Geoff Keighley
July 18, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Despite Lara Croft’s crossover success in movies, her career as a videogame heroine has had more ups and downs than an episode of Behind the Music. Angel of Darkness, the first Tomb Raider game in 2 1/2 years, is an attempt to rekindle the classic series, which hit its high point back in 1996, when Lara battled a T. rex in the now-classic first game. Since then, the buxom Lara may have become a bona fide pop-culture icon (thanks in large part to Angelina Jolie), but the Tomb Raider game franchise has languished, largely due to four derivative sequels that lacked the original’s cutting-edge brilliance.

Lara’s long-awaited return to videogames bears no synergistic ties to the new Tomb Raider film, but there are definite traces of Hollywood’s influence. The labyrinthine and nondescript tombs from previous games are gone, replaced by big-budget set pieces in the halls of the Louvre in Paris and the snow-covered streets of Prague. Even the story is more cinematic: Set in the present, it has Lara being framed for murder and, while on the run, uncovering a secret society that plans to resurrect a long-dead race.

Yet all this storytelling can’t mask the game’s unresponsive, imprecise character control. At times, maneuvering Lara is like steering a battered shopping cart; Lara often takes a half second to react to commands. This lack of agility is problematic, since the game is more about executing gymnastic feats than gunning down enemies. Even a simple jump from one platform to the next can turn into a frustrating game of trial and error — mostly error. Many of the gaffes are forgivable, but trying to play a game without decent controls is not unlike steering a boat without a rudder. Ultimately, the only thing Lara Croft ends up raiding is your wallet.

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