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Play along with 'better-looking' Lara Croft

Game producer: Star rendered with 10 times more detail

By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service

As "Tomb Raider" series fans know, Lara is an agile explorer in the game.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Marc Saltzman, a freelance technology journalist whose reviews also appear on the Gannett News Service.

The latest "Tomb Raider" game has a lot going for it -- a convincing story, game-play elements that are new to the franchise, a beautiful musical score and millions of excited fans that have waited more than three years for a new Lara Croft title.

Unfortunately, this action/adventure suffers from sloppy controls, unwieldy camera angles and frame rate issues that can slow the game to a crawl.

The end result is a mediocre title that could've been great with a little more development time.

Darker plot

The game begins in Paris with Lara witnessing the murder of her one-time mentor, Von Croy. The police believe Lara is the killer, so she becomes a fugitive on the run. While eluding the authorities, our heroine must track down Croy's killer. In the process, she uncovers a more disturbing plot involving a secret society and ancient powers that threaten the free world. This macabre tale -- one much darker than previous "Tomb Raider" games -- unfolds like a good novel, with plenty of plot twists and memorable locations and characters.

As "Tomb Raider" series fans know, Lara is an agile explorer who can jump, climb, crawl, roll, swim, shoot weapons and shimmy across ledges. "Angel of Darkness" adds a few new moves, such as hand-to-hand combat, and stealthy maneuvers such as sneaking up on unsuspecting enemies, or standing flat against a wall before peeking around a corner.

Other new game-play additions include:

• The opportunity later in the game to play as another character, who has his or her own set of unique moves.

• A role-playing, game mode that makes Lara stronger through experience.

• The ability to chat with game characters, using an adventure game-style dialogue tree.

• A "grip meter" so Lara can't hang onto a ledge for an unlimited amount of time. If the meter runs out and she hasn't reached her destination, Lara will fall to her death.

Ten times better looking?

All of the work to create a fresh adventure -- not to mention a more attractive Lara (she is rendered with 10 times more detail, according to the game's producers) -- is wasted because the game has too many usability problems.

For one, controlling Lara isn't easy because the game controls aren't responsive. It's also difficult to gauge where Lara must stand to pick up an item or how far she must jump to safely reach the other side of a chasm. This is evident in the mandatory tutorial, so players will be forced to go through a trial -and-error process as part of the steep learning curve.

What's more, the roving camera angles often shift at inopportune times, leaving Lara vulnerable to attacks. Players controlling her can't see threats quickly enough to avoid them. This was a problem with previous "Tomb Raider" titles that still hasn't been corrected.

Glitches slow action

Finally, a handful of technical bugs can leave Lara in slow motion -- and not for dramatic effect. For no reason we could figure out, the frame rate of the game's video can slow to a crawl. Even worse, Lara's body can get stuck in objects and walls.

Overall, "Angel of Darkness" has some excellent game play elements that could have made it a winner if it weren't for the annoying glitches that should have been addressed before the game hit store shelves.

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