CHRONICLES 48HR EXTRAVAGANZA
Copyright 2000 PC Gamer

This from December's issue of PC Gamer

[ November 12th 2000 ]

Berate the ills of consumer culture - and, indeed, society as a whole - as you will, but if you like Tomb Raider games, Chronicles is at worst an entertaining diversion. Five Tomb Raider games in as many years? Yep, it's a shambles. Indeed, the cynicism inherent in repackaging the same basic engine and gameplay tenets yet again deserves to be savaged by the genus of bedroom ghost that spills vociferous missives and seed in equal measure. The Tomb Raider series is a cash-cow, each release a - spit - 'product'. Insert your own tirades hereafter, to fade... You don't have to be an intellectual, embrace Taoist doctrine or cauterise your synapses, however, to appreciate a deeper truth: it doesn't matter! The politics of individual worth and creative merit are largely arbitrary points, because we're empowered to vote with our wallets.

Moreover, Tomb Raider Chronicles is a worthy candidate - not because it's especially original, or spectacular, although in level design it contains hints of both virtues, but because it's fun. Core's complicity in the decision to release four reiterations of Tomb Raider is unquestionable. Thing is, Tomb Raider Chronicles, like The Last Revelation, is defined by its limitations. Core's designers, forced to use an engine patched and enhanced yet still slave to the block-based architecture of the first release, have to be pretty damn creative to conjure up special moments. Chronicles is testament to their skills. Split into four different sections, Lara's latest adventure is a retrospective romp through previously unknown capers. For those who didn't get that far - or, for that matter, didn't try - The Last Revelation ends/ended with a cliff-hanger.

Lara, it is intimated, might be dead. Chronicles begins just after her memorial service (and not her funeral. See what they did there? Clever, n'est pas? Sigh...), with her companions pontificating on her many outlandish, exciting exploits. This brief is the justification for a quartet of surprisingly individual chapters - and yes, we mean in terms of play. The first, based in Rome, is in many respects a continuation of the style adopted by The Last Revelation. There are big 'boss' characters to fight, there is plenty of ammo, and a few of its puzzles are a mite more engaging than the usual switch-oriented fare. The second chapter, Search for the Spear, is like TR2 in TR4's clothing: lots of combat, polished locales. The third section marks a second outing for 'Young Lara' - she's still bloody ugly in the FMV intro, but the lack of weaponry (and, therefore, combat) makes its three levels redolent of the first Tomb Raider.

Finally, the three levels set in a high-security building, with Lara clad in slinky black catsuit, are appreciably difficult yet rewarding - and, in many ways, unlike anything we've seen before in places. Critics may sneer at the suggestion that there can be diversity within the confines of the familiar TR blueprint, but really: there is. It works. Going against the grain of the last two Tomb Raiders, Chronicles avoids the merest hint of map hubs and user-defined routes, preferring a linear sequence of levels. And that works, too. By prescribing the action in a set format, the pace of the action is arguably better. Take the Rome levels, for example. The first involves simple switch and key-finding puzzles, with a smidgen of combat. It's pretty inauspicious fighting, too - against dogs with nothing better to do, obviously, than go for the throat of British 'it' girl. The next stage, however, presents a trio of distinctive 'boss' assailants, two of which are virtually puzzles in their own right. One aspect of Tomb Raider Chronicles that gamers might find galling is the increased size of the cut-scenes. There are, as per, several FMV sequences at key points. Joining these, however, are an increased number of large narrative asides that use the in-game engine.

They're hardly abysmal - and it's a subjective call, obviously - but the lack of an option to skip them, if required, will leave some players a little queasy. Core are obviously still superkeen to establish Lara's credentials as a personality, rather than an arse and an occasional breast profile. Fortunately, judicious use of the save game option can help prevent repeat viewings. Chronicles can be completed by a reasonably talented gamer at a canter within a fortnight, or during an intense, antisocial weekend. That length seems about right. As familiar as it is, it contains enough in the way of 'fresh' content to give it a healthy vitality, while the steadily harder to find 'secrets' will appease the hardcore gaming fraternity. In fact, the consistency of its design really is worthy of note - there are no sections like Cairo in TR4, or London in TR3, that sap your will to continue. So yes, Chronicles is a worthy Hit because it is, in a word, enjoyable - from start to finish. There's no conspiracy, nor a slavish adherence to the perceived wisdom that Tomb Raider games get favourable reviews because they're big business. As a curtain call for the series on the first-generation PlayStation, Chronicles is excellent, albeit lacking in revolutionary intent - but c'mon, how many games really differ in that respect? Cast aside your cloak of indignation, drop your elitist ideals, and give it a try. It's worth the effort, and it's not as if you have to tell anyone that you have...

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