LARA CROFT, LIVE AND EXPOSED
Copyright 2000 Computer & Video Games

[ October 21st 2000 ]

Let's start with the issue of Lara's demise. The game takes you by surprise by kicking off at a memorial service for Ms Croft who went missing at the end of her last action-packed adventure. So while she's presumed dead, Jean Yves and Father Dunstan are staying round her house reminiscing about their adventures. Each of the flash backs turns into an adventure - meaning you get four very different Lara Croft outings for your money this time around.

The first adventure is in Rome, where Lara makes her way through the glorious 3D city generally learning what does what, with guest appearances from Larson and Pierre from the original Tomb Raider game all those years ago. The art guys have really gone to town in Rome, recreating the detail-rich architecture in all it's glory. It may not be quite as spot on as Metropolis Street Racer for accuracy, but it's just as pleasing to the eye. From there it's onto a U Boat for an adventure like something out of the X Files. It's all very dark and sinister, but not as sinister as the way they've hidden Lara's luxurious curves in an artic costume. Fear not though, because from here you go back in time once more to when Lara was sixteen in a Famous Five style adventure on a spooky island. It all rounds off with the final episode in a high tech tower block. Think Perfect Dark with Lara Croft, and you're getting warm, complete with Lara in a saucy black cat suit using stealth to complete tasks.

There's been some grumbling that the Tomb Raider series hasn't moved on appreciably since the first one. Fair point, maybe, but when someone buys a Tomb game they generally want the same mix of atmospheric exploration, death-defying platform action and mammoth puzzle-busting that made the first one such a blockbuster success. And so, more or less, that's what you get here too. In Chronicles, though, there is a noticeable addition of stealth to the tried and tested formula. After seeing it work so well in Metal Gear Solid and the Syphon Filter games, Core have decided to make Lara one sneaky babe.

She can now creep around and use either chloroform or the subtle option of a baseball bat to render people who get in her way unconscious. Ropes also play a bigger part in the game. Revelations let you swing on them or climb them. Chronicles goes one step further and lets you walk across them like a circus performer. You have to use the D Pad to keep Lara steady as she tightrope walks, usually with a huge drop or bed of spikes underneath to kill her should she make any mistakes. Core are banking on these features and the new approach to the level design to satisfy all Lara's fans out there. So what else has happened in the twelve months since Lara last braced our TV's ? The game engine has been modified to give the graphics a bit of a workout in the good looks gym. And unlike engine modifications that have happened before, you will notice the differences, especially in close up shots of the characters. The game play has been tidied up as well as to try and give a smoother game play experience.

After seeing the success that Doom and Quake achieved by releasing a level editor, Core are following suit allowing PC owners to design their own Tomb Raider levels. These can then be submitted to a web site for others to download and play on. Bearing in mind when Quake did it, you saw maps as varied as Doctor Who, Mario Castle and Matrix levels, the only limit is players imagination. If it's done properly, and the net community runs with it, this could bring a whole new lease of life to Chronicles, even after you've finished the main game. We like.

Despite the near disastrous effort that was Tomb Raider on the Dream cast which sold less than 30,000 copies in it's first six months, Core are going to release a version for Sega box, but this time they won't be doing just another lame conversion of a play station game, they are promising to really push the DC's power. We haven't seen anything yet, but we are told they are using a much faster version of the engine than last time, making Chronicles smoother, while a new lighting system makes everything look more like a Dream cast game than a conversion from an inferior machine. Atmosphere is created by the use of moody shadows, perfect for big scares when something jumps out at you, while a new rendering engine tweaks the 3D engine to a max. Core are also promising that Lara herself will be the best looking one yet. The overall result should be their DC's first true Tomb Raider experience and could do a lot for the platforms popularity.

Releasing a Tomb Raider game in time to fill Santa's sack has never done Core sales any harm, regardless of how good the game is, and this one will sell like stink, no matter what anyone says. Lara's last PS1 outing really ought to be an adventure to remember, and it certainly shaping up to be just that, if you're a Lara virgin. But for those of us who are familiar with Lara's every nook and cranny, it remains to be seen if there's quite enough new here to hold our attention. The new features are all looking good, but if you've played four Tomb Raiders already, it's gonna take something special to keep you hooked to the end. So we'll reserve full and final judgement till our review. Meanwhile, if you're still chewing over the Lara death mystery.....here's some food for though....there's a new PS2 Raider planned for next year, which means she can't really be dead. Surprised ? No, we weren't either.

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