I… I can’t with this game.
I have to go full white girl and say that I can’t even with this game.
This game being Tomb Raider VI: The Angel of Darkness. Also known as the worst Tomb Raider game to ever exist. Some people prefer Angel of Darkness to the reboot of Lara we get in the seventh game, and I’m sure some of you are arguing that Lara has never been worse than when she was on the Gameboy Colour, or more boring than she was in Chronicles, but I’m drawing my own definitive line in the sand when I say that Angel of Darkness is the fucking worst.
Let’s get into why it’s the worst, shall we?
Brace yourselves. Amelia’s anger is coming.
The story of Angel of Darkness begins in Paris. Lara is in France to see her former mentor and current rival, Werner Von Croy. Lara spends the visit complaining that she was abandoned in Egypt at the end of the fourth game (which is bullshit because Von Croy tried to help Lara but she refused because she didn’t trust him) and Von Croy spends the visit begging Lara to help him because he’s being stalked.
Lara’s not interested in helping and gets up to leave but instead is knocked unconscious. No doubt by the stalker that Von Croy was begging her to help him with. When she comes to, Werner is dead, his blood smeared on her hands and across the walls of the apartment, forming strange symbols. There’s a serial killer on the loose in Paris that the press have named “The Monstrum” that’s definitely the culprit, but Lara is still unsure of her own guilt or innocence and flees into the night.
She’s pursued down the dirty backstreets of Paris by the police. She gets her hands on Von Croy’s field journal and after another retreat from the cops, she spends the rest of the night in an abandoned train carriage in a Parisian slum before setting out to prove her innocence and solve the mystery of The Monstrum. I think. Honestly I’m not sure what Lara is interested in doing in this game besides evading the police? You know, because it’s terrible and I hate it and it’s hard to pay attention to plot when something is terrible and you hate it.
Anyways, Von Croy’s journal points her in the direction of his latest project, research on the “obscura painting” and a man named Bouchard. Lara finds Bouchard after doing a fetch quest and discovering he’s hiding out in a crypt beneath a church. That probably makes him hella trustworthy, yeah? Hiding in a crypt is a healthy, normal thing to do?
Lara goes on another fetch quest for Bouchard, this time to follow the trail of Von Croy’s last few days. She ends up finding another Monstrum victim, exploding a whole building, and revealing (to us as the cutscene watchers) that a dude with stupid ass hair who layers t-shirts is following and observing Lara.
Honestly, here’s where I started to not care about the story even more than I already didn’t care. See, Angel of Darkness went through a tonne of cuts just to get it into stores on time. It was a much hyped game and had already been delayed once, so like all games that need to be rushed along, the story suffers. So if you’re not willing to read up exactly what’s happening on a wiki (i.e. that’s very much me), you’re gonna have a bad time. I’ll get you through it as best I can.
Okay, so Lara is now fully armed and ready to do whatever it is that Von Croy’s journal is leading her to do. She ends up breaking into the Louvre, stealing a painting, having that painting stolen by the dude with terrible hair, and discovering the existence of a group known as The Cabal, whose ultimate goal is immortality and world domination. Standard stuff as far as shadowy, secret organizations go. There’s also a group fighting against the Cabal called the Lux Veritatis. The dude with terrible hair is part of that and he needs the painting Lara stole because it’s actually a coded message.
Again, the story is really convoluted and not given enough screen time to properly develop into something that’s (still) convoluted but at least entertaining.
After returning to the scene of Von Croy’s murder and almost getting blown the fuck up, Lara is on her way to Prague because that’s where the Monstrum has last struck. The Monstrum seems to be connected to the Cabal because they’re in Prague too, looking for the last of the coded paintings. I have no idea what these painting lead to, but it better be something fucking good if I’m suffering through this game for it.
Some shit goes down with the Cabal and it seems like Lara has inadvertently released a horrible monster. We only did that two games ago in Tomb Raider IV but sure, whatever, again is fine. Not that this horrible monster is important in any way. It’s killed and we all move on with our lives as the dude with bad hair, named Kurtis, finally introduces himself to Lara.
The narrative ends with Lara saving the day. Because duh, she’s never unwittingly released an ancient evil on the world without stepping up and putting it right the fuck back where it belongs. She’s trustworthy like that.
That’s the basic plot. Trust me when I say it’s hella more complicated and really not worth your time to play or even read about on a wiki. I mean, this was confusing as fuck right? The bare minimum is a pain in the ass to recall and describe and I didn’t even mention some things. Like how there’s giant mutant bug things (that harken back Tomb Raider III), ghosts, superhuman abilities, and that a guy in charge of the Cabal is trying to bring back angel/human breeding in a big way.
So if you’ve missed me saying how much I hate this fucking game all the times before now, let me say it real clear again: I fucking hate Angel of Darkness! It’s tedious, the plot ridiculously convoluted, and the settings and characters awful. Say what you will about the rewrite of Lara’s history in Legend, but at least the new timeline made Lara Croft the Tomb Raider actually raid some fucking tombs!
To be fair, was it interesting to see them try and take Lara in a new direction? Yes. I actually don’t mind the thought of Lara changing up her usual story or gameplay. I’m not the type of gamer that will freak out if continuities don’t line up perfectly or if after a few games the franchise changes itself up. The exception to this being the third BioShock game because fuck Infinite. But for Lara I was willing to give it a shot.
There’s only so much fandom forgiveness that can be handed out before you have to sit down and critically evaluate your beloved fandom. This is not a good game. This will never be a good game. Core Design fucked up Lara Croft and that pissed me off as a teenager. Nowadays I know Eidos gave the property to Crystal Dynamics for future games, and because of this, we have good games to look forward to. But that still doesn’t make Angel of Darkness any better in hindsight.
This is the worst you’re ever going to see Lara Croft. Period, end of story, this is the darkest timeline in terms of quality Lara Croft. Case in point, Lara’s all denim look.
This is just god fucking awful and whoever put her in this outfit needs to be put before a firing squad. I mean, a denim crop jacket? What even is this? Lara, you’re a fucking disaster in this game!
Character model aside, everything else about Lara is just as off-putting. And I’m not talking about her clunky as shit controls (at least not yet); I’m just talking about what kind of person she is within Angel of Darkness. All the dialogue is so awful! Certain words are used over and over again because the writers apparently had a lexicon of two dozen words at their disposal, and it’s really clear that Lara and her voice actress were not at all ready for the dialogue based game that developers wanted Angel of Darkness to be.
Lara will also just start yelling at the people she’s talking to for no reason because this actress doesn’t know what the fuck thoughtful infliction is. The actress being Jonell Elliott, who also voiced Lara in Tomb Raider V. I didn’t really care for her there either, but her performance was at least tolerable. Here though? Lara might be as big a disaster as she is because of Elliott.
Other characters worth mentioning?
I guess maybe Kurtis, our ex-Legionnaire and adventurer from Utah. But honestly, what’s there to say other than he has awful hair and his early cutscenes with Lara are really rapey feeling and unappealing.
And there’s Von Croy I guess. Though he’s in it just long enough to get his ass murdered. After what we see of him in Tomb Raider IV and V though, I’m glad the old German fuck gets splattered all over the walls. He didn’t have much left to give to a narrative besides a puddle of blood for Lara to splash around in.
As for the villains of the piece?
It’s a shadowy organization looking to rule the world with human/angel hybrids. What more do you need on them? We all know the archetype.
Here’s the biggest thing wrong with this piece of shit: the gameplay. There isn’t a single thing done right in concerns to the gameplay in Angel of Darkness. Let’s start with the basics, the controls and how Lara feels as a playable character. The answer to that is that she feels like garbage. Worse than garbage. Have you ever had to clean up vomit? That’s what Lara feels like to control.
Lara is so fucking slow, heavy, and clunky feeling! You think the first game’s Lara controls like a tank? Wait till you get to Angel of Darkness and try to do even the simplest of tasks! You want Lara to go up that flight of stairs? Hope you have forklift training because that’s what it feels like you’re trying to do! The first level alone is going to show you how bad Lara’s overall controls are. It’s supposed to be really fast paced and exciting as you escape through the streets of Paris with the police on your tail, but your movements and what you have to do are really slow and boring and just fucking tedious. Sure, Tomb Raider games of the past had been finicky when you needed to line up a jump, but this is just goddamn ridiculous.
Then there’s the fact that there’s stamina while climbing and swinging around. Wait, what? An adventure game dedicated to climbing and swinging has stamina? YUP! This has never been an issue in the past. There was a stamina bar for short bursts of running in past games, but never for climbing. Climbing is literally 90% of a Tomb Raider game! Climbing is sacred! Why have you committed such sacrilege, Angel of Darkness??
Also, gone are Lara’s two trademark pistols, along with the infinite ammo that comes with them. Was it realistic for her to have ammo forever in the first five games? No, but it was a sort of understanding that we as gamers accepted because finding other ammo types is hard as tits and sometimes it’s nice to just have something consistent throughout, you know? Nothing is consistent in Angel of Darkness to literally everything else that’s come before it. Medi-packs are also gone!
Health in this game is in the form of bandages, with stamina in the form of chocolate bars. Hey, you know what’s even less believable than finding a modern medi-pack in an ancient tomb? Finding an open candy bar on the streets of a Paris slum and picking it up to eat it!
Then there’s the actual core gameplay of Angel of Darkness.
For whatever reason the developers decided that Angel of Darkness would be an RPG. With experience levels and learning new skills, grinding and different dialogue options for different in-game effects. All of which I love in RPG games! But none of which is done here with, how you say… any knowledge of the RPG genre or the mechanics of building a functioning and fun RPG!
Let’s start with the experience levels/new skills/grinding. I want to say right away that I really love to grind. I know a lot of people don’t because of obvious reasons, but I really do enjoy it. I think it’s because I have anxiety and grinding in a videogame is something I can have complete control over. I have no control over when Trump is going to nuke us all, but I can get Sora in Kingdom Hearts to level 99 if I so choose and that gives me a moment of peace.
But the grinding in Angel of Darkness? It’s not grindy enough! I’m not kidding. It’s not RPG enough. You occasionally need to do small physical stuff like pushing around heavy objects, and Lara will say: “I feel stronger”. Bitch, no you don’t! You push a crate a bit to the left and suddenly your legs are powerful enough to make this jump? No. I refuse to believe that. This is a stupid mechanic that’s lazy and pointless!
Angel of Darkness’ grinding is pushing heavy objects. Experience points are physical strength. New skills are being able to jump a little further.
Fucking why? Who thought of this?! Who thought this was okay?
Aside from the grinding, you also have a kind of open hub world to explore and NPCs to talk to. Neither of which fit Lara’s play style at all. And neither of which are even done well. The dialogue options are small and meaningless and do literally nothing to change the story around you. This is not a Mass Effect where you choose if you’ll be about charm or threats. You just choose from two variations with little to no difference. No one is going to kill themselves if you make the wrong choice. No one is even going to notice what choice you make because as far as I can tell, they’ll respond the same way no matter what you say to them.
But beyond the terrible controls and the phony RPG elements, what do you do in the game? It’s nothing but fetch quests. Just fetch quest after fetch quest. Talk to someone, find out they need a random object, go get what they need, go back and talk to them, unlock the next bit of game, do it all the fuck over again!
Once again I am forced to ask who thought this was okay?!
Now, if you recall from my past gaming retrospectives, I usually have a section dedicated to graphics. I honestly don’t have much to say on the matter (and what little I do have to say is below in the next section), so I’m just going to throw my basic thoughts on the matter as an aside right now.
You ready for this hot take? The upgrade in hardware from PS1 to PS2 is not used worth shit in Angel of Darkness. As if that’s a surprise at this point in my vitriol.
Everything is exceedingly ugly, characters are flat, doll-like homunculuses, and cinematography is atrociously dull. It’s literally just the camera switching back and forth between Lara and whoever she’s talking to: a tour guide, a Parisian hooker, it doesn’t matter. No sense of scale or urgency, just chest level wide angels back and forth until the conversation is done.
Did you even try, Angel of Darkness?
Usually, if you set something in Paris, you’re golden. Who doesn’t love the city of lights? It’s a beautiful place with amazing history. You could set a cutscene at a café or the base of the Eiffel Tower. Maybe have a level where Lara has to navigate the infamous Paris catacombs, which go deep under the streets for hundreds of miles and are filled with bones because when cemeteries got too full way back when, they emptied them out and dumped the bodies in the catacombs. They’re literal tombs! That’s a true fact! A bitchin’, true fact!
But despite how easy it is to use Paris to your advantage, Angel of Darkness still fucks it up. Because that’s what this game does. It fucks everything up.
Sure, you’re in Paris, but what’s the point when it’s dirty, dark, and poorly optimized? Lara goes through slums and back alleys that end up looking the same as the interior of the Louvre because textures are boring, flat, and mostly brown to grey. Not to mention the hard-on the developers seemed to have for metal, industrial looking staircases. Because if Tomb Raider games have shown me anything it’s that Lara always takes the stairs. She never climbs anywhere. She hates climbing.
Something nice I can say about a location in this game (at least “nice” in this game alone, not held up to anything that’s come before) is at one point she ends up in a dance club that adds a little colour to her surroundings. But only because stage lights get turned on. I guess I’ll take what I can get?
Overall, there do end up being a few visually interesting locations for Lara to skulk through, but they’re few and far between.
And of course, the biggest problem of setting your whole game in Paris and Prague is that there are no fucking tombs! (other than the catacombs) This is also something that the gritty reboot of Lara did. But whereas the Tomb Raider reboot was still an entertaining game and a Tomb Raider feeling game regardless of not having very many tombs, Angel of Darkness doesn’t feel like it belongs to its franchise.
Now I’m not saying that Lara can’t explore industrial or urban environments, because she can. The Tokyo level in Legend is one of my favourites. But Angel of Darkness is such a departure. This game feels like a completely different game that got a brand name slapped on it because that’s less risky than launching a new title.
So many elements within Angel of Darkness stripped it of what it is to be the tomb raider. She can’t have duel pistols or medi-packs, gameplay is a lazy RPG, and then you set the game in the Parisian slums and abandoned dance clubs? Nope, fuck you, this is not Lara Croft!
Peter Connelly is finally earning his composer’s paycheque with the longest soundtrack to yet grace a Tomb Raider game. Coming in at fifty-three minutes, or an hour and a half if you listen to the collector’s edition, the soundtrack is the best part of Angel of Darkness. I can pop on the soundtrack and enjoy it separately from the game. Which is a small mercy.
Performed by The London Symphony Orchestra, Angel of Darkness’ soundtrack is a sort of sad and ethereal affair, but epicness lurks around the fringes. You’ll just be walking along and BAM! epicness is pouncing you with blaring horns and the urgency that I don’t think has been felt since the first game.
This is Connelly’s last Tomb Raider game and it’s definitely his best. Especially after the whole fifteen minutes of music we got in Tomb Raider: Chronicles.
Fuck Tomb Raider VI: The Angel of Darkness.
Fuck it hard.
Fuck it in a way where you’re driving a combine harvester and you drive over it, spewing it’s terribleness into tiny shards across a corn field.
Despite my reservations about the poor execution of Tomb Raider Chronicles, or how gameplay never really changed throughout all the PS1 games, Angel of Darkness is absolutely the worst game to yet come out of this franchise. And, spoilers, by the end of this retrospective series, Angel of Darkness will still be the absolute worst game to come from the Tomb Raider franchise.
I hate. I hate. I hate.
Coming up next is the game that brought me back into the Tomb Raider franchise with Tomb Raider VII: Legend. Lara’s backstory, voice actress, and character model are revamped and the prospect of playing as Lara Croft doesn’t make me want to rage vomit!