the new combat system, character interaction, and all those other goodies that created a major upsurge before the game's release. Well okay, we all expected considerable build up when such a powerful franchise as Tomb Raider is concerned. But, once again we face the same old questions: Does the game stand up to its ridiculously enormous hype? And, was it worth the wait?
Nope, these are not in-game models!
The weakest point of all security guards - the crotch.
The beginning of the story puts poor Lara knee-deep into a grave and most unpleasant situation (GASP!). Accused of murdering her one-time mentor, Werner Von Croy, Lara starts her journeys as a fugitive from justice; an outcast. On top of that, she stumbles upon a creepy Alchemist and a mysterious group of individuals who are striving to unleash an incredible and unholy power upon the world. At the same time, our attractive female adventurer must unravel a series of gruesome killings that could in one way or another be connected to a more sinister mystery. Rushing through the rainy back-alleys in a desperate effort to avoid the police, Lara Croft begins another one of her adventures. Mostly going through various locations in Paris and Prague, you'll be solving puzzles, escaping deadly traps, and fighting off dangerous foes. In all honesty, the storyline was one of my initial disappointments. After a while, I was fed-up by the fairly week and uninteresting plot structure in addition to very bad characterization. The much-hyped "character interaction" also didn't amount up to anything that could add a dash of flare to the whole experience. The fact is that no matter what you say or do (with only one or two exceptions) your character will go through a predetermined set of events and dialogue sequences.
After the game was installed, the entire AT staff assembled to behold this "new wonder" that is Angel of Darkness; after all, we have been suppressing our desires for some virtual cleavage for years. We were pleased to witness a visual improvement over the game's predecessor (it's been a while). So, it seems that Miss Lara Croft made a reasonably successful transition to next-generation graphics -"reasonably" might be stretched a bit. You'll find out why a later on in the review.
The first portion of the game comes as kind of a tutorial that gets players acquainted with the control system and a few special new abilities, thanks to which, Lara can handle various tight situations more effectively. This time she can improve her upper-body and lower-body strength by moving objects, pry-opening large doors, etc. It's a system that's frightfully simple to use and players may find it very helpful on certain occasions. But therein lies the problem. This new feature was hailed as an innovation that will sort of unchain the gameplay and make it more fluent. Lara's new-found strengths work just fine, but unfortunately players will never get a chance to experiment with them, outside the game's rather linear path. Whenever you get the strength, it is usually required to remove a large obstacle that blocks the way to the next level or when you have to shimmy across a wall for a long time - the use of special abilities just doesn't go anywhere beyond that.
Miss Croft also gained the ability to use stealth actions, which are, on more than one occasion, clearly pointless. There is a number of situations, however, when you can sneak up behind guards and overpower them with a simple neck-grab and two or three jabs with a fist. On the other hand, you usually may run pass guarded rooms without the sentries even noticing you. Also, there are areas that you simply cannot go around without alerting the enemy's attention, which is another aspect of the game that makes those stealth abilities less useful.
So, all of these so-called innovations don't amount up to more than a few nice gameplay refreshments. Apart from that, the experience doesn't differ much from any old Tomb Raider games. How many times have we shimmied across cliff edges and high rooftops? C'mon, people; do I really have to go through all that again? This brings me to another important element that's evocative of the previous TR games - a great portion of the level design is just too darn tedious, leaving players to run around sewers, underground lairs, flooded caves, and, the inevitable floating platforms. That's not all; I've also found that certain sections in the game are too barren, offering a set of challenging traps, but very few opponents to overcome.
The AI isn't really worth a mention. Baddies will appear dangerous and menacing as they approach, but after a few moments, you'll get the swing of things and defeating any foe will become an easy task. I also noticed that enemies frequently tend to get jammed in certain parts of the level, which is a good example of relatively flawed AI code.
I hate to see Lara this serious.
One kick will get you all the strength you need.
Worse still, the controls handle like utter crap and will remain a continuous nuisance throughout the entire game. Seriously, when it comes to character control I've never witnessed such a badly managed a port as TR: Angel of Darkness. No matter how you set the keyboard/mouse combination it will not work properly because the controls were clearly set to work with console gamepads (which, I hear, were also arranged rather sloppily). By the way, I never got a chance to examine if the PC version has gamepad support - it doesn't seem to have been included in the control options menu. In any case, what good would it do? The control system is flawed by default, so it makes no difference what you use; it'll always be hard to control your character.
It is because of these control issues that players won't be able to enjoy the new-fangled combat system that allows Lara to perform punches, kicks, and deadly combos. Even the combat doesn't appear to offer anything special - i.e. there's only a small range of moves Miss Croft can carry out. In addition, the control response time is ghastly, making you wonder if fighting is worth it, or if you should just switch to using your beloved shotgun and pistols.
Visually, Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness has its ups and downs. Primarily, we were impressed to see Miss Lara Croft's first step into next-generation graphics. The game displays decent reflections, T&L, realistic shadows, beautifully animated characters (especially Lara), improved water effects, solid particle effects, and so on. Lara looks absolutely stunning in high-res and things will start looking up once you get a good look at those inflated boobies (they bounce now and again, as Lara engages in hear deadly leaps, jumps, and shimmies - oh yeah!). Nice boobies are worth at least additional ten points for good eye-candy! (Are they? - Ed) The development team should also get credit for the splendid rag-doll physics and a commendable variety of death animations.
The levels vary throughout the game - sometimes you'll be wandering through huge in-door areas that convey a truthful sense of space. Then again; like I've commented earlier; there are numerous levels that are too darn dreary. There are puzzle sections that really look pleasing to the eye, but they just don't bring anything out of the ordinary in terms of gameplay. Still, while some areas look really good, others seem to lack more polys. Bringing the visual quality of the game down even further are the obscenely low resolution background textures that stand in star contrast to some of the well-textured objects in the scenery.
During my time with the game, I've encountered many technical flaws that brought the final score down even further. There are bugs all over the place! For instance, when Lara jumps on top of a moving platform, she'll leave footprints in the dust, but the footprints don't remain on the surface of the platform. They will keep floating in the air as the platform shifts! Furthermore, Lara's left leg and the shotgun she carries can sometimes simply disappear! Unfortunately, these are only tiny samples of an immensely flawed engine code. There are many hitches that often cause the game to crash, which is unforgivable for such a well-known franchise. The recently released patch fixes some of these visual bugs and crashing issues, but I'm afraid that other bugs still remain; such as: flickering, weird AI issues, bad controls, etc.
The sounds are perhaps the only aspect of the game that fully shines. Characters were voiced professionally, various ambient sounds are of the highest quality, and the music themes fit splendidly into the picture.
Ironically; and despite the overall tone of this review; I still had some fun playing Angel of Darkness. That is, once I've forced myself to put up with its many bugs and design flaws ... and the fact that it costs $50 bucks. Who knows; after several patches, AI and control system tweaks; and God knows what else; Angel of Darkness might become a good bargain bin title. As it stands right now, there are just too many negative sides to it to warrant a purchase. You might pick it up if you have a huge crush on Lara Croft or something. Just be careful; she might crash on you at a very awkward moment.
Character animation. Lara's sexy. Excellent sounds, music, and voice acting;
Bugs everywhere. Crashing. Some levels are too reminiscent of old TR games. Steep system requirements. Worse controls ever. Where's the plot at people? I fear mysterious ancient artifacts and dudes with weird accents just don't cut it anymore. You'll be bored within a few hours, so don't expect to get a lot of replay value either.
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