Review by Tom Clark
"The point at which people started to hate Lara Croft"
Tomb Raider was a massive hit at the time of it's release. It seemed that gamers couldn't get enough of Lara Croft's subterranean exploits. As such, when news of a second adventure for Miss Croft was announced (along with a deal that made the series exclusive to the PC and to Sony's grey box), it was very well received, and Tomb Raider 2 followed it's predecessor straight into the best-sellers list. The suits at Eidos realised that they were onto a winner with the Tomb Raider games, and so swiftly announced another entry into the series. But in Winter 1998, when Tomb Raider 3: Adventures of Lara Croft arrived on the shelves of game stores world-wide, there was a mixed reaction. The arrival of three games in the series in three years had alerted games to the fact that this latest offering was more than likely just a pension fund for the guys and gals at Eidos. When the following two Christmases saw yet another two Tomb Raider games hit the market, still with little change to the formula, the opinion of the gaming public turned even more against Lara's outings. In five short years, Tomb Raider had gone from being gaming's hottest new franchise to one of arguably one of it's most reviled. Although this was a gradual movement, Tomb Raider 3 is the game that saw the start of the hostility. ...
.... which is a bit of a pity really, as it is a very good game on it's own (as are all the Tomb Raider games), it's only when compared to the other games in the series that it suffers (graphics aside it is remarkably similar to every other Lara Croft game). There isn't much on offer here that is new, to be honest. The game is now dual shock compatible - walk, run and (bizarrely) jump are now all on the left analogue stick - a move so cumbersome that the standard D-pad will be used by all but the most sadistic of gamers - while the right stick controls the camera, and it is this improved camera control that is the only possible reason people will switch analogue mode on while playing this game. Also new here are sprint and crawl moves. Although these are required quite often during the opening stages, their usefulness fades away after that, and it becomes clear that they were only included to make the game seem different to the first two. Attempts have also been made to improve the replayability of the Tomb Raiders here - after the four introductory stages, set in India, the player can choose the order in which he or she visits the next locations. There's the Nevada desert, the South Pacific Islands, and London on offer, and when all three are completed the game moves toward it's finale, set in the Antarctic. Despite all this globe trotting the levels all play in the same way (with only a few exceptions - the levels involving vehicles), and the order in which you pick your destination is largely irrelevant - the difficulty level stays pretty much constant throughout.
Basically, this game sees Lara hunting for four sections to an ancient, mutation-causing, meteorite. This involves roughly twenty levels, several weapons, five vehicles, endless amounts of dead wildlife, and countless frequent flier miles. The levels contain no real surprises for anyone who has played with Lara before (hang on, let me rephrase that...) - you jump, you shoot, you flip switches... and you die. A lot. See, in order to maintain your interest until the next Tomb Raider game, the kind folks at Eidos made this game more difficult than stealing a particularly addictive brand of candy from a particularly mean and vicious baby. This is ultimately the best thing that Tomb Raider 3 has got going for it. Although it means that more casual gamers are unlikely to see the end sequence, it also makes every single completed jump, every defeated foe, every secret discovered seem like a tremendous achievement. There is such a sense of accomplishment in this game that you genuinely become determined that you WILL keep going until you finish the level (which often takes a while). To aid in the greater difficulty, the unlimited saves of Tomb Raider 2 are gone (presumably Lara forgot to pack them, or something), and the crystals from Tomb Raider return. This time, though, they are collected and added to your inventory to be used when and where you please. This both prevents the urge to save before any difficult bit (removing any tension in the process), and maintains the freedom of saving wherever you please (so long as you have a crystal). This is the best save system in the Tomb Raider games, and it's a pity it didn't appear again.
The graphics in the game are, in all honesty, not great. While the scenery (particularly the gorgeous skies in the South Pacific stages) is pretty from a distance, it tends to become very jagged and clipped up close. Lara, too, is very pointy (not in that way you lecherous thing!), and her movement is a little jerky. To be honest, I found the overall graphics in this game to be worse than in the first Tomb Raider game. Sure the whole thing looks pretty when you're standing still, but why would you want to do that instead of playing the game? The cut-scenes between stages only continues this trend, unfortunately, although admittedly the (rare) FMV sequences are first rate, even by more modern standards.
Aurally, this game again is very underwhelming. The music only really starts up when some particularly gooey and bad-natured flavour of death is about to be served up to you, and while this is great at building tension, it leaves playing the game the rest of the time a very bland experience, with only the sound effects to keep your ears busy. The sound effects are average, really. The gunshots all sound rather hollow and unconvincing, and the footfalls sound like Lara is walking across a wooden box most the time. The animal cries and roars, however, are quite well done, and can be quite chilling if you didn't realise that one was about. I'd advise you to put a CD on or something, rather than the in-game sounds, only doing so means that you could lose what is often your only warning before a trap is sprung on you, so you're stuck with the sounds here, I'm afraid.
However, while the presentation isn't groundbreaking, the game is still great fun. It's reassuring to know that there are some people still willing to make their games incredibly difficult (something I'm a big fan of), and everything that made the first Tomb Raider game so popular is here in spades - well crafted levels, a perfect mix of shooting and puzzles, and pinpoint jumps. While the cost of this game is questionably if you already have more than one Tomb Raider, or if you really hate difficult games, everyone else should find something to enjoy here.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 11/09/01, Updated 11/09/01
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