Tomb Raider review
Well worth raiding from a tomb


Your mileage may vary.
Tomb Raider's reception defines polarization - whether it's the quality of the game or Lara Croft herself, there are no concrete opinions on the game and really, it's one of those games you ought to try out for yourself. But you know what, reviews aren't just about recommending games to people; they're also about giving the readers your opinion. If you want mine, here it is - Tomb Raider is a pretty good game with some odd quirks that require some getting used to. Now, I don't normally advocate getting used to what would appear to be bad controls and/or bad camera angles, unless the game is worth it, and honestly speaking, I'd say it's worth it.

She ain't just a walking pair of boobies.
Lara Croft is sent on an expedition to acquire the Scion by the request of a wealthy businesswoman by the name of Jacqueline Natla. But when she learns about what she has really got and Natla's motivation for wanting the Scion, shit gets real. In fact, that's one way to sum up the story. See, there isn't much in the way of explanation or development, but what is there actually manages to hit harder than a lengthy Naruto-esque development scene because in such short bursts, you're given a good idea of what's happening and what may or may not happen. This is one of the few games that can use short cutscenes to their advantage, because each little scene manages to leave an imprint into your memory, like a punch to the balls. If you're making a plot heavy show or video game, I suggest playing this game and taking notes.

Setting a standard for tomb raiding since '96.
But the idea of Tomb Raider is to explore various tombs to find the treasure. If you're used to the later games or the Uncharted series, you'll be disappointed to know that you'll be spending a lot of time making tough jumps (something Uncharted does for you basically automatically - boo!) and solving puzzles. Platforming consists of jumping over large gaps, hoping to either land on the other side or hold on to that ledge, and it can get pretty damn tricky. A lot of jumps require precision controls, and I will admit that the controls aren't quite the best in the world, opting for tank controls. Ooh yeah, these things that can make or break it for people. I mean, it would've been bad enough in Resident Evil - now try using them in a platformer! But no, actually, this manages to work out better than you think! See, because of this design choice, plus the fact that the camera is always right behind you, you can actually run in a straight line, meaning that you won't screw up because the camera decided to go haywire and you accidentally direct Mario off the cliff. But yeah, I can see people having trouble getting used to this, plus some bits early on aren't the friendliest in the world (I'd add some later portions, but come on, by then, you should be used to it!). The camera itself can be a prick at times, but when you get used to the fact that it's stationed right behind you at all times, you'll get the hang of it, although a few deaths seems to be a necessary evil...

...on that note, it's only really a bother during platforming, as when you're solving puzzles and fighting enemies, it's not a big deal since you focus on the enemy during combat and puzzles... don't require precise reflexes. Puzzle solving can either be as simple as finding levers, to as complicated as figuring out just what the *bleep* you're meant to use this doo-hingy on. To put it simply, the puzzles can get really crafty and even *bleep* with your mind if you aren't thinking about it. I mean yeah, trial and error does work as well, but not all the time, and when it doesn't, it's time to really use your noodle, which is easily the biggest strength - the amount of brains necessary to beat the harder puzzles in this game! I won't say much else other than that...

At times, you'll have to figure out how to get yourself out of a snag... oh yeah, there are traps in this game, but it doesn't go all out and give you heaps in the first few levels. In fact, it's only the fourth level where you'll encounter your first trap, and then a later level in which you'll encounter your first big trap. Suspense is the name of the game here... if there weren't any glitches (which I'll get to later), you wouldn't expect them unless you paid attention to your surroundings, and falling into one is like "OH SHIT" because it just comes out of nowhere. I just love this game's deliberate pacing and this is the finest example of it.

Then you have the combat, which... functions, at least. The camera will lock onto an enemy and you'll have to shoot them, either with dual pistols, dual uzis or a shotgun. There isn't a whole lot to it and the enemies and bosses aren't really all that complicated. It's usually a matter of shooting and dodging simple attacks. But what I love in this particular Tomb Raider over the later games is the scarcity of it... like, you'll never know when the next batch of enemies will pop up, and when they do, it's like "BOO HAUNTED RUINS" because you didn't expect them to pop up there. I mean, you're in a ruin, not a haunted house or a Final Fantasy dungeon!

Unsure if saggy.
The graphics, at the time, were considered either fantastic or fairly good. I mean, the animals had pretty low polygon counts and looked pretty bad, even by 1996 standards, and yeah, there were some glitches. For instance, what you thought was a door suddenly disappearing is actually a secret door. You could tell what floors were going to crumble before the "hint" disappears. That kind of shit. Doesn't happen all that often, but still, it's pretty silly. But what's not silly is the ambition. This is one of the earliest PS1 games to use 3D graphics and only 3D graphics - none of this pre-rendered 2D background stuff Resident Evil and Final Fantasy 7 used. For the time, the models, excluding the animals, looked neat. The use of colors worked and the designs are given that extra kick with some little details that work. Not to mention, the animations are pretty smooth. Jagged edges, yeah; weak textures, yeah; lack of back problems, definitely, but this was 1996 and it's nothing that'll set your eyes on fire. May not have aged the best, but it still looks alright.

Does this have an echo?
One thing that actually impressed me was the soundtrack. Each of the songs went well with the setting and situation, like a quieter, more mysterious theme for the ruins, or louder music for the scenes and more intense songs for fights, particularly major fights. It's like you get more immersed into the level or moment. But what gets me is that these songs are also fairly memorable. If you were around me after I went through a session of this game, then you may have heard me hum whatever tunes I've just heard. It does that to you. Minor nitpicks could be made, like some music starts at weird times and some sound effects aren't quite in sync, but they're rare and I only said so because I wanted to say I had any sort of issue with the sound department, because it is all well done in Tomb Raider... except the voice acting, but seriously, are there any PS1 games with good voice acting? Just putting it out there.

Down to a B cup or still at DD cups?
Tomb Raider is what I think of whenever I think of video games revolving around tomb raiding... it's not just about fighting random people or monsters (unlike the later games and the Uncharted series); it's about navigating through a series of ruins, jumping around and solving puzzles. While none of the individual elements are that great, together, they just work really well. Add a well paced plot to the mix, and you've got yourself a game that really makes an impression on you. Control and camera quirks aside, this is a great game that you ought to buy, and if you didn't like it, well, it's perfectly understandable. To you, these elements won't feel right; to me, most of them did.

Story: 9/10
While it doesn't have heaps of depth, it hits you hard with what you need to know and leaves quite an impression.
Gameplay: 9/10
Individually, they range from okay to fairly good. Together, it's the first thing you think of when playing a game about raiding tombs - including the tough as shit difficulty. The deliberate pacing is what sells it for me.
Controls: 7/10
The tanky controls are definitely going to be quite the obstacle to cross, as is the lack of moveable camera controls, but once you get the hang of them, these controls will feel just right.
Graphics: 9/10
The graphics were pretty damn impressive for 1996... except the animals, they look pretty bad, but eh, something had to go amiss.
Sound: 8/10
Ambience was the name of the game when it came to the soundtrack. Voice acting... yeah, it sucks, but this was back when voice acting wasn't taken seriously.

Overall: 9/10

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