So, a few of you have asked me to write a review, and I can never say no so here is my first effort.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (2003)
It’s been nearly ten years since Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness was released and still to this day, the game elicits a strong reaction from fans and critics. Before I get started on my review, let me give some basic facts about Lara’s grittiest (prior to the upcoming reboot anyway) adventure, The Angel of Darkness began development in 2000 and was released in 2003 to coincide with the release of the second Tomb Raider film, the Cradle of Life. The Angel of Darkness served as a continuation of the storyline from Lara’s fourth adventure, The Last Revelation. Being buried alive in the Temple of Horus at the end of the Last Revelation has changed Lara. Her once playful coyness has been replaced with impatience and cynicism. As the game begins, her former mentor, Werner Von Croy has asked Lara to help him locate a selection of 14th century artworks known as the Obscure Paintings for a client of his, Pieter Van Eckhardt. If you’re trying to remember Von Croy then allow me to refresh your memory.
Yeah. That Von Croy.
Lara’s in no mood to jump into another Tomb Raiding adventure and quite aggressively refuses to help her former collegue. Allow me to clear up some confusion as many always wonder why Lara is so pissed at Von Croy at the beginning of the Angel of Darkness, but anyone who has played the Last Revelation should know he was quite the dickhead long before he was ever possessed by the Egyptian God Seth, lest we forget ‘Werner’s loyal workforce’, locking Lara in the Tomb of Semerkhet or his kidnapping of Jean Yves. As the arguement gets heated, Werner brandishes a Luger pistol. Shots are fired and all of a sudden Lara is standing over Werner’s corpse, her hands covered in blood. Awww shit.
And so the game begins. Lara, hunted by French police must now make her way through the backstreets and across the rooftops of Paris to find Margot Carvier’s apartment. Mademoiselle Carvier is a historian at the Louvre’s Department of Medieval and Renaissance Studies and had been contacted by Werner regarding the Obscura Paintings. If we’re going to find answers, we’ll have to start there. These early Paris levels demonstrate a Lara that is so clearly out of her element, out of the tombs and into the slums but it also gives us a good insight into her character and the changes she’s undergone since the previous game as she converses (either politely or rudely - rudely if I’m playing) with the Ghetto’s inhabitants. As one of the games strongest selling points, I’m not going to reveal too much about the story but suffice to say it’s one of the most, if not THE most compelling storyline Tomb Raider has ever seen. The Angel of Darkness was supposed to be the first in a trilogy that would see us battling Nephilim monstrosities in Cappadocia and quite possibly, as the rumour mill goes, reuniting with an old Atlantean enemy. One must remember that when the Angel of Darkness was released, it wasn’t finished and plot holes are to be expected in a game that has quite large chunks of it seemingly missing. However, for the most part though, the game’s narrative is pretty tightly woven and as you play the game and learn more about Werner’s client, Eckhardt, the Obscura Paintings and the Cabal, you do feel like you’re being pulled into a darker, grittier world than Tomb Raider players would normally be accustomed to.
Let’s talk about gameplay. AoD plays like all other Tomb Raider games. You are Lara Croft and you jump, climb and shoot your way through a number of expansive action packed environments, solving puzzles, battling enemies and discovering clues about the games larger plot. AoD introduces a number of new aspects to the Tomb Raider formula such as new moves, stealth, hand to hand combat, strength upgrades and RPG style conversations that affect the gameplay. The controls in AoD are its worst aspect. Lara is sluggish and unresponsive but not to the point where the game isn’t playable or enjoyable. There is a steep learning curve to getting comfortable in Lara’s skin but not to the point that it kills the game. I am, of course, only speaking for the PC version. I can’t speak for the PS2 version. Combat in the Angel of Darkness is interesting. There is never a shortage of choice for how you dispatch enemies. Lara can sneak up from behind and snap their neck quietly, she can fight with fists and kicks or she can simply gun them down, and even then you’re not exactly limited. Lara equips herself in this adventure with a vast arsenal of weaponry including a taser and a tranquillser gun. This also may be the only game in the series so far where range really matters. Up close, Lara can gun down almost any human enemy with any weapon in seconds. Aspects like this allows the player to strategize their victories, more so than any other game in the series.
The notorious strength upgrades garner a lot of ridicule for the Angel of Darkness. And very fair ridicule at that to be honest. The idea of your actions affecting Lara throughout the game sounds good on paper but in reality, it just seemed bizarre. I understand where they were coming from though. Putai, the Shaman that rescued Lara (and unfortunately cut from the final release) gave the weakened Lara an amulet that would help her regain her strength. This amulet can be seen in hacked files and certain beta shots I believe. It would also monitor Lara’s progression through the game. I suppose the purpose was to start with a Lara that was weakened after the Last Revelation (where the character was really put through some Herculean tasks) and conclude with a Lara that was even stronger than before. Unfortunately, that’s not how it worked out and only the echoes of this interesting idea remain in the form of; Pull a lever - “I feel stronger now”. Quite a shame.
Control issues aside, climbing in platforming in AoD is quite enjoyable and much of the environments are interactive whether they need to be or not. It’s quite normal for exploration games these days to be riddled with invisible walls and barriers to prevent the player from going where the narrative doesn’t need them to. And while AoD is no different, there is a large amount of seemingly pointless areas and interactive surfaces present with no other purpose than to be explored. I like that. Nothing ruins immersion like your character refusing point blank to do something or go somewhere that should not be out of bounds. I’m starting to ramble a bit, aren’t I?
One of the most notable features about the Angel of Darkness is that for the first time Lara is not the only playable character. Three of the games twenty-nine (yes, twenty-nine) levels are devoted to a new character: Kurtis Trent, who has one of the most dedicated fan groups I’ve ever witnessed. I’m not a member of KTEB (which stands for Kurtis Trent Estrogen Brigade) but their love for the character is admirable, if a little borderline scary. But hey, this is Tumblr. Our collective fangirling and boying is a hell of a lot more than borderline scary. I like Kurtis, I thought he was an interesting character, quite unique and memorable and with a very engaging backstory. He unfortunately, handles like a full shopping trolley with three broken wheels. If you find Lara difficult to maneuver then Kurtis will definitely drive you up the wall.
Two of his levels also provide probably the most unnerving atmospheres we’ve seen in Tomb Raider to date. Nothing says ‘good times’ more than an underground Eastern European sanitarium where the inmates are loose and dangerous. That’s not all that’s loose in these levels but again, my lips are sealed. This brings me on to the games visuals and this is another aspect of the game where it really delivers. The game is just going on ten years old but it doesn’t really look it. AoD has a distinct visual art style that sets it apart from all other titles in the series. The games most memorable tomb, the Hall of Seasons, a level which apparently takes influence from fan favourites ‘St. Francis Folly (TR1)’ and ‘the Lost City of Tinnos (TR3)’ is stunningly rendered with gothic architecture, beautifully atmospheric lighting and that ever-present AoD art style, while urban environments are brimming with detail that it’s easy to get lost just enjoying the scenery.
While facial animation leaves a lot to be desired, character movement looks great (not so much in these gifs, many of which I’ve had to remove - I believe the correct numerical value is a fuckton - of frames in order to get them under the tumblr limit) and the animations are smooth and impressive. When it comes to visuals, AoD still sparkles after a decade of getting kicked in the teeth. Which leaves me with one final aspect of the game to talk about it.
The audio in the Angel of Darkness is quite possibly its crowning achievement. Peter Connelly, who created the soundtracks for the previous two games (the Last Revelation and Chronicles) really outdid himself on this one with the help of the London Symphony Orchestra. The Angel of Darkness has a wonderful, rich soundtrack that varies from melancholic orchestral arrangements to suit our beloved fugitive running through the Parisian rain, to modernised reworkings of the classic theme during our assault on the Louvre Galleries to unnerving choir vocals as we descent into the depths of the Strahov in Pargue. And nobody can forget the audible assault that was Le Serpent Rouge. The voice cast in the Angel of Darkness is stellar. Joss Ackland provides the voice of the despicable Eckhardt and his hushed, gravelly voice and impeccable delivery brings life to this frightening villain whilst Jonell Elliot reprises her role as Lara for the last time and she really gave it socks. Lara’s impatience and frustration is palpable throughout and she provides us with many wonderful, biting one-liners.
The Angel of Darkness was met with very mixed reviews in 2003. Some critics abhorred it whilst others loved it. The same could be said for the fan reaction. I don’t think any game has divided the fan-base quite like AoD. I’m not blind to the Angel of Darkness’s faults. It has plenty and some can be quite difficult to look past. But I have looked past them and found the Angel of Darkness to be very enjoyable and engaging. The main issue with this game is the controls, and if you can become used to them then what’s left is a game with a great story, great visuals, a great soundtrack and thanks to numerous alternate routes and methods, great re-playability. I often wonder what would the Tomb Raider series be like today if the Angel of Darkness had been fully completed and successful. It’s hard to say where the series would be but it is an interesting thought.
- Visuals: 9/10
- Audio: 10/10
- Controls: 5/10
- Gameplay: 7/10
- Story: 8/10
While the gameplay has some flaws, I feel the good in it outweighs the bad and along with the impressive narrative, visuals and audio leads me to grade the Angel of Darkness with a healthy 7.8/10. Not bad for a game that wasn’t even finished.
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