Recent Activity

13 hrs ago

87th finished Tomb Raider I
Man, it's something else to vanquish a white whale. Tomb Raider was one of the first 3D games I ever played, and I've always had a real respect for it, but christ was it fussy. On PS1, where you're dealing with save crystals, load times, fairly limited draw distance and 1MB memory card read/write speeds, it takes a special kind of patience to make it past St Francis' Folly, and once the marvel of playing a game in 3D started to wear off, fewer and fewer people were willing to pass the threshold.

This kind of thing is what the Nintendo Switch has been all about, for me. How miraculously it can reframe impenetrable, pisstaking old games and make them fun again. I'm so glad that someone decided they ought to put the old Tomb Raiders on this thing.

For all the frustration and tedium that the original game has come to represent, it's difficult to see the Official UK PlayStation Magazine 10/10 that lies beyond all of that. Not only is the game a real technical achievement, there's a great sense of character to Tomb Raider 1 that drifted away as the wider media got overexcited about big boobs. An air of elegance to the consistent control system, the ambient, synthesised choral soundtrack and these huge, labyrinthian caverns hiding elaborate ancient relics. That isn't everything, though. There's a balance between this side of the game, and the game's absurd Hot Wheels playset from Hell stupidity. Aqueducts swarming with crocodiles, and elaborate ancient traps protected by starving lions and furious gorillas. Despite how deeply the series' lore has been mined, I didn't see any credit for the inexplicable cowboy boss beyond "the cowboy". The game's filled with big, mad, daft stuff, and I love it.

Tomb Raider was a massively influential game. It's easily forgotten, given how much the industry propped up Mario 64 as "The 3D Game" a year later, but I don't think you get an Ocarina of Time without Core Design's influence. When developers were still figuring out what verticality could offer a game, here's Lara Croft backflipping into elevated passageways and swandiving from slides. Compare that to mid-nineties 3D adventures like Descent or Jumping Flash, and you really have to marvel at how confidently Core were able to take on this design challenge. It's all owed to how strict its controls are, borrowing from cinematic platformers like Another World and Flashback. When jumping lands you in the same spot each time, you know the most interesting spots to place each successive platform. Level layouts are consistently clever and imaginative, but it never forgets that human beings are playing the game. There's a balance between strict, Sokoban-style logic puzzles, and wild spectacle. Sometimes they just let you chill out in a big room to look at a neat sphinx.

There's a solid sense of progression through each of the game's levels, and it gets freakin' bananas by the end. Starting out running through cold, undecorated caverns, and ending up in a giant gold pyramid, with fleshy, pulsing organic walls. Tomb Raider speculates that beyond the Aztec blowpipe traps and rusted old switches, there are 20th century living dinosaurs, roaming under our feet, cordoned off in a special jungle room, behind an elaborate clockwork water puzzle. They've been there all along, but no explorer in human history was clever enough to get past Level 2 until Lara came along. I love this stuff.

The Quality of Life stuff in this 2024 release is fairly conservative, but beautifully exploitable. You can save anywhere now, and don't have to worry about memory card management to do so, but I'd argue the more meaningfully transformative addition is the Photo Mode. Click in both analogue sticks, and you'll have full control over the floating camera. Not only can you take rockin' shots of the game's low-poly crocs, you can use it to scout out passageways and dangerous trap sequences whenever you like. Not having a map screen is kind of crucial to the Tomb Raider experience, but being able to quickly check underwater to see if you missed a switch or item, instead of clambering down from the tricky precipice you're standing on, is such a relief. Use it judiciously, and it doesn't make the game feel any less perilous or thrilling, but it takes out so much of the busywork.

I love Tomb Raider. In no way would I ever recommend it to anyone who doesn't already have a strong taste for this era of game design, though. Everything takes so fucking long. If you have to push a block multiple times, it's going to be a long night, my friend. For as strong a design principle as the restrictive grid-based structure is, it also turns a lot of the experience into an overwrought sequence of wobbling into the correct position. Every mandatory switch you need to pull needs to be successfully wobbled towards before you can activate them, and in puzzles with multiple switches, this can be agonisingly tedious. There are the optional "modern controls", but I'd suggest using them would be akin to driving a car with your face. Don't look at Tomb Raider as if it's a big blockbuster action game for fans of thrills. You have to be a very boring old prick to stick with this shit.

I'm really glad I did, though. Tomb Raider is a very different idea of how to design a 3D game, and it makes a great argument for doing it this way. Sure, these principles lead to the all-time studio crushing embarrassment that was Angel of Darkness, but they also gave us everything Fumito Ueda's ever made. There's such a rich sense of satisfaction to successfully navigating the game in a way that Crystal Dynamics have never managed to replicate. In a world filled with Yellow Paint and Unlock Everything DLC packs, you need a little Tomb Raider 1 to remind you what a game can be. We were heroes, once.

16 hrs ago

87th commented on 87th's list A big eye
I'm pleased to report that after extensive research into the key art for hundreds of crappy indie horror games, I have been able to almost double the list of games about a big eye.

3 days ago

87th commented on 87th's list Kart racer spin-offs that largely abandon the established characters
@theia Now you mention it, I do recall hearing it started as an RC Pro Am game. I do think it's unlikely that it would have been a Diddy Kong starring role if they weren't concerned about Nintendo's response, but then, they threw out most of the SNES characters in DK64, so I can't pretend to understand every decision Rare were making in those days.

@BigGnome I kind of understand the Konami Krazy Racers roster, as they're looking for a diverse cast of colourful characters of different body types and suggested abilities. It's very skewed towards the Japanese audience too, where Goemon and Power Pro-kun are much bigger names. Maybe Chocobo Racing is similar, but even within the old Famicom-era fanbase, I think most of them would be wondering where all the PlayStation heroes were.

6 days ago

13 days ago

Filter Activities