I have a confession to make: When I was little, I was terrified of the ‘Tomb Raider’ series on the original Playstation. I grew up on platforming games like ‘Crash Bandicoot’ and ‘Spyro the Dragon’; games that were accompanied by constant joyful music. So, when my Dad started playing this adventure game, I wasn’t used to the silence of the game’s areas; the sudden sounds of animals that would attack you, and the daunting and empty locations that the player explored. Because of my fear of the games, I only ever played the tutorial, before watching my Dad play the main game (sometimes with my ears blocked).
However, that was about 20 years ago and, despite my gaming sessions still being taken up by the purple Dragon and orange Bandicoot, my gaming interests have broadened a lot. While I used to only play platforming games, I now play adventure, puzzle, exploration, and shooter games. So, as well as finding my original copy of ‘Tomb Raider’ on the Playstation 1, I thought I’d play the main game for myself.
‘Tomb Raider’ was a single-player action/adventure game that was released for the Playstation 1, Sega Saturn and PC in 1996. The player controls a woman called Lara Croft, an archaeologist in the same vein as Indiana Jones, who is sent on a mission to find the three Scion artefacts that have been hidden around the world. From here, she must travel across various terrain and locations, encountering different types of puzzles and enemies along the way.
While the emptiness and daunting nature of the game still makes me nervous, I had a fantastic time playing this, however I do have one or two issues with ‘Tomb Raider’. The one aspect of the game I liked was the structure of the areas\levels. Lara Croft travels through so many different areas, from the caves to Ancient Egypt to eventually Area 51! While writing this out, it sounds ridiculous to go from one, fairly normal-looking, landscape to an environment as obscure as the latter one, but the transition between these environments are done seamlessly. With each area, the difficulty amps up too, but not to the point where it’s jarring or sudden. However, if the player didn’t play the tutorial, the main game doesn’t help you by re-teaching the mechanics and controls. While the areas do go from easy to difficult, the game doesn’t parent the player, and instead leaves them to figure things out for themselves.
The game uses stiff tank controls and a third-person perspective throughout the game. Both mechanics help the player a lot, especially when Lara needs to go through some tight spaces or make precise movements while solving a puzzle. Tank controls in a game is an aspect I’ve only encountered once before (‘Croc: Legend of the Gobbos’), and both games use this style of controls to their advantage, by designing the areas big enough to accompany this. The control type also allows the players to think about where they want Lara to go. For example, if the game had implemented the slippery controls of ‘Crash Bandicoot’, Lara would be sliding around and wouldn’t give the player enough time to think about where they want her to go. ‘Tomb Raider’ is not meant to be rushed through (unless the specific area is timed, which doesn’t occur often) and the controls demonstrate that beautifully, to a certain extent.
Where they fail is with jumping/the run and jump moments. The jumping control has a delay to it on this version of the game, making quick run and jump manoeuvres tedious and frustrating. I’m unsure of whether this issue carried over to the other ports of the game, or whether this was just programmed into the Playstation edition. Nonetheless, it still makes for some irritating moments. The other aspect that I disliked, and made gameplay frustrating, was the camera. It would occasionally get stuck or go in the opposite direction of where Lara is going, making simple tasks sometimes more difficult than necessary. At the same time, this didn’t occur too often so could easily be forgiven.
As previously mentioned, the game has a tutorial that is separate from the main game and can be accessed via the main menu. Titled ‘Lara’s Home’, the player is free to roam round Lara’s mansion while she introduces you to the various controls and non-living obstacles you’ll encounter. This was a unique and fantastic way to teach the mechanics of the game without getting in harm’s way. Furthermore, the tutorial has its own storyline; Lara had just moved into the huge house and was taking a break from moving in. It’s a simple idea and one that works seamlessly, as well as an idea that other games weren’t demonstrating at the time of release. This is an aspect that is repeatedly placed into the rest of the Playstation 1 series and was, and still is, a joy to play through.
Overall, ‘Tomb Raider’ is a fantastic experience that I wish I had gotten round to sooner. The various locations are gorgeous, despite the limitations in graphical quality. The soundtrack is atmospheric and only appears when it needs to, to either enhance the impact of a location, or to elevate the tension of an enemy approaching. While the camera and controls are flawed, the areas are built around this, and takes into consideration the stiff controls. If you still own a Playstation 1 or 2, I recommend playing the original entry in what would become a huge game and film franchise. I’m personally glad I got over my fear of ‘Tomb Raider’!