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The Thrill Is Gone

Lara Croft's latest adventure packs a familiar punch; '007 Racing' is all about the car.

February 15, 2001|AARON CURTISS | aaron.curtiss@latimes.com

A few sad sacks no doubt spent V-Day lamenting that the beautiful and talented Lara Croft was not their valentine. And who could blame them? The busty Brit with a doctorate and a deadly aim is indeed the woman for any adolescent-minded male.

But as the action heroine of her own video game franchise, dear old Lara has gotten a little tired. At least that's how it feels in "Tomb Raider: Chronicles" for the PC, Sony PlayStation and the dearly departed Sega Dreamcast.

The "Tomb Raider" series enjoys a bevy of fans--enough, in fact, to inspire a live-action movie starring Angelina Jolie. Yet the games have always been quirky to control, and some players complain that designers failed to take advantage of technological advances between installments.

This fifth chapter is no exception. For "Tomb Raider" fans, "Chronicles" is what the series always has been. The game runs off the same, slightly tweaked engine as its predecessors, and although Lara has a few new moves, veterans will feel instantly at ease with every aspect of "Chronicles."

The other side is that players frustrated by Lara's buggy and jerky movements find no satisfaction in "Chronicles." Particularly on the console versions, it takes plenty of practice to maneuver Lara with any kind of finesse.

Designers at Core have promised a new game engine for the next "Tomb Raider" installment. Here's to getting a Lara Croft who moves where she's supposed to, when she's supposed to without half a dozen perspective changes.

"Chronicles" begins where "Tomb Raider 4: The Last Revelation" left off. No one knows whether Lara is dead or alive after being trapped in an Egyptian pyramid. So her chums gather at the Croft estate and reminisce about Lara's exploits.

What follows is basically a greatest-hits compilation of never-before-seen Lara Croft adventures. So rather than being held together by any kind of narrative or overriding objective, "Chronicles" dumps players into four distinct mini-adventures--from the streets of Rome to a German U-boat to a high-tech organization of evil.

Visually, these environments offer enough intrigue and interest to keep players moving forward.

Enemy intelligence has improved over previous versions, and bad guys take advantage of walls and other obstacles to stay safe. In Rome, for instance, a vicious dog sees Lara on a roof and high-tails it underneath so she can't shoot it without jumping down into the courtyard and confronting it face to face.

As a cool add-on for PC users, "Chronicles" includes a level editor that enables players to build their own "Tomb Raider" environments, stock them with baddies and inflict the whole package on friends. It's a nice touch, but not one that's included with the console versions.

Overall, "Tomb Raider: Chronicles" delivers the kind of play and adventure one expects from one of the most famous franchises in video gaming. But that's the problem. The game meets expectations but never really exceeds them.

Maybe it's time for Lara to take a vacation.

'007 Racing'

Every self-respecting guy knows why he watches Bond flicks. It's the car. From the Aston Martin to the Lotus to the BMW, the sweet, sweet rides worked up by Q Branch are lovelier by far than any of 007's amorous conquests.

So any self-respecting guy should love "007 Racing," a combat racer that puts players behind the wheel of the fastest, sleekest and most lethal Euromobiles around. Like the Bond movies, "007 Racing" lays the action and explosions on thick and serves up only the leanest helpings of anything that might be considered cerebral.

On that score, former Monty Python member John Cleese--who popped up as R in "The World Is Not Enough"--offers pithy and witty advice to players throughout their missions. Cleese classes up a game that otherwise borrows considerably from every other title that calls on players to drive fast and blow stuff up.

The game does a great job of setting up each of the 15 missions with objectives that take some serious practice to accomplish. Rather than just allowing players to cruise around making things go boom, "007 Racing" demands attention be paid to the task at hand.

Players learn the lesson early. Being told to swipe a Stinger missile from a castle courtyard in the first mission means not hitting it with the carpet of machine-gun fire that must be laid down to get rid of the armed goons protecting the missile.

Although "007 Racing" delivers some decent enough graphics, they're nothing special. Bad guys look more like blobby black ants than truly formed human beings, and some of the larger equipment is blocky and moves awkwardly.

Control also takes some getting used to. Players can use the standard X button for acceleration and steer with the analog thumbstick, but that makes it tricky to cycle through weapons and fire them with the top-mounted R1 and L1 buttons. A compromise is to use the second thumbstick for acceleration, but some players might find that awkward.

*

Aaron Curtiss is editor of Tech Times.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Skinny

Title: "Tomb Raider: Chronicles"

Genre: Third-person action adventure

Price: $40

Platform: PC, Sony PlayStation and Sega Dreamcast

Publisher: Eidos Interactive

ESRB* rating: Teen

The good: Interesting mini-adventures

The bad: Sloppy control

Bottom line: A must for fans, a rental for everyone else

*

Title: "007 Racing"

Genre: Racing

Price: $40

Platform: Sony PlayStation

Publisher: Electronic Arts

ESRB rating: Teen

The good: Exciting mission-based racing

The bad: Tough controls to master

Bottom line: Good fun

*Entertainment Software Ratings Board

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