New ‘Tomb Raider’ Game Tweaks Franchise
LOS ANGELES – Lara Croft has finally learned that there’s more than one way to raid a tomb.
The sixth and latest “Tomb Raider” video game title, “The Angel of Darkness,” hits stores this week. Now fans will decide whether the game’s latest innovations have freshened the franchise or alienated players with too many changes.
“For us to take Lara and put her in a racing car, it would have been very simple to do. But that isn’t ‘Tomb Raider,'” said game co-creator Adrian Smith, operations director of British-based Core Design. “People buy this game with some kind of expectancy of what they’re getting.”
“Angel,” available for PlayStation 2 and PC, features Croft being framed for the murder of a rival. She then tries to simultaneously prove her innocence and stop an evil cult while hiding in catacombs beneath Paris.
Apart from dramatically improving the graphics, which make the bombshell Croft look more lifelike, Croft can now sneak through levels, hiding in the shadows and ducking behind walls, instead of engaging other characters in battle. Of course, you also can still choose to go in with both her signature thigh-strapped guns blazing.
“Angel” also has added more open-ended gameplay. Like a child’s “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel, players now can make decisions that lead the story in varying directions, rather than follow traditional linear storytelling.
For the first time, Croft also must interact with non-playable characters, asking for advice on which path to choose. There are multiple ways to solve the game, so players may play again to pick different options. That’s not something new to gaming, but it is to “Tomb Raider.”
“It adds a little bit of longevity to the game,” Smith said. “So people can go back and talk to Pierre rather than talk to the janitor. Both will tell you to go to the same building, but one may give you a key to go one route and the other might tell you to go in the back door.”
Some fans playing the game after it debuted Friday praised the new graphics, but had mixed feelings about other changes.
“As the games have progressed there have been more and more confusing commands, more in-game characters and plots to keep up with, and the story lines increasingly lack creativity,” said Kelly Johnson, 17, of Columbus, Ga. “The new equipment is nice, but there’s just too much of it.”
Still, Johnson was optimistic about “Angel”: “I’d have to say the alternate ways to finish a level would be the most enticing.”
In a “Tomb Raider” chat room, one fan posting under the name “SCJX” described the gameplay as “awesome,” but complained that the story started slow: “I feel a little like I’m playing a role-playing game some of the time, though. Running around Paris searching for an address so I can talk to someone, blah, blah, blah. I’m still hoping for some vast tombs and blasting action.”
Updating a popular game franchise is a tightrope for many designers. Mess with a format too much and fans revolt, like 1988’s “Zelda II: The Adventure of Link,” which robbed players of their coveted topdown gameplay in favor of “Super Mario Bros.”-style side-scrolling action.
Meanwhile, the same-old, same-old treatment can lead to stagnation. The popular “Megaman” series has spawned more than a dozen sequels since the 1980s, but its following has faded as fans complained that the action never evolved enough from one title to the next.
Some drastic changes work miracles. “Grand Theft Auto 3” is virtually indistinguishable from “Grand Theft Auto 2” √≥ with substantially more detail, closer “camera” angles and extreme depictions of carnage. Still, “GTA3” became wildly more popular than its predecessor.
In the new “Tomb Raider,” another important change is not in the player’s hands. While the shapely Croft was the only playable character in the previous games, this time a muscular new hero named Kurtis Trent will take the lead later in the story. Croft is relegated to the sidelines.
“People have always wanted a love interest for Lara and while we don’t obviously have them shack up, so to speak, there’s some sexual tension there,” said Paul Baldwin, marketing executive with “Tomb Raider” publisher Eidos Interactive. “There are some cut-scenes when they first meet eyeing each other and some caressing. Kurtis takes her weapons away and goes for a little roller coaster ride down Lara’s curved body.”
That’s a ride, developers think, that fans will be willing to take.
New ‘Tomb Raider’ Game Tweaks Franchise