Copyright 2000 IGN

[ August 24th 2000 ]

If you're anything like me, you've probably greeted the news of the latest installment in the Tomb Raider series with the same enthusiasm you spent getting excited about Highlander 3 or the next Eddie Murphy vehicle. But perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to dismiss this fifth variation on the Tomb Raider theme. The latest version of Tomb Raider will feature a host of improvements as well as a versatile level creator tool. We took a trip down to Eidos to talk with Adrian Smith, Director at Core and all-around nice guy.

The newest Tomb Raider might seem "a little bit strange" given that Eidos killed Lara in the end of the last installment. I'll pause here to give you time to gasp in disbelief. For some strange reason, Lara's supposed death is one of the best-kept secrets in the gaming industry. Sure, her body was never found, but that doesn't prove anything. The "death" is meant to allow the development team to make a clean break with today's current platforms and begin focusing on next-generation consoles (they count the PC in that category). But the death of the lead character won't interfere in any way with this continuation of her story. And it's not accomplished with a "the-spider-bite-merely-put-her-into-a-state-of-suspended-animation" type thing.

The new game starts at Lara's funeral (but since there's no body, I guess we should call it a memorial service). It's a "typical British day" complete with all the misery and rain you'd expect. Characters from out of Lara's past convene around her gravesite -- Jean Yves, Winston, Pierre and Father Dunstan. After the service, some of the characters retire to stately Croft manor. As they sit and reminisce about Lara, they recall to mind four previously unrelated adventures. It's sort of like those pastiche episodes of the Golden Girls, where Bea Arthur and Betty White sit around and say "Do you remember…?" and you hear that harp glissando and the screen gets all wavy. But unlike the Golden Girls, Tomb Raider: Chronicles' flashback sequences are entirely original.

This concept allows for four very different types of games in an episodic format. Adrian refers to it as "the definitive collection of what's been good in all the previous titles." The first adventure takes place in Rome and is designed to get people "comfy" with the game. It's a very traditional or "classic" Tomb Raider level so it shouldn't offer too much in the way of surprises. Lara will also have to travel to an abandoned submarine base in Russia. The area has been taken over by the army and the mafia. Lara's exploits in this area will be much more focused on action. You know, big guns, two-fisted kind of action. As an added bonus, Lara will sport a new SAS outfit. A haunted castle in Ireland provides the backdrop for Lara's sweet sixteen party.

There are no guns on this level; you'll just have to dodge and outrun the various ghosts, goblins and ghouls that populate this level. The final level takes place in a hi-tech office building. Lara will be decked out in a "Matrix-style catsuit" complete with headset. Your companion, ZIP, will guide you through the various traps and metal detectors to be found within. Adrian says that Chronicles is the biggest change to the game engine we’ve ever done on the PC. He freely admits that, in the past, the console versions of TR have had some advantages over their PC step-cousin. This time around though you can expect a huge graphical improvement with loads of detail and objects. As you can tell by the screenshots, there's a lot more here to look at than in previous TR installments.

There's also a lot more that Lara can do here. On the action side, she'll now be able to walk tightropes (bringing with it the fear that they'll be combined into our beloved jumping puzzles). She'll also swing on suspended bars and use a grappling hook gun. The addition of a "search" option allows Lara to rifle through files and drawers looking for various items. Lara will also have access to a sniper rifle and some new hand-to-hand combat options. She can sneak up behind enemies and disable them with cosh or chloroform. And since enemies respond to sound now, you'll have to be especially careful when you sneak up on them.

Enemy spotting has also been tweaked to allow enemies to take cover behind certain objects in the environment. One of the really exciting features that's being added is the level editor. Adrian describes it as "sort of a 'thank you' from us" for all the Tomb Raider fans out there. The team has spent a whole year organizing and documenting all the development tools just for your sake.

They'll also be including a tutorial and some examples. Personally, I wouldn't have bothered to do something that nice for you, but I'm not really the giving type. In any case, budding world builders will soon be able to place Lara in almost any situation they can imagine. Come now, let's keep it clean for the kids, shall we? Even with all the new additions, Adrian sees this installment of Tomb Raider as a way of "getting back to the traditional values" of the series.

The next-generation versions of the game will feature a much darker, X-Files-esque kind of atmosphere. Each of the new titles will be self-contained but reveal part of a larger puzzle that you'll only piece together by buying all of the new games and playing them through. But let's not get ahead of ourselves; we've still got one more Tomb Raid left before the team at Core launches into their new direction. Get it while you can.

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