Welcome to Dumpsville, Lara. Population: You.
An Open Letter to Lara Croft:
Lara, baby, I'm sorry to say it, but the honeymoon's over. Let me explain why. When I was first introduced to you in Tomb Raider, I was shocked to see a *woman* packing two pistols John Woo style. "Sacrilege!" I protested. But then we recovered the Scion, along the way I realized that if any chick could give Chow-Yun Fat a run for his money, it was definitely Lara Croft (Sorry, Mira Sorvino).
Parting was such sweet sorrow, but I had other babes to turn my attention to, namely Tifa Lockheart and Claire Redfield. Then you came back to me amid much hoopla and hype and we traveled the world together, searching for the Dagger of Xian. What happened to Tifa, you ask? Naaah, she was too short for me. Claire? Man, that chick's an airhead.
This time you were a little wiser, packing heavier firepower, a little less pointy, but lookin' fab in all the right places. Remember the sunset in Venice, baby? And how could you forget Tibet and the snowmobile? I gotta hand it to you, babe. No woman has ever worn me out the way you did on that last adventure.
We parted ways again, you preparing for your next adventure and me picking up the remnants of a previous social life. Well, you're back again in Tomb Raider 3 and the only thing I can think of saying to you is, "Lara, baby, why hast thou forsaken me?" See ya, babe.
If you survive this adventure, you're doin' it without me.
First off, some added features of Tomb Raider 3: The levels are much larger with huge areas to explore. Snakes and darts are able to poison Lara, meaning she'll continue to lose life until a medipack is used. Quicksand will also suck Lara down to a watery grave if you don't watch your step.
Lara benefits from two new moves, crawling and dashing. These she can use to get into tight places and to give her a speed-burst in combat. Lara also has a larger arsenal that includes the trusty shotgun, a rocket launcher, a grenade launcher, the silly harpoons, an MP5, and Uzis, of course.
Now that the new stuff is out of the way, there's really no other way to describe Tomb Raider 3 other than to say it's an inferior game in an otherwise solid series. Although it looks and plays very similar to TR2, this newest installment has lost all its soul. It offers very little in terms of innovation or decent gameplay. I've tried to like it, forced myself to like it, but, for all intents and purposes, 40 monkeys and a game developing kit could've done a superior job.
The biggest problem in this game is that the designing team confused challenging gameplay with irritating gameplay. Trust me, you've seen this game before in a million inferior platformers. Lots o' instant death? Check. Falling off ledges and dying? Check. Trying to kill a boss while jumping around little islands in a fire pit? Check, check, and double check. The latter is (so far) the most pathetic example of game design.
True, the previous two titles had some of the same elements, but here's how they differ. Usually, instant death came about if you were trying to rush through an area and you did something stupid. In TR3, every step is a potential threat of instant death, no matter how careful you're trying to be. Falling off ledges in the previous two games usually meant you had to start the whole climbing thing over again with little or no loss of health. This time around, however, falling off a ledge means one of two things: 1) Death or 2) significant loss of health.
After playing through several levels of TR3, I got the feeling that I was fighting the game every step of the way. Most of the creative energy in this rushed-out game was put into new and interesting ways to die or get stuck. Unlike the previous two, this time there are plenty of false paths intended to mislead. Although this adds to the realism of the game, (archaelogists shouldn't expect to follow bright neon signs reading, "This way to treasure!") this really just makes every level an over-glorified maze.
In my book, implementing too many mazes in a game merely hides a weak game-designing mind. Traditionally, the Tomb Raider series was never about this nonsense. You knew more or less where to go and you could see where you wanted to go. The puzzle was how to get there, which usually made for some very interesting gameplay. You want more irritating gameplay? You got it.
The programmers have implemented new lighting and shading techniques which make the graphics dazzling, but the gameplay crap. This game is dark, folks. There's about twice as much darkenss as in the first two installments, and the flares last about half as long. Every single crucial item, switch, or path is shaded so heavily Lara could literally stand right next to it and you won't see it unless you light a flare. Maybe Lara should invest in a flashlight.
Just for the record, hiding things in obscurity instead of putting in some real creativity and effort in the game design is a big cop-out. Can you picture yourself enduring heavy eye-strain, searching every inch of every level with pathetically short-lived flares? If you can, you'll be wearing Coke-bottle lenses by the end of the third level. I guarantee it.
I've never been a big fan of the camera in any of the Tomb Raiders, but this one's by far the worst. Obstructions between Lara and the camera happen way too frequently and at inappropriate times. In one area, Lara has to outrun a boulder (in darkness, of course) and jump over a pit of spikes at the bottom of the hill. Naturally, the boulder is between Lara and the camera the whole time. And that ain't even the worst part. Not only does it select the absolute worst angle before a crucial jump, but also bugs in the programming make it jerk and shiver so violently you'll be getting migraines well into the next century.
Tomb Raider 3 isn't a game, it's a marketing concept. Rather, it's a thousand and one reasons why you should shell out twenty more of your hard-earned dollars on a strategy guide. I don't condone the use of such cheating devices, but this game is impossibly difficult without one. On top of that, add the Lara action figures, the shirts, the breakfast cereal, and the upcoming movie. Wait, didja hear that? That was the sound of all the Eidos fat cats laughing all the way to the bank.
Amid all of the darkness (pun intended) surrounding Tomb Raider 3, there are a few bright spots. Enemies either sneak up on Lara or are placed around dark corners providing for some Resident Evil style jump-out-of-your-underwear surprises. The levels look great when they are lit, and the textures are much-improved. After successfully completing the first mission, you can now choose which area Lara will explore next; London, Area 51, or the South Pacific. Choices are always good.
But, if you need more proof that Tomb Raider 3 sucks, check out the back of the CD box. "Lara Croft is our kind of action hero!" proclaims Rolling Stone. Uhhh, what? Last time I checked, RS reviewed music, not games. Plus this is the exact same comment that's on the back of the Tomb Raider Greatest Hits edition box. Fishing for praise anywhere you can find it, eh?
If you're fiending for some more Lara, and I mean absolutely jonesin'... then I guess you could pick this one up. For the other 99.9% of us, go play TR or TR2 again or even for the first time. Or better yet, forget about Lara Croft altogether. I know, I know, you'll be moping around the house for weeks humming "Hard Habit to Break" with visions of the buxom beauty in your head.
Trust me, man, there's plenty of other fish in the sea.