My Link to the Past – Tomb Raider

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Concluding the trilogy in this Tomb Raider mini-series, is the game of where it all started.

I remember first hearing of this game from a friend in the playground of primary school near to the end of 1996. A game where you could move around in a fully three dimensional world? Up to this point, I had my Mega Drive, and the closest to a 3D-game was the bonus stage in Sonic 3.

He had a Sega Saturn, and his brother would rent the game from Blockbuster, and try to get further at the weekend, and I’d be told of the next point the coming Monday.

After completing Tomb Raider II and getting up to London in III, I thought I’d finally try the original, and see how I would do.

I didn’t get too far, only going halfway, so I came back to it in July this year, and decided to finally go from start to finish. So this is a half retrospective, half review of sorts.

So Tomb Raider was released on the 25th October, 1996 for the Sony Playstation, Sega Saturn and PC.

A time when the Spice Girls were about to achieve world domination, and Saturday night TV was at its best. This was a game that was going to show just what this generation of consoles could achieve, with Super Mario 64 and Crash Bandicoot not far on the horizon.

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In a Derby studio by the name of ‘Core Design’, Lara herself was thought of by a lad called Toby Gard, who had the idea for this game featuring an archeologist in the form of Indiana Jones. But instead of a man, it was to be a woman called ‘Laura Cruz’. After deliberation, it became the name she’s now well known as.

The story of TR I involves a young archeologist called Lara Croft, who is in a race to collect pieces of the ‘Scion’, before an Atlantean God called Natla, gets there first and revives an army to conquer the world.

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The game is set across 4 locations:

Peru

Greece

Egypt

Atlantis

Lara’s Home makes its first appearance, without Winston, a freezer (or a kitchen for that matter) and the outside, but it gives first time players a chance to get familiar with the controls. But if you’re playing this game in reverse from III, then you won’t be in there long, just to see how it began. but i’m sure back in 1996, it was incredible to freely walk around a rendered area as big as the mansion was.

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Lara was given a voice by the name of Shelley Blond. I would show a video from Peep Show, but you can see her play ‘Michelle’ in episode 1 of Series 3. But there is a CITV show that had her as one of the presenters, you can see her from 01:45.

It’s a good voice, but I still prefer Judith Gibbons’ for II and III.

As I said last week, Tomb Raider II was and still is, an all time classic that can still be fun and immensely challenging in different ways, that I always come back to, and it never gets boring to play.

Whereas TR II was more focused on action than on puzzle solving in a way, its predecessor had puzzle solving at its heart, with most levels requiring the player to collect a certain amount of keys or even cogs to progress to the next area.

If I could put the three games into categories, it would be this:

Tomb Raider – Puzzle Adventure

Tomb Raider II – Action-Adventure

Tomb Raider III – The Difficulty of Adventure

This game rewards you for your puzzle solving, and makes it fun in the journey of it too.

The game introduced a fully 3D environment where you could freely move around and not be limited to a single 2D direction. Granted Doom and Wolfenstein introduced this in first person, but with Tomb Raider, it was a fully third person adventure, with features and innovations that had never been done before.

The first level begins with a great cinematic. As Lara and her guide are trawling through the snowy mountains, they get to their destination, where the guide is suddenly mauled by wolves as soon as the doors to the entrance open. Lara quickly disposes of them, and goes into the temple.

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Straight away, it’s almost something from an Indiana Jones film, with darts to avoid, wolves and bats to dispose of, and doors to run through in a limited time before they shut. It showcases all of Lara’s moves and her twin-pistols, and once the level is finished, we are brought to the City of Vilcabamba.

This level is what I recognise most. When I first received my Playstation in July of 1997, a demo disk came with it, that showcased Crash Bandicoot, Lifeforce Tenka, Xtreme, and Tomb Raider.

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So far to this point, I was familiar with a set linear path like Sonic or at the time, Pandemonium, so to be given free reign over a 3D environment was completely different to my 8 year old self.

I remember the bear that would come out of this small entrance, and the swimming and keys across this level, while grabbing a new weapon for Lara, the shotgun. Then of course, the wolves looking, unique when they’re disposed of.

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But for many others, it’s the next level that people remember, which is a tradition that I’ve mentioned of in the last two retrospectives.

You run across this great valley, and after some encounters with raptors, you come across the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Then that feeling of ‘I’ve got a shotgun and pistols against a 20ft T-Rex’ occurs.

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Then the music occurs to lift that feeling.

With a hidden tomb to collect the first part of the Scion, you are confronted by Larson, one party who is attempting to also obtain the artefact. After a short shootout and a cutscene, we are brought to the next location, Greece.

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The challenge is stepped up a gear, with five levels in this location, and a lot of collecting to accomplish.

In this level especially, (St Francis Folly) requires you to use different tactics to collect the keys from four different rooms. They are represented by a Greek God, such as:

Neptune

Atlas

Thor

Damocles

I don’t want to spoil what surprises they each have, but the Thor room especially is where you may struggle the most. But of course, it’s always fun, and you’ll rarely be frustrated, just encouraged to try a different tactic.

This also shows the introduction of the other party, Pierre DuPont, who uses Magnums to try and dispose of you in events scattered across the game, up to a point where there is a showdown of sorts. Once you’ve used enough bullets, he’ll disappear behind a pillar, out of sight like the Batman, until you meet him again. It all adds credence to a believable world, that gives you the feeling that someone else is almost controlling Pierre and Larson from their own viewpoint, ablest probably waiting for Lara to do most of the work, but that point aside, it adds to the realism.

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With the other 4 levels, they show wide open areas such as the Colosseum, and the other fondly-remembered level, Palace Midas. make sure you save before you reach ‘that’ hand.

With the next piece obtained, it’s off to Egypt to obtain the final piece. Many traps and backtracking is here, but with the magnums now obtained, it’s much easier to be rid of the mummies if the pistols were otherwise used.

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The scale of these levels are in awe, but if you miss one ledge, its either death, or a large portion of the health taken, and it’s back to the beginning of running, jumping and shimmying. It can grate at times, but all in all, it’s a fun time still.

With another showdown and a cutscene shown, we are brought to another tradition of the trilogy.

Namely, the weaponless level.

Out of the three, ‘Natla’s Mines’  the most frustrating, and at times, you just have no idea where you may be going. There was one time where I got further than I should have, and was quickly shown death’s door by one of the levels’ bosses, so explore every single room and waterfall to get those irritating fuses.

But even though the previous cutscene showed, I didn’t think that I’d be facing a kid on a skateboard to get the Uzis back.

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How wrong I was.

Somehow, i’d completely missed this out in roughly sixteen-odd years, and it just seemed..bemusing to me, but still, Bart Simpson was easily defeated.

After facing off against Lara’s henchmen, the entrance to the pyramid is open for Lara, and the final levels to this section begin.

I won’t say much about these areas for someone who may be new to this, but one thing I will say is, the pulsating textures throughout is really something. Giving the whole area an organic, living being feel, almost giving you the impression you’re just running around in a boss’ digestive system, and you’ll be facing off against something much bigger than the T-Rex before.

Not quite, but the last level gives the game a fantastic showdown, and the finish that it deserves. Really fun, immensely challenging, and you’ll want to keep replaying them.

One thing I will say is, which I think is the most innovate, is Lara’s doppelgänger. Or as she’s more commonly known, ‘Bacon Lara’.

She will follow your every move, and shoot you as much as you will shoot ‘it’, which leads to a great puzzle to solve.

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Throughout, the levels give you that exploration and puzzle-solving that the other two relied less on. I also saw that in some, you’d finish the level in a different way rather than just walking through a door, or on a zipline. You’d fall through a pit to start the next level, or slide down a slope.

You’d also backtrack to the previous level to access previously inaccessible doors and areas, such as with ‘Tomb of Qualopec’ and ‘Great Pyramid’. These weren’t apparent in II and III, and gave you the impression again that it was all a connected world, whereas in the others, it was one level to the next, while Thames’ Wharf ending to Aldywich is surreal. The ‘All Hallows’ secret level bridges and explains how Lara can slide into the cathedral in one cutscene at least, but its jarring.

Weapons consist of:

The Pistols

Shotgun

Uzi’s

Magnums

The only difference from the other two entries, are the magnums. They were renamed the ‘Automatic Pistols’ for a reason only the staff know of, and was replaced by the ‘Desert Eagle’ in III.

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Now the music, is where it couldn’t be Tomb Raider without it. There’s Lara, her iconic pistols, and the music that follows her around. Nathan McCree and his team nailed it with the ambience, danger and action that lifted this and the other two games into a great atmosphere that is still regarded today as an iconic theme. It’s part of a trinity that one without the other, doesn’t make it Tomb Raider, which is why I don’t regard the fourth subsequent instalments with much recognition.

The music was alright, it served a purpose for giving a game some musical tunes, but instead of building on the themes, this downbeat, almost depressing theme replaced the iconic soundtracks of the first three, and it just didn’t, and still doesn’t for that matter, make the other instalments in any way memorable.

Could you imagine James Bond theme being replaced with a Danny Elfman score from Liar Liar? It just doesn’t work, and it’s sorely missing from the reboot especially. Hopefully its sequel will bring back some of the themes from the trilogy.

With the save system, a series of purple crystals are permanently found across each level. You can save once, and it will then disappear. This enhances the tension and removes the safety net that II and II had with their own save-system. To note though, this is only found in the Playstation and Sega Saturn version, with the PC port allowing you to save anywhere.

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But this isn’t the only major difference with the PC and console versions.

I had bought Tomb Raider from Steam, and noticed that not only could i save anywhere, but the music that shaped the game, was completely absent.

Digging into this, I found that it wasn’t a fault of Steam, but rather of how it was in 1996, due to space limitations somehow.

This completely took away the majority of the atmosphere for me, and when I met the T-Rex, it was just the stamping of the dinosaur I could only hear. A great shame. But when I replayed some of the levels on the Playstation, the music was obviously there, and the atmosphere was restored.

Hopefully Steam and other PC stores can rectify this in some way, rather than a patch found on other sites.

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As this was the very first game in the series, lots, and lots of revisions were made in its 3 year development cycle.

As seen, there were items such as dynamite and grenades to be used, and her glasses used from the  first level’s cutscene was seen to be worn.

Even the title was changed from ‘Tomb Raiders’.

Not wanting to simply take images from another site, rather, a greater detail on this and more can be seen on ‘Unseen64‘, along with TR III, right here.

For a game that was said to be rushed in development, they certainly achieved an incredible deal for what is still remembered to introduce a fully 3rd person controllable environment.

There were glitches abound throughout, with the corner bug and the ability to jump through fences abound throughout the game. It was still present in much of II and III, but for an untested engine in 1996, it was still an impressive feat, and even added to the charm of the game.

Tomb Raider and its sequel seem like two sides of the same coin in a way. Whatever ideas they had that couldn’t be implemented for the original, they were brought to full force in the sequel. Whereas with III, most of the traits remained, but it gave you the feeling that the team just had enough after 5 years of non-stop development.

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Overall, this introduced the world to Lara Croft, an icon that is still widely recognisable, and no matter what form she takes in each game, she’s still remembered as the one who’d say ‘No’ to a key lock, and scream in terror after falling down a pit.

It gave you the real sense that you were in a movie blockbuster. With the awe of the environments, and the camera angles of when it zooms out to a Sphynx in a later level, reducing Lara to a dot in the distance. The music of course only heightened this, and it was those times where everything aligned to make the game the classic it still is today, along with the two sequels.

It was a huge success, spawning adverts of Lucozade featuring her, and even a myth about having Lara shed all of her clothes called ‘Nude Raider’, which is firmly a myth. But some haven’t accepted this, and have come up with their own, ‘hacks’ to make up for this. GameTrailers did a great episode to disprove this on a favourite feature of mine called ‘Pop Fiction’, of which you can watch here.

After finishing it on PC and replaying some levels on Playstation with the music fully restored, it’s a great introduction to the series, and for me, only second to its sequel.

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So, that concludes my thoughts on the trilogy. Each one different than the last, but the traits of the series all remained the same.

Since 1998, there hasn’t been a game that, I felt, was as fun as the trilogy like this. They each had something that made you go back to them time and time again. Whether it was because of the music or how a level you was stuck on, you always wanted to try and complete it again. It never got old, and it still never gets tiresome. When that happens, you know you’re playing a series that is a classic of its time, and can still in many ways, stand its ground today.

Core Design really did make something special with the first three out of a small team from Derby, only up the road from where I’m typing this. People have reminiscent memories of their childhood, whether it be of a World Cup, their favourite Doctor from the 70’s, 80’s, or a band with their favourite album.

But for me, it was games like this, and I thank you for that.

Starting with Sonic 3, then jumping to another generation to Crash Bandicoot and Tomb Raider, it showed me that with just a gamepad, a console and a TV, you could play something you know that was special. Made by people dictated from their passion of games and music, not from a passion to just make profit, it’s a series that I highly regard, and everyone who worked on these games should be proud of, whatever they may be doing now.

The fact that Lara Croft is now overseas is a great shame. For me, its like having James Bond being americanised and being renamed ‘Jimmy Bonds’, with dramatic music and cuts like something from the terrible Ramsay Kitchen Nightmares USA.

She is a British icon, and maybe one day she will once again be made by a british team. A passionate one like the one before at Core, and she’ll have that british-ness injected back to her. Whether it’s the voice, or even the music making a well-deserved comeback, it will be surely welcomed with open arms by new and old fans alike.

I think one day we’ll see that, but not in this decade.

So while some people will be sucked in by a useless weapon from Hitman to come into Tomb Raider 2013 as DLC, I’m more than happy to be fighting against a dragon with some twin pistols and a grenade launcher from 16 years ago.

I hope that this trilogy of write-ups has given you some insight to the three games I played in Christmas 1997, 1998, and TR I in 1999, and why they all hold a special resonance with me from that time.

But, we’re not finished yet.

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