Long time, no see
At last: a new Tomb Raider game. And what have we here? An E3 demo? After fully three and a half years since the last meaningful Lara Croft adventure, we've had to be pretty patient. Having seen the game at two previous trade shows, it's fair to say that E3 2003 represents the last chance saloon for Core and its interminably delayed project.
The demo kicks off with Lara holed up in a box strewn room adjacent to what appears to be a nightclub. We don't know why she's there or what she's supposed to do, but such is the way of things with random trade show demos. You just pick up and play and hope to be impressed immediately.
In true Tomb Raider style, a bit of switch pulling ensues, followed by some frantic auto-targeted gunplay as a guard comes to investigate. Exiting the room up some stairs, you emerge onto a dance floor, complete with pumping techno and swirling coloured disco lights. It seems Core has mastered its coloured lighting in some style. At this point, once you've dispatched a series of fairly unthreatening baddies, you can take in the rather impressive engine, which appears to have received the necessary polish to drag it up to respectable standards.
Sadly, although the visuals are well up to scratch, there a number of glitches that conspire to drag the demo down. The camera system regularly prevents you from gaining a decent viewpoint of the action, and at times insists on not allowing you to make adjustments if you're too close to a wall. Rather than just making Lara translucent, the camera just refuses to budge, which renders the tedious block pushing puzzle a major pain.
The final countdown
The controls, which are supposedly intuitive, aren't always as easy to get to grips with as you'd hope. Attempting to position Lara on one side of a box so that you can push it often results in not only the camera whirling wildly in the wrong direction, but Lara herself spins off the wrong side of the box. Frustrating.
Even worse, from a technical perspective, Lara even disappears into a solid wall when pushing said block, and it's clear that Core has plenty of polishing to do if it's to make the recently announced June 20th release date. Frankly we remain sceptical that this date will be stuck to - the demo's just too flaky in too many respects to let the game out of the door in this state.
Generally, the demo is a poor introduction to what appears to be a promising game. The level on show at E3 has a nigh on vertical learning curve, a frustrating control system, and gameplay that consists of quickfire shooting and "all or nothing" instant death jumps which hardly help endear you to the game. We were looking forward to Angel Of Darkness, but after such a frustrating and glitch ridden introduction to the game, it just reminds us why the game has had such a tortured birth. If Core can't even get a decent demo level prepared for E3, then the project really is in trouble.
But we're still holding out hope that Core will get it right on the night. We're baffled that Eidos is prepared to announce a June 20th release date on this evidence, but then we said roughly the same thing back in August, when Eidos had the game down for a November release. We shall see when we finally get a finished build in a few weeks time, but, as ever, we're not holding our breath.