Why Angel of Darkness Is Still Loved Today

BY Bjørn | UniMatrixXB | 27 June 2023

Bjørn lives in Germany and worked as a social scientist before he started a career in the PR sector of the gaming industry. He has been a Tomb Raider fan since 1998 while Angel of Darkness is his favourite game of the series.

Like no other Tomb Raider game, Angel of Darkness polarises the minds of people. Some call it the black sheep or even downfall of the series while others describe it is an underrated, unpolished diamond. One thing is clear: AoD has a special place among the community and received a cult-following.

Ahead of its Time

Angel of Darkness invited us into a darker and edgier, yet rich world, filled with deep and complex historical references, intriguing characters and a narrative that remains unchallenged. The writer Murti Schofield took the existing source material and studied it thoroughly. Thereby, he crafted a believable and daring character arc for Lara Croft while keeping intact what made her special in the first place. In doing so, he introduced us to a far more complex and mature protagonist. However, what has far more significance is AoD laid some of the foundations or at least experimented with what would become commonplace for many games today: combining features of different genres, such as RPG elements, stamina meters, stealth mechanisms and different dialogue options. Thus, it is seen as a precursor to modern day industry standards. AoD was also the first Tomb Raider game to feature a remarkable and fully orchestrated soundtrack that was conducted by the London Symphony Orchestra, composed by masterminds Peter Connelly and Martin Iveson. A fully orchestrated soundtrack is quite common these days but in the early 2000s, not so much. The game was truly ambitious and tapped into uncharted waters.

The Road Not Taken

In many ways, Angel of Darkness was unfinished. Due to the massive size and potential of its story, it was originally planned to be the first entry of a trilogy. Unfortunately, the story remains untold because the franchise shifted to a different developer without ever being picked up again. Nevertheless, thanks to dedicated fans and their friendship with the original writer, a full archive can be read online, inspiring the community to keep the story alive. AoD was also unfinished from a technical perspective, missing tons of animations, controls, game mechanics and levels. Despite or maybe even because of that, it became a vast playground and treasure trove for players, modders and everyone who dared to see beyond the surface. Furthermore, AoD was an early example of the development hell that many studios went through and still go through until this day. Unlike other game studios or publishers who were lucky to have a chance to make up for their mistakes, Tomb Raider was taken from Core Design, without ever having a chance for redemption.

AoD represents the last incarnation of the original Lara Croft that many of us, especially my generation grew up with. This, and the aforementioned aspects always remind us of the road not taken.

Castle Kriegler – a location we never got to explore ingame

We Feel Stronger Now

Although countless memes and fun videos have been made about AoD, we have reached a point where the old jokes about it are not as funny as they used to be. People who directly worked on the game have been invited to official interviews conducted by the current development studio. They became frequent and beloved guests at community events and fan streams. As humans we are imperfect beings, full of flaws. Thus, the products and art we create also contain them. Still, there is beauty in flaws and the same applies to games, especially AoD. A game that embraces the obscure, the obscene, a game that tells a story from the far edges of what we consider familiar. AoD just oozes of love and ambition, which you will find in countless details, such as its vibrant colours, piercing atmosphere, inspiring level design, and have we mentioned the music yet?

Countless fan projects, such as AOD 1.5 by FreakRaider were inspired by the game

Those condemned to death indeed live longer and AoD lives on in various fan-made projects, such as HD remasters, remakes, fan art, novels, documentaries and animated films. The community’s creativity truly knows no bounds, the most recent example being the short animated story “The Myth of El Hawa”, a canon story which finally explains what happened between The Last Revelation and AoD. One underrated aspect in gaming is how people relate to the main character and the worlds they encounter. Lara Croft was far from being a blank slate and already empowered fans during her early days. Especially those of us who felt a bit off, who did not fit in or even spent years as outsiders, could possibly relate the most to AoD, as Lara herself went through a darker chapter in her journey. Those fan projects are proof of that relation.

Most importantly, AoD eventually became what Tomb Raider players love the most: a tomb, an archaeological site, yearning to be explored and excavated; a book that was written but the last pages have been ripped out. Consequently, it would turn fans into Tomb Raiders themselves, into storytellers, artists, into composers and even game designers. That is the true legacy of Angel of Darkness. Now, let us play the game one more time, for we will keep on walking into the darkness with her, until the full story is told.

The End