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Tomb Raider Angel of Darkness

Tomb Raider Angel of Darkness is the sixth game in the Tomb Raider franchise, developed by now-defunct Core Design and published by Eidos in 2002. As in all Tomb Raider games, Lara Croft, british explorer, searches and shoots her ways through various ruins, trying to find various magical artifacts. Except this time, she does so because the police is accusing her of a murder, most of the ruins are actually present-day Paris, and during some parts, it’s not the british explorer, but rather the mysterious american Kurtis Trent you are controlling.

It was the first game using completely new technology, which removed the odd limitations that were typical for all previous Tomb Raider games. Unfortunately, that technology proved to be too new for the developers, time was cut, blame was assigned and shifted, and the final product turned out to be full of bugs and story holes. Consequently, reviewers and fans largely hated it, although it sold well enough and has developed it’s own cult following these days.

Trains is maybe the wrong word for what you face here. What this game has is a single subway car. Well, it’s more than nothing.

The Subway Car

After being chased by the police, you’ll head somewhere else, then the screen goes black, and you wake up in an empty, abandoned metro car.

Now it’s not very easy to find reference material about past Paris Métro rolling stock, so bear with me, as the following links are in french. From what I could gather, that car looks appears to be an example of the Sprague-Thomson type, which were used until 1983 and were the face of the Paris Métro for many years.

My french reaches just far enough to make out that this car is probably among the “M4 grises” ones, which are, apparently, characterized by being grey. Sounds correct enough.

Still, I don’t think that the CMP (which controls the Paris Métro) ever resorted to abandoning single cars on unused track sections. When dealing with urban transportation, you’ll always find odd stories, and there are plenty of abandoned stations and lines in Paris, but I think this one is not justified. Besides, an old metal railroad car always has scrap value, which is actually quite a lot, so it’s safe to say that those that weren’t preserved were scrapped.

When taking this in the context of the game, however, one can justify all of this, because it’s hard to completely rule out.

What’s also surprising is that the roof is slightly lower in one section of the car, giving Lara a very convenient means of ascending. I’d be very surprised if that ever was a design feature of any type of Paris Métro cars.

Steam Engines

Writing the Dreamfall Review, I made the conscious decision to add a section about steam engines, partly because the review would have been extremely short otherwise, partly because there is a natural and obvious relation between trains and steam engines. Doing that, I realized that Angel of Darkness has it’s own steam engine as well, so I came back here to insert a paragraph or a few more about it.

In the only real tomb in the game, you will have to face four challenges, corresponding to the four elements (game designers will apparently refuse to be creative when it comes to this). What you don’t realize is that the goal of all of this is to get a primitive steam engine going. Actually, the idea isn’t all that bad. Obviously ever steam engine needs water. Coal is represented as earth, which might be a stretch, but only a little. Then you need fire (if you think that’s a product of the others, consider it to be the ignition), and to keep the fire alive, you need air. Actually, that works well enough.

The problem with this steam engine, however, is that it’s among the most inefficient devices ever constructed. The steam comes from pipes out of the boiler, streams a little through the air, and hits flat panels which then turn. This is bad for a number of reasons. First of all, you loose a lot of energy that used to be in the pressure in the distance between pipe and blade. Then, the blades have a shape that is not at all suitable for the purpose. An actual implementation would probably prefer a turbine shape, because that is what this is at the core.

Does this mean the engine is bad? Actually not. In the context of the story, it has been built centuries ago, as in 1600 something, give or take a hundred. History shows that many people had similar ideas in the 16th and 17th century, such as Taqi al-Din or Giovanni Branca. It is inefficient, but it was state of the art at the time. In fact, I wouldn’t rule out it beating the Newcomen Engine when it comes to efficiency.

What is bad are the mechanical systems. They are very inefficient, turning far more bits, pieces and wooden structures than needed for the actual task. In the Angel of Darkness universe, we can assume that this was the first device of it’s kind and size ever, but if the builders ever tested it, then they should have noticed that they could do with far less moving weight just as well. Besides, keeping such complicated mechanics working never was easy. It wasn’t impossible, as the [Oberharzer Wasserregal][ohwregal] (sorry, german only. Someone should make an english Wikipedia page about it) shows, but it certainly was difficult, and I would assume that the builders would have avoided this.

Still, it’s a sound design, maybe more complicated and esoteric than needed, and the undead knights and sharp blades seem just a little unreasonable, but on the whole, it gets a thumps up.

Other Transportation

Angel of Darkness shows that you don’t need all that many crates to have a game set in an industrial wasteland, but you’ll still find the odd stack here or there. I think I can live with that.

Cars don’t have much of a role here. There is a truck blocking a road somewhere, you’ll see some police cars near the beginning, but that’s it. Kurtis Trent, the second guy you’re playing as, has a motorcycle, which you won’t be able to use, though.

Near where you wake up in the metro car, there is an apparently also abandoned metro station, the design of which is typical for Paris. What is odd about it is that it’s not connected to the metro line where your sleeping car, so to speak, is situated. As a matter of fact, while it is connected to all sorts of underground tunnels, some of which lead to famous mobsters, there is no apparent connection to any railroad at all. The wisdom of that decision is debatable.

The game features a helicopter near the start. The helicopter shines a flash light in your eyes and tries to shoot you. Now, I’ve said before that I have no intention of opening trainsinhelicopters.com (by the way, that’s still free. Go ahead if you want to), but even I can see that this helicopter is crap. Just look at it.

The helicopter is mainly a black mass that shines a blinding light your way

It’s hard to make things out, but the helicopter appears to have no texture at all. Whether this is intentional, making this an awful helicopter, or just one of the many bugs this games has is not clear to me, but then, does it matter?

Other than that, the game does not really have much transportation in there. It’s mainly about walking everywhere, and most distances aren’t very long.

The Game

Notice: This section does not affect the rating.

The game has a very different style than all previous games, so different, in fact, that I hated it when I first saw it. On my first playthrough (which I aborted rather near the end), the many bugs really didn’t change this. However, over time I’ve learned to appreciate it’s style and what makes it unique. Still, I don’t really like Angel of Darkness, I like the game it could have been if things were different. Ah yes, this would be a good time to get a glass of whiskey and listen to a sad country song (for me, it was [One Ride in Vegas by Chris LeDoux] while writing this), and think of the old times.

Story

The story is seen by some as the strong point, or at least as the best story of all Tomb Raider games. This is a rather odd statement, because the problem at the beginning (Lara is chased by the police) isn’t solved at the end (although everyone stopped talking about it), and in the final sequence, when there is supposed to be a huge twist to all that happened, Lara will scream “It’s you!” to someone she hasn’t met at all before.

Even if we overlook these issues, there aren’t any points for originality. Yeah, so you’re running from the police. Every six or seven James Bond movies, someone decides to make things different and adds the same premise (think of Licence To Kill and Die Another Day, for example). You’re fighting a secret cabal that spread evil for centuries. Again, there’ve stories before that were similar, to say the least. Finally, it’s the death of an old mentor that started it all. I am required by law to mention [Obi Wan Kenobi] at times like these. There, I’ve done it.

The one thing that is done well is the relationship between Kurtis and Lara. In the cutscenes where we see the two interacting, it’s clear that Lara has met an equal in Kurtis, and that she is fascinated by him. Frankly, a game that focused more on that and less on Illuminati, and that wouldn’t force me to play as Kurtis, would be something I’d be really interested in (although I know many would disagree).

Graphics and Technology

It looks actually rather nice. But the technology is the worst piece of crap you’ve ever seen. The issue starts with the most complicated game configuration dialogue I’ve ever seen.

It is divided in multiple tabs, scrolling, and allows you to choose how you would like your textures compressed or whether you need video overlay.

Once you start the game, the problem is not just that it crashes, it will display some characters you interact with without skin (at least without patch), forgets that you can actually use two pistols at the same time, makes Lara speak too fast and bring you in situations where you cannot look around a corner without making the game crash. Trust me, I’ve been there.

There are some people who say “I didn’t notice any bugs” or “The bugs weren’t that bad”. When talking with them face to face, or in a forum (which is the closest I usually come to face to face), I have to be friendly, but not here. Not on this page. I pay for it, it’s mine. I can say whatever I want. So let me say it: Those people are clueless fools.

All right, that didn’t actually sound as menacing as I hoped, but still, it’s out, and I feel better for it.

Playing

Controls are like the previous games, except they have a tendency to not do what you want. Part of the problem is that the controls are overloaded. For example, when you stand in front of a fence, you just press forward to make Lara jump over it. That sounds good in theory, but is more often than not not what you actually wanted, especially when there’s a long drop associated with jumping over a particular fence.

Also, the game likes to leave some time before you actually start to run, so timing jumps is difficult. Last but not least, when in combat, controls change to something circle based, where forward and backward control your distance to the enemy, and left/right will make you circle around him. This is actually highly annoying.

Finally, someone decided that players who play with one of the most elegant and acrobatic characters in the whole industry would just love to play with an uncoordinated gorilla, too.

The less said about playing as Kurtis Trent, the better, really.

Result

I’m really not certain about this one. It’s certainly not bad, but many details are wrong. Thankfully, I don’t have to come to a conclusion yet for this one.


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