ECTS 2002Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness hands-on

We experience a wet night in Paris in the first level of Lara Croft's new adventure for the PS2.

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Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness
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Core Design's Lara Croft is set to make her PS2 debut in November, and today we got to take a look at the first level in a 75 percent complete build of Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness.

The first level of the game takes place on a wet night in Paris, it's a dark and moody setting which sees Lara attempting to evade capture after being framed for a crime that she didn't commit. This level falls into what Core Design has described as the role-playing section of the game and as such Lara has no weapons equipped and has to rely on stealth along with her abilities to jump and climb to get her through for the most part. There actually weren't very many enemies to avoid in the level that we saw, although the armed French policeman that gave chase at one point seemed reasonably intelligent as he searched for Lara using his torch. The level also featured a Rottweiler chained to a wall that made a lot of noise when approached by Lara and will presumably be capable of alerting any enemies that are nearby.

We managed to have a conversation with another character in the level, which was linear for the most part but which occasionally presented us with two different options of what to say. According to Core Design, these conversations can affect the ways in which different characters react to Lara should their paths cross again.

The new Lara model in the game looks impressive although at this point the animation wasn't quite as smooth as we expected it to be. Lara moves in much the same way as she has in all of the previous Tomb Raider games, which is perfectly acceptable, but which can look a little unrealistic at times--particularly if compared to a game like Konami's Metal Gear Solid 2 . What did impress us is the fact that Lara appears to cast realistic shadows onto every object in the game, including herself.

Perhaps the most significant change in the game, based on what we've seen today, is to the game's camera system. Instead of using a camera positioned directly behind Lara for the most part, the game employs a more cinematic approach not entirely unlike that seen in the Resident Evil games. While this can make for great screenshots, it doesn't really help the gameplay--particularly since there didn't appear to be a "look" button or any way of moving the camera manually to get a better idea of Lara's surroundings in the version on show. We should point out that we were warned about the camera not having been perfected before we played the game, but we were still a little shocked at just how tricky the camera angles made the game to play.

We were also warned that the control system for the game hasn't been finalised at this time, which we'd have to say is just as well. When playing using the directional pad Lara was restricted to walking thanks to the absence of a "run" button, after questioning an Eidos representative about this we were told that using the analog stick would allow us to run, and thus clear a particularly long jump that we'd got stuck at. We made the jump, but only after figuring out that whereas the directional pad uses the Resident Evil control system whereby pushing up always moves the character forward, the directional pad moves the character in whichever direction you push it--this coupled with the ever-changing camera angles made the game unnecessarily difficult.

Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness isn't scheduled for release until November so Core Design still has plenty of time to address the problems we came across in the ECTS version, if it hasn't done so already. We're certain that the final version of the game will be significantly more playable than the one that we struggled with today, but we can't help wondering if the game really will be ready pre-Christmas given its current state.

We'll bring you more on Lara's first PS2 adventure as soon as it becomes available, in the meantime you should check out our Metal Gear Solid 2 of the game for more information.

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