Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation Review
By now, many gamers have already developed an opinion one way or another about the Tomb Raider series. If you're in that group, you'll probably think that the fourth game in the series, The Last Revelation, is much like its predecessors, for better or for worse. If you haven't made up your mind about the series, though, it may be worth your time to try TR4 (or TR: TLR if you prefer).
TR4 starts out in Cambodia, where a teenaged Lara Croft gets her first lesson in tomb raiding from Professor Werner von Croy. For better or for worse, these opening levels also serve as a training session -- Werner guides you through every step of the first level.
If you've played any of the Tomb Raider series before, this opening will probably seem like a waste of time, as you can't skip even the miniature cut-scenes where Werner explains the controls, much less the entire level. At least the opening is related to the story, and if it's any consolation, teenage Lara sports a pair of youthful pigtails. (Okay, so the pigtails are hardly much consolation, I know. But I tried to stay positive about the opening.)
The story picks up a few years later, when an older Lara accidentally frees the ancient god Set while exploring an Egyptian tomb. Of course, Lara must stop Set before he can conquer the world, and in doing so, she never ventures too far from the tombs, pyramids, and other landmarks of ancient Egypt.
This being a Tomb Raider game, you can expect a number of linear obstacles, including the typical sorts of lever pulling, key finding, and platform jumping sequences. The jumps tend to be very picky, especially toward the end of the game, where a slight misstep often results in immediate death. There are a few tough fights here and there, but generally speaking, the game is not very combat-intensive.
You can also expect a fair number of logic and inventory puzzles. Some of the puzzles are of the sort that you would expect in a standard 2D adventure game, but others do make full use of the 3D environment. Puzzles tend to be fair, if not always immediately solvable, and generally fit well into the setting. A few puzzles, however, require brute-force trial and error or unreasonable leaps of logic.
While TR4 does offer a number of different types of puzzles, it doesn't do nearly so well at balancing those different types. There seemed to be too many repetitive jumping puzzles, even considering that this is a Tomb Raider game. It's not that I necessarily mind jumping sequences, but I did get tired of jumping mindlessly across gap after deadly gap on the same level, with not even so much as a change of scenery.
I may just be showing my bias as a long-time adventure gamer, but it's a shame that the designers didn't focus more on the adventure-type puzzles. As it stands, TR4 is a very long game, with over 30 levels. Some of the more repetitive action and jumping sequences -- sometimes making up entire levels -- could have easily been cut, and there'd have been more than enough game left to keep most people happy.
It doesn't help that TR4 uses basically the same engine as all of its predecessors. Sure, there are a few minor graphical enhancements here and there, but if I weren't reading the back of the box or the Eidos web site, I couldn't tell you exactly what had been improved. Overall, the levels still have a very blocky feel -- one level even hurls giant cube after cube at you. I think those cubes were supposed to be rounded boulders, but they didn't look very boulder-like to me. After 4 iterations of the same engine, you'd think the designers could have put even a few curves on something other than Lara Croft herself. Or at the very least, they should know enough about the limitations of their engine by now to avoid the most jarringly blocky of the graphics.
There are also a fair number of bugs. The game would constantly crash at the end of one level, and I could proceed only by cheating. Several puzzles also seem to have buggy dead-ends -- if you do things in what should be a perfectly reasonable order, the game will get confused and the puzzles become unsolvable. I've seen reports of other crashes as well. And as in past Tomb Raider games, expect some minor clipping problems here and there.
TR4's interface has been improved slightly, as some of the functions previously mixed in with the inventory are now on a separate menu. But for some inexplicable reason, the load and save game functions are still on the inventory ring, while the controls and exit game option are on the main menu. There are also a few minor changes in the controls to account for Lara's few new moves, but running, jumping, and climbing all works the same way as in previous games, with no mouse controls.
In many ways, it's clear that the Tomb Raider series has gone for too long without significant changes. However, TR4 does show the occasional promising element, especially when it sticks to puzzles. It's a shame that what's worth playing is watered down by one too many repetitive sequences. For those who've never played a Tomb Raider game before, or for those who are willing to put up with the flaws, this particular incarnation is probably still worth a look. But those who've never liked Lara Croft won't see anything worthwhile in this game either.
-- Jason Strautman