Sorry for the delay in posts, but I’ve been dealing with both personal illness as well as my dad being really sick. Plus, unlike most people, I don’t get off for Christmas. But, in spite of living a house that’s suddenly become a hospital ward, I did manage to finish playing Tomb Raider… by which I mean the original Tomb Raider, or Tomb Raider 1, or whatever it’s supposed to be known as now. Seriously, is there a rule that when you reboot a series you have to give it the exact same name as the first one in the series?
In the first Tomb Raider, as with all the games in the series, you play as Lara Croft — an adventurous, gun-totting explorer/archeologist. In her first game, she’s hired to find an artifact called the Scion by a business woman. But, as is usually the case in these stories, her employer betrays her. So Lara sets out to collect the other pieces of the Scion first while dealing with wild animals, hired goons, mummies & eventually an ancient demigod. Her adventure eventually takes her to the great pyramid of Atlantis.
Tomb Raider is primarily an adventure-platformer with some action thrown in. Exploring the various tombs & caverns Lara finds herself in is the main draw. And Lara is very equipped at exploration. She’s extremely acrobatic, with a range of moves to help her navigate tricky jumps, ledges & hazards. You’ll have to use her skills properly to reach various key items needed to progress through the game, as well as to discover secret areas which contain all sorts of goodies. You’ll also face a variety of enemies, from natural to very unnatural, that you’ll have to deal with. Lara starts the game with dual pistols, which have unlimited ammo, but picks up more powerful weapons over the course of the game.
Narrative: The story is a bit threadbare. I mean, you can tell what the overall plot is, but it’s just presented very sparingly. All of the plot twists were a bit like, “Oh, okay then.” Yeah, I didn’t see them coming, but how could I when most the story is only in the few cutscenes? It just felt… disjointed. There were a lot of things I didn’t understand, & some information just came in out of nowhere. For example, why did Natla try to have Lara killed after she got the first piece if she’d already hired her to find it? Wouldn’t it make more sense to just pay her for her job & not try to kill her, thus not giving her any reason to hunt you down? And where was the genetic mutation bomb they just dropped on us in the last few levels hinted at? As for the characters, most of them are throwaways — even the main boss — except for Lara. And even though there aren’t a lot of section with Lara talking, I think the game does a good job of building character through action, even when it’s your own actions. The game paints a picture of an adventurous, intelligent, capable woman. She acts on her own & does, ultimately, what she feels is right. But she also doesn’t take herself too seriously, able to joke & roll with the punches. So overall, I feel that the experience with Lara’s character is able to redeem the lackluster story a bit. Score: 3
Mechanics: It took me while to get used to the controls for the game because it uses the arrow keys instead of WASD for movement, but if found that overall the controls worked really well for this type of game. They seem to be really complicated at first; Lara’s repertoire of moves makes it necessary to have lots of different commands. For example, holding Shift makes her walk & prevents her from walking off ledges. Different types of moves are necessary to get over different obstacles, & after a while you’ll quickly recognize what you need to do. You get in this Zen state of mind where you really feel like part of the game. Even when I messed up, it was impressive just what you can make Lara do. The first time I accidentally sent Lara into a diving long jump, which I’m sure was supposed to end in a roll, she landed awkwardly & broke her neck, killing her instantly. I couldn’t help but laugh at how the whole scene played out. I also really enjoyed the exploration aspect. While most of the puzzles themselves just involve finding the right key item to unlock the door, the puzzle seems to be more about finding the right path to get to the item. Avoiding the traps was actually a lot of fun for me, even when it felt like sometimes the game was trolling me. Expect to have a lot of Indiana Jones moments. That being said, however, there are problems with the controls. One of the biggest ones for me was the lack of proper camera control. Aside from the Look Around button, which only lets you move the camera as far as Lara could naturally look, you can’t control it. It makes for some very annoying sections when you’re trying to line up a jump but can’t see where you’re going or can’t see around the corner of a corridor. It also, surprisingly, makes it difficult to get around sometimes. Because you can’t control the camera the way you can in modern games, I often found myself having to stop, turn in the direction I want to face, then move forward again. There’s also a problem with the collision detection; expect to get stuck on corners a lot. The game is also very picky about standing in just the right spot it interact with an object, which is very frustrating when you’re trying to pick up ammo underwater but can’t get it just right. I also had some trouble with the auto-aim, where Lara would stay locked onto a dead enemy instead of targeting the very alive one trying to kill me. And while I really enjoyed the exploration aspects of the game, I felt that towards the end it focused too much on killing things. Particularly in the Atlantis level, where you spend your time shooting things in between finding the next lever to pull. So overall, while for the most part the mechanics work really well, there were a lot of frustrations as well. Score: 4
Aesthetics: It’s hard to honestly criticize the graphics of a game that’s over a decade old. The graphics are obviously dated, so expect a lot of jagged edges. That being said, they’re serviceable. You can tell what everything is supposed to be. Actually, in some cases the jagged edges work well with the game’s platforming because the edges help you see where you can go. You’ll quickly recognize what angles are too steep for Lara to make. There are a few funny aspects to the graphics, however. I found the snarling faces of the lions hilarious, but there are also a lot of times when you can see through walls to the various doors, traps of items that are on the other side. The cutscenes fair a bit better, however. The voiceacting is a bit high-&-miss. Lara & Natla’s voices are okay, but the others are your typical stereotypes. The sound design is pretty good as well. Generally there’s no music so you can soak in the ambient noise for the level. The sound cues for the enemies are very important & always give a good clue as to where they are in relation to Lara. The music is decent as well when it’s there. Score: 3
Replayability: Average. Each level has secret areas that you probably won’t be able to find on your first run. The game also keeps track of your times, kills, & item pick ups, so you can replay for bragging rights if that’s your thing. But technically there’s no reason to play it more than once. Score: 3
Overall Score: 3
Final Word: It’s tricky to review such an old game because certain aspects were probably more impressive when they first came out. However, if you can overlook the dated graphics, a few control issues, & want to play a fun adventure game, Tomb Raider is worth checking out.
Title: Tomb Raider
Console: PC, PS, PSN, Sega, iOS
Developer: Core Design
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Release Date: November 14, 1996