As a staunch Tomb Raider fan, I feel a bit treacherous writing a post like this. Not unlike Lara herself, recklessly prising the Amulet of Horus from the Tomb of Seth, it’s not my place, and I could unleashed a world of trouble. How can I write a post about the ‘worst’ Tomb Raider game of all time? That implies that there was a terrible one, and I don’t think there was. Okay, Tomb Raider: The Prophecy on the Game Boy Advance was a bit of a waste of space, but I still wouldn’t kick it off my shelf.
Also, how do we define a ‘terrible’ Tomb Raider game? Graphically? That would be tough; for their time, all of the titles have been pretty handsome. The original Tomb Raider set a new standard for video game visuals, and by the time the series reached Chronicles in the year 2000, it left no pixel unturned, squeezing the technical juices of the original PlayStation for all its worth. Thus, every Tomb Raider game in existence is stunningly beautiful, in some way.
Okay, so what about gameplay? Is there a distinctly boring or a truly frustrating Lara Croft gaming experience? Well, not everyone made it out of Tomb Raider 3 alive; I’d wager there’s still a fair few players lost in the Temple Ruins, vast and labyrinthine as it is. It’s also – arguably – one of the harder Tomb Raider titles; Lud’s Gate has left an indelible mark on my memory.
Then we have (deep breath) Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness, which probably doesn’t rank highly on many fans’ top fives. In fact it’s something of an embarrassment to the franchise – unjustifiably in my opinion – and it’s definitely not socially acceptable to talk about it in glowing terms. It was released before it was ready and as such it was riddled with glitches. Indeed, Eidos Interactive – the publisher – snatched the franchise from developer Core Design’s hands straight after its release, leaving many employees jobless and Lara’s future uncertain.
So is The Angel of Darkness the very worst of the Tomb Raider games? No. Absolutely not. For one thing, it’s too pretty. For another, it has the richest and most fascinating story, taking our reluctant heroine from seedy Parisian backstreets to ancient subterranean ruins to the snow-covered streets of mysterious Prague. What’s not to like? Okay, the second playable character (Kurtis Trent) has proven divisive amongst fans, but his inclusion is kept to a minimum, so level-skip him if you must! Also, his chirugai bro. Enough said.
Another wonderful thing about The Angel of Darkness is that it lay the groundwork for an epic Tomb Raider trilogy. The game actually ends on a cliffhanger, with many unanswered questions still hanging as a triumphant Lara, in the closing moments, subtlety smiles and disappears into the shadows. The game that was to follow was known as The Lost Dominion, and was already in active development when the suits at Eidos Interactive pulled the plug and handed the franchise to the California-based Crystal Dynamics.
It’s for this reason that I now think I have found my worst Tomb Raider game. It’s The Lost Dominion. Why? Because it rude enough not to get finished. We will never know what became of Kurtis Trent, the Cabal, the Nephilim, the duplicitous Karel… Indeed, poor Mr Trent is now the proverbial Schrodinger’s Cat, neither dead nor alive until someone opens the box. And we can’t open the box because nobody’s made one. Useless.
The Lost Dominion sounded epic as well. It was going to see Lara Croft and the awesome Kurtis Trent raiding a Nephilim stronghold in Cappadocia, Turkey. The Nephilim – so intriguingly set-up in The Angel of Darkness – were a lost, ancient race that the deranged villain Eckhardt had been trying to re-awaken. Ooh! Now I can’t remember whether Eckhardt himself was scheduled to make an appearance, but I’m fairly sure that Karel was. He was a shape-shifting member of the vicious Cabal and – as it transpired – a Nephilim himself, who was hell bent on reshaping the world in his own image.
Ahhh… So much loveliness that we’re never going to see. Actually, there is already a fan revival movement in place to pick up where the hapless Core Design left off. Its slugline is “Because Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness deserves a continuation.” Amen! So will we ever get to see The Lost Dominion in all its Turkish, Nephilimesque glory? Only time will tell. In the meantime, I can confidently list it as the worst Tomb Raider game ever made, because of all the pain and sadness it inflicted.
What about you? Were you left grief-stricken by the abandonment of The Angel of Darkness trilogy? If so leave a comment below and join our online support group.