Review by desh79

"And the award for most lazily programmed game goes to..."

In the glory days of the late 1990s, the first two Tomb Raider games were what I guess you would call a beacon of innovation and quality. Admittedly, I never got into the first TR as it was released during the hiatus years inbetween 1994 and 1997, when my much-maligned but ever so awesome Atari ST had joined that great big silicon heap in the sky after I "accidentally" whacked it just that bit too hard during yet another fiendishly impossible mission of X-Out. Farewell, my plucky little ST, that most undervalued and uncelebrated of all computers. To me, you always kicked the Amiga's great big overrated glittery arse.

Fast forward to 1997 and yours truly spends many a smoke-filled night playing video games with his schoolfriends down the road. Two games in particular attract our protagonist's (mine) attention and will eventually play no small part in ensuring that his parents are held at gunpoint over Christmas on the demand to find a Playstation under the christmas tree come December 25th, or else. The games in question? Oddworld and Tomb Raider II.

You were starting to wonder where the hell this was going, weren't you? Alas, Tomb Raider II was a revelation to my feeble little impressionable mind. You know when you played Grand Theft Auto III for the first time and were absolutely gobsmacked at the freedom of movement that you had? This feeling that you could really go anywhere and everywhere without limitations? A whole city at your disposal? IN 3D?! Well, Tomb Raider II was a little bit like that too, just without the triads and the cars and the PS2 graphics. And Fernando's New Beginnings of course. Still, it was dead cool, roaming through the streets of Venice or the mountains of northern China. Swimming, ducking, diving, jumping your way to the holy grail or whatever the hell it was you were searching for (please do bear with me, it's been a while since I last played this game): video games simply did not DO this before. The Sierra- or Lucasarts games of yore did make you feel like you were part of a believable (mostly), fictional world, but you didn't have that sense of freedom to feel like you could explore anywhere; in Leisuresuit Larry, dare to veer too far outside the world given to you and you are mugged, stabbed, killed. In Police Quest 2 and other games, they weren't even that imaginative; they simply did not let you walk further than the screen allowed at times.

Ok, ok, so what the sodding heck does this have to do with Tomb Raider III, I hear you shout and bellow, like the impatient harpies that you are. Be patient, I was just getting to that point. You know when a sequel is bad, so bad, so teeth-grindingly deliriously awful that it completely takes the shine off its predecessor(s)? Take Batman Forever. I can no longer watch the classic Tim Burton Batmans without the knowledge that, unfortunately, these two great films went on to influence some absolute stinkers, like the Riddler and Two-Face doing a little Vegas jig while Gotham is covered in dayglo by the oversized camp disco troupe from Hell. I probably remembered that bit wrong, but that's what it seems like in retrospect. Alright, so Christopher Nolan went on to rescue the franchise with Batman Begins and the no-doubt-bound-to-be-brilliant Dark Knight, but let's not lose sight of the bigger picture here, because right now we are fast forwarding again to Christmas 1998 and our plucky hero (who else but me), one year senior, is rummaging through yet another vast array of presents under the christmas tree (he was always a spoilt only child, even at the ripe old age of 19), and finds, much to his delight, Tomb Raider III amongst them. He is overjoyed, runs into his room, slams the door shut, safe and secure in the knowledge that he shall spend the next three days at the very least guiding Lara through wild forests, diving, ducking, jumping, skiing, chasing geese and whatnot. Goodbye civilisation, here comes Tomb Raider III.

And so the game begins. Ok, ok, interesting intro sequence. Let's get started. Ok, so Lara's on top of this slidy type thing. Ok, let's just go down. Lara slides down... and dies. Ok, let's try again. Lara slides down... and dies. Lara slides down... and dies. Forth attempt. Right, so finally we're past this bit at last. What's that? Am I seriously supposed to shoot a defenseless monkey?!

Moving on. Got this behind us. Cool. Wait, I can't save my game? I need something called a save crystal? Hmph. Nevermind. Let's carry on with this... Lara walks around a corner. Lara dies. Oh shoot, now I gotta start again on top of the slidy thing. Sliding down... killing the money (and not feeling any better for it... what's that? I actually DIDN'T have to shoot the monkey? Curses!)... at the bottom... Lara walks around the corner. And dies. Lara walks around the corner. And dies. Lara walks around the corner. And dies.

And you know something?

THE WHOLE SODDING GAME IS LIKE THAT.

This isn't much bettered (is that a legitimate word? Truth be told, I neither know nor care) by the fact that aforementioned save crystals are few and far between. Now, to be fair, I can see why they did that - in TR2, the temptation to cheat in the middle of a difficult mission was always there. Say, Lara's on an obstacle course, you make the first jump, save, make the second jump, save, and so on, until you're at the end. The save crystal system alleviates that kind of thing because it genuinely makes you think twice before saving. However, the problem is that, a) there simply aren't save crystals to go around (roughly two per levels - big levels, dangerous levels, levels FULL of frigging obstacle courses!), and b) there is nothing more frustrating than dying because you accidentally jumped into a trap that was IMPOSSIBLE to see because EVERYTHING IN THIS GAME IS SO FRIGGING DARK NO MATTER HOW HIGH YOU CRANK THE LUMINANCE UP, and c) You can die for the silliest of reasons, as illustrated in point b. Tomb Raider III is not fun, it is relentlessly, tediously frustrating.

Not to mention the levels themselves. In Tomb Raider II you felt you were walking amidst something that resembled a living, breathing world. There were big, empty rooms in Venice, for instance, but it still felt like it was serving in purpose. Most of the worlds in TR3, be it the vast empty deserts of Nevada, or the caves, rivers, forests, jungles, you encounter seem little more than space-fillers. They are just there, not to be explored, but to give you the impression that there's actually more in this world than there ought to be. But there isn't a reason for it. There isn't this sense, "Oh, what's over in that corner, let's check it out", it's more a question of "Ah well, another vast array of random foliage, what a surprise".

Not to mention that very little has changed since TR2, which is understandable given that there is only 1 year between the games, but that itself makes me wonder whether TR3 was a genuine addition to the series, or not simply a mere cash-in, there to make Eidos a quick buck out of the series' then-unparalleled popularity, but ultimately dismaying lots of gamers in the process. I was doubly amazed when the UK's official Playstation magazine awarded this game a perfect 10 out of 10 - admittedly, whether something, be it a game, film, book, whatever is good, bad or average is mostly in the eye of the beholder, but to suggest a game is perfect when it has such glaringly obvious flaws is simply mind-boggling and I can't help but wonder whether exchanges of vast sums of money were involved in the process. (Disclaimer: The previous paragraph was written for the intent of comic relief, albeit quite probably unsuccessful, and thus includes a heavy load of hyperbole. I am not seriously suggesting that anybody at the UK's Official Playstation Magazine was bribed for giving Tomb Raider III a good review.... even if that would make a whole lot of sense.)

The verdict? Lazy. Lazy lazy lazy. Lazy programmers, lazy fans for not being vigilant enough in their criticism; but then they would eventually pay with Angel of Darkness, a game so mind-numbingly awful that absolutely no-one could deny it - ladies and gentlemen, what did you expect? Tomb Raider III was the warning shot. Our alarm bells should have been ringing like there was no tomorrow, but we kept shtum, thought things had improved for better when The Last Revelation and Chronicles turned out to be a-ok, only for the franchise to disappear into the depths of sheer, undisputable awfulness when Angel of Darkness reared its ugly head. Had we said something then, maybe things would have been different and Eidos would have heeded it, but alas, alas.

IMHO and amen.


Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 01/17/08

Game Release: Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft (US, 11/21/98)


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