With Tomb Raider's 20th anniversary making us all nostalgic and wanting to revisit the original games, it would be wrong of us not to look back upon the franchise's first ever reboot Tomb Raider: Angel Of Darkness. Released in 2003, the game was initially intended to be the first in a trilogy, until its negative reception ended up forcing Core to scrap all those plans and resulted in the series being moved to Crystal Dynamics who rebooted the franchise again, much more successfully, with Tomb Raider: Legend.
However, just because things didn't work out so well doesn't mean that it wasn't a great game, because it was. Being a major Tomb Raider fan myself, I have no problem admitting that Tomb Raider: Angel Of Darkness isn't just one of the most criminally underrated games of all time, it is also the best of the Tomb Raider franchise. Taking a different approach to the series, it explored previously uncharted territory for both the character and the mythology, and the result was a gripping story that, although it was different, still felt like a worthy entry in the beloved Tomb Raider saga.
It Dared To Be Different
After five successful adventures with Lara Croft raiding tombs in the deserts and jungles, Core Design decided to produce a sixth installment that was completely different from its predecessors. After three intense years of development — not to mention two significant delays — they produced Tomb Raider: Angel Of Darkness.
The game succeeded in its attempts to be different, with a significantly darker tone and somewhat more realistic storytelling method, which saw Lara investigating the Monstrum murders as she interrogated people in town. It also took advantage of the new generation of gaming consoles — it was the first of the franchise to be released for PlayStation 2 — and thus, not only did the graphics greatly improve, you got to have more say in the narrative as you could choose how Lara would respond to whoever she was questioning — much like the Telltale games of today .
Furthermore, the gameplay was greatly altered in this one as the studio wanted it to compete with the newer action games. The modernized gameplay saw Lara become more combat-orientated which allowed for a lot more fight scenes. However, it was this new control system that led to the game's downfall. While the storyline was praised, the game itself was heavily criticized for the impossible control system, multiple bugs and questionable camera movements — all of which I remember well. But that doesn't mean that we should write the game off as a failure. Even if the controls were questionable, the creative team should still be applaud for daring to reinvent the franchise.
One of the main purposes of a modern day game is to tell a great story and that's exactly what Angel Of Darkness excelled at. In many people's eyes this was the original reboot of the Tomb Raider saga and took it in an exciting new direction. If only we knew what else that direction had in store for us.
The Exciting Original Narrative
The Angel Of Darkness has arguably the most complex narrative of any Tomb Raider games. Focusing on the murder of Croft's former mentor Werner Von Croy by the deadly Monstrum, Lara herself is on the run from the police in Paris as she attempts to solve the mysteries of a black magic cult. During her journey she encounters some of the most colorful and shady characters on the streets of Paris who either help her with clues or hinder her with double-crosses as she attempts to solve the mysteries and the crimes. With a healthy mix of drama, corruption, city-life and even the supernatural, Angel Of Darkness told a different kind of story, completely unlike any other Tomb Raider entry.
Moreover, Lara found herself facing more obstacles as the game went on and this only made us want her to progress even further — there's nothing like a hero who can overcome the odds, and after the unwinding plot, Lara Croft came out of Angel Of Darkness more battle-tested than ever. The game's mature and graphic storytelling wasn't just compelling and well-written, it was worthy of a cable network crime drama. It's a shame we didn't see the follow up as there was so much more of this gripping story to be told and there was one loose-end in particular regarding one of the main characters's fate, that all fans wanted to see get tied up.
The Character Depth
Obviously we love our Tomb Raider games because we love our leading lady, Lara Croft. And in Angel Of Darkness, she's more kickass than ever. But this installment also added so much more to the character, adding additional layers and making her more than just an action hero — it made her a person. With her emotional connection to both Werner Von Croy and Carvier as well as the fact that she is framed for the Monstrum murders, Lara is a more realistic and deeper character here than ever before. Thus, we get to see her struggle to overcome so many things, including the death of her mentor and the Law that believes she's guilty — not to mention the Monstrum itself.
Furthermore, the introduction of Kurtis Trent was revolutionary as it was arguably the first time we significantly cared for a character in the Tomb Raider games that wasn't Lara Croft. Kurtis wasn't used as a prop, he became a living, breathing character as well — not only did his introduction promise the possibility of a love interest for Lara, but we also got the opportunity to know the mysterious last surviving member of the Lux Veritatis. Plus, he was also badass with his mystical blade.
These were characters we could very easily get attached to, and that strengthened both the story and the game. Moreover, the idea of Lara Croft in a relationship was something that had been practically unexplored at the time. The chemistry between the two during that first scene — when Kurtis subdued her, caressing her arms as he disarmed her — was off the chain. And I'm talking about a video game from 2003 where the characters still looked like computer game characters. That speaks for itself.
The thought of seeing these two actually get together is one of the reasons why the lack of a sequel still burns. After that horrific ordeal, Lara deserved some happiness, and although it's implied that Kurtis is still alive at the end — despite being mortally wounded — and that she heads towards him, we deserved to actually see them reunite — after all, we went through the ordeal too, right?
Never had Lara Croft been so human, and that made her far more relatable than ever before. While follow-up games have followed in Angel Of Darkness's footsteps, none have done it quite as well as this one.
The Improved Graphics
Not only did Angel Of Darkness dare to be different by giving the character a brand new narrative, it was also the first game to give Lara Croft a significant redesign. With gaming moving forward into a more modern era — the introduction of PlayStation 2 being an example of that — Angel Of Darkness needed to look more realistic than its predecessors. And that's exactly what happened as Lara's character model underwent quite the transformation. Gone were Lara's overly pointed features and diamond shaped hands, and in their place was a much more realistic woman with more defined features, including fuller lips and a moving fringe.
Granted, it may not be as realistic as the Crystal Dynamics redesign that came three years later, but in a way, this one is actually truer to the character as it ventured into the modern world, yet maintained many of the sharp features that Lara Croft was renowned for. While the graphics have continued to advance, so much so that Lara actually looks like a real person now, there was something timeless about the first redesign that no games since have managed to replicate. The Angel Of Darkness's Lara was the perfect mix between a video game and real life, never venturing too far into one or the other.
So as Tomb Raider celebrates its 20th anniversary, spare a though for the most underrated game in the entire franchise, Angel Of Darkness. The game not only redesigned the Tomb Raider, it redefined the franchise and proved that Lara was capable of handling much more adult and darker storylines. Furthermore, it was the first game to truly explore her as a human character, dealing with her betrayal and even explores the possibility of a relationship with Kurtis. Angel Of Darkness maintained all of Lara's badass features from the previous games but also managed to humanize her and thus, helped to shape her into the character we see in the modern day Tomb Raider games.
The Tomb Raider franchise has spawned some amazing installments over the years, but I have no problem admitting that Tomb Raider: Angel Of Darkness will always be the greatest.
Were you a fan of Tomb Raider: Angel Of Darkness? Let us know in the comments below!