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Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness
Out: Now | Developer: Core Design | Publisher: Eidos | Format reviewed: PS2 | Other formats: PC | Players: 1
[03/07/2003: 15:47]
Finally. A dramatic return or should Lara be reburied? Max magazine goes digging...
The last chance grab stops you dying of you stumble
If you happened to be lying around last bank holiday you might have caught the latest attempt to shove gaming onto mainstream TV. Called Gamestars, the ITV awards show featured an audience of 10 different kinds of people: those who understand binary and those who don't.

Well one of the gongs was presented by the latest Euro-teenager dumped off the model conveyor belt and straight into a pair of hotpants. This 'real life' Lara was lowered into the studio preening and posing with her pistols. Mute and vacant behind her mirrored sunglasses she handed the envelope over to the nonentity presenter and ascended back into the lighting rig to a smattering of floor-manager-only applause.

It served as a reminder of just how dated, how embarrassing Lara Croft and the whole Tomb Raider phenomenon is these days. Next to Vice City, Gran Turismo and even The Getaway she could only have appeared less of an anachronism if Horace went skiing onto the stage or Ms Pac-Man read out the nominations.

The problem isn't just that Lara as a character seems to belong to a different age - so does her game. Not because she slipped past the original Christmas release date. The slip just emptied the promotions coffers and exhausted many gamers' goodwill, but her efforts seems dated because as the nineties turned into the noughties, nothing was seen or heard of her.

She was once every magazine's favourite cover and the yearly chart topper, but now lame Lucozade promotions and late celluloid spin-offs have become her only outlet. More elusive than 2000 litres of Anthrax, can the girl with the cut-glass accent and the cut-off shorts still cut it?

After a cut-scene of moderate polish the game starts in earnest and you have your answer all too soon. Instantly it becomes apparent is that not only is Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Angel Of Darkness a mouthful of Dirk Diggler proportions but it doesn't deserve such an elongated titled. Tomb Raider 6 fits perfectly for reasons of both brevity and honesty. Why? Because this PS2 version is a measured improvement on the neat and petite Chronicles but not a clean break from the PSone Croft titles.

Those often-talked-about new moves are probably the most substantial shift as Lara can now climb drain pipes and crawl through smaller gaps than ever before. She also comes with a grip-o-meter that ensures she can only hang onto ledges for a limited time and has the ability to perform muscle-building tasks that let her beef up her biceps and so hang on longer. But such extra tricks are mere niceties, icing, a gilding on the orthodox cage.

The real truth is that the gameplay still revolves around solving puzzles, pulling levers, shoving boxes and finding a succession of platforms that Lara can jump to in your quest to climb higher. It's also painfully slow. Without the now absent sprint function, just moving Lara around the immense areas takes an age. In short, at its most basic the gameplay could have appeared in either of the Tomb Raider series' last two incarnations.

Which neatly brings us to the controls. If there was one fault suffered by the series and loathed by even the most ardent Crofter it was the clumsy layout of the buttons. Which makes it all the more shocking that Core have actually found a way to make them worse, far worse. In a perverse twist the game uses a mixture of the traditional floating 'chase' camera and a variety of fixed positions that are designed to improve the dramatic impact. The result is that the controls flip as the view does.

Walk forwards onto a staircase and as the view changes you'll often find yourself wandering back across the screen the way you just came. This effect is magnified as the running, walking and sidestep functions are now controlled on the left-hand stick and toggled with R1. Turning on the spot is also equally impossible and lining yourself up quickly for a timed jump is frustration itself. Add in the problem of the fixed cameras and simply scooping up a packet of ammo becomes akin to parallel-parking the Titanic. How to solve the problem? It certainly doesn't take Hideo Kojima to point out that the problem that the solution lies with the now totally unemployed D-pad.

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