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After The utter disappointment of The Angel Of Darkness, we’re actually starting to lose the furrowed brow whenever Ms Croft is mentioned, replacing it with a quizzical-but-positive nod of the head. The E3 demo dispelled many of our concerns, with developer Crystal Dynamics revelling in its role of Lara Croft’s step-parent. Although the story is still a bit of a mystery, what we have learned is that Lara has to travel to many continents on a quest for a mystical artefact, rumoured to hold secrets of the past, but is confronted by corrupt forces led by a figure from her own history long thought dead.
As well as her new look, Lara has a James Bond -style collection of new gadgets that will be used to solve the many physics-based puzzles – a magnetic grapple hook, for example, is used in a similar way to The Legend Of Zelda games , swinging her across pits of spikes and pulling objects. We’re also happy to report that Lara is much more forgiving and less frustrating when scrambling around the 3D environments, so you won’t have to make pixel-perfect jumps to grab onto ropes or hold onto steep ledges.
Ragdoll physics are also promised, as well as original vehicles and cool additions such as the ability to import your own MP3s to play in Croft Manor. The jury’s still out on Tomb Raider: Legend, but we’re still hopeful that Lara’s resurrection will be the biggest since Lazarus.
Most Media Starlets have to resort to plastic surgery in order to relaunch themselves – who can forget the press furore over Jade’s new boobs? We certainly can’t Which is why we felt it time to investigate the men who made Lara cool again – nipping and tucking at her gameplay and figure until she became markedly less shit than she used to be. The charming smiley faces seen here are the folk of Crystal Dynamics: Matthew Guzenda and Riley Cooper principal designer.
Guzenda: “Going from the Angel Of Darkness model, she was very stylised at that point so we wanted to make her look more human. Obviously she still looks very perfect in a lot of respects, as far as dimensions go, but her proportions now are far more human. In AOD if you compared her to the other characters, the others were quite realistic but she stood out.
Now obviously, we didn’t want to make her too realistic as you run into the whole ‘uncanny valley’ thing when it looks too close to a human person – you start seeing odd things But we wanted to keep her a little more realistic. Lara Croft creator Toby Gard played a big part in that when he came back in. We’d gone through a couple of different models which I’d say were evolutionary from previous models, so then we moved onto this third base model that was pretty different.
Which led to the fourth model which is the one we used. Cooper: “Of course, coming to a party she’s going to dress appropriately, but in order to get into her mechanics, that dress would just not have worked!
Guzenda: “The dress was definitely a key moment; when we were designing that level, it was always a part of the design. Were always very conscious about not exploiting her character. I mean, the cheap thing to do is to put Lara in a bikini everywhere, but that’s just not something we would do as it is cheap!
But we thought that having her in an expensive dress, which is something that Lara would wear, and then having that whole thing when she rips it – its a cool thing to do, and still in line with the character. Cooper: “We set this as a goal really early on -although at first our efforts didn’t quite fit in and it was hard to see whether people were actually going to understand what to do with it. But after a while, we managed to do some things that we thought were pretty cool.
Flipping the block in the air by jumping on the other side of the see-saw was the most enjoyable thing to design, and the most fun to watch people play.
We got all giddy when we watched it – it was great! The main thing we would have done if we’d had more time would have been more physics set-ups, but we were happy with what we did in what was new territory for all of us. Guzenda: “Zip was actually one of the very few characters from previous games who wasn’t killed or disappeared that came into contact with Lara. In the original game she was pretty much always alone, and although that’s actually key to the game – feeling that you’re alone in the tomb and Lara’s the first person to get there – the problem was that it’s also very hard to move her personality along if she’s not talking to anyone.
Unless you’re using flashback Scenes and interrupting gameplay, it’s very hard to add personality to a character – which is something we really wanted to do with Legend. Having Zip and Alister, having her interact with those guys, adds to her personality and obviously moves the story along.
It was also an easy way for us to do a help system that was a little bit more subtle. If you get stuck in a level and don’t know what’s going on, those guys pipe up and give you some hints. Guzenda: “The thing with Arthur, the myth of King Arthur, is that it is a weapon, and depending on who you talk to, there are about 20 different versions of the myth. So it’s a really cool one to play with – there’s plenty of room to explain it and you cant get proven wrong.
Cooper: “At first it was like Well, where would we put the Arthurian tomb? One influence for the museum was the funhouse level in Max Payne 2 – it had come out before wed started, but was still fresh in our minds Guzenda: “If you ever get an email from me, my tagline is That’s Lara, not Laura! Obviously there’s a worldwide audience for Lara, but she’s also somewhat of a UK icon.
So we were very protective – Im actually British and there are a couple of other Brits on the team, and obviously Toby Gard too. He was a great source of, She wouldnt say that, she’d say it this way. Although technically its a mansion because we dont show any of the estate Guzenda: Originally, we wanted more creatures in the game than we had.
We ended up using human enemies quite a lot, and I think that, based on some of the feedback we’ve got, they’re something we’ll go back to in future games. With Lara you’re always very careful, asking would Lara do this? It’s not a shooter, and she doesn’t do it for the tin ill of killing people, so you always have to wonder what Lara would do in the situation.
The team have had plenty of discussions saying, Well Lara wouldn’t shoot that’. Like one time we had chickens running around a village and you could shoot them. But would Lara actually shoot chickens? You get lots of weird conversations about stuff like that. It’s Fair to say that Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider franchise have taken one hell of a battering in recent years. After her hugely successful first outing, the square-breasted aristocrat must have felt nigh-on invincible.
Sadly, years of subsequent abuse at the hands of uninspired games developers, not to mention a couple of dodgy movies, have worn down the lady’s veneer of perfection, and the series has degenerated into something of a sad joke in gaming circles. But all that is set to change. At least, it is if you believe what publisher Eidos is saying. Yes, yes, we know this is the same company who promised the horrifically bug-ridden Tomb Raider: The Angel Of Darkness would reinvigorate the third-person sepulchre-looting genre, but this time it’s got an ace up its sleeve in the shape of original Lara Croft creator Toby Gard, who’s been hired as lead character designer for Tomb Raider: Legend.
As these screenshots show, Gard has applied a touch of what film directors often describe as a re-imagining’ to Lara. She’s unmistakably the same feisty posh bird we all enjoyed accompanying on her mausoleum-robbing sprees all those years ago, but she now carries frag grenades and sports a pair of non-ridiculously-sized norks although her shorts appear to have shrunk in the wash. It’s a new Lara for a new generation, or something. As well as the new character model, she’s also getting freshly-animated moves, expressions and abilities, and neat little features like reactive eyes.
You’ll also get plenty of gadgets to help make your catacomb-based thievery go smoother than ever. Aside from the famous dual pistols, Lara’s now packing communications gear, binoculars, a magnetic grappling thingummy and something that Crystal Dynamics refers to as a personal lighting device’ – what’s wrong with torch’?
The developer is also making noises that suggest a return to Lara’s old-style crypt-burgling antics is on the cards, and this can only be a good thing in our eyes. The team has poured over the reactions to each previous Tomb Raider title, replayed them all and conducted new research in an effort to unearth that elusive fun factor.
In our humble opinion, a well-balanced mixture of exploration and puzzle-solving was the cornerstone of the first game’s appeal, and if Crystal Dynamics can successfully recapture that, then we could finally see a new Tomb Raider game that lives up to the Lara legend. Full playtest soon. I’m Not Sure when things started getting out of hand with Lara Croft She’s been on the cover of the late great Face magazine where she was compared to Pamela Anderson and Yoda , the subject of numerous feminist academic research papers and she’s been described as both a cultural icon and ‘one of the most fascinating and enigmatic figures of our time’ by the developers of course.
The trouble is, when you start concentrating on extra-curricular activities like this, your day job suffers and one of the things that made her famous – the Tomb Raider games – have now made her a laughing stock.
So it’s make or break time. And despite fearing the worst the good news which I’ll get out of the way early doors, is that there’s plenty of life in the old dog yet Crystal Dynamics have taken the essence of Tomb Raider , tightened the dynamics and delivered a solid, if short game without any visible bugs. It kicks off with a flashback – a narrative device that’s used throughout the game to piece together Lara’s past – to a plane crash in Nepal, before moving to the present-day and the obligatory tutorial which deposits you in a good old-fashioned tomb.
And this is where you get on with what Lara does best – solving puzzles, pushing and pulling crates and dispatching bad guys and endangered wildlife with your trusty pistols. And while it doesn’t manage to create the same sense of awe as the original, you have to put that down to the fact that we’re spoilt for choice these days. The pacing of the game is almost perfect You’re propelled through the game on the edge of your seat without spending too much time working out where to go or what you’re supposed to be doing.
Regular checkpoints mean that you never have to backtrack more than one puzzle or several somersaults if you die, but it never feels like you’re on rails. Everything’s been designed to make the game flow as smoothly as possible. Take the new grappling hook, which you use to retrieve crates or swing to remote areas of the level.
Rather than letting you work out which objects you can use through trial and error, relevant surfaces shimmer to give you a visual clue. And if that’s not enough, you can use your binoculars to analyse objects and see whether you can move them, grab them or shoot them. In addition, your new ‘accurate-aim’ crosshair changes colour to ram the message home, as well as letting you shoot precisely at remote targets. This perfect balance carries through to the puzzles, which are on the right side of frustrating, while being entirely logical and hard enough to give you a real sense of satisfaction when you crack them.
I must admit to almost whooping after cracking one first time, but thankfully I came to my senses in time. The developers have even managed to avoid relying on obtuse methods of dispatching the end-of-level bosses, although the final battle is keyboard-smashingly hard, especially if you get sucked in without the maximum number of health packs.
The story takes in a huge span of Lara’s life, and it’s a quest to discover what happened to her mum and best friend Amanda, both of whom are missing presumed dead. And while much has been made of the fact that Legend takes Lara back underground, good game design means you don’t have to keep a good woman down to provide the necessary thrills.
In the eight big levels, you traverse the globe, taking in not only tombs, but a military base, a museum in Cornwall and a couple of giant skyscrapers in Japan. And it’s the latter level that perfectly encapsulates the new game.
It’s so good that I’m not going to spoil any of the details for you, aside from the fact that Lara’s definitely got a bit of Posh about her in a black cocktail dress. The only criticisms I’ve got – and they’re fairly minor in the grand scheme of things -hark back to the fact that Tomb Raider is a game that’s a lot more comfortable on a console than a PC. You might be getting a simultaneous release across all platforms which is most welcome , but the combat is fairly clunky – never less than playable, but definitely driven towards dual analogue sticks.
Also, the visuals, while extremely pleasing to the eye and occasionally epic in scope, aren’t going to blow you away. It’s a bit like criticising fast food for being unhealthy though – Legend was never designed as anything but a console game.
You could also if you were nit-picking argue that it doesn’t try anything new, which points to the fact that the developers were more interested in delivering a safe but solid game than taking a flyer on anything.
But again, that was – given the size of the problems that beset the series before this -entirely the right thing to do. And in a way, that sets the tone for the review. If you’re addressing specific, almost non-higgles like this, you have to admit the overall flow of the game is relatively spot-. Thankfully, it’s good enough to guarantee another outing, and after finishing this in two sittings I can say that not only is it hard to put down, but that this reviewer is already keenly anticipating the next chapter, and that’s something I never thought I’d say about another Tomb Raider game.
It just reminds you how good the Tomb Raider games used to be before the madness took over.
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