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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Retro Review: Tomb Raider (PSOne classic)

Tomb Raider has given us a lot. Two horrible films, a few years of truly woeful games, and a lead character who has lost relevancy quicker than George Lucas lost respect for the Star Wars prequels.

To be fair to Lara, she wasn't the only one. Devil May Cry's Dante, even James Bond has lost a lot of their potency as audiences look for more than one dimension in their leading man (or lady). For Lara Croft, the very unrealistic bust and wide hips quickly marked her out as nerd fan service, and in a industry quickly maturing and finding heroes with regular proportions, Miss Croft quickly found herself relegated to the peripheral.

Yep. This was meant to be sexy


No longer buoyed by megahit status, the quality of the Tomb Raider games started to drop, and before long it was hard to imagine anyone actually wanting to play one of these games.

Eidos, the publishers of Tomb Raider, was then acquired by Square Enix, who installed a new development team. The future of Lara looks strong, with a series reboot looking to do the same thing that Casino Royale managed for the Bond franchise - bring the character back to her roots, humanise her, and in the process appeal to a wider audience.

But what made Tomb Raider popular in the first place?

At its core, Tomb Raider is about going into long-forgotten crypts and labyrinths, tracking down artefacts, and dodging nasty traps and nastier creatures. When the games stick to this formula, they shine. As movies such as Indiana Jones have proven, exploring stuff in remote locations is fun, and as with conventional mazes, reaching the end is a satisfying reward.


Hate those wolves

 It was this atmosphere that Tomb Raider so successfully captured. As with most other PlayStation games, the plot was threadbare, and rather than sitting though an extended opening cut scene, you essentially start the game standing at the entrance to a gargantuan tomb. Ten steps later you're being shot at by arrows through the wall. 10 minutes later you're fending off hungry wolves.

It's such an elegant and compelling set up, its easy to forgive the many, many flaws that Tomb Raider suffered from, even as they frustrated you to tears. The controls were a real battle - though the game never really demanded pixel perfect precision, it was still too easy to make mistakes.

Lara also came from the Resident Evil school of movement - going forward and even backwards isn't too bad, but turning is a painful exercise at the best of times. Tomb Raider was never the most action packed game, but those action sequences were still irritating at times as a result.



Exploring the game's crypts was so much fun


Graphically the game is primitive by modern standards, but the minimalistic music works with it to create an impressive - and lonely - atmosphere nonetheless.

The level design is a bit on the basic side, but the occasional puzzle will still get you thinking. All up, Tomb Raider is reasonably worth playing through again - it's not the longest experience, so it won't divert you for too long.

If nothing else, it should whet your appetite to see if Square Enix can orchestrate a turnaround with their recently-acquired IP. We can't help but look forward to the series reboot, even in if in hindsight even the best games in the series have been a touch too flawed for their own good.


Retro Review: Tomb Raider (PSOne classic)
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