Going back through my collection of old PC games, I came across a title that I didn’t originally plan on reviewing; Tomb Raider. Of course, it was only about a year ago that I reviewed the new Tomb Raider reboot so I figured it might be worth some time taking a look back on the games that started it all.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve played through the first three original Tomb Raider games and found it to be quite the nostalgia trip. But before I dive in, I’m going to take a moment to talk about the availability of these titles.
First off, all three of these games are available either through Steam or GOG. There’s no real difference where you get them from, but you should be aware that when buying these games through these channels you are getting the original game only. All three of these titles had extra content released later on. For Tomb Raider, there is the Unfinished Business chapter. For Tomb Raider II, there is the Golden Mask add-on. Finally, for Tomb Raider III, there is something called “The Lost Artifact”. The first two are free to download, but The Lost Artifact is not. The add-on levels are quite enjoyable and especially in the case of TR1, I consider them to be essential.
Regardless of how you manage to acquire them, these games are certainly worth a look. This is the original trilogy that started it all. It’s here that gamers all over the world first became acquainted with the female treasure hunter, Lara Croft.
Tomb Raider was released in 1996, and unlike many popular PC games at the time, it was not a first person shooter. Tomb Raider is as true action/adventure style platformer. The game is viewed from a third-person perspective and is heavily focused on various platforming puzzles. The combat in the game is often very fast paced and intense. In most situations, enemies tend to take you by surprise.
The game focuses on Lara Croft, an adventurer/treasure hunter who has been tasked with recovering a value artifact. Without ruining the storyline of the game, there’s much more to this item than meets the eye, and closer Lara gets to her goal, the more twists and turns the story takes.
Originally released on DOS, the game featured by blocky software driven graphics. Eventually, a 3DFX accelerated patch was released that increased the graphic quality of the title tremendously. (Modern players wanted to take advantage of the accelerated version will need some type of Glide wrapper such a nGlide).
Tomb Raider is really an excellent title, but there a lot of things about the game to pick apart. First, the controls. Playing the game using the keyboard is very cumbersome and frustrating. The controls make almost no sense whatsoever, but you do manage to get use to them after a while. But, once you do it really don’t matter because the playcontrol is so poor. Many in-game deaths that I experienced were not the result of my mistake, but rather from clunky controls.
3DFX Version of Tomb Raider
Despite control issues, the game was popular enough to spawn a sequel. Playing these two games back to back is very eye-opening. The quality of the second title is much improved. First off, the game was designed for windows and features accelerated graphics right out of the box. The controls are similar, but seem to be a bit more responsive.
Aside from some refinements. TR2 also brings a new storyline that seems to flow a bit better. I personally enjoyed the story from this title over the original. Overall, I’d have to say its a better game, but the magic of the original is hard to overshadow.
By this point, Lara herself became the focus of much criticism due to her massive bust and seemingly Barbie Doll figure. Lara was both an idol and bane to many liberal women’s groups. It was hard to hate such an independent and kick-ass woman, but at the same time her sex-appeal made it hard to recommend her as a role-model. Regardless, all the hype and controversy only managed to provide the game with more attention. For whatever reasons, Lara Croft had her fans right where the game designers wanted them.
Tomb Raider II
Naturally, there was also a third game in the series. This was the last classic Tomb Raider game that I played as a young man, and also the last one up in this collective review. Again, we have some slightly refined graphics, some new weapons and a different atmosphere. But other than that, there’s not much that has changed between the second and third installment. Story wise, TR3 is a continuation of the previous title. The gameplay between the two is also very similar.
As I’ve said several times in the review, all three of these a great games and even today it’s easy to lose yourself in them. That being said, they have not aged well. The playcontrol is poor across the board. This is true even if you try playing with a controller. I get so frustrated with these game when it comes to control. I’m constantly bumping into things and walking off the side of cliffs or bridges. It seems a bit ridiculous.
At this point, I should mention that all these of these games also saw release on the original PlayStation console. The console versions seem to handle much better than the PC releases, but don’t always look quite as good.
Tomb Raider III
***This review is based on a 3DFX modded version of the original game on Steam, and the retail version of TR2 Gold and TR3 “Lost Artifact”. While I own all three on Steam, I played the retail 2 and 3 for the extra content.***
Difficulty: Hard– In these games, there’s only one level of difficulty setting and that is hard. Each game features an optional tutorial level and I do recommend spending some time taking advantage of them. This is true for all three games. Mastering the controls alleviates 75% of what makes this game challenging. But playcontrol aside, these games are no walk in park. This is especially true is later levels.
Story: Each game features a good and unique storyline. If you like exploring and treasure hunting, you’ll like Tomb Raider. The story is told between cutscenes and in-game narrative and is overall very well done.
Originality: As a whole, the Tomb Raider trilogy is very unique. I don’t recall there being anything like it at the time it was originally released. The sequels lack originality, but do provide new challenges and refinement over their predecessors.
Soundtrack: The soundtrack for these games is fitting and appropriate. However, the PC players get the short end of the stick here a bit. The sound tracks available on the PlayStation versions seem to be much better in comparison. Regardless of version, the ambient and environmental noises are spot on.
Fun: There’s a lot of fun times to be found between these games. For me, I experienced a lot of frustration with the camera and in-game controls and that did put a little damper on my experience a bit. But I tried to overlook these shortcomings.
Graphics: The software version of TR1 is pretty ugly, but you get used to it. The accelerated version is much easier on the eyes, but it filled with sharp angles. So its a trade off. This improves a bit with each sequel. Today, the graphics do not hold up well and look very aged. But at the time, they were top of the line.
Playcontrol: Here we go. While you can eventually get the hang of it, both the default controls and the control response on these games is very poor in my opinion. Maybe I’m being a little harsh, but to me this is the worst thing about the game. It nearly ruins the experience. You can customize the controls, but it doesn’t make much of a difference. Luckily, you can save the game just about anywhere so mistakes and fumbles are easy to recover from. But that’s beside the point.
Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – When looked at as trilogy, these games are certainly worth attention, even today. If only the playcontrol across these titles was a little tighter, each one of these would easily be a four-star game. Regardless of my frustrations with the clumsy play experience, the games are phenomenal otherwise and still fun even today.
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