Remember how fresh and fun Tomb Raider was the first time you played it? It's understandable if you don't, though; most memories of the inventive and quirky adventure appeal of Tomb Raider were all later supplanted and homogenized by more rip-offs and sequels than we'd care to count. At first glance, you could easily toss Confounding Factor's Galleon in that copycat realm too - with its similar mechanics and gameplay to the Tomb Raider franchise, it certainly wouldn't be a totally unfair summation. Unlike imitators, however, the similarity isn't based on coincidence. In an ironic twist, the latest successor to the Tomb Raider crown is the product of the two designers chiefly responsible for the hit that started it all. Galleon aspires to be the first title from the original Tomb Raider masterminds to take the third-person adventure genre to the next level - what current platform better, then, to display its ambitious efforts than the PlayStation 2?
In Galleon, you assume the role of the legendary (and fictitious) Captain Rhama Sabrier, who, in addition to commanding the clipper Endeavour, is a warrior and cartographer of some renown. It is for these reasons that he is summoned to the port of Akhab. A well-known healer requires Sabrier's expertise to uncover the origin of a mysterious ship and its enigmatic cargo. Thus, Rhama embarks on the quest that is the heart of Galleon, and it is here that your adventure begins. Amidst exciting sea voyages, swordplay, and high-seas havoc, Rhama's search will span across the seas in a time of romantic, idealized swashbuckling adventure. Sounds like something right out of the Pirates of the Caribbean.
Despite roots that plant it deep in Tomb Raider relation, Galleon strives to distance itself from what's come before. Yes it's in the third-person perspective, and yes it shares plenty of the puzzle, exploration, and adventure aspects that were so prevalent in Tomb Raider. All this is to be expected from the title that is, in many ways, the direct descendent of Lara Croft. For all that remains the same, however, there is also much that separates the two titles. Character development, as Confounding Factor's primary example, is much more predominant and much more important to success in Galleon than it ever was in Tomb Raider. As a direct consequence, characters, and their development throughout the course of the game, are much more primary to the story. Galleon has not one but three central personalities that interact with Rhama. Two women, Faith and Mihoko, round out the cast and provide a bit of feminine leverage as counterbalance against Rhama's stereotypical male gusto.
Exploration dominates the gameplay in Galleon. You can sail the high seas and travel between a variety of islands, each with a unique set of secrets waiting to be uncovered. An inventory system will help you keep all your booty and tools in check and available at any time during your island-hopping excursions. The islands themselves essentially serve as levels in Galleon: They feature mysterious caverns, magical skeletons, confusing structures, and eerie shipwrecks. Confounding Factor explains that island exploration is a central focus of the game; Rhama's ship will have little actual gameplay occurring on it. The islands promise their own unique stories, each with different types of puzzles. Some of these come directly from its predecessor - ropes and pulleys, pressure pads, timed switches (all Tomb Raider fixtures) will all have their moments in Galleon - along with some all-new conundrums that Confounding Factor isn't ready to reveal yet.
Rhama, the intrepid buccaneer that he is, will be easily capable of traversing almost any physical obstacle that comes his way. His ability to run, slash, leap, climb, swim, and swing with nary a drop of perspiration should make Tomb Raider fans feel right at home with such a dexterous character at their control. And what Lara is to guns, Rhama is to swordplay. You'll find that the captain has the ability to perform multiple motions with his sword, which lets you have legitimate fencing duels with the pirate baddies you encounter.
Graphics aren't being neglected either. Confounding Factor claims that Galleon's engine is built from scratch. In regard to Galleon's graphics, the developer's goal is to vastly improve upon the Tomb Raider concept, and in regard to technology, the two will be incomparable. Complex motions of the characters will be plentiful and extremely fluid thanks to a proprietary animation system similar to Half-Life's. This will give characters a more realistic appearance by greatly increasing their possible range of motions. Galleon features an eclectic visual style to complement its unique storyline, too. Like a polygon cartoon (graphically reminiscent of the other pirate-adventure series, Monkey Island, on the PC), Galleon goes for a stylized look that's pulled off well.
Expansive environments, fast and frenzied combat, and mind-numbing puzzles excepted, Galleon still has to overcome a public perception that may brand it another Tomb Raider clone. Focusing on crafting a complex, involving story with interesting characters (things the latest Tomb Raiders neglect), however, is definitely a step in the right direction. The ambitious Galleon is tentatively scheduled to set sail for a Christmas 2000 release on the PlayStation 2.