Review by SethBlizzard
"And Seth sayeth..."
"...Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation is a tour-de-force...
It is the bringer of adventure...
Its might shall consume your life, and shall be ceaseless..."
Back in 1999, the upcoming millennium was on everyone's minds, whether you think it came in 2000 or 2001. Even Tomb Raider reflects this, with the newest instalment of the tenacious British action-adventurer Lara Croft taking place shortly before the three zeros set in. With the 2nd and 3rd games being great hits but criticised by some fans for straying too far from the original tomb-raiding concept of the game, the fourth game was a chance to fix this. Unless your name is Mega Man, the number 4 isn't usually seen as a good thing when we're talking about sequels. The philosophically-titled Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation changes that. I'm ready to call it the best comeback game ever. Its excellent story and enthralling spirit and gameplay amount to it being perhaps the strongest title in the series.
The story of the Last Revelation is the stuff the best movies are made of; it's dark and thrilling, but first and foremost it's a characteristic story. The idea of mixing Egyptian mythology and Tomb Raider was excellent, and it's realised magnificently. Whilst travelling in Egypt, our heroine Lara Croft discovers the lost tomb of Egyptian god Set. She discovers a legendary artefact called the Amulet of Horus, taking it from the sarcophagus of Set. However, her treasure hunt has an immense price. By removing the amulet from Set's sarcophagus, she unwittingly releases the turbulent deity and so fulfils a prophecy that foretells that he will rule the world with a supernatural fist. Fortunately, there is hope to be found, also celestial. However, to make matters difficult is Lara's old rival, German professor Werner Von Croy, who has a thorn in her side. Lara thus must deal both with Von Croy and the growing power of Set as she races against time to stop the evil deity before it's too late in time for midnight at the turn of the millennium, as it happens.
I love mythology and especially Egyptian one, with its anthropomorphic deities and deep philosophies as to life and death, and the game fuses this notion with Lara's world. The further she gets into her quest, the lesser the barrier between our world and the supernatural world will become. On Lara's quest across Egypt in search of the means to complete her task. she is continually haunted by Set. In a fabulous visual interpretation, the animal-headed god quickly grows more powerful and begins to affect the world, so it's all Lara can do to stop him before full-scale Armageddon kicks in.
The Last Revelation is a game with one clear spirit that carries it along. This is made possible by a change of work technique by the team. For the previous games, the levels were first created and the story was then written around them. This time, the story was laid down first and the game was based around it. This really shows in the coherent spirit. Unlike previous games, the Last Revelation takes place in Egypt only. This first drew worried voices from fans who like Lara globe-trotting (and I must say that I understand), but the Last Revelation justifies this with not only the plot which demands the all-Egypt setting but also the sheer diversity of the environments Lara faces in this one country, while retaining the spirit of the game.
For such a great premise to work, the visuals have to be beautiful. Core knew this and they gave the game engine a complete makeover. Now, the graphics are much smoother and sophisticated and allow for greater detail and graphic effects, such as reflections and moving skies, as well as a wobbly screen when Lara is poisoned. Lara herself is no longer as edgy as she was but a smooth, beautiful figure. This fortunately goes for most enemies as well, from the tiny scorpions to the jackals and skeletons and the game's final boss. Von Croy, on the other hand, is terribly blocky but then he's never an in-game character. Every enemy now disappears when you defeat them, which could be a good or a bad thing. The whole visual style is wonderful.
The in-game movies also show just how far the game has come graphically. No more of the bobbing heads but reasonably lip-synched dialogue, thank goodness! The game is full of these movies (which have the trademark of a panorama screen) to carry the immense story along. Fortunately, the game is also full of FMVs, though unlike the in-game movies, these only occur at the end of a level. What of them? Well, let me put it this way; they make the FMVs of the previous games look laughably amateurish in comparison. Especially the deity scenes with Set are works of art. The result is a very cinematic game which never allows you to surface from its atmosphere. Core knew what they were doing and provided perhaps their finest visual work to date.
The control system is completely identical to previous games, thankfully, so old Raiders will take to this one like Michelangelo to a canvas. There are more improvements than just the graphics, though. Lara's moves have been considerably tweaked, so controlling her feels much smoother than before. Small moves such as turning around in crawlspaces are welcome additions. However, there is a distinct lack of all-new moves and some might be disappointed for this reason. Lara can now climb on poles and swing on ropes and that's all the new moves. However, the inventory has taken a complete redesign and browsing through it is much smoother than in previous games. There is the welcome goody of the binoculars, which you can use to shed a little light on things or just zoom up. The compass is back but not at the cost of the statistics, which this time work on a different level. By pressing 'P' (Pause), you can check out your statistics so far. This includes the name of the level as well as the statistics. These statistics are of your entire progress thus far, though, not just the level you're in. There is a simple reason to justify this.
Entering a new level isn't the closing-a-door-behind-you experience it was in previous games. Soon, you will travel back and forth between levels sometimes directly, sometimes not. Your mini-quests leading towards your goal will often span several levels in order to collect items and open pathways. The Last Revelation shouldn't draw many complaints about being overly straightforward. It's straightforward enough; there is a clever balance between freedom to explore and the path leading onward. This is the opposite of Tomb Raider III, which had a lot of open space and as such often confused the player as to what to do next. As for these side quests, their nature is often quite ingenious, so your best strategy is to search everywhere you can and take everything you can.
The game is divided into six chapters. The first of these stands considerably apart from the rest being that it doesn't take place in Egypt, nor in fact during Lara's adulthood. The game warms up with two sort of 'training' levels where Lara, a schoolgirl of 16, accompanies Von Croy on an expedition in Cambodia. This is a great warm-up for what's to come, both for veterans and newcomers. Don't worry, just because Lara's 16, doesn't mean she has to learn everything (even though Von Croy technically teaches her these things). The other Cambodia level is a race against Von Croy to the Iris artefact. Some may criticise the game for requiring you to play Cambodia and not making it optional like the old training level, Lara's Home. However, it is vital to set the relationship between Lara and Von Croy that is so central to the plot. Another, albeit less poetic reason would be the secrets, 8 of which are found in Cambodia and allow you to face a more difficult challenge against Von Croy.
The Last Revelation has a whopping 70 secrets. Unfortunately, the statistics don't tell you if a particular level includes a secret, so make sure you explore. They are hidden to varying degrees sometimes they just ask you to stop and look. A few take considerable effort to get and a few inescapably put you in the face of danger. There is no bonus level reward for finding all of them, just your own personal satisfaction
Speaking of danger, the enemies of the Last Revelation are a colourful bunch. Beginning with small but nonetheless harmful scorpions, Lara soon meets jackals, crocodiles and eventually Von Croy's henchmen. It doesn't take long for the enemies to get more supernatural, though, with reanimated skeleton warriors who particularly infest the Alexandria levels and, the worst of the bunch, giant flying beetles that are not only creepy and fast but deliver tremendous damage. They first appear over halfway through the game, however, and they only appear in select levels, so don't worry. There are only a handful of 'bosses' this time, one of which is the final boss, but all are very challenging. Fortunately, Lara has a good arsenal at her disposal. Beginning with the standard pistols and shotgun, you'll soon find a crossbow and grenade launcher both of which take multiple types of ammo as well as the old Uzis and, eventually, a revolver. A useful laser-sight gadget will allow you to aim directly at targets. This means that you must use your head to succeed and that's a wonderful thing. Puzzles are plenty and usually more intuitive than move-box/find-key puzzles.
The score, by Peter Conelly, is beautiful and carries the game along wonderfully. The opening theme is excellent and makes the old theme sound very Egyptian. The tunes can be very mysterious, atmospheric and/or eerie. The voice acting is quite good. With all respect to Judith Gibbins, she is thankfully absent and Jonell Elliott gives Lara a suave and confident voice with some flair to it. Von Croy is excellently cast as well, the suave and slightly egocentric professor type who at the same time is out to stop Lara's quest, for his own interests and in more than one way. Unfortunately, Lara's friend Jean-Yves, who is very important to the plot, is not only a very annoying and colourless character but he also has a terribly annoying, fake-but-seemingly-authentic French accent. Set's voice, however, is positively chilling, as is Semerkhet's raspy dialogue.
Each chapter is distinctly different in look and feel, but they all retain the mysterious Egyptian atmosphere. One takes place in the once-Greek city of Alexandria and this allows the game to play with its ideas. A harrowing but memorable level has Lara running away from a supernatural bull. Cairo is easily the game's darkest and creepiest section; an eerie ghost town which will keep your heart racing on more than one occasion. The final chapter is definitely the most challenging of all, full of puzzles, but oddly it's also one of the most linear, leading up the ultimate climax.
I wish I could say that the Last Revelation were without its flaws, but unfortunately it isn't. The Last Revelation is a HUGE game, so whose bright idea was it to only give the game 10 possible save states?! I like to save at pivotal moments that I like to remind myself of. Fortunately there is an easy-to-get patch to increase the number of slots to 15. Believability of architecture is another issue, the game elements sometimes countering believable environments. The ropes are the biggest offender of that; staircases in the tombs are kept to a strict minimum and this makes one wonder how these environments were constructed to be environments frequented by people centuries ago. The game's chief problem is also its strangest, because it involves the script. Not the story, but the script. There's something about Tomb Raider and confusing dialogue, and the Last Revelation unfortunately isn't an exception. The great story sadly sometimes suffers because of unnecessarily cryptic dialogue and even plot procession. There is a sub-plot about about a ceremonial tablet which isn't elaborated upon at all. At a pivotal point of the story, a confusing turn of events which is never really explained takes place. Fortunately, the result is great in spite of that. Mostly, the story is very strong and clear despite these factors and perhaps the FMVs are mostly to thank for that. They are masterful and Core should be proud of them.
The story of Set ranks among the most exciting, involving plots I have encountered in video games, one that could easily support a movie, whether animated (preferably) or live-action. This interpretation of him and of the story of him and Horus is one of those artistic directions I deeply respect and admire. Most games who focus on mythology nowadays are self-indulgent (which doesn't have to be a bad thing) and often warped out of recognition. Not the Last Revelation. It puts a new twist on Lara's persona, acting on her determination to repair the damage she's done, instead of the ruthless treasure hunter of especially Tomb Raider III. All leading up to the devastating ending which I shall boldly defend. It gave Core an excellent (but sadly missed) ground to round up the series. One thing's for sure; Core can be proud of the Last Revelation; a thrilling, involving, beautiful and characteristic tour-de-force. It's Lara back where she belongs; in the tombs, raiding... and taking on supernatural beings. Yes, Lara's home.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 07/27/09, Updated 01/25/10
Game Release: Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (EU, 12/31/99)
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