It's been almost four years since Lara Croft brought her boogie shoes to a Sega console, due to an exclusivity contract Sony had forged with Eidos. When the Tomb Raider franchise first reared its Indiana Jones-inspired head, Core was developing it for the Sega Saturn. Halfway through development, it was announced that the game would also come to the PlayStation, in improved form no less. After the original Tomb Raider made its debut on the Saturn, Tomb Raider swiftly disappeared from Sega's library for what seemed like eons. During that time, Eidos has raped and pillaged the TR license for all it's been worth, releasing two console sequels and numerous PC and Mac iterations. Well, another year, another Tomb Raider sequel, and Eidos has released the series' fourth official game, titled Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation for the PlayStation, the PC, and now for the Dreamcast. After four long years, Lara is back in Sega's arms. However, is this a sincere attempt to support Sega's flagship system, or is it a cheap cash-in on a PC port designed to make quick bucks at the expense of Dreamcast owners?
With each of the first three Tomb Raider episodes, released one year after another, there were incremental improvements (some would call them innovations) added to entice gamers to come back. But who's kidding who? The reason most gamers came back, aside from a secret archaeological desire to spelunk, was to lead buxom Lara through a never-ending series of catacombs and labyrinths. That's not to detract from the often near-genius level design, displayed in abundance in the seminal "part two." Unfortunately, Eidos is all too well aware of its greatest asset, but now that we've progressed beyond the difficult part one, the deviously designed part two, and the more-of-the-same-but-look-at-Lara's-two-new-moves part three, what exactly is there to bring us back to the unofficial part four, The Last Revelation?
At the start, things look rather grim. In an aggravatingly mandatory tutorial, offered by Professor Werner Von Croy, you must navigate an adolescent jailbait Lara through a series of condescendingly trite exercises designed to introduce you to the controls. Core seems to assume there will be a bunch of gamers who have never touched a Tomb Raider game before, as you cannot skip past this seemingly endless ritual, which will have experienced Tomb Raiders dribbling on the action button. At least in past games, Lara's gymnasium offered a secluded space to try out the controls at your convenience. Not so, here. At one point in the opening, which also sets the storyline, Von Croy challenges you to a race, half-designed to show you he's not the old fart you think he is and also to set into practice your "newly learned" moves in an actual gaming environment. Unfortunately, Von Croy isn't hampered by the leaden control, crappy camera angles, and pixilated graphics that you must contend with. Thankfully, this "race" is merely an excuse to get you to the next cutscene, in which Von Croy introduces Lara not to the ways of Indiana Jones but to those of Pitfall Harry! Yes, in Tomb Raider: the Last Revelation, Lara can now swing from ropes! In your first encounter with a rope, the game's faults immediately reveal themselves. On reaching said rope, Lara must jump to it, pump a few times for momentum's sake, then vault across to the opposite platform. While most gamers have at some point taken the rope-swinging plunge in one 2D platform game or another, doing the deed in 3D is an altogether different story. From the very first moment she tries a rope swing she is impeded by a sideways camera angle, which doesn't let you see the edge of the platform, let alone the rope. She also has the funky problem of trying to align herself with the rope, which often results in her plummeting off-angle into the pool below - there's a lag between the time you press the jump button and the time Lara actually jumps. All these problems come to light within the first, frustrating hour after you turn the game on. A new change to the control scheme, which allows you to switch from digital to analog, assigns sidestepping and Lara's "cautious walk" to whatever pad is not being used for running. This requires the gamer to switch back and forth between the two control pads for the different functions. The Dreamcast's lack of two extra buttons most likely contributed to this, but it's not exactly intuitive. After a short CG sequence that sets in motion the reason she is here at all (this year's adventure is in Egypt!), it's back to the future for Lara and the start of the game proper. While the game is actually better than the introduction indicates, it's still not great. The worst part about this particular adventure is that it feels as if you have done it all before. Back in its day, Charlie's Angels was a pretty fun TV show to watch, but after a while, even 13-year-old boys got tired of watching Farrah Fawcett go through the same-old, same-old motions. The same goes for Lara Croft - her tomb raiding has become an exercise of been-there, done-that. Although lengthy and designed to be more action-adventurey than mind-bendingly clever, Last Revelation still puts you through your paces in a series of find-the-chain-and-pull-it, put-the-item-in-the-slot-and-open-the-door mechanics. There are some devilish situations that will require clearheadedness and a thoughtful mind, but in spite of the odd and oddly frustrating rope-swinging sequences, anyone who has played any of the first three episodes has played Last Revelation.
While the graphics are better than those in the PlayStation version, they are only marginally improved over the PC's. Yeah, everything is running in high-res, and Lara does benefit from a stunning real-time shadow that bends according to the light source and her surroundings. However, the environments are still mapped over with low-res textures anti-aliased to death, giving the game an almost N64-ish look in some places. Usually up for debate is whether Lara's breasts have been enlarged, reduced, or whether her ass has more polygons for a smoother, all-natural look. Quite honestly, who cares? As time goes by, it becomes harder and harder to look at Lara, despite how perky her breasts have gotten. Since her debut, games like Metal Gear Solid, Soul Calibur, Space Channel 5 and Dead or Alive 2 have come out, and as a result, each new Tomb Raider game ceases to amaze, despite its blocky, pixelated waterfalls and improved lighting effects. The game's frame rate veers wildly from acceptable (in closed corridors) to staggeringly bad (usually when Lara comes out of said corridors into wide-open areas). Even with the Dreamcast's powers, the frame rate often stumbles into the 15fps category. Blame Windows CE, but this game hardly takes advantage of what the Dreamcast can do. Coupled with the iffy frame rates are the occasionally obnoxious camera angles, which, when combined with the pivot-and-then-go gameplay, can cause much frustration in a game centered on various platform elements. The most the game has to offer are some unnaturally angular environments designed to alert the gamer that "Yes, you can go there," or "No, you cannot." While the ambience certainly offers a realistic setting, the game can often revert to that overwhelming feeling of solitude found in the first Tomb Raider. Although you have a torch-lighting lackey in your service during the opening moments of the game, he is nothing more than an AI drone designed to trudge onward as you tackle puzzles and pull switches. For gamers who prefer a little more company in their adventures, there is occasionally a scorpion or wolf that will try to bite you. Perhaps the only elements that can withstand any criticism are the sound, music, and voice-acting. Perhaps there is something about the voice actors in the Tomb Raider series, but they are usually much better than those found in any Resident Evil game. While they are not as excellent as Eidos' own Soul Reaver, you won't have to stifle a laugh while listening to Tomb Raider's cinematics. The soundtrack is, once again, expertly composed: It offers timely orchestral strikes when the situation calls for it, and then it recesses gracefully when you need to concentrate. Sound effects are well done, giving the gamer aural clues as to when someone or something is approaching, and letting the echoing drippy-water ambiance work for itself in nonaction moments. Flickering torches, hungry wolves, the crack of a gunshot, and even the crunchy landing of Lara are all well represented here. Unfortunately, it takes more than a nice soundtrack and some good sound effects to make a game.
With The Last Revelation, you cannot escape the sensation that Eidos is simply milking the bottom line. The company has yet to understand that there is value in the adage "Less is more." You don't see Nintendo busting out a new Zelda every year come holiday season, and how many times have you seen Sonic pop up in 3D form? In fact, did Lara's role model and inspiration, Indiana Jones, ever chime in with an annual whoop-de-do the way she has? No, he did not. These legendary characters only show up when they're damn ready to, and with good reason. Someone once said, "If you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything at all." In this instance, the Tomb Raider series has nothing good to say, and it shows. While it isn't exactly bad,There is no more compelling reason for you to play The Last Revelation than there is to play the latest iteration of Madden-whatever. While Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation is an acceptable game based on its own merits and set against its own legacy, it is for all intents and purposes indistinguishable from the games that came before it. It reeks of a ready-to-go game engine and a level designer going through the motions, while someone else comes up with a new move for Lara. Teetering on the brink, Eidos' premier franchise is one step away from being bludgeoned into complacency. As it stands, Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation reeks of a heartless cash-in and the game, for lack of a better term, simply has no soul.