Funnily enough I’ve never really been into the Tomb Raider series. I played the original quite a bit around various friends’ houses, and I THINK I played the second one, also around a friend’s house, but that’s it really. I know all about the series because, let’s face it, it was the first 3D series to actually become “Iconic”, with Lara Croft herself becoming a gaming icon in no time flat. Still, along with giving you a look at the game that inspired the film, how does Tomb Raider play in 2020? Well…
Well…. Start as you mean to go on, I guess?
Tomb Raider was released first in Europe for the Sega Saturn on October 25th 1996, oddly. It was of course soon released on the PS1, Saturn and the PC in North America on November 14th 1996, with Europe getting the PS1 and PC versions on November 22nd that year. Japan got the game on the Saturn on the 24th of January 1997 and he PS1 version on the 14th February that same year, showing it to be a rare Western developed game for the time period. Well, rare Western developed game that was any good enough to get released in Japan, anyway… It was later ported to Mac, the iOS and Android devices, as well as the… *ahem*, N-Gage. It was remastered and released 10 years later as “Tomb Raider: Anniversary”.
The cultural impact of Tomb Raider can’t be skipped over. It may not seem like it to the younger of you, who are only familiar with poorly received sequels or more gritty reboots, but in 96 / 97 you couldn’t move for Lara Croft references, sponsorship and even playboy shoots, infamously. Even the gameplay was influential. It may be… rough to look back on, but it did give a template for many action / adventure games to use going forward (and boy did they ever!). All this, and Croft herself was the first female lead protagonist to really take off, Samus Aran of Metroid never having hit it that big, despite the original Metroid and certainly Super Metroid being classics (not to mention she was hidden under a helmet for all her boxart and default gameplay sections).
I meant to catch her with one gun pointing at each big cat / lion (?), but… oh well.
The gameplay in Tomb Raider is, like, 85% platforming, exploring and puzzle solving, and 15% action / shooting things. If that. That’s not necessarily a complaint, or at least wasn’t in 1996, but I’ll get to that in a bit. Unlike Resident Evil, released a few months before this, Tomb Raider is fully 3D, with no fixed camera and no pre-rendered backgrounds. You can walk, run, jump, roll, climb on or across ledges, dive and swim in water, push and pull blocks and levers, pick up objects and fire not just one gun, but two at the same time! A lot of this was unheard of in a fully 3D environment, especially one with such a realistic setting and character models. Thankfully once you switch to weapon holding mode you automatically aim on the nearest enemy, and if there are two enemies and you have two guns you aim at two separately, as mentioned already. Overall it was a really impressive set up at the time.
The enemy variety is good too. There are a lot of dangerous wildlife, but you also get the odd human to shoot at, or … T-Rex to battle, and some of the puzzles were quite clever, some of them going on to be used by 1,000 other similar games going forward. There are fully voiced cutscenes, which given, once again, that it was released in the same year as the original Resident Evil, are not too bad… Not good, but not original Resi bad.
That was then. What about now? Well… Yeah. It hasn’t aged well, in the least. The then-revolutionary 3D movement is now extremely stiff, the camera is extremely awkward (Mario 64, ALSO released this year, perfected this instantly, but that’s Nintendo for you…) and generally positioning Lara in the spot where you want her and facing the direction you need is a greater challenge than any boss or puzzle featured. Given its lack of pre-rendered background and objects, it’s not pretty to look at either. The fact that I had no real nostalgia for the game, it wasn’t great to revisit, as a lot of early polygon games tend to be…
Graphics and Sound:
Yikes, so many basic rock textures clipping into each other…
Well, I guess I’ve already covered this, but the graphics were impressively open and immersive at the time, because we were just coming off of 2D games and 3D rendered games were new and cool. Retrospectively, 2D games are still great (so long as they were good at the time, obviously) but early 3D examples like Tomb Raider… not so much. Jagged, plain and blocky shapes everywhere is not a good look in 2020, unless you have a thick pair of nostalgia goggles for this particular time period…
Sound is an odd one, as there is very little background music. Instead gameplay sessions are just ambient sounds like Lara’s footsteps, grunts and various animal growls and such, unless some big action set-piece happens, then you’ll normally get a piece of music alright, and it’s fine. As previously mentioned, voice work is cheesy and stilted, but not bad for such an early example.
The embarrassment of not only being captured, but being captured by someone with no eyes…?
Archaeologist and general adventurer Lara Croft is hired to find an artefact known as the Scion in Peru, but wouldn’t you know it, her client double-crossed her and has hired someone else to get the other three artefacts that all link to the lost city of Atlantis. Lara finds out their locations, breaks into various tombs across the world and kills all the people who hired her, including the main client Natla, who had turned into a flying mutated … thing due to the power of the artefacts, which Lara then destroys before making her dramatic escape.
It’s a fine, it not a little cliché story, but in 1996 and in the world of computer games it was quite fresh, really…
At the time, round my friend Jack’s house, Tomb Raider was a lot of fun. The jumping and grabbing onto ledges, firing two uzis like some sort of bad ass (at a pair of tigers…?) and the general look and feel of the game. That being said, I sucked at puzzles and so never really fancied buying it for myself. It’s for that reason I won’t give it a “Then Score” because I don’t think I played it enough to properly rate it (and indeed never did “past me” in my old Gaming reviews excel file that I often refer to for this part!) I also have to mention school rumours of a “nude cheat” that I swear I read about in a gaming magazine… Honest.
“Hahaha, what a twat.”
Now? Yikes. Okay, it’s not horrible, but it’s really tricky to control, making me gain a whole new appreciation for tank controls and fixed cameras. It’s also pretty ugly as well, which it can’t help obviously, but this is the “Thoughts Now” section, so I have to be honest. It’s just not fun to play, and given they remade it themselves only 10 years later (which is now over 10 years ago…) I assume everyone involved knows it was far too “of its era” to be played now…