film & game reviews, the retro way.
MS-DOS, Playstation, Sega Saturn, Mac, N-Gage
Today I’ll be looking at one of my favourite games: the original Tomb Raider.
No bows and arrows, no crisp, cinematic graphics, no fancy movie-length cut-scenes, just handguns, good old pixels and pointy-looking people with rectangular hands.
The way it should be.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary? That’s for suckers.
The game is, of course, buxom adventuress Lara Croft’s first foray into the world of gaming in what could be described as Indiana Jones meets Jurassic Park meets… I don’t know, something else probably. I guess the mini cut-scenes where the thin but sufficient plot kicks in have a James Bond-esque feel to them at times.
The game starts you off outside a snowy temple. Croft figures out how to open the doors when a bunch of wolves run out and take out her guide. She shoots all of them in the face, as she often does, and enters the temple.
With the exception of a few pesky little traps and some hidden animals, “The Caves” are easy enough to get through. Some hidden medkits and such can be found here and there and you’ll know when you’ve uncovered one when a harp sound effect is heard.
Love that sound.
As you play, you’ll realise that certain walls and surfaces are conveniently square. This is so you can climb on them, duh! Ok so it’s not exactly realistic but neither is picking up medkits everywhere you go no matter how old and deserted the location you’re exploring is.
Next you’ll be complaining Lara Croft’s not carrying a bottle of water everywhere!
More and more problem-solving is required of you as you play through the game and that can mean something trivial like pulling a lever opening a nearby door or pushing and pulling random walls you never knew you could push or pull.
Danger music kicks in whenever a boss or mini-boss pops up, which can be extremely stressful considering the game is usually silent save for the sound effects. Luckily, the game has a great, memorable score overall and if you played this game growing up, I’m sure the nostalgia value is through the roof when listening back to it.
The animation on Lara Croft was always impressive for the time. The controls may not always be that smooth at first when trying to get the character to do something more specific like walk slowly towards the edge of a platform or turn ever so slightly but once you get used to all those functions, it’ll become embedded in your DNA.
Lara Croft can run, jump, hang onto stuff, shoot handguns and other weapons, put those guns back in her holsters, achieve a dignified and safe slow walk, jump sideways, jump and grab, swim… she’s, in a word, pretty awesome.
Or in two words, rather.
The caves lead you to a lost Peruvian city and, of course, to dinosaurs.
I mean, why wouldn’t there be dinosaurs in what I can only describe as a Peruvian hotel lobby?
I do like how Lara Croft is not so much concerned with bringing back proof that dinosaurs still exist and shoots them dead, leaving them lying finally extinct on the ground, as she continues on her journey. Surely taking back any piece of a recently living dinosaur back to the surface would have driven people nuts and made her even richer.
In the “Tomb Of Qualopec,” you meet this level’s boss Matthew McConaughey.
Whose face, admittedly, looks covered in beard in the above screenshot.
After a short conversation, you kick him in the face and head to Greece where one of my favourite levels, “St Francis’ Folly”, can be found. The great thing about this stage is that you’re going around climbing this weirdly structured tower where various paths lead to different mythological gods-themed rooms each containing a trap specific to that god.
The Thor room will strike you down with electricity, the Neptune room is water themed, the Atlas room involves a big ball, the Damocles room has swords hanging above you ready to slam down onto you just when you thought you’d figured out how to avoid them.
I’ve always loved how cruel and creative this level is and, even now, I always look forward to it when replaying the game. Same goes for “Palace Midas” where touching any gold can turn you into a gold statue in what is arguably the most frightening and cool death in the game.
It’s certainly more dignified and original than falling on bloody spikes.
Which also happens, a lot.
After tackling the “Colosseum” and the Midas stage, you find yourself traveling to Egypt and finally to Atlantis, which turns out to be way more messed-up than I could have ever expected. Doors and walls are covered in gore, there’s lava everywhere, you fight weird skinless monster dudes:
By the time you get to the final pyramid, it’s like you’re playing Weird Dreams with Lara Croft. And although this is definitely crazier than anything that comes before it, it totally works.
If only the movies had been this ballsy.
Then again, the second film does have Lara Croft punching a shark…
All in all, I still love the first Tomb Raider and will always consider it a great game. I first discovered it back in the day through a demo I played on an old, barely functional PC and became addicted to the franchise from then on. Some later sequels may have strayed too far from what made the early games so good but, thankfully, I know I can always go back and play the first Tomb Raider and have one heck of a good time.
*walks into wall*