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Tomb Raider 'Next-Generation'

Lara will be returning in the final days of 2002. What we know so far...

The ubiquitous Ms. Croft has been long in the gamers conscious since the original Core Design title took the world by storm with it’s fresh and exciting third-person gameplay, original story and settings. It was also renown, or possibly infamous, for kick-starting the virtual career of Lara Croft, who has long since been something of an ‘idol’ for a generation of rather disturbing adolescents who for some strange reason find the oh-so British charm of young Lara quite irresistible. Regardless of the instigation behind the series’ fortune, its record speaks for itself; the Tomb Raider brand expanding far-beyond the realms of the games into a whole smorgasbord of merchandise, and the recent film tie-in. However, the success of the film appears to have been limited by the decline of the series over the last year or two, the earlier games proving more popular and successful than the somewhat clichéd later instalments. It must have been with this in mind then, that Eidos (whose earlier success was very much underpinned by Core’s flagship games) and Core deemed another episode out of the question this Christmas, and instead went back to the drawing board with aim of developing a Tomb Raider game that would mark a genuine departure from the rather tired fundamentals of the previous games; a game that once again would spark unparalleled interest in the tribulations of a certain aristocratic Archaeologist. In short it was time for a ‘Next-Generation’ of Tomb Raider; hence the name, we suppose.

With this outing, Core are promising a more detailed and ‘adult’ approach; drawing on influences from role-playing games, as well as fleshing out the more basic action foundations of the Tomb Braider series with more possibilities and detail. The new world of Tomb Raider will be far more free-form, and offer far greater potential for exploration and progress through the game – addressing the criticism of previous games in the serious that they were somewhat formulaic. The new RPG elements, whilst not being fully detailed at this stage, will apparently offer the prospect of character development similar to the development of skills in most RPG’s at the moment. The example being that continued use of certain skills such as jumping or climbing will, as they improve through use, allow Lara to complete new challenges and enter new areas and directions in the game otherwise inaccessible. We might also conjecture that AI-controlled NPC’s will also play a part in the more diverse and realistic environment, based in Paris. An advancement that fits in with Core’s more detailed and convincing approach to the game, and is also demonstrated for the first-time in the inclusion of a partner for Lara, a chap named Curtis. Exactly how Curtis will be useful is not yet known, though one would imagine that new RPG-leanings of the game might mean that Curtis is imbued with certain skills Lara may require. It will also, apparently, be possible to take control of ‘Curtis’ on sub-adventures in Tomb Raider: The Next Generation, once again adding to the sense of scale and freedom in the gamers hands.

The profound change of direction in the series; towards a more RPG-like gaming style, can also be seen in the diverse potential of the game’s new premise, as Lara is framed for a crime which she did not commit and is then pursued through Paris whilst at the same time having to unveil the truth behind the conspirators that have communed against her. We can only hope the plot will be as realistic as the environments, and not surround the end of the world and such like. Though the premise does seem rather more tangible and intriguing than the usual ham; the new RPG influences hopefully being felt here, and in the development through the game of realistic personalities – a factor that would add enormously to Lara’s appeal; and that of her mysterious cohort, ‘Curtis’.

In breaking with traditional additions to the series, Core are also planning monthly update to the game via downloadable ‘episodes’, thus allowing the plot to expand and continue beyond the bounds of the development time, possibly developing according to the preferences and whims of gamers, taking a TV series approach, if you will. This should add a great deal more longevity to a game, which, it’s thought, will span an initial four acts in the first episode, with more being added later via the net. Of course, whilst this may seem a very realistic approach for the PC edition of Tomb Raider Next-Gen, the same can’t be said of the Playstation 2 edition, which is as yet devoid of on-line support. Though apparently this is ‘in the works’, the fact remains that the number of PS2 users taking-up the rumoured broadband connectivity by the launch of the game in November 2002 may be low, hence why we watch developments concerning this with great interest. An X-Box edition is also rumoured to be in the works, and this too may face similar pressures.

The graphics have also come under the critical spotlight for their lack of innovation, and Core will apparently be silencing their critics with a game delivering the very finest in environments and character detail, utilizing the full potential of next-generation consoles and PC technology. Most notable improvements include those made to the detail and realism of character models which now sport in the region of 5,000 polygons. Core have also upped the ante on the animation front, the movement of the game, and hopefully the control, now proving more fluid and life-like – we can only hope Core have taken a leaf out of Max Payne’s book on this front. The environments will also mark a massive improvement over previous titles and will be far more detailed and life-like as well.

We look forward to divulging more detail concerning this game; when available, and hope to have more information as we enter the new year; especially concerning the new direction in gameplay and the environments. Not to mention the game’s on-line updates. Watch this space.

E3 Trailer