Since it's the 10th anniversary of the release of the first Tomb Raider game, I'm posting this old (from before the release of TR: Legend) blog entry.
It’s a given, amongst the videogame cognoscenti, that Tomb Raider is a franchise dead from the neck down. An excellent first game that, after the departure of Toby Gard, traded on a spiral of diminishing returns before it finally collapsed into the half-finished mess of Angel Of Darkness. I want to redress the balance a bit for a much-maligned franchise which doesn’t deserve even a tenth of the scorn it’s received.
Every TR game until Chronicles, even the third which I don’t care for much, had glorious sexy moments. The reason I finally finished TR3 (although the last level and the final boss occupied an entire weekend: two days I’m never going to get back and I’ll never really forgive them for that) was because it had previously given me such moments of giddy geek-joy like running around Area 51 or blowing up dinosaurs with an anti-aircraft gun. It’s difficult to discard a game that gave you that: there’s always the idea that they’re going to get it equally right just around the next corner.
TR1 was great for everything. Puzzles, atmosphere, loneliness, and a desire to guide your sexy and vulnerable avitar safely to her destination. TR2 was nice. You got to spin around Venice, Tibet and a sunken wreck. And this was a lot of fun. TR3 gave you the chance to run up the down escalator in a tube station (and Aldwych tube station to boot!) but little else other than it’s new locations.
However, TR4 gave you a proper story and as such it was a proper adventure. You were in Egypt, and you stayed there until you’d sorted everything out. None of this pathetic veering around the globe to satisfy some deep seated urge to be “big”. And I want to take my hat off to the final boss battle. You don’t kill it: you run away from it. Brilliant. When I finally worked that out, it all seemed so obvious: Why should I be able to kill it? I’m an archeologist, and he’s an Egyptian God. What made me think I even had a chance? I loved TR4 even more once I’d finished it, whereas with TR3 (and 2) I thought “Thank god that’s over”. The only weakness in TR4 was that bit where you had to soup up your motorbike so it could make an all-important leap into the next level. It required a standard of recall of various items and backtracking that not even 80’s TV series Now Get Out Of That demanded, and I admit I almost gave up at that point.
The fact is Tomb Raider: Chronicles should have been part of the PS2 debut, and I reckon it’s down to Eidos for the insistence on a fifth anual Christmas chart-topper that left us with this tepid soup of a game. But think about it: the first level of TR5 is in Venice again, and you even get to run across the roof of the opera house that you briefly visited in a cut-scene in TR2. Imagine how good all that would have been in proper next-gen graphics. And later, when you’re being attacked by a loony with a crane, that could have been fantastic with the beef of the emotion engine behind it. As it was, these ideas were stuck in a fading game engine on a fading console.
Even now, I have a pang to buy TR:AoD. My friend bought it, and said it was a laid back version of the previous TR games. But I never have bought it. And I feel bad for not following Lara’s story through to the bitter end, but money’s a bit tight, there are other games I want blah de blah. To an extent, I think of TRChronicles and Angel of Darkness as a kind of official fan fiction. It’s not the real story; just some eager fans making games about what might happen to Lara Croft after she’d escaped. But it isn’t actually what happened. Lara Croft is, for me, still trapped under that rubble in Egypt, waiting for the right game to dig her out and pull her out, dusty and blinking, into the 128bit world.
But until then, Lara Croft will be like a favourite ex-girlfriend who you don’t mention anymore in case your current beau gets offended. Such is life.