Lara Croft has been reshaped in so many different ways over the last two decades of Tomb Raider games. The reboot series beginning in 2013 presented the most radically different iteration of the character, largely because the series aimed to explore Croft’s backstory– how she transformed from an ill-prepared, aspiring explorer into something resembling the conquering heroine of the franchise’s past. Now that story is complete, and it’s time for the series to bring Lara Croft back to her roots. Perhaps the best way to do just that would be to take a few steps back to the last entry of the original series: Angel of Darkness.
Some would rather turn away and continue pretending like Tomb Raider Chronicles was the last real installment in the original series, while others might look back fondly at that flawed gem of a game. And those same fans have continued to beg the franchise to return Lara to the action star she was before.
The plot of Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness saw the return of Lara Croft without ever explaining how she survived the cliffhanger ending of 1999’s Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation. The first act revolved around the mysterious murder of Werner Von Croy, Lara’s former mentor and friend. A murder for which Lara herself had been framed. Somewhere toward the second act, this plot was entwined with and somewhat buried beneath a grander story about an immortal alchemist, an ancient order of warrior monks and a near-extinct race of Nephilim.
The game was undeniably flawed: it was riddled with glitches and bugs, contained a number of plot holes and inconsistencies and, overall, it was a hot mess. That being said, the ideas behind it were solid, and if Core Design had been given more time, Angel of Darkness may have at least had a chance at reaching the same level of success as the 2013 reboot.
Core Design worked on Angel of Darkness for three years with the intention of starting a new trilogy. Development had been hindered by a variety of problems ranging from creative conflicts to technical issues regarding the PlayStation 2. But perhaps the worst impediment of all was the strict deadline publisher Eidos Interactive imposed on the developer. With the 2003 live-action Tomb Raider film nearing release, Eidos was eager to take advantage of the marketing opportunity, so eager that it was willing to put out and market a half-finished video game.
As a result, Core Design was forced to cut a slew of content from the final version of the game. For example, composer Peter Connelly revealed an unused cinematic that featured the shaman Putai, which would have helped to explain how Lara survived her fall in Egypt. There were also unfinished level areas, unused character animations and more.
Judging by the amount of content that gamers have unearthed over the years, it would appear that the Parisian Ghetto level was meant to be something of an open-world and Kurtis Trent was supposed to be far more powerful and useful. As if that wasn’t enough, entire storylines were evidently removed from the final release, and quite hastily at that, leaving numerous bits and pieces behind, adding to the inconsistencies in certain aspects of the game, such as the relationship between Lara and Karel, the secondary antagonist. The two were supposed to have known each other, something that the released game failed to explore.
So yes, Angel of Darkness was full of flaws, but it possessed a lot of the same conceptual elements that contributed to the success of the reboot. Take for example the grim tone. Just like the latest trilogy, Angel of Darkness took the franchise in a different direction. It offered gamers a grittier take on Lara Croft and her world. It may not have tortured Lara as the reboot did, but it still threw her into a uniquely challenging situation, though without having to rob her of her characteristic confidence and determination.
In regards to gameplay, the 2003 video game attempted to give longtime fans a semi-open world that would have been filled with characters and areas to explore. Granted, the urban areas weren’t exactly beloved by fans, but the important thing to note here is that the idea of an open-world was there and, given more time, it’s entirely possible it would have extended to other levels.
Core Design’s game tried to offer fans all of that while staying true to who Lara Croft was as a character. There were witty, sardonic exchanges, action-packed sequences, magic-filled stories and all of it unapologetically goofy, which is the facet of Lara Croft that the most recent trilogy consistently got wrong. Those games took themselves far too seriously.
Of course, the hero of every story should try to earn the audience’s sympathy in some way, and courageous determination is a fine way to do just that. However, trying to showcase that quality by reminding everyone that Lara “has to” do something a thousand times across three games, is the wrong way to go about it. It may have worked a little in 2013’s Tomb Raider, but after that, it’s difficult to forget that at the end of the day, even with a vaguely villainous organization like Trinity, this is basically just the story of some rich girl travelling the world and stomping through ancient tombs and lost cities, not because she has to, but because she can.
The original games kept that in mind; they were fun, even when Angel of Darkness changed the overall tone. Despite everything that went wrong with it, it was and continues to be that perfect bridge between the classic series and the new, darker direction that later games would explore, which is exactly why Square Enix and future developers should at the very least consider returning to that planned trilogy. The origin story is over. It’s time to get back to what Tomb Raider was really about. With Angel of Darkness, that wouldn’t necessarily mean doing away with the tone and direction the origin story has built.
With Lara Croft's origin story finished, the Tomb Raider video game series needs to tackle the Angel of Darkness storyline again.