Angel of Darkness is the sixth adventure game starring Lara Croft. The first game was released in 1996, and was hugely popular. Lara has also graced the silver screen courtesy of Angelina Jolie, with a sequel due soon. Angel of Darkness is the last Tomb Raider game to be developed by UK based Core Design; with US company Crystal Dynamics picking up the franchise for the next instalment. I was expecting a good game, and I wasn´t disappointed. However, the game is by no means perfect, and has not really moved the series forward.
The game begins with the murder of Lara´s mentor, Van Croy. Lara was with Van Croy when he died, but has little memory of the events, or the identity of his killer. Lara embarks on a quest to find out who killed Von Croy, and why. The answer leads Lara to a plot to resurrect the last of an ancient race of Nephilim - very gothic. Lara, of course, has other ideas.
Previous games had been criticised for linear game play, and this title has tried to allow an element of choice for the gamer. While much of the environment needs to be examined, there are a few places where an alternate and easier route exists, if you look carefully. Some levels are actually quite small if you accidentally go the right way the first time, while others seem endless. This was not an entirely welcome development as some of the levels (such as the Parisian streets) are not exotic enough to make you want to explore further. However, other areas of the game do return to the colossal architecture usually associated with the series. Some of these locations are lovely to look at, but only the hall of seasons matches the complexity of previous puzzles. I also think that it would have been great to get Lara jumping around in the rafters of Notre Dame, but I suppose you can´t have everything.
One development in game play was the system of upgrades. When Lara successfully manages a long jump or pushed a crate in certain areas she is awarded an upgrade in strength, making it possible previously unreachable areas. This simply felt like an extension of the "pull a lever to open a door" syndrome rather that giving you a sense of Lara´s strength increasing. Lara´s conversations are also more flexible, and information may be discovered from more than one source. However, the majority of the game involves the usual mix of puzzles, exploration and action that made the series so popular.
Lara´s controls system has also been modified to give you more control over her speed etc, and although I found the controls a bit fiddly at first, but I liked some of the improvements. Lara can do more varied jumps now, but I did miss the old certainty of the distances she could cover. I was not a fan of the stealth system. Lara looks very silly when walking around in stealth mode, and the AI is so weak you don´t need to do much sneaking. The commando crawl on the other hand is excessively useful. A couple of the end level bosses seem to have real difficulty doing anything at all to you if you are lying down! The AI was disappointing in other ways too. Certain foes are only triggered if you attack the first one you meet. It is often a good idea to ignore the thing trying to kill you as you can virtually always out run or outmanoeuvre it. Another end level boss could not do you very much damage as long as you stood in the corner of the room.
The story was a bit silly, but that is to be expected, although I was not keen on the twist at the end. I like the occult sites that Lara manages to find every where she goes, and the Louvre levels were great fun to play. Unfortunately for me, there was a profusion of horrible jumps and nasty traps in most of the levels, but some of them could be avoided if you found the easier way, often by a lucky fluke. If there is no easy way you will probably need to resort to saving every time you achieve one jump just to get through the level.
There were also a number of silly camera angles to deal with, but again I am used to that with Ms Croft. Thankfully the camera seems less keen to hover just above her ass in recent titles. The camera angles are particularly annoying when you have a weapon drawn. Lara will point towards her foe making it impossible to look anywhere else, or direction yourself away from the foe. In order to see again you need to holster your gun - very annoying. However, this may be the price you pay for Lara´s auto-aim.
You also have to play a couple of levels as the "enigmatic" Curtis. He uses a special ability, "farsee", to get information from locked areas. I was not particularly keen on the switch of control to Curtis. Presumably it was an attempt to spice it up, but the sections with him weren´t much fun, and the twist in the plot at the end was obvious and silly at the same time. I think they should have stuck to Lara.
Overall, the new developments did not really add much to the game, but despite the drawbacks I did enjoy this game. I had probably called Lara every name under the sun by the time I completed it, and the end was (as ever) an anti-climax, but I enjoyed many of those classic tomb raider moments when you first see a colossal ancient edifice. It may be frustrating to play, but when you finally reach that illusive platform, or find the hidden artefact, it is worth it.