If there's one thing I can say about The Last Revelation, it's that it surprised me greatly. I'd be lying if I said that my expectations weren't low for the fourth entry into the immortal Tomb Raider series. No Croft Manor? No Judith Gibbins as the voice actress for Lara? No inventory ring? No musical score by the awesome Nathan McCree? No locking Winston in the freezer? All these charming little things from the previous games that up and left with The Last Revelation had me thinking that I would be quite disappointed with Core Design's next foray into the adventures of Indiana Jane and the Breasts of Enormity. It's not often that I like being proven wrong, but I can happily say that The Last Revelation surpassed my expectations and proved why I can't keep myself away from this excellent series.
While it is sad to see the previously mentioned elements missing from this installment, the gameplay itself is still the stellar, straight-forward and damn fun formula players have grown accustomed to in the last three games. Lara returns with all her previous manouvres, and a few new ones to boot, including rope-swinging, shimmying around corners and pole-climbing. Nothing groundbreaking, but hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The Last Revelation has seemingly taken a few pages from Resident Evil's book. There's a largely increased emphasis on puzzles and riddles, some of which are quite complex. This is a well thought out departure from Tomb Raiders 1-3, in which pretty much every puzzle boiled down to "find keys to open this door so you can open that door to get that key to pull this switch". You can also now combine certain items and vision-based items such as binoculars and scopes are frequently used. Some weapons also have multiple ammo types which is a lovely added touch.
The Last Revelation is also the most accessible game in the series since the first. I loved the slow but steady learning curve of the original release, and I found it irritating that in the second and third games, Core went kind of ballistic with the difficulty, throwing all kinds of cheap deaths here and there and ruining the pace accordingly. The Last Revelation is quite easy compared to its predecessors, but thankfully the challenge once again builds up as you get used to controlling Lara once again. Later on in the game, you gain access to hub-like levels and backtracking between areas adding some welcome open-world and exploration elements. Fans may be disappointed with the reduced difficulty though, and I find this understandable. Secrets are a cinch to find, and there's so many items jam-packed into Lara's tiny backback, I'm surprised she can even stand up, let alone monkey swing, drop-hang onto a crevice, crawl, 180, backflip mid-air, catch a rope, swing back and forth, jump pistols akimbo slaying infernal bats, sprint and dive-roll inbetween rotating circular blades.
The game is also fantastically long. The earlier entires opted for a smaller amount of levels, but these levels were insanely large and sometimes overly complex. This time, due to their reduced size and the addition of backtracking, combined with the ever-changing environments leads to a far less boring and cumbersome experience.
Apart from the first two levels in Cambodia, which serve as a tutorial, the entire game takes place in Egypt. The Tomb Raider series is well known for its varied locations, with Lara often globetrotting to retrieve her beloved artifacts, but even with only one major set-piece, the game never gets boring. The choice to have a single primary location for the setting helps keep the game more cohesive, and it makes the plot flow together much easier. Yes, the story is still not Pulitzer Prize worthy, but it's entertaining and far more involving than the previous games. It's great to have an antagonist who has some sort of depth and character.
Peter Connelly is no Nathan McCree, but he does a pretty swell job on the soundtrack. As long as we still have some form of the original theme, I'm content. Jonell Elliott also provides a great voice for Lara, although I did prefer her more mature tone that Judith Gibbins provided in previous installments. The Tomb Raider engine is showing its age at this point, but Core continues with its stellar level design and intelligent workarounds to ensure that levels remain unblocky, despite the engine's limitations. FMV sequences are heavily improved from past entires, but the animations are still kind of robotic.
What else can I say? I was so pleasantly surprised with The Last Revelation, and I think you will be too. Tomb Raider 2 and 3 felt more like expansion packs, but The Last Revelation is truly the sequel to the original masterpiece. Core has basically perfected their formula at this point, and I can only hope that Tomb Raider: Chronicles follows suit. It's definitely the best since the original, and I would even go as far to say that it surpasses it.