It seems that the world has turned a cold shoulder to Lara Croft, star of the once extremely popular Tomb Raider series. After the disappointing PlayStation 2 and PC release of Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness earlier this year, followed by the theatrical bomb Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, it's harder than ever to locate any of Ms. Croft's former fans. You probably won't find too many of them playing Tomb Raider for the N-Gage. Essentially a translation of the 1996 PlayStation release of Tomb Raider, the game's texture-mapped 3D graphics may demonstrate some of the strength of Nokia's new handheld, but an inconsistent frame rate, clunky controls, and even some lengthy loading times conspire to prevent the game from being much fun.
In 1996, Tomb Raider presented a winning formula, though it wasn't an original formula even back then: The gameplay is very similar to 1989's Prince of Persia, only in 3D, and with Lara Croft instead of a guy with pointy shoes. During the course of the adventure, you explore various caverns and catacombs, jump across chasms where certain death awaits below, shoot a whole bunch of animals in self-defense, and grab onto and pull yourself up onto a whole lot of ledges. This is pure action adventure, though it often boils down to finding switches or otherwise unlocking doors, and almost needless to say it's not as impressive now as it might have been in 1996.
Some have criticized Tomb Raider from day one for its rather sluggish controls. The inherently slow-paced game certainly doesn't play better on the N-Gage's combination of stiff D pad and numeric keypad. Lara turns slowly when standing in place, accelerates slowly, and comes to a complete stop if ever she runs into a wall. Lining her up parallel to a ledge can be annoying. Lara's basic moves--jumping, turning around, and drawing her twin guns--are mapped well enough to the numeric keypad, though an auto-run feature, which cannot be toggled off, forces you to manually stop Lara, and it can take a considerable amount of getting used to. As in the original game, Lara auto-targets any foes in sight, so combat isn't really a challenge. The main challenge comes from fighting the controls and not accidentally plummeting to your death, and from scrutinizing the N-Gage's small screen, trying to look for little passageways, pits, or levers in the vicinity. The vertically oriented screen doesn't help your search, since your peripheral vision is limited, though at least the camera pulls back a little when you draw your guns.
Tomb Raider looks fairly impressive from a technical standpoint, insofar as seeing fully 3D, texture-mapped graphics on a portable device can be novel for a while. Certainly, this is one of the better-looking N-Gage titles available thus far, and by comparison, the Game Boy Advance doesn't have any such fully 3D action adventure games. Lara herself looks good and animates smoothly. Still, a choppy frame rate, camera issues when you get close to walls, and some muddy, drab textures keep this from being a spectacular-looking game on the whole. The game's sound is fairly minimal; you hear Lara's footsteps and the report of her pistols, as well as her occasional grunt as she pulls herself up onto a ledge. Her enemies make some noises too, but little else.
The game has more than a dozen levels, each fairly big. However, a significant loading time separates one from the next. Fortunately, you can save your progress anywhere almost instantly, though loading a saved game takes a while. Additionally, Tomb Raider includes support for the N-Gage Arena over-the-air multiplayer service, which allows you to compete against other players in time-trial "shadow races" through a custom course. Basically, you get to compete against other players' times, running and jumping to capture a series of jewels and to discover once and for all who's least uncomfortable with the game's mechanics.
There's also an online strategy guide, which lets you actually download and watch spoilers for the game's various sequences and level secrets. This is an interesting feature, and it should be helpful for anyone who gets stuck in the game's sometimes bewildering levels, though again, there's a lengthy loading time as you download each clip. Finally, the N-Gage Arena service allows you to post gameplay video clips you've recorded (you may start recording your gameplay at any time), so that other players can download them. Unlike the strategy guide, this feature is pretty inane.
Paradoxically, Tomb Raider would primarily appeal to fans of the original game in the series, but these fans already played this game long ago. Then again, it's certainly been a while, so they probably wouldn't remember every square inch of the game's big levels. This new version of Tomb Raider is indeed an accurate reflection of the original look and feel of Tomb Raider, for the most part. But by today's standards, the gameplay just doesn't stack up.