Like shooting gorillas in a barrel.
So. Nintendo comes up with a natty new 64-bit machine. The competition comes up with Tomb Raider. (Well, to be honest, Core Design came up with Tomb Raider…they just made it for the PlayStation, Saturn and PC). The fact is that Tomb Raider for the PSX/Saturn looks like a 64-bit game on a 32-bit machine. It is incredibly good (revolutionary, in fact); I suspect we could wait quite a while for something better in this genre to come along.
In many ways Tomb Raider looks better than Mario 64 (which has a nearly identical interface), and it certainly plays better. With the graphic power of the N64, and brilliant game design like this, Tomb Raider could only get better. Nintendo could learn a thing or twenty from these guys.
You are a wealthy young Englishwoman (Lara Croft) with an Indiana Jones complex. Yes – this game is straight out of the Temple of Doom. But it is YOU that is risking the wrath of the Gods, because it is your job to get to the bottom of some very deep and very interesting caves in the mountains of Peru, England, and elsewhere (find out yourself). You have a pair of pistols which you wield like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid, as well as more graceful moves than Nadia Comaneci. With only these trifling abilities, you must survive to plunder ancient treasures.
You will pick up little treats as you make your way down into the gloomy depths. Look for them – they are often well hidden. Things like medikits and keys come in quite handy, you will find; as do shotgun shells, UZI clips and the like (for the shotgun or UZI you hope you will find sometime before the end of the trek…assuming you live that long).
In case you don’t think you are quite as nimble as you should be with that lithe young body of yours, you should probably check out Lara’s rather swish country home, where you will be guided through the house and a variety of exercises that do an excellent job of showing you exactly what Lara is capable of (which is quite a lot).
When you enter the game you will be faced with a variety of enemies – from wolves, lions and bears, to castoffs from Jurassic Park (and I don’t mean the guy on the toilet). Of course, there are the usual challenges of a dungeon-type game, like merely finding the correct keys and sequences to get to the end of a level, meanwhile trying to find all the secret goodies, all the while avoiding various poisoned darts and oversized pendular axes. This game, however, makes the challenge stunningly visual as well as intellectual.
The 3-D rendition of both Lara and her surroundings is superb. In fact, it is as much fun jumping on rocks and sliding down or somersaulting off them as it is blasting fist-sized holes in poor unsuspecting feral canines (ahem….wolves). This is NOT a Doom/Descent clone, however. Your view is from behind Lara (most of the time). The intelligent camera is exactly that – intelligent – and almost never gives you a blocked or unhelpful view of Lara. This is probably the key feature that makes it better than Mario 64 . In addition, weapon aiming is automatic. You just need to be aware of the danger and keep your cute ass out of the way.
It is not as easy as it may seem – especially when faced with a seemingly indestructible T. Rex (and I don’t mean the band). Lara moves beautifully both above ground and underwater. Try diving in just to see how great it looks. The game provides a more than adequate number of challenges which are, for the most part, difficult enough to hold your interest without being so hard that you get frustrated. And all the while, the game environment is so beautiful that it holds your interest in any case.
With the huge number of polygons in this game, it’s not surprising that there are some polygonal errors, it’s surprising how few of them there are. The most glaring errors seem to be with some of the beautifully animated enemies (all 3D). When they are chasing you in earnest, and when they fall over dead, they often manage to stick much of their bodies straight through solid rock. Ah well, something to improve for Tomb Raider 2.
There are a couple of difference between the Saturn and PlayStation versions. First, Lara herself appears slightly different. The Saturn Lara is made up of more polygons, giving her an appearance more like a real woman and less like the chick from Aeon Flux, but the PlayStation Lara uses the PSX color palette to its best advantage, giving Lara a smoother appearence than the Saturn. The backgrounds are the key and look much better on the PlayStation, but they are quicker on the Saturn. Finally, the ‘smart cam’ is just a little smarter on the Saturn, giving you a slightly better view, especially during combat. All things considered, they are close, but the better graphics make the PlayStation version the one to buy.
A couple of pointers for future spelunkers: Judicious use of medikits is essential, although if you spend a little time searching for hidden goodies, you should have more than enough to keep you fit and healthy. There are plenty of save points, from which you can choose to restart on any previous level, should you so desire. It is worth remembering that Lara can grip onto the most precarious of ledges and leap onto the most unlikely of rocks, so keep your eyes peeled for possible access to gifts on high. In this, you need not rely on the intelligent camera. You have to option of making Lara (i.e. you) look around, up and down. It is always desirable to be aware of your surroundings, especially when you find yourself in a room straight out of Max Escher’s doodle-book.
Anyway. Best of luck. Stiff upper lip and all that. We love this game here at game-revolution. We’re pretty sure you will too. We give it a rare ‘A’.