Tomb Raider I (1996)

I never really did get on board the Tomb Raider craze back in the 1990s. While I played it a bit, I never really was hooked enough to go through it, as even back then there were things about it I wasn't quite sold with. Back in the day I never got further than the first level of the first location, so I guess it's time to give a new spin.

Back in 1996, Tomb Raider was a huge game and the main protagonist of the series, Lara Croft herself became a new icon of female action heroes. The series itself is still going strong, with the latest game released in 2015. Sure enough, the character and the games themselves have evolved and revisioned on the way, but it's not a bad haul for a skimpy clothed archaeologist to have a pull that lasts decades. There even was two movies made of the series, starring Angelina Jolie as Croft. And now they're rebooting the movies the way the games were. Not bad for a 21-year old action hero.

The first game in the series was a genuine hit, selling over 7 million copies. It was praised for its, then, state of the art technology. The 3D-graphics were seen as revolutionary, with detailed texturing, modelling and a solid draw distance. The action and puzzle mixing gameplay were seen as innovative and the storyline as something never seen in games before. It was, in many ways, in its time a groundbreaking game. It even had controls, that work pretty well today.

Yet I never really did care for it and playing through the first location reminded of why: the level design it has isn't particularly interesting, nor are the environmental puzzles. The enemies are pretty bland, in the first location consisting of wolves, bats and even dinosaurs. The navigation, while decent enough, still can flip the camera in odd angles and at times, when it comes to combat, even with auto-aiming it can be hard to see what is really happening and the enemies can latch onto you. And when there are human enemies abound, they often have an unfair advantage of being able to ambush you.

Really, when a human enemy attacked on me at the end of the Peru maps, he managed to kill me a couple of times before I latched on a brilliant scheme of hiding behind some rocks, jumping in the air and shooting at him a couple of times at a time while airborne. It took a couple of minutes, but I managed to kill him with an ease that way instead of trying to have a proper face to face shootout.

In many ways, back in the 1990s, I preferred Delphine's Fade to Black over Tomb Raider I. While it was a game with way worse movement controls, it was, to a degree, a game with stronger atmosphere and even with some combat trick that made it feel more fluent. You weren't locked into just running around, but you could hide behind walls and crates and shoot the shapeshifting aliens behind covers. Sadly enough, the overall control scheme of Fade to Black was way worse and the map design got gradually worse towards the end. But enough of that bit of reminiscence, this is about Tomb Raider I.

This is an aged game, there's no question about it. Even after installing the high-resolution mod, Tomb Raider 1 looks and feels like a relic it is. While it looks and plays, even in its original state, far better than something like Mask of Eternity, that came out in 1998, it still feels like a game locked in time.

I can see, why people were awed by it. The big levels, the puzzles, the action. All that it something many games in the 1990s, especially after 3D graphics became a thing, tried to figure out. There were many misses, but among those misses, Tom Raider seemed to do most right. It was something that awestruck people and other developers started to follow suit, as they wanted a piece of the same cake Eidos and Core Design were having.

But what was awesome back in the 1990s, when technology was still just evolving, isn't necessarily awesome today. When I look at Tomb Raider 1, I see just a game, that hasn't aged well because of its low-resolution graphics, a bit clunky controls and story that is almost adorably stupid.

In her first outing Lara Croft ends up looking for the mysteries of Atlantis and, after several twists and turns, she ends up destroying it in a proper Indiana Jones fashion. The story itself is told in both, pre-rendered CGI cutscenes and with game engine cut-scenes. The pre-rendered cutscenes are actually relatively impressive, considering the limitations of the era. Sure, the models are still pretty low-resolution in them, but still, they are well directed in all their cheesiness.

It is difficult to recommend Tomb Raider 1 as anything else than a relic of its era. While it did do a lot of things right, and some even the first time, the time has driven past it. Not all is the fault of time, mind you, as personally I just didn't find the game levels to be that interesting nor well made and that same thing irked me back in the 1990s when I tried the game the first time.  Just like then, I did find the gameplay to be a bit boring.

As a final note, Tomb Raider 1 was remade as Tomb Raider Anniversary, that was released in 2007. I haven't played much of it, but it is a significant improvement over the original, at least as far graphics and gameplay go.

If you are intent on taking a look on the relic, that is Tomb Raider 1, yourself, you can get it from GOG and Steam. And probably several other digital outlets. The GOG package might be a better value for money, as it has Tomb Raiders 1-3 in it.