Now for an actual game, not a game that was a movie tie-in. Tomb Raider. Developed by the Derby-based Core Design and released on Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn in 1996. The game itself is still great and fun to play but is marred by the 90s lad culture that catapulted the game’s ‘Star’, the well-endowed ‘Lara Croft’, to superstardom as a sexpot game icon. Lara is sort of viewed as a bit of a sexist mess nowadays but underneath this surface shows a pro-feminist message with a strong female character. Admitted this part of the article is not very funny, but more recent entries to the games series have regressed in terms of a strong female protagonist. Even if it has excelled in making her aesthetically less problematic in terms of visual character design. Anyway, enough with the art school philosophy debate on a subject we have no business waxing lyrical on. More Tomb Raider Please!
Under Core Design’s stewardship, the series spawned: five direct sequels, two Nintendo GameBoy Color games, and a (rubbish) Nokia N-Gage port of the original game. Along with Lara herself appearing on the cover of non-gaming magazines and starring in commercials for various products. On top of this, were also two successful films starring Angelina Jolie. However, despite all this success, the series would ultimately prove to Core Design’s undoing and lead Eidos interactive, the publisher of the series, to act like your typical corporate raiders and take the series away from them. Give it to California-based developer Crystal Dynamics, who would make one great anniversary game, then spend the next two decades driving the series into some mediocre patch of dirt outside of Slough. We are not fans.
Tomb Raider is a third-person action-adventure platformer and apart from the game’s heroine, the game is notable for its cinematic and atmospheric level design and gameplay, which was new at the time. The game was a massive leap forwards in gaming technology and allowed the player to explore large detailed 3D environments in search of artifacts while solving puzzles and avoiding death traps along the way. Lara also has an expansive move set and small arsenal available at her disposal to help her navigate these dangerous environments. Lara can run and jump vast distances, vault, grab ledges, backflip while using firearms, swim, and hold her breath underwater for long periods of time (get your mind out of the gutter). To maximize the use of Lara’s move set effectively, the developers based all of the game environments on a 3D grid system. This allows the player to use the grids to learn and judge the distance of a far-away ledge before taking a jump. This should, in theory, lead to Lara fluidly moving around each level like a child high on lemonade. Unfortunately, in practice, this does not work as Lara Croft handles like a Panzer Tank. This slow movement is perfect for slow exploration and platforming, but not so great when a large bolder is descending upon you at high speed.
However, to help players learn Lara moveset and get used to the controls, there is a tutorial level set in Lara’s Mansion in England that does a great job of setting up the player for the game. As the series progresses this tutorial level would be expanded to include more of the mansion to explore and secrets for the player to find, and signs of opulence to get annoyed at. But in the first iteration this a linear experience that ends when the player reaches the end of the level. To stop the filthy unkept player from touching too much of the finery.
The game also uses a ‘Save Crystal’ save system, where there are floating crystals at certain points during the level that acts as a one-time use save and checkpoint. This is a very annoying system as the crystals are few and far between. Spread out far and wide in the large levels, causing the player to replay large chunks of the level if they die, which given the trial and error nature of the exploratory gameplay, will happen a lot. There are also secrets in each level and a distinctive, and inquisitive, “Chime” sound effect will play when one is found. The secrets reward exploration with extra medipacks, ammunition, and even new weapons to add to Lara’s arsenal because if you are hunting for treasures, you need to be loaded for bear! Music was provided by in-house composer Nathan McCree and apart from the main theme and cutscenes, the music in the game is only used incidentally at certain points to certain points in levels to enhance the cinematic feel, which it does with great effect. The remainder of the music in levels is ambient, which helps craft the abandoned and desolate atmosphere in each of the levels.
The game’s story begins in 1996 India – Professional archaeologist Lara Croft is relaxing in a hotel lobby after returning from an expedition to find Bigfoot. She is approached and hired by a Texan creep called Larson, who wishes to hire Lara on the behalf of Natla Technologies owner Jacqueline Natla. Natla is after a piece of an ancient artifact called the ‘Scion’, he does not disclose why but we can only imagine it to be for great things from a corporate overlord. We cut to Lara climbing the mountains of Peru with a local guide and locating the entrance to the tomb of Qualopec where the ‘Scion’ supposedly lies. When the large stone doors of the tomb open, blood-thirsty wolves rush out, ripping Lara’s poor guide apart. Lara waits a few minutes before jumping into the fray to assist, we suspect because he annoyed Lara by leading every answer to her questions with “In my country…”. With her guide and the wolves dead, Lara enters the tomb, only for the large stone doors to close suddenly behind her. Which she only slightly annoyed at.
Lara’s quest leads her to explore levels set in: a lost underground city in Peru, an underground colosseum in Greece, inside a Pyramid in Egypt, an abandoned mining complex on a Mediterranean island, and the lost city of Atlantis. The levels do look graphically dated by today’s standards (understatement of the year) with hard polygon edges and flat textures, but still somehow capture the atmosphere of ancient and forgotten digital places. In each locale, Lara will encounter deathtraps from the likes of spike pits, large boulders, darts, lava pits, and large drops. The deaths can be quite brutal and sudden with the appropriate bone-cracking sound effect really selling it. Especially if Lara gets giddy and swan dives into a wall, snapping her neck like an overenthusiastic twig. However, there are some amusing non-self-inflicted ones. For example, Lara getting ripped apart by a T-Rex or climbing onto the hand of a King Midas statue, only for herself to be turned to gold by hubris.
The enemies Lara’s faces are mostly the local wildlife: wolves, panthers, bats, rats, etc but these mundane enemies are broken up with run-ins with vicious gorillas, velociraptors, genetic abominations, and the iconic encounter with a T-Rex. Towards the end of the game, Lara will also encounter some “wacky” hitmen: a skater boy armed with Uzis, a cowboy with six-shooters, and their mate ‘a bald man with a shotgun’. These hitman characters highlight an element of tongue in cheek that the series does lose going forward. I still wonder how Natla’s hiring processes ended up with a Californian skater boy with uzi’s who cannot hit s*** or a Cowboy cosplayer armed with the slowest gun in the west. The bald man is the most normal and spends most of the time when he is featured getting annoyed with how improbable and stupid his colleagues are!
As hinted strongly at the start of the article, savvy 90s marketers at either Edios or Core jumped onto Lara’s sex appeal and made her the main face of the games marketing blitz. They added the ‘Featuring Lara Croft’ to the cover to give her the allure of a movie star that no one had heard of. This approach really upset Lara’s creator Toby Gard, who felt the over-sexualization of the marketing ran counter to the personality of Lara. Strong words for a man who added the sexy stretching handstand that Lara would randomly do when pulling herself up from a ledge.
Nevertheless, this marketing savvy helped Tomb Raider become one of the best selling games of the 1996 Christmas season (Which in turn lead to Eidos ordering annual sequels, starting the decline of the series before it began), and Lara herself reached the high of pop culture stardom that few video game characters have come close to since. Lara would go on to featured in commercials for Lucozade energy drink, SEAT cars and was even involved in the projections of U2’s live shows on the POP Mart tour.
Tomb Raider was released originally for the PlayStation, Saturn, and MS-DOS, with the Saturn port running at slightly a quicker frame rate than the PlayStation, giving it a smoother feel. However because of Saturn’s issues with transparency effects, many are missing in-game along with some of the fancier reflection effects (most notability on the Save Crystals). The button placement of the controls also does not feel very natural on the Saturn controller as opposed to the PlayStation’s, which the game was originally design for. According to this great article on the history of the series by Eurogamer’s Wesley Yin-Poole, the head of Core signed a deal with SEGA to release Tomb Raider on the Saturn first, three months before the game was due to release on the PlayStation. They did a great job porting it to a terrible (and notoriously hard to program for!) console in such a short space of time (two months).
The MS-DOS port is the best graphically looking but can suffer in the control department if using a keyboard, however, it is easier of the two other ports as it has a quick save option and no save crystals. Also not present is Nathan McCree’s incidental music but unlike Saturn, it does use the main theme on the title screen.
In 2003, around the time the last Tomb Raider Core Design game was due for release, Angel Of Darkness. The first game was ported to the Nokia N-Gage. This was similar to the Windows PocketPC game that had come out the year before and also played in a long vertical screen (176 x 208 for you resolution freaks out there). This does a great job of restricting the player’s view of what is around them. As no-one has made an emulator of a PocketPC or N-Gage, and we did not want to buy one for this fledgling game site We only had the good people at ngage.arhn.eu to provide video reference of gameplay. There is little to no music in the game, only sound effects but it is pretty much the same as the original, only minus the cutscenes which are told in static images and text. Plus Lara is wearing her Angel of Darkness attire. In Angel of Darkness, Lara gets really into Evanescence and dresses as such.
|PLATFORMS||SEGA Saturn / Sony PlayStation|
MS-DOS / Windows PocketPC
Nokia N-Gage / PlayStation Network
Microsoft Windows / Apple Macintosh
|RELEASED||1996 (SEGA Saturn / Sony PlayStation / MS-DOS)|
2002 (Windows PocketPC)
2003 (Nokia N-Gage)
2009 (PlayStation Network)
2012 (Microsoft Windows / Apple Macintosh)
TOMB RAIDER GOLD / TOMB RAIDER: UNFINISHED BUSINESS (1998)_ MICROSOFT WINDOWS
A month after the release of Tomb Raider III in 1998, Eidos re-released the game on MS-DOS, Microsoft Windows, and Apple Macintosh with four bonus levels called Tomb Raider GOLD (Or Unfinished Business in Europe). The expansion was developed by Eidos San Francisco and is identical to the original MS-DOS version, however, the missing incidental music has been restored and can run at higher resolutions with then-modern graphic card support – though none of the engine or gameplay enhancements of the two sequels were implemented. The four bonus levels are split into two sets, the first set has Lara revisiting the Egyptian levels from the original a few months after the main game’s story had concluded. However this time around, the levels have flooded opening up new areas for the players to explore. The second set of levels take place directly after the story finished and has Lara exploring the rest of Atlantis.
In 2013, Canadian-based Realtech VR released an Apple iOS port with a Google Android port following in 2015. They are both basically ports of the Windows Tomb Raider GOLD (including the four bonus levels) with a higher resolution, 60fps frame rate, larger HUD elements, and widescreen as standard. Still, like most touchscreen controls, they are atrocious and unresponsive, making the game borderline unplayable unless a Bluetooth controller is used. In 2018, Realtech ran into licensing issues with the current license holders, Square Enix, as they didn’t have the license (so quite a big issue). The game has delisted off both the Apple App Store and Google Play the same year.
|PLATFORMS||MS-DOS / Microsoft Windows / |
Apple Macintosh / Apple iOS / Google Android
|DEVELOPER||Eidos San Franciso|
|RELEASED||1998 (MS-DOS / Microsoft Windows / Apple Macintosh)|
2013 (Apple iOS)
2015 (Google Android)
We recommend a patch by Carlmundo that puts a lovely bow tie on the game and offers the definitive Tomb Raider experience with the Tomb Raider GOLD bonus levels included.