Review by Speedy Boris

"When Excellent Series Jump The Shark..."

I used to be a HUGE Tomb Raider fan. Collected any magazine that even remotely mentioned the series and its famous star, Lara Croft. I still consider Tomb Raider 1-3 (yes, even the third game, which most gamers hated) to be the pinnacle of Playstation adventure gaming. Too bad Tomb Raider 4, while not a horrible game, couldn't keep the series' magic and was the official moment when the Tomb Raider series jumped the shark. And without further ado, let's break it down.

1) Graphics. This was an area that was hyped in all the magazines before its release, and in some ways, the hype was justified. Last Revelation, while not looking wildly different from the previous three games, DID get a facelift. The graphics were higher res, Lara's figure was more shapely and curvy (as opposed to the pointy models of TR 1-3), and the color choices were excellent. Especially impressive is the fact that the entire game takes place in Egypt, and yet they managed to make each level look different enough, whether it be in lighting, architecture, or colors, to make it seem fresh throughout. So yes, good graphics overall. Still not PC material, but that's a fault of the PS1 hardware, not the graphics themselves.

Animation-wise, Lara pretty much moves the same as before, though they've tweaked her "item pick-up" animation so it seems more natural. Props for that. Slowdown in the game is kept to a minimum, which is great because Tomb Raider 3 unfortunately had plenty of it. And the FMV sequences are good as ever.

2) Music/Sound FX. The typical sound effects that we've come to expect in Tomb Raider games have been replaced! Well, some of them, anyway. Lara's voice is back to the higher pitch, abandoning the lower voice in the second and third games. Plus she has new grunts and groans for climbing and such. And they've changed the secret music. Again, an attempt to keep the series new and fresh. The music, while minimal, does its job, and kicks in when it needs to. You'll hear some good orchestral hits and melodies that capture the spelunking mood perfectly.

3) Control. Sigh. If you've played one Tomb Raider, you've played them all. The game is based on squares, and all movement is confined to the universe's squares. There's no compromise at all; one tap makes you jolt forward a specific distance, one tap back makes you hop back a specific distance, and there's still the annoying delay in pressing the jump button while running and actually jumping. It's a shame that Core was willing to evolve the graphics and sound, but weren't willing to make a better game engine. It was fine for the first three games, but it's time to move on.

Lara does get some new moves, like rope swinging. But the rope swinging is tough to get the hang of, more than it should be. It took me a while to learn how to properly apply momentum when starting a swing. Also new is the option on some guns to aim through the sight. While a cool innovation, I usually just used the regular third person view, because atleast there you can actually move around while aiming.

NOTE: The game also supports the joysticks on the Dual Shock controller. I wouldn't recommend it, though; you get tighter response from the D-Pad (especially during areas with lots of pit jumping), and often times I would accidentally perform something I wasn't wanting to do.

4) Gameplay. Once again, if you've played one Tomb Raider, you've played them all. And the fourth game in the series doesn't exactly start off on a good foot, either.

You begin as young Lara, age 16, in Cambodia with her mentor Von Croy, who would actually be the villain in the game. The first two levels are tutorial levels for learning the controls and gameplay. Problem is, these levels are NOT skippable! You are forced to sit through long-winded dialog from Von Croy and uber-easy tasks until the actual game starts, when Lara is in Egypt during the present day. This level should be optional at the main menu, like the OTHER THREE GAMES. To make it manditory is two-fold: 1) It irritates veterans, and even if you're completely flying through these levels, it will still take you a good 40 minutes to finish them, and 2) Newbies who are quick learners will just want to get on with the game as well. Bad way to pull people in.

Then we finally come to the game itself, and like I said before, it takes place entirely in Egypt. So you better like it. Because you'll be seeing lots of sand, red indoor corridors, and heiroglyphics. Which would be fine if the gameplay was radically different, but no. It's basically the same game as TR 1-3.

Yes, they've added a brand new inventory screen that looks spiffy (though truthfully I liked the circular look better, because you could see all the items at once and you knew which way to rotate), and yes, the gameplay now allows you to combine certain items for more strategy. And yes, some of the puzzles are kinda fun, particularly in the first few levels (love that switch that turns an entire room upside down in the 4th level!). But it's still the same pointless item collecting, lever-pulling, constant back-tracking nonsense that we've done in the last three games. Speaking of back-tracking, you'll find that you'll have to actually backtrack to levels you've already completed quite often, which gets tiresome. One should never have to journey to a new level, flip a switch, and then hightail it back to the previous level to see the results. That's ludicrous.

This, like Tomb Raider 3, is one of those games that you pretty much have to have a strategy guide to play. That should NEVER be the case for games, because then you're just following the instructions in the book picture by picture instead of figuring it out for yourself. That's not video games, that's following the directions. It's not so much that the actual puzzles in the game are hard to figure out (although some are killer), but the order in which to do everything is crucial. And if you do something out of order, guess what? You've got to backtrack across a lot of land to fix the problem. And Lara runs so slow that it makes doing so a chore.

And now we come to the BIGGEST flaw with the entire game: The memory card fiasco. Tomb Raider 1 and 2 only took up one measley block. Tomb Raider 3 took a step backward, taking up two blocks. But Tomb Raider 4 (and the successor, Chronicles) take up two blocks PER GAME. Meaning that if you want to replay a certain level besides the one you're currently on, you have to make TWO NEW save blocks for it! And since this game has 44 levels, you're looking at over FIVE memory cards that would be full of TR4 saves! Ridiculous! Part of the reason I buy video games in the first place is to replay levels I've beaten. But Core has virtually made that impossible here. For shame.

5) Overall. Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation offers a more complex story, slightly better visuals, and a return to the tomb raiding atmosphere that was somewhat lost in Tomb Raider 3. It's just a shame that the game failed to provide much new, aside from a so-so inventory system and level backtracking which turned out to be more irritating than fun. And if you have the choice, for Pete's sake, buy this game for PC! Atleast then you'll get to save a lot of levels to replay, instead of messing around with multiple memory cards for PS1. That alone brings this game down a bunch.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 07/07/05

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