Coming off the end of an almost three year hiatus the buxom Lara Croft is finally at our beck and call once again. Fulfilling the fantasies of every entity with with a love for the overly endowed female form Ms. Croft’s first PS2 outing is a mixed bag. While fans of the original will find salvage amongst the wreck newcomers to the series will quickly become frustrated with the perplexing control scheme and the substantial amount of glitches found therein. What lies beneath is a game screaming for more development time but for true fans the experience will outweigh the faults.
Being in the oven so long certainly has taken it’s toll on the visual side of things. The PS2 isn’t the powerhouse it once was and this is becoming more evident as the days go by. Being introduced to new fangled techniques such as bump mapping and intense pixel shading has spoiled more than it’s fair share of gamers. Tomb Raider is a far cry from appalling but it’s also miles from glamour. Lara herself continues the trend “bigger is better” with her new shapely figure complete with bouncing goodness. The facial animations are still questionable but the movements are spectacular. Scaling walls and monkey swinging have never looked this good and it doesn’t hurt to be staring square into the eyes of Lara’s derriere either. The level design still borrows from the pages of Tomb Raider lore with seemingly impossible jumps and a grid based layout. The overall visual aspect of this game simply average.
While the visual side is definitely adequate the audio side is truly astounding. The musical score composed by the London Symphony Orchestra is simply breathtaking. The score picks you up and takes you to these fictional locales and injects a great sense of emotion in each cut scene. The spoken dialogue is also very well done, each character has a distinct personality as well as a clichéd accent. Given that this game takes place in Paris it fits the scenario but sometimes the actors take their performances a bit overboard. All of this screaming through your home stereo in Dolby Digital sound.
For veterans of the series you have come to know what is referred to as the “grid” style of control. The fact of the matter is you either love it or you hate it and AOD is not going to change your opinion of it either. The introduction of analog capabilities is not as enticing as it sounds. It does add a bit of flavor to the scheme we have all come to love (or hate) but it does nothing to drastically change the way the game plays. Personally I found it easier to turn Lara with the camera stick while always pushing forward on the analog. This kept me from falling off of ledges and helped me line up jumps much better than using just the one analog.
The biggest problem with TR: AOD is that from beginning to end it feels unfinished. Horrible cases of slowdown and annoying glitches can sometimes hinder the experience. In it’s defense these are rare occurences and thankfully the slowdown never happened during a pinnacle jump or a frustrating battle. Defense aside things of this nature are inexcusable especially for a game that has been delayed for so long, I hold onto the glimmer of hope that Core wasn’t completely finished with the game. Hopefully with the engine already in place they can iron out the bugs for the next incarnation.
So where does that leave us? Honestly die-hard Tomb Raider fans like myself will be mostly pleased with Lara’s latest outing, glitches and bugs aside AOD has a beautifully crafted adventure buried deep inside of it. One of the best adventure games this millennium is in there you just have to dig to find it. Of course if you are a fan of the series you are used to digging heh. Bad jokes aside I recommend anyone with any love for TR still in their hearts to give AOD a try. It’s worth the time and effort and most certainly worth your money.