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 – 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