Tomb Raider Hands-On Impressions

We reveal how Lara Croft on the N-Gage stacks up against her counterparts on other platforms.

It's hard to deny that the Tomb Raider series has seen better days. The recent release of Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness as well as the recent theatrical release of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life don't seem to have strengthened the popular franchise from Eidos and Core Design. Both the game and the film earned generally unfavorable reviews--and yet Lara Croft, heroine of the Tomb Raider series, will certainly be back. In fact, she'll be back quite soon in a launch title for the N-Gage, simply titled "Tomb Raider." Based on Tomb Raider II, which is often considered the series' high point, the game features 3D graphics on par with the original PlayStation version, as well as a number of brand-new levels.

Lara Croft has all her signature moves in Tomb Raider for the N-Gage. She can run, jump in any direction, perform a quick turnaround, climb up or shimmy across ledges, and more. And she's got her signature dual pistols (plus other weapons later on) with which she can fend off wild creatures, armed assailants, and other bad guys. At any rate, the Tomb Raider series has never been known for its responsive control, and this version isn't going to change that. Lara moved a bit sluggishly in the preview build we played, and it took us a little while to get used to the autorun feature--Lara wouldn't stop running unless we tapped down on the directional pad. We did get a better feel for the controls after some practice and soon were performing various daredevil stunts.

Tomb Raider for the N-Gage proves that the system has some decent polygon-pushing power. Environments are fully texture mapped, Lara looks pretty good (though a little blocky in profile) and animates as smoothly as ever, and there's even a decent view distance. On the other hand, the game's frame rate isn't great and runs at around 15 frames per second at this time--this contributes to the fairly sluggish feel of the controls. Also, the game has some noticeable loading times in between levels, which will hopefully be cut down before the game is finished. Still, this is unmistakably Tomb Raider and is indeed very reminiscent of the earlier games in the series. Even the audio is mostly intact, from Lara's footsteps to the sound of her guns blazing, though we didn't hear any speech.

From a technical standpoint, Tomb Raider is one of the more impressive of the N-Gage launch titles. On the other hand, the N-Gage's small vertically oriented screen and its controls aren't necessarily conducive to this style of gaming, so the game isn't necessarily an ideal portable gaming experience--besides, Tomb Raider is of course a single-player-only adventure, so it doesn't take advantage of the N-Gage's cool wireless multiplayer functionality (though will apparently be compatible with the N-Gage Arena service). Nevertheless, the game should feature most of the content from the original Tomb Raider II release, as well as several exclusive levels. Those interested in reliving Lara's earlier adventures in a portable format will get their chance when the N-Gage releases in early October.

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