Saturday, June 07, 2008

Gamer's Diary - GRID, Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness


The kid had a softball game Thursday night (tie game and she caught a pop fly for an out), so instead of happily co-op-ing on Lego Indiana Jones, I had the flat to myself. I looked at my evening's agenda, and it had one word on it: GRID.

I spent several hours with it, interrupted only by supper and DVR'ed Battlestar Galactica, and I had a blast.

Simulation purists (or as I like to call them, sim snobs) may kvetch about the lack of perfect accuracy in the car physics and damage modelling. "Cry me a river," says I. It's fun, and it feels realistic enough to impart the sensation that I'm racing against other drivers, and that we're all beating the crap out of each other. And that's where it's at.

Let's face it - if all were simulated perfectly, most of us normal humans wouldn't be able to get the cars off the starting line, much less keep them on the track or win races. No, what we want is a physics and damage model accurate enough to make the game feel real, while forgiving enough to make it accessible to mortals. And that, GRID delivers.

Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness

Last weekend, I picked up a couple of titles in my continuing quest to replace my PC games with console equivalents. One was Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, which performed much as I expected. The graphics weren't as pretty on the Xbox, but the gameplay was just as good. The other was Angel of Darkness.

Yeesh. More like Angel of Suckness.

I remember playing TRAoD on the PC when it came out, and being puzzled by the low reviews. I set the PC controls to the Lara-relative movement scheme, as I was familiar with it from all the other Tomb Raider games. With that scheme, it played very much like those games. No problem.

But then last weekend I played the PS2 version, and I understood where all the bad reviews came from. There were crappy textures. There were low-poly models. There was slowdown in inexplicable places. Controlling Lara was like trying to thread a needle while wearing catcher's mitts on both hands. And all this was apparent in the first five minutes of play.

Unlike the PC version, it isn't possible to choose a different control scheme; the player is locked into a camera-relative one. That would be okay if she reacted instantly and smoothly to inputs, as she does in Legend and Anniversary. Instead she very slowly turns to face in the direction the player pushes the stick, and then begins to run flat-out. This is particularly annoying when, for instance, one is trying to get her to turn around for a jump. Typically she will turn around, then instantly run off the edge to her doom. Engaging the walk function doesn't help, as she won't turn around with it engaged. And all that's just for starters.

By the time I'd gotten her to the roof, I was ready to throw the controller through the TV screen. Now I'm astonished that the review scores weren't lower. It's an unplayable mess.

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