Review: Tomb Raider (Playstation)

By Drew Wilson

In this review, we check out a classic Playstation game, Tomb Raider. We find out if this puzzle game is still playable to this day.

This particular game was released in 1996 and would spark a whole franchise that would go beyond just a video game series.

You play Lara Croft who is extremely knowledgeable in history and archeology. She also has a thirst for adventure. One day, she is approached by Natla to find the Scion artifact. She accepts and starts her quest in Peru – ultimately, her adventures would lead to Greece, Egypt, and Atlantis. Her efforts are hampered by Natla’s henchmen who attempt to kill her along the way. This shows that Natla’s intentions are not all that great.

Before you begin the game, you have the option to tour Croft’s mansion. Her mansion is really a training ground for people to learn the basic skills. If you have never played the game before, it would help a lot for you to go through the entire training course before beginning your adventure as most of the moves you learn here are constantly required as you make your way through the games puzzles, traps, and obstacles.

At the beginning, Lara finds the first entrance. Unfortunately, her companion is killed by wolves while she found the button that unlocks the door. She checks his pulse, but then turns to the entrance and goes in. Apparently, he was quite expendable.

You are simply armed with a pair of pistols, but the good news is that you have unlimited ammo. Combined with her acrobatic cat-like skills, that is more than enough to get you started.

Throughout the game, you are faced with an array of enemies including more wolves, bears, apes, bats, and crocodiles to name a few. Essentially, in this game, anything that moves is probably either an enemy or a trap. Also along the way are bosses which come in the form of assassin’s. You can either find ways of jumping around and fighting, or you can just stand there and fire back, using medical packs to replenish your health until they are defeated. Since they have as good auto-aim as me, I generally choose to fight with the later style.

One criticism I have at this point is the fact that the only signs of damage you inflict on enemies are the small splashes of blood and a sound effect to indicate damage. Beyond that, they are unfazed by your shots until they keel over and die. So, I found the AI to be somewhat limited for reasons like this.

Also along the way are various item pick-ups. Some are found in the open and along the way, but others are found in secret area’s. Usually, there are three secret areas in each level, but that’s not a hard and fast rules. You know you’ve found a secret location if you hear the chime. At the end of each level, you’ll get a tally of kills and how many secret areas you found out of the total amount. Keep in mind that some items are simply found in crevices and niches. While not a secret location, they are often hidden away quite well.

The items you can collect along the way are ammo for other weapons (at the beginning, you are just collecting ammo for guns you’ll get later in the game. You really can’t use the ammo in any practical way towards the beginning without cheating). You can also find medical packs along the way. Small medical packs are more common and will restore half of your health. Large medical packs aren’t as common, but will restore all of your health. It is also possible to collect weapons in this game. Those weapons are: Magnums, a shotgun, and uzi’s. These alternate weapons are supposed to be more powerful than the standard pistols, but I found that the increased power is seemingly negligible compared to the pistols. Since you can often just stand on top of a raised platform and shoot the enemies, the extra second or two it would take to kill an enemy with the pistols is worth it to preserve the ammo most of the time – to the point of probably hardly ever getting to use the other weapons in the first place.

Another key thing you can find along the way are floating blue gems. These rare gems are save points for the player. This is supposed to bi-pass the lack of ability to save at any time that is apparently present in the DOS version of this game. I found that these gems are often poorly placed. Sometimes, you have a large hike between gems. Other times, I found them every 1 or 2 minutes. They are also a 1 time use thing, so if you save at one, the gem disappears, never to be used again. I found the save system off and arbitrary where the only consistent place to save is between levels.

Of course, while this game has action elements, it is primarily a puzzle game. Most of the time, you’ll find yourself exploring and solving puzzles along the way. Many of these puzzles include switches and/or moveable blocks, though some puzzles require you to use keys and collectible sub-artifacts to be used as keys.

While this game only has 15 levels, that’s not to say that this game is small by any stretch of the imagination. If you already know the level in question quite well or you happen to get lucky and solve the puzzles quickly, a level, on average, can take all of 20 minutes to 45 minutes. If you play through a level and have to think about what to do next for any considerable amount of time (or find yourself aimlessly wandering around trying to figure what on earth you need to do next to advance to the next portion of the maze like I often did), then chances are, each level will take about an hour or so.

While the length was quit interesting at first, the game gradually became more and more repetitive as time went on. Pull the switch, jump over to another platform, move a block, jump to another platform, shoot something. Then, you go to another location and more or less repeat the process. By the time I was half way through Greece, I started getting a little bored of this. The only real variety I got out of this game was the constant change in level types. Sometimes, you are in a valley. Sometimes, you are in a canyon. Sometimes you are fighting currents in underwater passageways. Sometimes you are in a large coliseum. Sometimes, you are in a complex sewer system. Unfortunately, these moments gradually become fleeting as you find yourself trying to find that one crack you were supposed to shimmy across, that one switch you were supposed to pull, or that one way you needed to execute that jump. In short, this game has a lot of stops and starts.

One major criticism I have are the controls of this game. Your controls of forward, back, left, and right are relative to which way Lara is facing. I’m personally more used to the movement being relative to the camera in a third person perspective game. This style of play is the same as Silent Hill. As I’ve said in that review, this style of play can make controlling Lara confusing. While it may seem a bit clunky at first, close quarter combat can quickly become a tangled mess of which direction you are facing, whether or not you can shoot, and pressing one direction that pushes Lara into an unexpected direction. It’s a decent control style if you are personally fixed on one location or the camera somehow manages to remain fixed while you jump about, but as soon as you or you and the camera moves, that’s when things get extremely messy.

The control headaches don’t stop at combat. If you want to execute a running jump, you generally need to utilize the whole space of a block platform. This is about two paces. While it makes movement more realistic, it makes control far more difficult. Also, the turn radius of Lara was really wide. On foot, Lara has the turn radius similar to a small car while she is moving. Yet another movement limitation. The final nail in the coffin in the controls, for me, was the fact that everything seemed to operate in slow motion. There’s always a small delay in responsiveness as well. This can be either action commands, jumping, or simply collecting items. Collecting items is also a pain. If you are not situated just right over the item, the action command will do nothing. It’s just as bad out of water as in water. In some situations, this is a nuisance. In other situations, this can mean losing a sizable chunk of health. Heaven forbid an enemy catches you right when you start moving a moveable block. Long story short, you can only wait until the animation is complete before doing anything else.

Rating this games graphics is probably one of the more interesting tasks I have for this review. On the one hand, I found the textures to be rather dull for the most part (dusty rock, faded carvings, and yet more stone). the textures are dull when compared to other games made in the same time frame such as Super Mario 64 and Blast Corps. On the other hand, this game makes a definite effort to move away from use of 2D sprites. Every enemy that I saw was a full-fledged 3D model. The only 2D sprites came from trees and some item pick-ups that I noticed. This is definitely in direct contrast to a game like Elder Scrolls 2: Daggerfall which relied much more heavily on 2D sprites. so, in some respects, the graphics weren’t all that great compared to some games made in this era. Still, the light use of 2D sprites made this game better than others in this department. So, I would say the graphics were decent all around.

The audio was also interesting to score as well. On the one hand, when there is music, the music is is actually quite well done. On the other hand, you’ll be spending a good 60-75% of the time without music. All you are left with are the occasional sounds of enemies, switches being pulled, water, and the sound of your footsteps. The blank spots can make this game a bit more of a grind, but when you do stumble across an area with a brief bit of music, it’s like finding a small artifact in the game. Overall, the music was good, not not exactly mind blowing just because the bits of music are so sparse throughout the game. The sound effects, at first, seem decent. After a while, though, I found the sound effects to be quite repetitive. I could only hear two different sounds of footsteps. The first was in the mansion. The other kind was found in the rest of the game. If you walk on smooth stone, grass, or a dirt path, the footsteps sounded all the same to me. So, decidedly average sound effects overall with a highlight being the effects of being under water.

Overall, I found a real split of opinion amongst the gaming community about this game. Some say that this game was amazing and innovative. Others say this game is half decent, but nothing really stands out too much about the game. I’m personally closest to the latter, though with some exceptions. It was an interesting blend of puzzle and action. The heavier use of 3D models was also a major plus. Still, there are drawbacks to this game with dull textures, poor controls, arbitrary and weird use of the save points, and repetitive play. If you like puzzle games, I would definitely recommend this game. For an average gamer, this might be a game to play if you are interested in trying a slice of gaming history – particularly the history of games for the Playstation. Still, considering how successful this game was, the overall game was far more average than what I was expecting.

Overall

Furthest point in game: Made it to Egypt.

General gameplay: 15/25
Replay value: 6/10
Graphics: 7/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 62%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85



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