Collective Review: Tomb Raider – The Last Revelation & Chronicles

           

I’m still polishing off my “turn of the century” gaming reviews and today I bring a collective look at two Tomb Raider titles. It’s been five years since I last discussed this series. Five years! I’m slacking! At that time, I did a collective review of the first three Tomb Raider games. In case you missed it, you can read it: here

The first three Tomb Raider games were released back to back in ’96, ’97 and ’98.  They were very similar in design and therefore I chose to review them together. The same is true with the next two entries in the series; Tomb Raider – The Last Revelation (AKA: Tomb Raider IV – 1999) and Tomb Raider Chronicles (AKA: Tomb Raider V – 2000).  So again, I’m going to look at these games together. I played the first three Tomb Raider games on the PC at the time they were released and loved them. However, by the time the next two entries were released my mind was on other things and I shamefully admit that I overlooked them. I’m glad to have finally had a chance to sink my teeth into these classic titles.

Before starting, let me say upfront that these games are old and they do not always play well with modern systems. In fact, to get these to run properly you may need to resort to the use of various third-party tools. There are video driver wrappers, full-screen resolution fixes, and other tricks available out there for players who wish to play these on modern systems. It is likely you will require at least some of these if you want to enjoy these on the PC. Of course, these games were also available on the Sony Playstation, so if you are able to play them native or emulated on that system you can save some stress (albeit you might be missing some of the additional content – more on that later).

First up is Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation. This is the fourth game in the original Tomb Raider series and it’s very much more of the same. In fact, I was a bit shocked at just how much like the previous games this title ended up being. The game starts with a brief tutorial showing Lara Croft as a young sixteen year old girl accompanying her mentor as they explore some ruins. Once this initial stage is over, the game returns to the modern time and focuses on Lara as she seeks to retrieve an ancient Egyptian artifact and uncovers a secret archaeological plot. Sadly, very predictable stuff. But, admittedly pretty well done – all things considered.

Even though the graphics are similar to the previous games, there are some subtle improvements that make this title a pleasure to look at. Even today, in a world of high definition textures, The Last Revelation manages to be very atmospheric. It has the classic Tomb Raider feel that made the series popular. Also, Lara now has a few new moves at her disposal to keep things feeling fresh in a gameplay model that is quickly running the risk of growing stale. For me, The Last Revelation is a great example of classic Tomb Raider. There’s plenty of content and it’s overall very well done.

As with several of the previous games in the series, it’s worth mentioning that there was a free additional level available for download shortly after the game’s release. This level is included automatically if you purchase the game from GOG. If you purchase the game elsewhere, or still have an original copy, you may need to do some scouring to find it.

Next, let’s turn our attention to the fifth game in the Tomb Raider series: Tomb Raider Chronicles. This one is a bit of an oddball…  I don’t want to ruin the ending of The Last Revelation, but the game ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Chronicles is a direct sequel, but instead of following a continuous story like all of the games that game before it. Tomb Raider Chronicles is instead a collection of smaller scenarios that focus on a number of Lara’s previously untold adventures.

Gameplay wise, the title works well. But this entry in the series feels largely uninspired. It simply doesn’t hold the magic that the first four games in the series managed to conjure up. Still, fans of the series are likely to find it enjoyable.

In a nutshell, these two games are a welcome entries in original franchise. But the series is beginning to show signs of age. Chronicles is a strong example of what happens when developers cling to a proven model but refuse to take new risks. I’m curious to see how the next few games in the series pan out.

Difficulty: Hard –  The classic Tomb Raider titles held a reputation for being a bit on the tough side. These games certainly continue that trend. In fact, I feel they are even a little harder that the first trilogy. Personally, I find a large part of the difficulty in these games coming from the playcontrol. The PC controls are stiff and stubborn, even with a controller. The console versions are little easier to manage, but not by much. The puzzles are thoughtful and challenging, yes. But by far the main level of frustration in these games comes from the actual gameplay, at least for me.

Story: The storyline for The Last Revelation is very well done. It’s compelling and interesting and it ends with a shocker. Chronicles is a bit of a mixed bag, but it does a decent job linking up with it’s predecessor. Like with the previous games, most of the lore and story is presented through cutscenes that take place in between levels and at the beginning and end of the games.

Originality: At this point there’s nothing new to see here. Yes, there are some novel additions to the games. But adding the ability to walk on tightropes and swing on vines does not help this quickly aging recipe. The game engine is past its prime and compared to other titles of the day, the Tomb Raider series is starting to lag behind.

Soundtrack: The voice acting is fairly well done. The OST for the games vary. Overall, most of the background music is fitting but not particularly exciting. There are a few stand out tracks, however.

Fun: Hardcore Tomb Raider fans will find a good level of enjoyment in these games, especially The Last Revelation. But casual players might have a harder time getting into these. Regardless, if Tomb Raider is your cup of tea, you won’t be disappointed.

Graphics: Despite still piggybacking off the original TR engine, the graphics show some minor signs of improvement when compared with earlier games in the series. That being said, they also lag behind other games of the era. Oddly enough, TR4 seems to outshine TR5 in terms of beauty. 

Playcontrol:  For me, the playcontrol on these classic Tomb Raider titles are the biggest issue. Controls are stiff, non-responsive and punishing. Again, the saving grace here is being able to save and reload your game as needed. I’ve played these titles using both the keyboard as well as various gamepads. I can’t decide which works best… either way is riddled with issues. The console versions do feel a bit more natural, but still suffer.

Downloadable Content: YES – Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation received a free playable level that was distributed by the English newspaper The Times. The file is no longer available officially, but can be found on various fan sites free of charge.

Mature Content: Minor language, ridiculously shaped female characters.

Value:  You can snag both of these games together from GOG for $10. Buying them individually on Steam will run you about $7 each. So unless they go on sale, GOG is the way to go. Plus, GOG also happens to distribute the DLC level for Tomb Raider 4.  Even despite their faults, these games are a steal at $10.00.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – At this point, the Tomb Raider series is starting to show it’s age. These games are far from perfect when compared with the original trilogy – this is especially the case with Chronicles. However, for the price and the amount of content, they are well worth an addition to any gamer’s collection. The biggest thing holding these back are the persistent playcontrol issues and the lack of innovation.

Available on: PSN, GOG, Steam

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

TR – TR2 – TR3 – Last Revelation – Chronicles – Angel of Darkness

Legends – Anniversary – Underworld – Guardian of Light
Tomb Raider (2013)    –  Rise of the Tomb Raider

Collective Review: Tomb Raider I II & III

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Currently available on: PSN, Steam, GOG

Other Reviews In This Series:

TR – TR2 – TR3 – Last Revelation – Chronicles – Angel of Darkness

Legends – Anniversary – Underworld – Guardian of Light
Tomb Raider (2013)    –  Rise of the Tomb Raider

Review: Tomb Raider (2013)

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If I’ve been a little quiet lately it’s because I’ve been busy playing the recently released Tomb Raider game.  I know that traditionally I’ve focused mainly on retro games when writing on the blog. However, it is my intention to cover just about any type of game that interests me. My recent experience with Sleeping Dogs showed me just how much fun a lot of modern games can be.. So, once I heard that Square Enix’s reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise was about to be released, I decided to make it my next purchase. I have not been disappointed.

I owned and played the first three classic Tomb Raider games back when I was in high school and college. I had them on the PC, and enjoyed them, but I always felt the controls were a little awkward and determined that perhaps I should have been playing them on a console. So I naturally assumed that this new reboot would be the same. I decided a while back that this was going to be a game I going to play, I just had to determine which would be the better purchase – Xbox or PS3? Then, I saw the game being advertised on Steam with a load of valuable pre-order content (multiplayer map and optional tomb) and I decided to take an extra look at the PC version. What I learned was quite interesting. The PC version features many graphical enhancements not present on either console system. The game engine takes advantage of modern DirectX 11 hardware in way never seen before. If you have a PC that can support it, new technologies like TressFX and Tessellation really bump up the visuals to a jaw dropping level. That coupled with good PC experience I had on Sleeping Dogs, I ultimately went with the PC route for my purchase.

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Being a reboot, this game is a complete reimagining of the Tomb Raider mythology. Long gone are the days of Lara Croft’s double-G cup boobs, and “I can do anything attitude”. Now we are introduced to a fragile, young Lara. Who is more a victim of circumstance than a swashbuckling heroine. The opening movie does a good job of establishing who Lara is and it did a quite effective job or getting me emotionally invested in the character.

In this game, Lara is a member of a expedition/documentary film crew who is search of the long lost island of Yamatai. During the journey, their ship is wrecked in a freak storm and Lara and her companions find themselves on an uncharted island. Not long after their arrival it becomes painfully obvious that they are not alone. Lara awakes, bound and hanging upside down from the ceiling of a bone-littered cavern. This is where the game begins. From here, it’s a non-stop thrill ride while Lara tries to escape the clutches of her captors, find her friends, unravel the secrets of the island and ultimately, make her escape.  Due to the recent release of the game, I don’t wish to spoil any plot elements so I’ll stop there.

I found myself feeling almost protective of poor Lara. The thrilling atmosphere of the game, combined with the fact that danger and death can lurk around almost any corner really kept me on the edge of my seat. The death scenes in the game are often shocking and gruesome. As I said earlier… SE did a fantastic job of making me “care” about our heroine.

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At first, the game seems to have a very “on-rails” feel to it. Many early parts of the game rely on button pressing combos to navigate through action sequences, but it’s not long before you are given complete control. Once this happens, the focus turns to exploration and survival. The island is occupied with hostiles, and Lara must either sneak her way through the environment or fight her way to safety. Throughout the game, Lara will acquire gear and weapons which can be upgraded using salvage materials scattered throughout the maps. Lara also earns experience points by hunting animals, killing opponents, or discovering lost treasures/items. Once she levels up, she can learn new skills and abilities.

True to it’s name, Tomb Raider also features optional tombs for the player to explore. These tombs are fairly short, and feature a bit of a break from the rest of the game. Exploration of tombs often require solving various environmental puzzles to reach the large treasure cache at the end.

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Initially at release, I had quite a time tweaking the graphical settings to get the game to run properly. I found this to be quite frustrating as I have a beast of a video card that should more than capable of running this game even on it’s highest settings with all the bells and whistles. As it turns out, there were some issues with both the game code and the drivers provided by Nvidia that were causing a problem. Luckily, both SE and Nvidia released fixes to alleviate this problem and I am happy to report that things are going smooth now.

I completed the single-player game last night and I found the whole thing to be quite a good experience. I certainly felt like I got my money’s worth. Not to mention the multi-player mode that also available. (Something I toyed with, but did not find all that interesting). I’m sure that this title will spawn a slew of DLC in the coming months (multiplayer maps have already been released), so I look forward to checking it out when the time comes. All in all, I certainly recommend this title to anyone. Old Tomb Raider fans may not appreciate the “New Lara”, but personally, I was beyond impressed.

Pre-ordering the “Survival Edition” from Steam offered the following additional content:

Guerilla Outfit – (Pointless change of clothes for Lara.)
Shanty Town Multiplayer Map
Tomb of the Lost Adventurer (Additional optional tomb to explore)

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Difficulty: Variable – The game offers three difficulty settings which apply to combat only.  As usual, I played the game on the default/normal setting and found it to be a fairly easy playthrough. There were a few situations in the game that required me to make several attempts at victory, but nothing very challenging at this setting. I found most of the puzzles in the game to be fairly straightforward, only requiring some basic out of the box thinking. I’m hoping for some more challenging tombs to raid in future DLC releases.

Story: Once again Square Enix delivers a breathtaking story. This game does a fantastic job of transitioning between cinematics and gameplay. The background story for the game is actually based on real mythology and is quite fascinating. I found it to be a perfect setting for the game.

Originality: I’ve heard many in the media compare this game to Uncharted (a title I have never played), so I can’t really be sure just how fresh many of the concepts presented here actually are. To me, I found the game to be a nice departure from anything I had played before. From the platforming angle, it is very similar to the old Tomb Raider titles of yesteryear. However, the collecting and item upgrade system are something entirely new to this title.

Soundtrack: The soundtrack is mainly ambient. Often times the music serves as a warning to impending danger. Nothing really captivating, but certainly fitting and very well done for the game.

Fun: Personally, I had a blast with the title. It was a purchase I made on a whim and was not disappointed.

Graphics: Here we go. Depending on your platform and set up, the graphic quality can vary greatly. PC users with high-end systems definitely get the better deal here. The game takes advantage of some really cutting edge tech. Video cards able to handle TressFX are treated to a Lara Croft with almost photorealistic hair, for example. That doesn’t mean that PS3 and 360 users are left out in the cold… the game looks marvelous on any system.

Playcontrol: Despite playing on the PC, I made sure to pull out out my trusty wired Xbox 360 controller. The game identified it immediately and even the onscreen tutorial reflected the correct button icons. This is a game that was designed for controllers and while there is native PC keyboard support, I think the a controller is defiantly the way to go. I experienced no real issues at all with controlling the game.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – I think SE has delivered a great title. While some old school gamers fond of the original series will certainly gripe about the radical departure this game represents. I found it to be quite well done. I’m not usually a big fan of reboots, but in this case, Tomb Raider 2013 has really injected new life into a series that (while good in the beginning) grew more stale as the years went by.

Other Reviews In This Series:

TR – TR2 – TR3 – Last Revelation – Chronicles – Angel of Darkness

Legends – Anniversary – Underworld – Guardian of Light
Tomb Raider (2013)    –  Rise of the Tomb Raider