Tomb Raider Retrospective Part 3 – Tomb Raider III (1998)

8 03 2008

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 

Tomb Raider 3 Logo

Facts

  • Was set in India, Nevada, A South Pacific Island, London and Antarctica.
  • Lara could now crawl, sprint, and swing from monkey bars.
  • Was the one where she went to Area 51
  • Added water currents, a Kayak, and a freeze-to-death bar.
  • Biggest breasts ever.

Now here we have the game that caused me to originally give up on the series. Core’s engine programming dudes had been hard at work splitting the virtual atom into it’s component triangles. By that confusing statement I mean that their engine was now capable of rendering three-sided shapes, and did so with reckless abandon. Harnessing the power of triangles, they were capable of creating the most realistic environments yet in the series. That isn’t of course to say that they looked particularly good, or even slightly good, but the environments didn’t look just like a stack of deformed crates any more which was refreshing if nothing else.

The first level is set in an Indian jungle, and it showcases what truly amazing environments can now be made. Or rather, it looks fucking terrible. Every cheap trick to simulate vegetation is used, the most common being just a flat sprite with some leaves on. The whole effect is that pretty much everything in the first four levels looks like the stage dressing in a primary school play. The first level also introduces insta-kill quick-mud (which looks just like regular mud. Have fun with that.), irritating water currents that stop you from getting where you want to go, and has you shooting hundreds of innocent poison monkeys.

A jungle, apparently.
Tomb Raider 3 was an ugly ugly game.

This opening level really was a nightmare, and it even used my favourite trick in which you die immediately upon starting the game if you don’t jump over a pit with pinpoint accuracy. The level design was messy looking and many steps harder to work out where the hell you were supposed to go than the previous game. I had just finished Tomb Raider 2 when a demo of this level came out, and it’s fair to say it put me right off. You can’t blame me for not wanting to play an uglier, more frustrating version of an already ugly and frustrating game, surely?

The overall plot has something to do with a meteorite that split up in earth’s atmosphere a billion years ago, and Lara needs to go around the world collecting the bits of it for some reason. If you are that interested, you can watch the entire plot of the game here, but it really wasn’t the high point of the series if there was in fact a high point. A graph of the plot quality of the tomb raider series would look something like this:

presumably amusing graph

Once the opening bore-fest is out of the way, the game presents you with a list of three locations you can go to next, in a back-of-the-box feature known as non-linear levels! What this really meant was you were screwed unless you went to Nevada first, because there was a sequence in that area of the game where they robbed you of your guns and never gave them all back. So any collected in the other two areas would be lost forever. Great work guys. You eventually unlocked the last level set in the Antarctic, where they stole idea from classic movie The Thing. In fact, a lot of the game seemed to be stolen from various things, which the designers would probably write off as homages.

In Nevada, when not fending off attacking eagles, Lara’s aim was to break into Area 51 of all places. Yep, there was even a UFO there. Lots of army servicemen for her to murder as well. The only explanation I can think of for this sequence is that the X-Files was popular at the time, so they wanted to do something along those lines. Hey Assholes, it’s called “Tomb Raider”. Raiding Tombs. Tombs. Raiding. Christ.

Aldwych
A photo-realistic representation of a tube station.

Lara also went to London in a sequence ripped of from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. She finds a weird society of people living in the underground tunnels which apparently exist in beneath London. As a resident of London, this part is especially hilarious. I’m really not sure why they bothered trying to do real locations in their engine, because the results are just bad. Lara also ends up breaking into the National History Museum, where there are security guards for her to murder, and an entire sphinx. Now I’ve been to the National History Museum and I didn’t see no damn sphinx, which raises the question once again of why they bothered naming where she was. I think they assumed no-one would ever get past the opening level in order to verify what it said on the back of the box.

Lara murders a lot of people in this game. Well, she murdered a lot of people in the last game as well, but those people were almost certainly evil. In this one she kills US servicemen, and night security guards at a museum. Oh, and the majority of a primitive and previously undiscovered tribe living in the South Pacific. Maybe it’s just me, but I felt that making her into a cold blooded killer wasn’t the greatest move. It’s not like the game presented you with a choice about it either. It was probably a misguided attempt to make the series darker, which designers love doing. Either that, or they weren’t really thinking to hard about it due to the impossibly tight release schedule imposed on the series.

By the third entry in any series is when most series try and get back to their roots in order to recover from the misstep of the second entry. The roots of Tomb Raider are of course the raiding of tombs, and to be fair she does do that at least once in this game, though it’s really more of a temple than a tomb if you have to get all technical. In order to cement this back to the roots direction, the designers decided to stick in yet another lost valley stuffed with dinosaurs. How many of these bloody things are there anyway? It’s truly amazing that no-one who isn’t Lara Croft hasn’t discovered them considering their abundance.

The mansion in this game was expanded with a hedge maze, a 4×4 race track, an enormous fish tank, roof, and tons of other crap. It was the biggest and most secret-stuffed that the mansion ever got, and was probably the best thing about the game. It also had the farting butler that you can lock in the freezer  as well, for all you immature gits.

Next time on Tomb Raider Retrospective, Lara goes back to her roots, in another back-to-her-roots adventure!

Tomb Raider Retrospective
Introduction
Part 1 – Tomb Raider (1996)
Part 2 – Tomb Raider II (1997)
Part 3 – Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft (1998)
Part 4 – Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (1999) – coming soon
Part 5 – Tomb Raider Chronicles (2000) – coming soon
Part 6 – Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (2003) – coming soon
Part 7 – Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend (2006) – coming soon
Part 8 – Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary (2007) – coming soon





Tomb Raider Retrospective Part 2 – Tomb Raider II (1997)

7 02 2008

Platforms: PC, PlayStation

Tomb Raider 2 Logo

Facts

  • It was set in The Great Wall of China, Venice, An Oil Rig, A Ship Wreck, Tibetan Mountains and Monastery, China, and a Surreal Alien Dimension.
  • It was the one with the Dragon in the intro, and the last boss was a Dragon.
  • You got a grenade launcher, M16 and spear-gun.
  • Her breasts were actually breast shaped.
  • She did have an animated ponytail, but it behaved like some sort of epileptic snake ghost.
  • It had a mansion level with a butler, and there was some outside areas.
  • You could climb up walls, and ‘ladders’ which were just walls that looked like ladders.

A mere 12 months after the first game came out, a sequel was already weighing down store shelves. It soon became apparently that Core had decided to go in a different direction with this game, the opposite direction of tombs. Some surmised that this new tomb-less environment may have been a response to the controversy stirred up by having Lara spend a large part of the first game killing poor cute animals. Killing humans is of course far less upsetting for the children than killing dangerous and almost certainly rabid beasts.

Let’s get the plot out of the way first. The game starts off strongly with a level set on the Great Wall of China which contained far more rolling boulders and swinging axe traps than I expected. Lara is there searching for the Dagger of Xian which is a legendary dagger that if stabbed into ones own heart will apparently turn one into a dragon. Actually it does exactly that, turns you into a real bloody dragon. Of course removing the precariously lodged dagger doesn’t turn you back into a human, it turns you into a dead dragon instead. A Venetian mob boss called Bartoli is also searching for the dagger, presumably because he’s an otherkin who wants to live out his fantasy of being a dragon with an obvious weak spot. This time round, the plot really is just an excuse for Lara to traipse around the world, and it actually manages to be substantially weaker than the first game’s plot which is quite an accomplishment. Here, just to fill up some room, is the rough progression through the game…

Oddly detail free Great Wall
No expense was spared recreating the majesty of the Great Wall of China.

From the Great Wall, Lara ends up in a blocky impression of Venice where she gets to pilot an awkward speedboat around some canals for a bit. She blows up Bartoli’s hideout with some bombs, then jumps around a condemned opera house. From there, she catches a sea-plane to an oil rig, and then dives down to the wreck of a cruise ship at the bottom of the sea. After this, she goes to the foothills of Tibet for some more awkward vehicle based hyjinks, this time in a gravity-ignoring snowmobile. After this long frustrating sequence she ends up in a monastery where she meets the first non-hostile humans in the series. After this it’s back via truck to the Great Wall and into some catacombs that some how lead to a surreal alien dimension of floating rocks, and from there to a boss fight with a dragon in a temple that has convenient water filled holes for you to hide in when you are inevitably flambéed. Finally you end up back in her manor where she fights off home-invaders while wearing night-wear.

I feel I glossed over something important in that last paragraph. Did you notice I said she went to an alien dimension of floating rocks? Let’s be clear here, I am all for the wackiness of the first game, and I will admit that this sequel had been largely too mundane for my taste up to this point, but this was by far the oddest plot jump the series ever did. Look, just watch it here. What the christ was this all about? Who even knows? You had better believe that Lara doesn’t seem to bat an eyelid about it though. Most blasé heroine ever.

Floating Islands
No need for concern, it’s just a surreal fantasy world of flying rocks and floating Chinese warriors. No need to even pass comment really.

Much like the first game, playing it is a really long and surprisingly difficult experience. You will find yourself reloading your game a lot, and simultaneously growing to love the bone-crunching sound that happens whenever Lara dashes herself all over rocks for the umpteenth time. The poor PlayStation users had to put up with a terrible Save Crystal system which just went towards making it that little bit less accessible.

The gameplay was spiced up all the way to the max with the addition of wall climbing which was I have no positive or negative opionion on, it was just there. You could also do this 180 degrees roll thing which I always found myself using more than I probably needed to. The biggest new feature was the inclusion of vehicles. For the Venice levels you got a speedboat, but weren’t really given enough room to do much speeding in it. At the end of the level you were supposed to launch yourself up some stairs and over a mine-field which didn’t always work quite how you would expect. You also got a chunky snowmobile in the Tibet area. Back in 1997 physics didn’t exist yet, which is unfortunate as you were required to make a few jumps across pits which would result in the laws of gravity being totally ignored.

The combat is exactly the same as the first game, although some of the enemies have guns now, but you have better guns. The grenade launcher was particularly devastating, and had a bizarre visual effect. Upon being killed by a grenade, enemies split apart into their component triangles in an effect now unlike a vase shattering.

As mentioned earlier, Core had only 12 months to work on this game, and therefore didn’t have time to deliver much more than what is essentially an expansion pack, and most reviewers acknowledged this, although it still managed to get reasonably decent scores. One thing it certainly did do though was make a franchise out of Tomb Raider.

The first hint or perhaps omen of what was to come for the direction of the series was the curious phrase ‘Starring Lara Croft’ on the games’s box. This seemed to me to be the marketers telling you why you should care about the game in no uncertain terms. It’s also a really odd concept. Do game characters really star in games? I’d say probably not unless there is some meta-layer actually present in the game to some degree. I have a feeling that this obsession with promoting Lara Croft as a character external to the games was instrumental in the decline in popularity of the series.

Just to show where this all eventually went, it was this corporatisation of the franchise that would lead to Lara appearing in adverts for Lucozade, finally culminating Lucozade being briefly named Larazade around 2001. Yes Larazade, I swear I am not making this up. What the fuck?

Larazade?
Hey Kids! Do you want to simply play a game with your fists like a nerd, or do you want have a wild and unique branding experience?

Next time on Tomb Raider Retrospective, Lara discovers a hidden lost valley of dinosaurs…again….

Tomb Raider Retrospective
Introduction
Part 1 – Tomb Raider (1996)
Part 2 – Tomb Raider II (1997)
Part 3 – Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft (1998)
Part 4 – Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (1999) – coming soon
Part 5 – Tomb Raider Chronicles (2000) – coming soon
Part 6 – Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (2003) – coming soon
Part 7 – Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend (2006) – coming soon
Part 8 – Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary (2007) – coming soon





Tomb Raider Retrospective – Introduction

4 02 2008

Tomb Raider Logo

Tomb Raider… does anyone really care about Tomb Raider anymore? To say that Lara Croft has largely dropped out of the public consciousness is a statement that could have been made accurately as long as eight years ago at this point. There was a time when Lara would of probably been recognised by filthy non-gaming yokels as she featured in adverts and two god-awful movies. Those days are over though; while profitable the movies were largely considered terrible, and Lara is having to stick to games for the time being.

But what is the last Tomb Raider game that anyone actually played? Probably the one with Area 51 whichever one that was. The games sort of drifted into obscurity sometime around the turn of the century, but I’ve got good news: the games are still being made! Not only that but they are actually pretty good! I have recently completed the 8th Tomb Raider game, Tomb Raider: Anniversary, and am vaguely frustrated that while it is an excellent game, it has been largely ignored and dismissed by the gaming community. It seems that people’s eyes upon seeing anything with the phrase ‘Tomb Raider’ on dismiss it as irrelevant before the information can make it to their brains. For this reason I have decided to write this overly long retrospective of the Tomb Raider series to amuse and inform, or perhaps to annoy.

One phenomenon I have frequently encountered when discussing these games is that they have run together into an indistinct mess in everyone’s memories. I get asked questions like “Is that the one with T-Rex?”, “Is that the one where you she dies at the end?”, and “What the hell is ‘Tomb Raider: Chronicles?’ “. To help combat this I will be listing the things you should probably remember about these games if you have ever played them, and haven’t quite repressed the experience all the way.

Rendering - old vs new
Original rendering of Lara and rendering of Lara for Tomb Raider: Anniversary. Notice how she looks almost like an actual human now.

The year was 1996! The Sony PlayStation was tearing the games industry several new orifices, but had yet to have a real iconic character like Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog, or uh Jazz Jackrabbit? Core Design were desperately trying to think of a hook for their Indiana Jones rip-off game, and after noticing that perverted men liked staring at busty women for long periods, the Hispanic grave-robber Laura Cruz was born! Shortly afterwards Laura was scrapped in favour of the decidedly Britisher Lara Croft. Obviously, she took the world by storm with her acrobatics, large breasts, british accent, and willingness to shoot endangered species right in the face.

Six games later, the series had been almost ruined by the increasingly horrible work of Core Design, and Crystal Dynamics were asked by Eidos to clean Core’s mess, and they did so successfully with their new ‘Lara Croft Tomb Raider’ franchise. The design of this new Lara was based off a Topshop sales clerk who Eidos are apparently paying to essentially be Lara for some reason. This re-imagined Lara inherited the rather curious title of Countess of Abingdon which is a pretty odd place to be a Countess of. The background story for the new Lara gave her a slightly different tragic past, and a possibly living mother as explored in Legend.

Now, join me on a mostly downhill journey of incremental engine updates, rushed release schedules, ridiculous plots, the word ‘no’ said in a very posh manner, crass commercialism, and the occasional tomb.

Tomb Raider Retrospective
Introduction
Part 1 – Tomb Raider (1996)
Part 2 – Tomb Raider II (1997)
Part 3 – Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft (1998)
Part 4 – Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (1999) – coming soon
Part 5 – Tomb Raider Chronicles (2000) – coming soon
Part 6 – Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (2003) – coming soon
Part 7 – Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend (2006) – coming soon
Part 8 – Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary (2007) – coming soon