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With the recent reveal for “Shadow of the Tomb Raider,” now might be an appropriate time to look at a black sheep of the “Tomb Raider” franchise that, coincidentally, will be celebrating its fifteenth anniversary this year. It's the last in the classic series of “Tomb Raider” games before the franchise would be rebooted three years later in 2006 with “Tomb Raider: Legend”. I, however, had the chance to play “Angel of Darkness” on Steam and was able to apply some very useful mods that helped improve the game, and work out the kinks. With all of the cleaning up, it’s clear that it is a game that not only has gotten better over time but might be worthy of a revisit from Square Enix, similar to what they did with “Tomb Raider: Anniversary”.

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Some background information

The game’s state of quality was not for lack of trying to make a good title, though. Being Lara’s first outing on the PS2, and the first major game in the series to be released after the financially successful film adaptation, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” starring Angelina Jolie in the titular role, developer Core Design had their work cut out for them.

Their efforts were not made easier, however, by then publisher, Eidos Interactive. Developer Core Design faced pressure from Eidos to have the game released in time so that it could be cross-promoted with the next “Tomb Raider” movie starring Angelina Jolie, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life,” being released later that year.

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Eidos forcing Core to churn out a “Tomb Raider” game was nothing new, however, as they had been pushing “Tomb Raider” games out the door on an annual basis since the series debut in 1996. The trouble started with the development of “Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft.

Core Design wished to take a break after “Tomb Raider II: Starring Lara Croft”, because they felt they had done all they could from both a creative and technical standpoint, and it is worth noting that “Tomb Raider II” is largely considered the best of the classic games. However, given the series’ popularity and profitability, publisher Eidos Interactive pushed Core Design to its limit, so much so that the team decided to kill Lara off at the end of “Tomb Raider IV: The Last Revelation.” This didn’t stop Eidos from having Core make a flashback game “Tomb Raider: Chronicles,” which one team member even admits that they just did for the paycheck.

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Where most of the criticism comes from

Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness” was widely criticized upon release for its gameplay. Specifically, it’s difficult to maneuver camera, poor controls, clunky melee combat, and a leveling up system of Lara’s strength that caused her to level up by performing mundane activities like pulling crates and opening doors. Other sources for critiques were the bugs, glitches, and despite being a “Tomb Raider” game, only really featuring one tomb in the entire campaign.

The game is not completely without its merits

Fans and critics alike have praised the game’s story, which centers around Lara trying to solve the murder of her friend and mentor, Werner Von Croy, which she is blamed for, and when trying to clear her name, discovers Von Croy’s death is linked to the larger plan of a black magic cult plotting for world domination. Along with this captivating story, the game’s sound and music were also praised, with the score being performed by none other than the London Symphony Orchestra. These two aspects, combined with dynamic camera angles presented in the cutscenes, make it the most cinematicTomb Raider” game up to that point.

What can be fixed to make the game more solid?

Fair warning, there will be spoilers in this next segment, so skip to the next section if you wish to avoid them. Let us start off simply with some minor adjustments that can easily be made and ease our way into the bigger issues. First off, tighten the story and fill in the gaps. With Lara having seemingly died at the end of “The Last Revelation” and the only hint of her potential survival being Von Croy’s discovery of her abandoned backpack at the end of the following game, “Chronicles”, Lara’s sudden appearance at the beginning of “Angel of Darkness” is never fully justified.

She seems under the impression in the opening that Von Croy left her for dead when in reality he tried to save her from the collapsing tomb at the end of “The Last Revelation” which led to her apparent demise. She later says she arrived at his Paris apartment from London, with no explanation about how she escaped the collapsed tomb in Egypt and returned to her home country of England.

The plot is relatively straightforward from that point on, if a bit convoluted, but one of the most glaring plotholes comes at the end when Lara is seemingly about to kill the game’s main villain, Eckhardt, when she is stopped by his second-hand-man, Karel, who finishes the job for her. He revealed himself to be the true mastermind of the operation and Eckhardt being an unknowing underling.

Lara appears to know a great deal about Karel even though he is never addressed by name during the campaign, and Lara never had personal interaction with him up to that point. He also reveals that he has been pulling the strings throughout Lara’s mission by assuming the persona of various NPCs (Non-playable characters) who have helped Lara on her journey. This is even though all the personas he claims to be have been were found dead or died in front of Lara during the campaign, namely Luddick, Bouchard, and Kurtis.

While one could argue that this was his attempt at deception, the lack of clarity and immediate ability for the player to connect the dots is the real problem here. Lara even realizes at this point that it was him who killed Von Croy under the guise of Eckhardt. Given the game’s tense development cycle, it’s clear that the team wanted to get the general idea of their vision across with the little time they had, and with the proper attention given to it a second time around. It has the ability to be an even more impactful ending to get the player pumped for the final boss fight against Karel.

The second thing that must be addressed, from a gameplay perspective, is the stealth mechanic. As seen in both “Tomb Raider (2013)” and “Rise of the Tomb Raider”, there is a place for stealth in the “Tomb Raider” franchise. This is even more reason to fix the stealth found in “Angel of Darkness”, as, especially now, it is overly simplistic and clunky here.

With today’s innovations in gameplay, both in and out of the stealth genre, levels like the one in the galleries of The Louvre, have the potential to make the player feel like they are part of a true heist. It's like they’ve outsmarted the tightest of security systems, instead of trying to be stealthy, getting caught due to clunky mechanics or cartoonishly dim A.I. and ending up riddling the guards with bullets instead.

The other major major adjustment needed for the gameplay would be concerning the games second playable character, Kurtis Trent. Trent who starts out the game as Lara’s rival and eventually ends up as her partner, as they both have stakes concerning Eckhardt. The first step to making the Kurtis sections more enjoyable would be to fix the way Kurtis controls. I played the game on Steam and undoubtedly the biggest nightmare during my playtime was the Boaz boss fight. Kurtis’ movements were so sluggish and clunky that by the time I had recovered from receiving a hit, I would get hit again because I had no time to dodge Boaz’s attacks.

On the subject of Kurtis, he has the potential to be an outstanding character both in gameplay and writing, but, probably due to time constraints, Kurtis’ potential is largely squandered and he just ends up feeling like a more lethargic version of Lara. But by utilizing his abilities like his ‘far-seeing’ and his unique multi-bladed weapon we see floating around during many of the cutscenes he and Lara share, he could offer something unique not only to the “Tomb Raider” franchise but gaming as a whole.

This last one is something not unique to “Angel of Darkness”, giving Lara her iconic duel pistols. Despite sporting her signature weapon choice on the box art and in cutscenes, the player, at least in the original unmodded game, never gets to control Lara with her two pistols like they had in every game up to that point. This critique has long plagued the games in the “Tomb Raider (Survivor)” timeline. Lara’s duel pistols, since her debut, have become as synonymous with her character as her tank tops, British accent, and strong personality.

Many fans hope, with “Shadow of the Tomb Raider” that they will finally get to see this return to the main series, as it has been absent for nearly ten years, save for a QuickTime Event at the end of “Tomb Raider (2013)” And Alicia Vikander holding them, but not using them, at the end of the 2018 movie. So clearly there is a demand by the fans that, if “Shadow” doesn’t deliver, “Angel of Darkness” certainly could.

A remake or remaster has strong fan support

Despite its reputation for being a blemish on the franchise’s legacy, fan pages dedicated to the game, as well as fan art and community pages that show support and dedication to the game and its ensured prosperity. While some do describe the game as a nightmare and a blemish for them, others have described it as their favoriteTomb Raider” game, and that they have fond memories of playing it.

They voice their desire for the game to continue its story, as the game has a cliffhanger ending due to it being planned as the first installment of a supposed trilogy. Future installments are being canceled due to most of Core’s team leaving and the franchise being given over to Crystal Dynamics.

Even if there are some who hold the game in low regard, a project that shows a genuine attempt to right an old wrong might opt some skeptics to give it a chance to show that the game as it has come to be known, is not necessarily the game it has to be.