Spurred on by the success of Tomb Raider II, which outsold the original, Eidos Interactive ordered yet another game for release in the 1998 Christmas season. Feeling the burnout from working on two consecutive Tomb Raider games, most of the team took a break and moved to another project (which would become 2001’s Project Eden, again we are not disappointed in you if you have not heard of it) and other Core Design staff joined the team in their place. With new energy and ideas, the results of their labor are a game that is both the peak of the series and a sorry state of affairs. Let’s dive in!
Tomb Raider III‘s story begins in prehistory when a large meteorite hits a huge forest on earth, wiping out all life. Cut to 1998, the forest is shown to be located in modern-day Antarctica. RX Tech, a scientific research company lead by Dr. Willard is there on an expedition to locate this meteorite. After breaking a drill and blasting some of the ice out of the way, the team discovers some Easter Island statues and a makeshift grave from the 1800s. A few months later, Lara Croft is in the jungles of India on the trail of the Intifada stone. She comes across a camp and finds an RX Tech research called Tony, who is ‘mental’. Tony then proves his madness by threatening Lara, a move so reckless, he might as well wave his marmalade-covered genitals at a bear than threaten a heavily armed archeologist who has a bit of a “rep”. Possibly realizing his mistake, Tony runs deeper into the jungle and while pursuing Tony, Lara finds he has murdered his colleagues. Knowing that murdering Tony is now justified, and as a bonus, he is in possession of the Infada stone. Lara defeats Tony by shooting many holes in him and retrieves the artifact, only to be accosted by Dr. Willard near the River Ganges. Dr. Willard invites Lara aboard his boat where he explains that the Infada stone is in fact part of the meteorite from Antarctica and is one of four artifacts that was stolen by Darwin’s d**k sailors in the 1800s. All but one of the sailors met grizzly ends and the artifacts are scattered all over the globe, which Dr. Willard hires Lara to find. Nice, smooth, non-complicated setup.
From the start, Tomb Raider III continues the more action-orientated take on the Tomb Raider formula from the previous game with an increased body count. The first level beings with an action set-piece on a huge slope with hidden spike traps, drops, and boulders that Lara must negotiate. The weapons have been greatly expanded as well to reflect this action focus and the new standard Archaeology field kit approved by the British Archaeological Association (see the previous article for the setup of this great joke). New weapons include an MP4, a Desert Eagle, and a Rocket Launcher, they also are less clumsy to the user and, apart from the Rocket Launcher, have less windup time before they can be fired. Lara’s new moves this time round are a duck and crawl that she can use to explore smaller spaces, a sprint that also allows her to swan dive into a front roll to get through small closing gaps (or into a wall to snap Lara’s neck for a funny death) and can monkey swing over large pits and crevasses. The controls do feel a little tighter in this installment and Lara handles like a brand new hovercraft (that’s a good thing if you are confused). The vehicles in this sequel do handle better than the previous game, but a wheelbarrow full of pigeon s**t with a wobbly wheel is still going to handle poorly, even when the wheel is fixed. There is even a section where Lara takes control of a stationary cannon and shoot oncoming threats but this is also implemented “less than well”.
The save system has also reverted back to using ‘Save Crystals’ after criticism of the previous games being considered too easy. This time, however, they are collectible allowing the player to save anywhere but imposing a limit on how many times, which successfully adds the challenge back. Another change is after finished the first set of levels, the player is given a choice of which set of levels to take on next, which was a novel attempt at player choice at the time but you’d be annoyed if you’d picked the Pacific Island levels, as they are not great and go on for f**king ever!
Great attention has been put into the graphics with almost all sprite work being replaced with 3D objects, none of the pickups in this installment are sprites with only grass, bushes, and other environmental decorations that are not 3D. The particle effects in the engine are also very impressive for the time, especially the oil slick, tramp urine and discarded fast-food wrappers in the London levels and the tiny floating debris and light shafts underwater. The game also has real-time reflections from light sources as well, which can be seen lighting up a flare next to a body of water or the body of a murdered British Museum security guard. Nathan McCree hit his stride with the music he provided for this game as it is excellent with a great variety and adds to the local of each level brilliantly. This would however be Nathan’s last Tomb Raider game.
Enemy wise the series has continued with the vicious wildlife such as tigers, monkeys, crows, dogs, snakes, etc but there are only a few supernatural creatures this such as multi-armed and ‘culturally sensitive’ Ganesha statues found in the India levels and evolutionary accelerated freaks towards the end of the game. The main enemies Lara faces this time are humans, from innocent security guards to RX Tech employees to hitmen, Lara has now progressed from animal extinction enabler to cold-blooded mass murderer. It’s not helped that the design of the human characters looks more realistic this time around. Therefore Lara is no longer killing characters from a 90s Image comic-book but real people, like a proper psycho.
Release in late 1998, Tomb Raider III may not have sold as many copies as the previous installment but was still a success for both Core Design and Eidos Interactive. The game takes all of what made the last two games great and tries to fix what did not. Because of this, it did not add too many new ideas but the end result is a game that has the best of everything with some minor flaws. The third installment also continued to move the series further away from the tombs of its title and the action can sometimes come at the expense of exploration but with its variety of levels, great level design, and music it still does stand as the best of the original trilogy.
|PLATFORMS||Sony PlayStation / Microsoft Windows / |
TOMB RAIDER III: THE LOST ARTEFACT (2000)_ MICROSOFT WINDOWS
Tomb Raider III received the least amount of ports to other systems compared to previous games in the series but there was an expansion pack for Microsoft Window and Apple Macintosh called Tomb Raider III: The Lost Artefact that was released ten months before Tomb Raider: Chronicles in 2000. As with Tomb Raider GOLD, this was developed by another team at Eidos Interactive and was originality a standalone expansion of a four-level mini-adventure set in Scotland, England, and France, before it was bundled with the main game. In the expansion, Lara learns there is a fifth meteorite Artefact called the Hand of Rathmore that the late Dr. Willard was trying to locate, so she breaks into his family castle in Scotland to
rob the place blind search for clues.
|PLATFORMS||Microsoft Windows / Apple Macintosh|
TOMB RAIDER III: ADVENTURES IN INDIA (2000)_ MICROSOFT WINDOWS
Tomb Raider III: Adventures in India was released under the Smart Saver budget range of PC software. The release only included the Windows version of the first four India levels of the game and was bundled with an America Online (AOL) trial. The release is basically a glorified demo made to entice the unaware, ill-informed, or dangerously pointless to purchase an AOL trial, which in the late 90s/early 00s were everywhere. You could not open your mailbox or bin to be overwhelmed by those cocking trail discs.
No patch this time to add The Lost Artefact levels, as Eidos has not released the expansion for free download but you can get a Widescreen patch to make the game look less stretched.
This is it for the original trilogy of Tomb Raider games. The series takes a turn from here and becomes both ambitious and… ugly.
We will return to this series again in the future.