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Old 16-02-20, 20:55   #1
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Arrow Sheep's AoD Review

Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness
A Retro Review: 17 Years Later
by Sheepman23

Paris - Part 1
Level 1 - Parisian Back Streets
Level 2 - Derelict Apartment Block

Level 3 - Industrial Rooftops
Level 4 - Margot Carvier's Apartment

Level 5 - Parisian Ghetto
Level 6 - Le Serpent Rouge
Level 7 - St. Aicard's Graveyard
Level 8 - Bouchard's Hideout

Paris - Part 2
Level 9 - Louvre Storm Drains
Level 10 - Louvre Galleries
Level 11 - The Archaeological Dig
Level 12 - Tomb of Ancients
Level 13 - The Breath of Hades
Level 14 - Neptune's Hall
Level 15 - The Sanctuary of Flame
Level 16 - Wrath of the Beast
Level 17 - The Hall of Seasons
Level 18 - Galleries Under Siege
Level 19 - Von Croy's Apartment

Prague - Part 1
Level 20 - The Monstrum Crimescene
Level 21 - The Strahov Fortress
Level 22 - Bio Research Facility
Level 23 - The Sanitarium
Level 24 - Maximum Containment Area

Prague - Part 2
Level 25 - Aquatic Research Area
Level 26 - The Vault of Trophies
Level 27 - Boaz Returns
Level 28 - The Lost Domain
Level 29 - Eckhardt's Lab

Hey guys! So, one of the things I've avoided for all of my time on TRF - which is rounding out to almost 10 years - is reviewing The Angel of Darkness in full. Part of this is because of my past disdain for the game, and not-so-fond memories of when I played it on PS2 growing up. However, it's a new time and I've got the patched PC version on my computer, so I think a brand new experience is in order after all of these years.

With that comes my desire to review the game. Now, the last time I reviewed something, there was pretty decent participation from forum-goers, and my hope is that I'll see similar amounts with AoD (especially since I KNOW it has a cult following ). However, I implore you to write any thoughts, comments, or critiques of my stuff, as it really helps me want to continue when I can feel some engagement from the crowd.

Like with TR3, I'll be using a rating scale to determine what the final rating of a level is. Because AoD has several levels that are smaller in scale, I will be combining some levels into one (for example, Parisian Back Streets and Derelict Apartment Block) and then using one rating for both of them, which will then be placed on each individual level. This rule will only ever be broken if levels are extremely small but don't contextually fit well alongside another one (for example, the four elemental rooms in the Hall of Seasons).

A reminder on the criteria of the scale:

10/10 - An instant TR classic. Contains no flaws, or extremely minor ones that do not detract from the quality presented.
9/10 - A fantastic level that would be deserving enough to go on a "Best Of" list, should Crystal Dynamics ever want to learn how to properly make a TR game.
8/10 - A perfectly solid level that contains no major flaws. Must have some memorability factor.
7/10 - A good level that may contain flaws or a lack of memorability, but generally is recommended.
6/10 - An OK level that isn't bad but may have a few serious issues preventing a higher rating.
5/10 - A completely average level that must have at least one serious flaw or be fairly boring.
4/10 - A below-average experience that shows large deficiencies compared to the usual quality expected from TR stages.
3/10 - A bad level that shows very few positive qualities.
2/10 - An abysmal level that fails on almost all accounts.
1/10 - An abysmal level that not only fails but actively discourages the player from continuing in the game

... and with that, I hope to have the first review posted tonight! Thanks and see ya soon!

Last edited by sheepman23; 22-02-20 at 22:40.
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Old 16-02-20, 21:09   #2
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Thumbs up

Looking forward to this.
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Old 16-02-20, 21:12   #3
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Originally Posted by tlr online View Post
Looking forward to this.
I second this.

@Sheepman Will you review the levels in-depth like your TRIII? And btw, where’s the review for All Hallows?
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Old 16-02-20, 21:21   #4
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Looking foward to it!
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Old 16-02-20, 22:01   #5
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Love your reviews, excited to read your thoughts on the worst TR game
Hey all you cool cats and kittens
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Old 16-02-20, 22:26   #6
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Level 1 - Parisian Back Streets
Level 2 - Derelict Apartment Block

2000's Tomb Raider is easily the most muddled decade of our heroine's past. In the 2000's, Lara went through a publisher change, 3 console generations, 2 different timelines, and experienced relatively large spells of emptiness as only one major title was released between 2000 and 2006 (The Angel of Darkness in '03). In 2000, a tired formula reached its end in Chronicles, while 2006 marked the beginning of Crystal Dynamics' unique - and polarizing - spin on the franchise. Regardless of opinions on them, those three games had issues of their own, largely due to the fact that a certain title called "Uncharted" (you may have heard of it ) came along at nearly the same time and did almost everything TR was doing... well, better.

Without even talking about AoD - a game that was received poorly enough to get Core Design disbanded from their creation once and for all - it's easy to see why the 2000's is the most troubling period of Lara's history. The 90's were the 90's; the smash success of TR1 stretched out into four titles that were largely considered to be great games. The 2010's, on the other hand, saw the rejuvenation of our heroine in three unabashedly prestige titles. Love them or hate them, the reboot trilogy brought Lara back into the public light in a (mostly) positive fashion.

So that leaves the 2000's. While Chronicles wasn't the best way to kick off the decade, you're going to find that a lot of the fanbase points to one game that signaled Lara's decline in popularity: The Angel of Darkness.

While it's slightly unfair to generalize AoD that much - a lot of y'all love it I know - it's not untrue at all to say that the game was the opposite of a critical darling. Marred with cut content, bugs, a release date that got pushed further and further back, and the ultimate change of design companies, AoD signaled the biggest changes to the TR franchise until that point, and it's easy to see why such rockiness had a lasting impact on the franchise. A lot of fans - like myself - started AoD, only to lose interest in the game or get stopped at a bug, and consequently not pick it up for a long time after (or possibly ever). This is truly unfortunate since the game does make an honest effort to diverge from the classic formula, and arguably gets a lot better as it goes on. And if you take out the game-breaking bugs and annoying control issues - which several lovely PC patches have done - it's a quite playable title.

But even with those fixes - i.e., when you strip it down to its core gameplay mechanics, environments, and story - is it able to be a good game? That's what I aim to find out in this review.

Angel of Darkness' story is, put simply, the most dynamic and insightful that the franchise had gotten into Lara Croft until that point. Many fans consider it to be the pinnacle of storytelling in the entire series, and while I can't speak to that (yet), I can at least agree that the lore and attention to detail in story details here is wonderful to see. What's more important is that it never really seems to distract from the gameplay - we'll get into that as we go along.

That being said, I will say that the entire premise that kicks off the game feels a little... contrived... to me. Lara's amnesia episode in the middle of Werner's untimely death has always struck me as nonsensical - while it's a real thing that can happen, I think that Lara has been established as a pretty mentally sound person, and there's also little to suggest that she would actually have had the gall to straight up murder her former mentor in an angry episode. If she was gonna do it, it wouldn't be in the middle of an apartment argument, right? And, for that matter, why the intense disdain for Von Croy? "You walked away and left me" is in line with Lara's cold demeanor - especially under Jonell Elliot - but it's not a logical statement in the slightest, especially since the two cutscenes that we witness at the end of TR4 and end of Chronicles seem to suggest that Von Croy did everything in his power to rescue her.

The subsequent run from the gendarmes is an exciting way to kick off Lara's life of crime that hovers over her for the first 4 levels of the game, but again, I find the entire scenario to be somewhat implausible. It's certainly not the most far-fetched situation that the writers have ever presented to us in this franchise, however, so I can buy it for the sake of jump-starting an otherwise pretty solid plot.

The introductory stage is what it is - a tutorial level, and similar to The Last Revelation, time is actually taken to have a voice over (this time, from Lara herself) explaining how to navigate the environment. For old fans of the series playing this game the first time, however, this is an infinitely more useful feature since TR4 left Lara's control scheme largely unchanged. The 5th-generation debut game, on the other hand, is all new to us.

While this was a hella frustrating alleyway for me to navigate on first playthrough, I must admit that I was in like... what, 3rd or 4th grade back then? So like, it's not difficult to see why my relative lack of experience with gaming at the time might have played into my frustrations. When I came back to this sequence today, however, I was surprised at how straightforward and simplistic it really was. That doesn't excuse the poor and sluggish control schemes of the original PC and PS2 versions, of course, but from a tutorial perspective, the first level does a solid job of introducing the player to the world. There's even a large medipack challenge that you can easily see and choose to go for in the midst of the alley ascent, and while that was a huge pain in the rear for me 17 years ago , I got it on first attempt this time around.

Outside of performing jumps, vaults, and climbing ladders, one of the bigger things that Parisian Back Streets introduces us to is the concept of the grip meter. I love the additional challenge of needing to carefully plan out your shimmies/climbs to minimize the time you spend wasting away the grip meter, and my only real problem with this mechanic is that I don't think it was heavily utilized across the bulk of AoD.

The same can't be said for the upgrade system, which, while a neat idea in concept, is used in a ridiculously linear fashion and functions no differently than finding a puzzle key to open a lock. "I'm not strong enough" --> find action that makes you stronger --> "I feel stronger now" --> return and complete action. It's an RPG element that feels extremely half-assed in this game, and yeah, you're going to hear that term used MANY more times in this review. But that's the joy of an unfinished title, unfortunately...

The last "new" feature that Parisian Back Streets gives us is the stealth mechanic. This is one that plays a MUCH larger role than the grip meter does while functioning far more dynamically than the upgrade system, so it's easily my favorite thing introduced so far (outside of Ctrl being mapped to both "pick up item" and "hug wall" which already bit me in this level lol). There are going to plenty of opportunities to talk about the stealth stuff in more depth, however, so let's move on to the next level - Derelict Apartment Block.

Unlike Parisian Back Streets, Derelict Apartment Block doesn't introduce any new features to our move set, and for that matter, it doesn't really make us utilize any of the mechanics we learned in the last level either (no, I don't count upgrades). We essentially hop over some pits in the stairwell, open a few doors to grab items, push two objects around, call the elevator if we want to go back down for goodies... and that's it. That's the level.

Now, as I mentioned in the opening post, I'm not judging these levels on how short they are. In fact, treat Derelict Apartment Block as an extension of Parisian Back Streets for all I care. Is the gameplay fine? Sure - it's inoffensive, doesn't bring out the worst aspects of the control schemes, and feels appropriately challenging given what we've learned already.

The big problem I have with this sequence, then, is the complete lack of urgency that I feel during all of it. The gaseous grenades are the only time limit that's thrust upon us, and honestly? It's super, super easy to ascend this block, so that's hardly a limitation at all. Which leaves the gendarmes. It's disappointing to me that they're not able to rise any further in the complex and offer an additional challenge for us, and I think that's the reason why I feel so much... meh-ness towards this level. Even the background music is highly subdued to the point where it just feels kinda ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. And it doesn't help that we're both given the opportunity and encouraged to enter rooms and steal items. In fact, the designers go as far as presenting us with a key in the uppermost chamber so that we can go back down to floor 2 and open a previously locked door. Like... really? In the real world, Lara would be getting the hell out of dodge in a poisonous gendarme-infested place. So the immersion is sort of broken in this moment.

There's not really a whole lot else to say about this level, to be honest. Gameplay-wise and difficulty-wise, it's just fine for this stage of the game, but I struggle a bit with how this entry follows up on the "fugitive on the run" concept. There's not really enough urgency here to make me feel like Lara is truly running for her life, and the cutscene prior to Lara getting into this apartment would seem to set us up for a truly heart-pounding experience... when it really ends up being anything but that.


+ Good level of difficulty to start the game out on
+ Introduction of grip meter and stealth mechanics is executed well
+ Dark and moody atmosphere sets the title's tone

+ Werner's sudden death, Lara's amnesia, and subsequent running from the cops feels a little rushed and nonsensical
+ Ascent up the apartment block lacks urgency
+ Apartment block could've had more challenges outside of normal jumps and object-pushing

There's not a whole lot wrong with this first pair of levels, to be honest. In many ways, Parisian Back Street is actually one of the more solid introductory levels of the series. But the things we learn in that sequence aren't put to very good use in the Derelict Apartment Block. I would like to have seen some better use of investigating gendarmes; maybe Lara could hide in a room, wait for a gendarme to come in and investigate, and then stealth attack him?

Outside of that lack of innovation, Lara's status as a fugitive just doesn't hit home as well as it should here, and I think a more pressing time limit - which isn't hindered by rooms with items along the edges - would've helped with that.

I'm going to treat these two individual sequences as one level, and on an average basis, I would say that they earn a perfectly... okay... score of:

Rating - 6/10
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Old 16-02-20, 22:27   #7
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Originally Posted by tlr online View Post
Looking forward to this.
Originally Posted by Samz View Post
Looking foward to it!
Thank you both!

Originally Posted by Tomb Raidering View Post
I second this.

@Sheepman Will you review the levels in-depth like your TRIII? And btw, where’s the review for All Hallows?
Yes, it will be very similar style.

Also, lol, I really should go back and do that... to be honest, I've always found All Hallows to be a boring entry, so I probably just forgot about it at some point.

Originally Posted by Fantasy View Post
Love your reviews, excited to read your thoughts on the worst TR game
Lol Thanks Fantasy!
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Old 17-02-20, 11:49   #8
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Can’t wait for the whole review!
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Old 17-02-20, 13:05   #9
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A very pleasant read. Thank you!
I agree with the overall score. It's not a bad beginning for a game but they could have done it better (a lot).
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Old 19-02-20, 05:56   #10
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I think you nailed it with the first two levels perfectly. When playing the patched version, controls aren't that much of an issue, enabling the player to focus more on the surroundings and gameplay in general. In that light, your review is very similar to what I thought when replaying AoD recently.

I always disdained the lack of urgency during the second level, too. I'm really looking foward to your observations as the story goes on.

Can't wait to read more!
#BringClassicLaraCroftBack - more now than ever.
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