Tuesday, 19 October 2010

When Grave Robbing Became Cool

Way back in 1996 (seems further back than what it actually is) game developers Core Design and publishers Eidos Interactive released a videogame on the Playstation, that would catapult the games heroine into the stratosphere and make her an icon. Never before had a game character been a household name. (Well okay there was Mario but he didn't have some of the worlds most beautiful women playing him.)
The game im preparing the drum rolls for is of course Tomb Raider, starring wealthy (we say 'posh' around here) adventurer Lara Croft. And I will not do what everyone else does and say a bustier, prettier and more kissable version of Indiana Jones. So ignore that last sentence.
Tomb Raider is only just 'retro' but rest assured, it IS retro. I remember first playing a demo of this, courtesy of some Playstation magazine, and being blown away by the water pools. I played the heck out of that demo, usually swimming, before finally getting my mitts on the full game proper.
And what a game it was! Nice visuals (aside from Lara's conical breasts) short but sweet cut scenes with a combination of action and quirky puzzles. The sheer size of some levels (especially the Sphinx level) were enough to make your jaw hit the floor.

Crofty does her bit for wildlife conservation

The story revolves around recovery of the Scion, something which has phenomenal power, as is typical in these adventure games. Lara travels to Peru, Greece and Egypt in an attempt to stop the games antagonist Jacqueline Natla securing it for herself. I can't remember another game before Tomb Raider that did so much globe trotting and so it was a refreshing experience having different types of terrain to explore and cull the wildlife (see above pic.)
The puzzles were sometimes straightforward and ofen frustrating but having recently replayed the game, some of the ideas were cool. Like in Greece on the St Francis' Folly level, there are four puzzles (Thor, Neptune, Damocles, Atlas) to solve to obtain keys and each one were nicely thought out and satisfying to solve.
Having said that, I must admit the puzzles were used too often in later games, requiring to solve one even to open a single door which quickly became irritating. Especially when Lara had a shotgun which one would think was capable of opening even the stubbornest of doors! On Miss Crofts first outing though things were new and players didn't notice the puzzle hungry doors (or I didn't anyway.)
The only big gripe I have about Tomb Raider was the way you saved the game; you couldn't unless you bumped into a blue diamond save crystal but these were awfully placed and gamers could usually find two within 10 minutes, then not find another for half an hour. And in the Coliseum part there is a save crystal almost at the end of the level! Why?
Anyway thats enough whining, Core Design fixed the save problem in further installments and in such a groundbreaking title I find it rather petty of me to pick out little faults so onto the good stuff which there are aplenty.
The most obvious WOW Factor came for many in the early Lost Valley level. There Lara is merrily weaving her way through rock clusters, not a care in the world as she picks off ravenous wolves like they were mere bugs. You think to yourself 'well this is all rather nice,' as you scramble down a craggy ledge to get to the valley floor. Then it happens. Two velociraptors come charging from the ferns, intent on making a Crofty supper. And before you can finish saying 'dinosaurs! WTF??' You're gunning them down, sending the lizards back to extinction. But its not over, oh no.
There is silence, two dead raptors lay at your booted feet. You proceed with a renewed caution, scanning the trees for more angry dinos. Less than a quarter of the way across the valley floor you spot muddy prints. Giant lizardy clawprints. Suddenly orchestral music kicks in, the doom laden kind that spells TROUBLE and there he is. Heading straight for Lara is a huge Tyrannosaurus Rex, jaws as big a Land Rover! It really is a great moment in videogaming for me and the fright meter is easily up there with the dogs smashing through a window in Resident Evil.

Photobucket Run Lara! Run!

Another stand out moment is the Egypt level as I said above when you discover the Sphinx. Its massive and really hit home just how good the original Playstation was. I had never seen as large a level anywhere before and Core Design were at the top of their game. Its still impressive even today.
I could go on and on about how great a game Tomb Raider is/was but nothing I can write will beat actually playing it again so do yourself a favour and fire it up for old times sake. This title is very popular at car boot sales (in my area anyway) and you can grab a copy for a £1. Gamestation sells it cheaply too so might be worth checking them out.

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