You and I are very much alike. Archeology is our religion. Yet we have both fallen from the pure faith. Our methods have not differed as much as you pretend.
-Dr. René Belloq, Raiders of The Lost Ark
“The following is a contributor post by the ABXY Mage.”
Lara Croft. Thanks to Core Design, since 1996, that name has made gamers around the world think of big, beautiful tombs… Right?
Seriously though, Tomb Raider was a big deal when it was released. While originally a timed exclusive for the Sega Saturn, Tomb Raider became a staple of the PlayStation consoles instead, spawning a multitude of sequels throughout the years.
Lara Croft instantly became a recognizable and beloved gaming icon, and Tomb Raider would influence several games and series following its release.
Our story begins in a desert in New Mexico. There is a large, nuclear explosion in the distance. I guess, because of the fact that it’s in the desert, you’re supposed to know that it’s a test of some kind. Anyway, shortly after the explosion, a manhole-like object lands in the foreground, having been blown from the blast site.
In the hole created by the explosion, a similar object lights up before opening a capsule and exposing a figure in suspended animation.
In present day Calcutta, Lara Croft sits in a café or lobby of some sort. I point out that it’s present day because that means the first scene with the explosion must have not been present day (which is definite once you know more of the story). However, the game doesn’t mention what the time period is or that it is a different time period.
Anyway, Lara sits in Calcutta where she is approached by a man with a terrible “Southern” accent, named Larson. But, it’s not Larson who has been looking for Lara. The head of Natla Technologies, Jacqueline Natla, wants to pay Lara to find something for her.
After refusing because she “only plays for sport” (the dialogue is not good), Natla gives Lara the mission: to fly to Peru to find the hidden tomb of Qualopec and, inside, recover an ancient artifact known as the Scion.
Of course, it’s only the first piece of the Scion. And so, Lara must travel across four locations, and over a dozen levels, to piece together the Scion. All this while murdering a bunch of wildlife and endangered species, dinosaurs that survived the extinction, and cowboy competitors. Why? For sport… I guess.
Let it be known, in advance, that this was my first time playing any of the Tomb Raider games (except for Lara Croft and The Temple of Osiris).
Highly influential for the 3D action-adventure genre, critically acclaimed, and commercially successful, Tomb Raider became an instantly recognizable and iconic brand that grew into a multi-game and cross-platform franchise.
The 8-Bit Review
Video gaming’s first trek into the realm of 3D, on consoles, was pretty rocky… or blocky, actually. This is one of the main reasons people say that N64 games “don’t hold up” or “didn’t age well.” For some reason, the original PlayStation is not mentioned in that same conversation very often. However, Tomb Raider is a darn good example of why it should be.
Aside from Lara–who looks surprisingly good compared to the rest of the game–it’s about as blocky and polygonal as it gets. Lava and sand are frozen in place like photographs glued to tiles. Each location has its own themes which include beauties like grey cave rock, brown and tan sand and dirt, beige and tan chambers, grey rock and lava caves, and pulsating red and pink halls. The textures of these environments are not only bland throughout most of the game, but they are also often muddy and sometimes just confusing. Water areas are pretty much the only good-looking settings in the game.
Where the environment sacrifices in visual appeal, it does attempt to make up for in its ability to be explored and interacted with. Unfortunately, in a twisted kind of irony, the graphical limitations of the game actually make exploring more difficult and less enticing.
Tomb Raider likes to present it’s music as akin to a film score. Most of the game has no music, only sound effects, and the orchestral soundtrack is saved for pivotal moments of action, discovery, and cinema. As I’ve described it, you probably think that sounds pretty logical, right?
Well, in actuality, it ends up being about a minute or two of music every thirty to forty-five minutes. In between are large sections of near-silence, aside from Lara’s steps, guns, and grunts. The only time you’re glad that there isn’t music is when you can hear an enemy before you see them, but even that’s pretty rare.
Now, this isn’t to say that the music in Tomb Raider isn’t good. While plenty of the soundtrack consists of–what I consider to be–bland “ancient” sounding choral pieces, there are a few stand out instrumentals that make you wish the game had more of them to offer. To the game’s credit, when these tunes do kick in, they succeed in heightening the drama.
On top of all of that, the sound effects are fine, but not amazing. And, a lot of the voice acting is hokey or too over the top. Once again, Lara is largely an exception to this, with her cutscene faults mostly being in the bad lines that were written for her.
Tomb Raider‘s gameplay was probably its most lauded attribute. Sadly, it’s also one of the aspects that aged the worst.
We will start with the miscellaneous issues. For one, as you can see in the picture to the left, sections of walls will sometimes just disappear. Beside the fact that this never happens when it would be advantageous, it can also make things rather confusing.
While there are plenty of games with this kind of glitch, what makes it so confusing and frustrating in Tomb Raider is that slivers or sections of wall missing look extremely similar to the secrets you’re always looking for. If you think it’s a secret you’re looking at, you could end up pointlessly killing yourself trying to access it.
The controls can also be infuriating. Constantly falling off ledges and bridges because you forgot to press the walk button gets very old.
Levels can be huge and you find yourself frequently running decent lengths and backtracking certain areas. So, when you come across an area where enemy activation is triggered by how far into an area you travel, you can easily become overwhelmed.
The auto-aim feature in these situations can become a hinderance as well. Locking onto an enemy can mess with your camera view, depending on the enemy, the area, and your movement. In some places, this itself will cause you to run off bridges or fall from ledges resulting in either your death or a big waste of time.
This leads us to the biggest problem with the game… the camera. In addition to the camera clipping I mentioned previously, and the auto-aim causing you to kill yourself, the camera can suddenly shift or remain static when you don’t want or don’t expect. Turning a corner in a hall? You won’t be seeing around it until you’re halfway down it. Especially cinematic moment? The camera will do anything it wants without warning, such as cutting to a view from across a cavern where Lara is barely visible in the distance. Sometimes the camera will cut to show you what a switch you interacted with has done. Sometimes it doesn’t. Is it a glitch? No way to tell.
Tomb Raider does include a tutorial, but you have to find it. It isn’t built into the beginning of the game or the prologue. It’s in the menu. It isn’t listed as a tutorial though. The menu icon is a polaroid of a house and it’s called “Lara’s Home.” If your curiosity happens to lead you here, once it loads, you will learn that it’s the tutorial.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out why the tutorial is so hidden. It’s almost necessary in its helpfulness. Even if you have the manual and read how to do all of the different moves, practicing them is much more helpful. Especially when you consider how hard some of them are to pull off and how missing them can lead to your death.
Only some of the controls are really intuitive, and timing jumps barely gets easier. With its emphasis on exploration, followed by puzzling, with only short bursts of action, Tomb Raider certainly isn’t for all gamers.
As a pretty skilled gamer, it’s actually been awhile since I’ve played a game that made me want to throw the controller through the tv as much as Tomb Raider did. No matter what, you will die a lot. A lot. You might even rage quit a time or two.
There are so many jumps that you have to time and hit perfectly at the risk of either falling to your death or having to retrace minutes upon minutes of your steps. And, each of these demanding jumps can be failed an endless amount of times. Fall from too high and you die instantly. Land in spikes and you die instantly. Touch lava and you die instantly.
And, while there aren’t that many enemies in the game, considering its length, the enemies you do encounter are almost always a serious threat. While bats are easy targets, and alligators pose little threat, the dinosaurs, mummies, big cats, wolves, gorillas, and especially the mutants, can surprise you and gang up on you. When you add the terrible camera and auto-aim to the mix, enemy encounters become jump-and-shoot, button-mashing, hope-you-don’t-kill-yourself experiences.
When it comes to a puzzle game, most gamers probably want a challenge. I know I do. I hate when a puzzle is too easy to solve. Of course, everyone hates it when a puzzle is near-impossible to solve. Now, puzzles can be harder to solve for some people for various reasons. Every person has a different brain, after all.
Some games have you remember clues while others have you solve brain teasers. Some games have you answer questions or choose dialogue options. Tomb Raider, like many other games, involves puzzles that require keys, important items, switches, and platforms, and moveable blocks. It also includes exploration. While this all sounds great, it’s another sad example of good on paper, bad in practice. Many of the puzzles and explorations include a ridiculous amount of trial and error. There’s no logic to most of them. Some involve just guessing. Literally, just guessing based on no information. That’s not a puzzle!
I honestly can’t imagine why anyone would want to replay this game, now. I’m sure it had a lot of replayability in 1996, but in 2018, it has almost none. The bare-bones story makes little sense, you have no attachment to any character, the graphics are not enjoyable to look at, there is hardly any music, and the puzzles are more tedious than anything else. If you somehow enjoy the game, then I guess you could find replay value in finding all of the secrets and getting all of the kills or maybe beating your best time in each level. That sounds like torture.
Tomb Raider‘s expansive 3D environments set it apart from many other action-adventure games of the time. Like Lara, you have no idea where to go or what’s ahead. Health packs and ammo are precious. Back tracking and non-linear level design makes the mundane and sometimes brutal platforming even more rage-inducing. Parts of it are like a bad Metroid game, and other parts of it are like a bad 3D Mario game. The constant falling deaths you cause on your own, enemies scare you into, or enemies push you into, can bring back memories of Castlevania or Ninja Gaiden. Have some hot tea ready because you’ll be screaming “oh, come on!” a lot.
Now, the iconic protagonist, Lara Croft. Maybe she wasn’t initially intended to be so inspired by Indiana Jones, but that certainly appears to be what she became. Get your torches ready… Lara Croft is a bland, flat character. To compare her to Indiana Jones is an insult to Indiana Jones. Maybe that changes with the rest of the series, which as I’ve said, I haven’t played. But in the original Tomb Raider, she’s really a “who cares?” hero.
My Personal Grade: 3/10
I found this game to be more of a chore than anything else. Having completely missed it when it was released, I just can’t understand all the hype that surrounds it. The game takes forever to complete whether you know where to go or not. As I already said, most of the game is just trial and error, and oh boy, does that get tiresome quickly. You’ll die over and over and over again, and in the end, wonder what it was all for. The climax is hardly that, and it would be even if you had any emotional investment in the story.
Here’s how I would sum up my experience playing Tomb Raider for the Sony PlayStation… my 1-bit review, if you will: imagine if the Water Temple from Ocarina of Time were at least five times more confusing, then play variations on that fifteen times, with varying degrees of confusion and difficulty. That’s Tomb Raider. Have fun. You won’t.
Aggregated Score: 4.3
The ABXY Mage leads a double life of unfathomable hipness, if his expertise in jazz is any indication. Music maker, fandangoist, writer, you can find this hip cat as ABXY Reviews on Twitter and on YouTube.
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