Review by Shotgunnova
"Who's afraid'er the ol' tomb raider?"
Our buxom heroine Lara is called into the employ of Jacqueline Natla, who heads up Natla Technologies. She is sent to a mountainous "playground," with sheer walls of ice and sub-zero temperatures, to retrieve a little trinket called the Scion. Of course, deals like this don't always go as planned, and Lara soon runs afoul with her contractors. This all leads to a climax at the end of the game, and I'd be lyin' if I said the story wasn't interesting from start to finish.
Lara's tale gets pushed to the outskirts for awhile while she trawls the dungeons for weapons and keys, which can take several locations, but it's one of the main incentives to keep playing, especially since most people's gripes lie with the controls and graphics.
There are two modes to Lara's progress: on and off. "On" consists of the active parts, where she plugs baddies with her hand-cannons and shotguns. When in the fray, Lara has to keep active to retain as much health as possible since, well, the enemies are gunning for you as you are for them. Most people seem to have no qualms with shooting wolves and bears in the face, and they shouldn't: it's quite e to do and auto-aiming allows you to blow away all indigenous species you encounter.
"Off" mode consists of the menial tasks, like pushing blocks and jumping from the rock faces and ledges. Everyone and their brother seems to find fault with this, and not all of it is unfounded -- you'll probably end up dying quite a few times as you get your "tomb legs" in gear. To scale the levels, Lara needs to harness her leaping abilities, which come in regular, running, and combinations of those with grabbing ledges.
After Lara dies by freefalling for the third or fourth time, you'll probably get the hang of the setups you have to do; and, that is when you learn that the learning curve isn't that high. Obviously, you can't jump diagonally and expect to pull up on a ledge; you can't do normal jumps and expect to get the same places as running jumps. There may only be three or four variants to how Lara gets around, but you'll be into the tomb-raiding swing of things when you learn the actions. To say that it takes hours upon hours to learn the configurations is too much of an exaggeration for anyone to believe (I hope).
Graphics can be pixellated and can look kind of poor when you inspect them close-up, but they're sufficient for the year of release. You can always tell where cracks in the wall are, where the ledges slope or end, and where you need Lara to move to, so I don't find them to be as much of a problem. They don't look half-bad from a distance, though, and everything looks pixellated close-up, no? You'll get by just fine since the graphics don't interfere with gameplay in a negative manner.
There aren't many sounds here, but that's one thing I like about the game: no soundtrack, no unneeded noise. When you're getting around and need to make precision jumping/rolling, having a guitar or synthed-in orchestra in your face just doesn't cut it. The silence of footfalls and miscellaneous noise actually works well with a game set completely in subterranean labyrinths, if you ask me. When the music comes on, you know you're (1) coming close to an artifact (2) an enemy is attacking (3) nearing a trap of some sort. Blade-traps make skritchy-scratchy sounds, boulders rolling at you can be heard a mile away, and the growls of wolves and panthers all can be heard in crystal clarity, and those important sound bytes would be covered up if any other music was played continuously. The lack of sound can certainly be construed as a lack of creativity or production on the designers' part, but I should say in its defense that the tomb themes are all kind of majestic (i.e. they don't hit sour chords) and well-placed. The sound is used as a marker of importance in the game, and that's more than I can say in some others.
The Tomb Raider game can also be played in a CD player, where all its 80+ tracks can be accessed for listening anytime. That's tomb-riffic! =p
Nothing like sidequests or any of that, but every time you clear a level, you can access it again at any time and revisit. This is helpful in levels where weapons only appear in certain places, or you want to get weapons/secrets that you may have missed (Magnums in Colosseum, anyone?). In the post-game, your weapons also gain unlimited ammunition and you can really tear those cave bears and wolves some new ones. The game retains an authentic, reserved feel all the way through, and that's part of the reason why it's a timeless platformer.
+ You take the story, hook, line, and sinker
+ Brought 3-D platforming to new heights
+ Gunplay is energetic; climbing around isn't too shabby either
+ Levels are expansive
+ Puzzles and item-finding can be quite a task
- Controls are simply "alright"
- No orchestra blaring in your ear throughout levels (...or is that good?)
The Verdict: Croft and craft play awfully well together in this "playground."
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/31/06
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