Tomb Raider: Chronicles Preview

Lara Croft returns in what looks like a clean closing point to the current generation of Tomb Raider games.

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There's no doubt that Eidos' biggest cash cow is the infamous Tomb Raider series, starring the second most famous spelunker of all time (Indiana Jones being the first), Lara Croft. Since its inception nearly five years ago, the Tomb Raider series has produced countless games spanning nearly every gaming platform available. And despite what you might think of the Tomb Raider games or their unproportionally-sized protagonist, the series does sell - and sells well. So it should come as no surprise at all that Core Design is hard at work on the fifth major Tomb Raider game, Tomb Raider: Chronicles. A few weeks ago, GameSpot was invited to the Eidos offices to take a look at an early build of the game in action.

Chronicles takes place about a week after the events in Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation. The game's opening sequence reveals a procession of Lara Croft's closest friends and relatives, who are gathered at the Croft Estate to mourn the mysterious loss of the young adventurer. At her wake, those who are gathered proceed to remember her past exploits, which haven't been revealed in previous Tomb Raider games. As each person tells his or her tale, you assume the role of Lara within that person's memory and live out the adventure being told. Tomb Raider: Chronicles will unfold into four distinct moments of Lara Croft's life, each of which comprise numerous levels. As Lara, you'll journey through the ruins of ancient Rome, find yourself in the middle of a Russian submarine base, on an island (without any guns) as young Lara, and in a high-tech office complex, receiving directions from a mysterious companion. These missions are all designed to reveal the mysteries of when and how Lara was able to attain four unique artifacts, found in the Croft Estate.

Not surprisingly, Chronicles sticks to the same gameplay formula forged by the original Tomb Raider. Not even the graphics appear to have changed, as Chronicles uses The Last Revelation's 3D engine, which was a slightly modified version of Tomb Raider 3's. That's not to say that there aren't enhancements to the game. Lara is now capable of performing several new moves, including tightrope walking, parallel-bar swinging, and melee fighting. The first of these techniques is noteworthy because you'll have to constantly maintain Lara's balance as she slowly makes her way across a narrow ledge or rope. She'll teeter from one side to the other, which forces you to constantly adjust by moving the directional arrows in the opposite direction without causing her to lose her balance.

As with a lot of 3D action games, the levels in Chronicles seem to have borrowed a page from the Half-Life book of design - they now feature scripted sequences to progress the Chronicle's narrative instead of cutscenes, which break the flow of the game. Additionally, a lot of the levels in Chronicles will stress the importance of stealth, another new trend in 3D games. Instead of bursting into rooms and hallways with guns blazing, Lara will have to sneak around guards - careful not to trip any alarms - and use force only when necessary. As part of her new hand-to-hand fighting capability, she'll be able to dispatch guards silently.

If Tomb Raider: Chronicles seems like nothing more than another Lara Croft rehash, you might not be mistaken. But Adrian Smith, director of Core Design, says that developing Chronicles was necessary for finally putting the old Tomb Raider series to bed. "We need a clean break to be able to move forward to the real revolution in Tomb Raider," explains Smith. "Chronicles is that clean break." So what's the real "revolution" in the series? While Smith was reluctant to reveal a lot of information, he did say that the game that follows Chronicles, tentatively called Tomb Raider: The Next Generation, will be "very shocking" and will truly advance the 3D action genre. Due out in the final weeks of 2001, Tomb Raider: The Next Generation will be episodic in that new levels and updates to the game will be released online every three to four months, like Origin's Wing Commander: Secret Ops series. Smith says doing so will give players a small section of the big picture as they progress from update to update - no doubt a tribute to the X-Files on Smith's part. Count on Lara Croft to make a return, as well as a number of other new characters, all of whom will be playable.

In the meantime, you can expect Tomb Raider: Chronicles to simultaneously hit store shelves for the PlayStation, Dreamcast, and PC this November 26. We've added a number of new screenshots in the Chronicles gallery, all of which show off Lara's new moves. Be sure to take a look at those. We'll be updating this GameSpace with additional information on Tomb Raider: Chronicles as it becomes available.

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