Game Description: Lara Croft returns once again in the fourth installment of the popular Tomb Raider series. The newest effort brings Internet pinup Lara back to the Egyptian tombs that she roamed in the series opener (the now classic Tomb Raider). Our heroine must seek out Horus, an Egyptian god that has the ability to capture the evil soul Set. With a combination of puzzle solving and sharp gaming skills, Lara will navigate through numerous Egyptian locations, including Cairo, Karnak, Giza, Valley of the Kings, and Alexandria. This game promises to unveil vital background information on Lara Croft, who has emerged as an Internet cult icon since the release of the original Tomb Raider in the mid-'90s. At one point in the game, you will flash back to Lara at age 16 to see the origin of her adventurous spirit that precedes her full-fledged career as a tomb raider. While gameplay remains faithful to the preceding titles in the series, there are also several new gameplay elements to explore, including a new inventory system, new weapons, and new moves.
Celebrities often run the risk of overexposing themselves in a rush to capitalize on their popular status. It's a constant struggle to keep their image fresh in the public consciousness balanced by the fear of appearing to 'sell-out' to all the opportunities presented to them and sickening their loyal fans in the process. 'Stars' like Madonna and Tom Cruise have been masterful the way they've managed to reinvent themselves and preserve their careers over the last two decades, while 'has-beens' like M.C. Hammer and Paulie Shore are textbook examples of how to ruin a good thing in supernova fashion. Do the same rules apply to videogame's digital sex-goddess celebrity, Lara Croft? Are all the games, calendars, magazine covers, memory cards, toys, and craptacular wares bearing her buxom figure finally wearing thin on the public? Apparently so, because before the fourth game featuring her, Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation has yet to even hit store shelves, skeptical media and fans alike have already expressed tepid reactions.
Much to no one's surprise, Last Revelation isn't all that different from the three games that preceded it. The original Tomb Raider helped usher in a new generation of 3rd-person 3D games and its subsequent releases including Last Revelation has deviated little since then. All the treasure-pillaging, spelunking, long jumps ending in cliffhangers, double-gun toting, and canine slaying that have become trademarks of the series are all present and accounted for in Last Revelation. Also still in attendance are the unresponsive controls (regardless of analog capability) and inconsistent camera placement (especially around tight spots and walls) that has always plagued the series throughout and have made guiding Lara through the obstacle-laden stages more of a chore than need be.
What has changed are minor additions in the gameplay and visuals. A binocular feature that allows Lara to spy on areas from a greater distance has been added. Inventory management has been improved with the ability to combine particular items for more elaborate puzzle solutions and additional uses like the now behind-the-times 'sniping' mode. Graphically, attempts at taking advantage of new technological effects like character skins and environment bumpmapping (at least in the PC version) have been included in the final presentation. Yet none of these features are what you would describe as revolutionary (they're barely evolutionary) and while they make for nice touches here and there, they don't really effect the overall experience to any significant extent. In other words, Last Revelation still plays unmistakably like what you would expect from a Tomb Raider game.
So while Last Revelation is very derivative as far as the Tomb Raider series goes, there are a few bright spots, most notably in the level design. The two prior releases had Lara running around all over the world in different environments doing all sorts of things that deviated from its original concept of exploring ancient archeological excavations. Last Revelation returns to the original premise of exploration by centralizing the entire game around Egypt with Lara trying to stop an evil God she unknowingly released (throw hordes of deadly scarab beetles and this sounds a great deal like the last summer's movie hit, The Mummy). The puzzles are also less contrived and the difficulty has been reduced, making Last Revelation more newbie-friendly (the game starts with a training stage as well with a then 16-year old Lara. Don't even get me started.). Consequently, the experience of playing through Last Revelation isn't as intense and is more visceral in a good way. For example the sense of motion while jumping across train tops in the Desert Railroad stage is nicely conveyed. The underwater temple in the Coastal Ruins stage is also quite a sight. This kind of ambience in Last Revelation saves it from being sent straight to the bargain bins.
So while Lara Croft's image may have been tarnished by overzealous corporate types looking to increase their bottomline by plastering her guns (you know which ones) all over the place, I still can't deny the craftsmanship that went into Last Revelation. Yes, it's still very much like its previous incarnations including all the flaws (mostly involving the controls). Lara is still in desperate need of a makeover with her trademark tank-top short-shorts outfit and the gameplay is its usual poor self. But by keeping the puzzles light and the environments wondrous, I still had a somewhat pleasant time playing through Last Revelation. Last Revelation may not be great, but it was much better than I expected.
Well, Chi may not want to get started on it, but I sure as hell do. What is with this pedophilic relationship between Lara and her mentor? Every other comment they made to each other was like creepy foreplay. The guy is ancient and she's 16! On top of that, they don't even pretend to flirt well because both voice-actors are incredibly lame. Lara's sass (yes I said sass) and sophistication are lost on me as soon as she starts speaking. Another thing is that the training stage is just an extension of the game so it uses the game's engine to have Lara do all the things she will be doing later. All the camera views and moves that are meant to accentuate Lara's anatomy are still here and look creepier with the 16-year old Lara.
The control problems Chi mentioned are indeed there and it irks me that more was not done to correct them with this sequel. Lara still moves unnaturally through the environments. Her propensity to run into walls and get lost in the environs thanks to essentially unchanged camera angles is as annoying as ever. I also agree with Chi that the return to exploring tombs was a good one. Or maybe I only appreciate it more after recent releases where Core and Eidos went crazy squeezing Lara into new, tight fitting, exploration outfits and multi-terrain vehicles.
Last Revelation, however, is the game that Eidos wanted. It's easier and more focused than previous efforts. This was key for them because they are trying to push Lara Croft further into the mainstream. I don't think this game will be the one to do it though (although little has really stopped them) with its aging game engine. The graphics are the best in the series using all the tricks that Core had at their disposal but Last Revelation is still ripe with problems. Lara still disappears into walls and picking up and using items requires a bit of hand gymnastics to line Lara up with the object. Last Revelation's angular environments are not quite photo-realistic and come with some of the tearing that seems to be synonymous with the series. It does get worse in the outdoor scenes, namely the train scenes where pop-in is so bad that I wondered why they even bothered including it or didn't work on an engine that could handle it.
Last Revelation is NOT the best game out this year but so far it is the best of the Tomb Raider series. It is keeping with Eidos' goal of being a game that will be easy enough for a newbie to get into as well as being entertaining enough for a veteran. There are some tweaks that all Tomb Raiders have been asking for since they first played Part One but overall there is nothing new here for anyone who knew who she was a year ago. My biggest problem with the game is that it has just become a game about a half-naked, unrealistically proportioned, polygonal babe who jiggles and gyrates through a series of labyrinths. If you didn't guess, the new 'prologue' did nothing for me.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Animated Blood, Animated Violence
Parents may be unnerved by the way Lara unconscionably pumps lead into wild animals and people alike. I'm sure some will have problems with Ms. Croft's anatomical proportions as well as her choice of attire so they may want to check out the mascot action games like Donkey Kong 64 or even Ape Escape.
Lara Croft fans will be torn with this release. On the one hand, it is easier and comes with some excellent levels, but on the other, it can be seen as an add-on pack. Bottom line, this is a Lara Croft game and if you've played her games before and consider yourself a fan, you'll be buying this no matter what we say.
However, if you're a newbie to the Lara Croft phenomenon, then this is a pretty decent game to wet your feet in. PC owners with a decently powered PC complete with 3D accelerator and gamepad are golden. This is the first Tomb Raider specifically designed to take advantage of the newest PC hardware rather then porting over the technologically inferior console version.
PlayStation owners, however, don't get as good an overall experience since their version is essentially stripped down from the superior PC one. As far as the PlayStation version goes, Lara Croft looks better than ever, but I can't say the same for everything around her. At some points in the game, it's just painful to look at the broken textures and graininess of the backgrounds. And once the action heats up or, in some cases, when she simply moves around, the framerates can again take a noticeable hit. Its also worth noting that the Dual Shock analog controller, while supported, is pretty useless when trying to maneuver Lara Croft. No matter how softly or violently I pushed on the controller, Lara did what she felt like doing just to spite me.