Celebrities often run the risk of overexposing themselves in a rush to capitalize on their popular status. It's a constant struggle to keep their image fresh in the public consciousness balanced by the fear of appearing to 'sell-out' to all the opportunities presented to them and sickening their loyal fans in the process. 'Stars' like Madonna and Tom Cruise have been masterful the way they've managed to reinvent themselves and preserve their careers over the last two decades, while 'has-beens' like M.C. Hammer and Paulie Shore are textbook examples of how to ruin a good thing in supernova fashion. Do the same rules apply to videogame's digital sex-goddess celebrity, Lara Croft? Are all the games, calendars, magazine covers, memory cards, toys, and craptacular wares bearing her buxom figure finally wearing thin on the public? Apparently so, because before the fourth game featuring her, Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation has yet to even hit store shelves, skeptical media and fans alike have already expressed tepid reactions.

Much to no one's surprise, Last Revelation isn't all that different from the three games that preceded it. The original Tomb Raider helped usher in a new generation of 3rd-person 3D games and its subsequent releases including Last Revelation has deviated little since then. All the treasure-pillaging, spelunking, long jumps ending in cliffhangers, double-gun toting, and canine slaying that have become trademarks of the series are all present and accounted for in Last Revelation. Also still in attendance are the unresponsive controls (regardless of analog capability) and inconsistent camera placement (especially around tight spots and walls) that has always plagued the series throughout and have made guiding Lara through the obstacle-laden stages more of a chore than need be.

What has changed are minor additions in the gameplay and visuals. A binocular feature that allows Lara to spy on areas from a greater distance has been added. Inventory management has been improved with the ability to combine particular items for more elaborate puzzle solutions and additional uses like the now behind-the-times 'sniping' mode. Graphically, attempts at taking advantage of new technological effects like character skins and environment bumpmapping (at least in the PC version) have been included in the final presentation. Yet none of these features are what you would describe as revolutionary (they're barely evolutionary) and while they make for nice touches here and there, they don't really effect the overall experience to any significant extent. In other words, Last Revelation still plays unmistakably like what you would expect from a Tomb Raider game.

So while Last Revelation is very derivative as far as the Tomb Raider series goes, there are a few bright spots, most notably in the level design. The two prior releases had Lara running around all over the world in different environments doing all sorts of things that deviated from its original concept of exploring ancient archeological excavations. Last Revelation returns to the original premise of exploration by centralizing the entire game around Egypt with Lara trying to stop an evil God she unknowingly released (throw hordes of deadly scarab beetles and this sounds a great deal like the last summer's movie hit, The Mummy). The puzzles are also less contrived and the difficulty has been reduced, making Last Revelation more newbie-friendly (the game starts with a training stage as well with a then 16-year old Lara. Don't even get me started.). Consequently, the experience of playing through Last Revelation isn't as intense and is more visceral in a good way. For example the sense of motion while jumping across train tops in the Desert Railroad stage is nicely conveyed. The underwater temple in the Coastal Ruins stage is also quite a sight. This kind of ambience in Last Revelation saves it from being sent straight to the bargain bins.

So while Lara Croft's image may have been tarnished by overzealous corporate types looking to increase their bottomline by plastering her guns (you know which ones) all over the place, I still can't deny the craftsmanship that went into Last Revelation. Yes, it's still very much like its previous incarnations including all the flaws (mostly involving the controls). Lara is still in desperate need of a makeover with her trademark tank-top short-shorts outfit and the gameplay is its usual poor self. But by keeping the puzzles light and the environments wondrous, I still had a somewhat pleasant time playing through Last Revelation. Last Revelation may not be great, but it was much better than I expected. Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Chi Kong Lui
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