When the news announces that Core Design is no longer the lead developer for the Lara Croft series something has to be up. But surely Eidos as decided to end on a high note with the developers that brought us Lara? Knowing what Miss Croft has delivered in the past, gives the latest instalment - Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness a lot to live up to.
Three years have passed, during which time Lara has been a busy girl, and has always been somewhere, doing something, namely starring in the blockbuster movie. Now the game now returns to a console near you, in this case the PS2. Tomb Raider's association with the PlayStation has been a good one, but is this latest adventure going to a match made in heaven, or a flop?
From the outset the delivery is good, as you would expect from something as enormous as Tomb Raider, and the graphics have that new edge you'd expect - the cut scenes are pretty good, if a little slow in loading and the actual in game graphics and sound are ok - the sound sometimes loses itself.
The main evolution that Core, the games publishers, has tried to incorporate here is interactivity. As seasoned gamers will know, much of the joy of Tomb Raider comes from solving the puzzles that emerge as you play - something that gets you thinking.
With new interactivity between characters, this has supposedly been enhanced. The new interactivity of the game means that the outcomes change as you talk to people - the route/plot is less defined than before, but not satisfyingly so. You might have a conversation, say the wrong thing, and get shot. In short the AI leaves a lot to be desired, and is woefully inconsistent.
Control. I must have control. Lara Croft can do amazing things with herself, as was so brilliantly displayed in the film, with the ample Ms Jolie in the role of our heroine. I love Tomb Raider because the girl has skills - she can jump, climb, roll, and combine all these moves into a graceful ballet as she overcomes obstacles in her path.
Yes, she still can, but it is a bugger. The control system is again supposedly 'new and improved'. This suggests to me that there was something wrong with the old controls, and I think the popularity of the previous games shows that not to be true. Control of Lara is now more difficult than ever. From the outset, in the first 'tutorial' style level, you learn that the controls are going to be a pig - and not just a bit. I've played a good few games in my time, but this was irritating. Getting movement in the correct direction, with the correct action is tediously difficult. The developers probably changed the controls (all analogue now) to make Lara more dynamic. That is all well and good, but the game still needs to be fun and playable.
Ok, ok, you do get a little more used to the controls, but this version is still a kick in the teeth from the outset - especially when the game has been so anticipated.
Overall, the game has a hurried and unfinished feel to it, almost as though they were rushed to get it out to the gaming community (like in advance of a particular film release or pressure from the shareholders before the end of Eidos' financial year end)
One of the greatest series of games has been cheated, and a lot of fans will be annoyed with this. When faced with polished competitors such as MGS2, Deus Ex and so on, Lara no longer has a leg to stand on. In a word, we were disappointed. The one thing the game isn't guilty of however, is the flop of the equally bad film The Cradle of Life last summer.