Keep This Devil in the Darkness
Many years and sequels later, the designers at Core still cannot get it right. The Angel of Darkness, or Tomb Raider 4, will make players upset in two ways. First, you throw up all over yourself and your PS2 from the horrid camera. Secondly, you will be forced to break your television by throwing your controller through the screen out of pure frustration and rage because of the vile play control.
With more processing power of the PS2, more money to develop, and more fans across the world, this newest installment of the Tomb Raider series should be welcomed warmly. However, I hope gamers will stay a far away from this game as possible. It upsets me dearly to see a series that has sold so many copies turn into such crap. I don’t think the developers at Core understand what a controller is. For some reason, they like to make every Tomb Raider game nearly unplayable because of a bad control layout and scheme along with a terrible camera. Tomb Raider: the Angel of Darkness (TR4) once again falls hard in these categories. The developers need to drop everything about the old Tomb Raider games and start fresh if this series is going to make an impact on the gaming world again.
The story is bleaker than from previous Tomb Raider games. Before, Lara would travel through tombs and find forgotten treasure and ancient artifacts. Now, she is a part of a murder and must clear her name. Instead of traveling to far off exotic lands, Lara will find herself in alleyways and nightclubs. This is a nice change of pace, but with a character that strongly resembles Indiana Jones, she should remain venturing through jungles and pyramids.
New to this game is the ability to upgrade Lara’s moves by making her “feel stronger.” Players must perform certain tasks before others can be accomplished. Once the first task has been completed, a new objective can take place because Lara now gained that ability. For example, Lara will pry open a door with a crow bar. This will make her arms stronger so she can shimmy over a long ledge without falling. This new element can bring an RPG feeling, but in a game where exploration is a key factor, all the moves should be given to the player from the very beginning.
The same boring puzzles are still present. 12 Keys must be collected and 17 switches must be hit before one door will open. This grows to be quite repetitive. The designers in this game need to turn the puzzle factor down. This game could use a lot more action and a lot less puzzles. Rarely will you even encounter an enemy in this game. It has been said that this game was being tested right up until the last day before shipping. I think this is one of the reasons for lack of enemies. The programmers wouldn’t have to spend so much time on enemy AI. Why didn’t they just hold off until all the bugs were fixed? It is all about the money that they hope this game will make as they had to release it before the fiscal year was over.
Since I am on the topic of bugginess, I will state a few glitches that I found. In the very first level, I jumped to a secret ledge that had a full health pack on it. After picking it up, I simply turned around, and died. My health suddenly depleted for absolutely no reason. One level later, a few policemen chase you. This level is designed in a vertical fashion where the police are at the bottom level shooting tear gas at you and you have to escape through the top of the building. Keeping in mind that the police are on the bottom floor, I was on floor three. After running into the wall (due to bad control) Lara bent down on her knees and gave up as if the police were clubbing her from behind. I’m still trying to figure this one out.
The makers of this game included a “Making Of” documentary about the development of this game. It is here that I began to laugh. This video shows interviews of developers and designers and what they are bringing to this new Tomb Raider game. One man boasts that the processing power of the PS2 is so much faster than the PS1. With this in mind, why is there serious slow down in level two? This massive amount of slow down does not result from too many enemies on the screen or crazy special effects. The game slows down because there is a steam stack in the background that is spewing steam. Yeah, way to make great use of the PS2 processor. It even takes a fair amount of time to enter the options/equip screen. Also, on the same level as the smoke stacks, a helicopter is chasing you. How do I know this? Because you hear the sound of the propeller swirling. You don’t even see the helicopter. Even though you can’t see it, it can see you. It can see you even when you are in a closed building behind solid walls. This helicopter is armed with some kind of X-ray gun too as it was shooting me through the walls. I’m surprised that this game’s save file on my memory card didn’t corrupt my other saved games. Needless to say, this game is extremely buggy and experiences a great deal of slow down.
Play control is the biggest part of any game. How well you can control your character or object on screen is what makes a game great or not. If the player cannot easily control the game, the title is destined to fail. The Tomb Raider series has always held a chapter in my book of sucky play control, and this game is probably the worst in the series. The chunky play control will make gamers put down their controllers even before the first level is over. The back of the game case states that there is whole “new control scheme.” Sure, it maybe new, but it is not any better from the previous games. Instead of lining up directly with objects like ladders and ledges, Lara now does it for you, which makes interaction between objects easier. However, she will grab things when you don’t want her too. Making Lara turn and line up with the camera is a great hassle. The camera will often look in the completely opposite way that you want it too.
In the first level of the game, Lara will speak to the player on how to control her. She will say things like “now press the action button,” or “press the duck button.” It’s great that she is trying to explain things too you, but how are you supposed to know which buttons those actions are assigned too? The player will have to look in the instruction manual to find out which buttons do what because there is no option to change your controls in the game. So why doesn’t Lara say ” press Triangle” instead of “press duck”? This begins the frustration right from the get go.
Similar to the other Tomb Raiders, when the walk button is pressed, Lara will slowly walk up to any ledge without falling off. This feature will be used a lot. Lara now has a stealth mode that she can enter with the tap of a button. It is here that she can perform stealth kills and peek around corners. Eventually, once Lara “feels strong enough” she will be able to sprint with the R2 button. Players will want to move faster as it seems that Lara walks entirely too slow, but if you walk faster you’d probably fall off a ledge due to the horrible play control. Either way, you lose. Lara will duck with the Triangle button and jump with Circle. X serves as the action button and R1 is the way to enter weapon mode. Weapons will be selected with the D-pad and controlling Lara utilizes the left analog stick. The camera can be changed with the right analog stick. You will have to recenter the camera many times because it will rarely point in the direction you want.
The graphics are nothing to get excited about. They are very average for a PS2 title, and it even closely resembles that of the PS1 games. Lara’s animations are even a bit choppy. One thing that is very annoying is how Lara reacts when she runs into a wall or any other solid object. She gives off this scream and throws her hands in the air like she just got whopped with a metal baseball bat. During the opening movie of the game, Lara is shown with blood on her hands. Her hands look like that of some kind of beast such as a sashsquash or Bigfoot. On the plus side, the music is performed by a professional symphony orchestra. This music is well conducted but grows to be very repetitive in each level. The sound effects are also very plain and basic.
In short, I would personally like to yell at the makers of this game for getting it all wrong once again. This game has the potential to be great if it wasn’t for the unplayable control. TR4 should have taken some notes on previously released third person shooters such as Metal Gear, Syphon Filter, or even Legacy of Kain Soul Reaver. In a game where exploring is such a heavy factor, the control has to be dead on. This game isn’t even complete as players will run into bugs and glitches around every turn. TR4 could use several more months in development. This final product feels rushed in everyway. Instead of using the same old game layout, the designers need to drop everything and start completely fresh. This is what is needed if another Tomb Raider will ever be successfully made. I hope this game doesn’t sell any copies, as it will let down even hard-core Tomb Raider fans.