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Tomb Raider (1996)

By Bobfish05-07-2014
zethalee (editor)
StuntmanLT (editor)
Tomb Raider (1996)

The Defence

Core Design
Eidos Interactive
Action, Adventure, Platformer
Release Date:
US 14-11-1996
EU 25-10-1996

The Prosecution

Intel Pentium 4 1.8 GHz
AMD equivalent
Nvidia GeForce 8600
AMD equivalent
1 GB
2 GB

Honestly, if you don't know what Tomb Raider is by now, it'd be like trying to explain how you breathe. It's a game, and a series, that's been part of gaming for so long, relatively speaking, it's practically a myth. So we'll skip the in depth analysis of the rather light plot and get straight to the nitty-gritty shall we?

Eighteen years ago, Tomb Raider was the shit, it's that simple. Calling it a game changer, trite and ironic as it may be, is an understatement. It took arguably the oldest, most established gaming genre, the platformer, and made it fully 3D. Not the first to try something like that, but arguably the first to do it right, as well as being the first high profile title to offer a fully voiced, narrative driven, lengthy adventure game, with a female protagonist to boot. Most, if not all, of these things seem commonplace these days, yet at the time, in addition to it being graphically advanced, it really was something unheard of.

I can see my house from here.

I can see my house from here.

So it's easy, then, to dismiss its continued place of honour in the gaming halls of fame as being nothing more than misplaced nostalgia, elevating it to greatness simply because it came along at the right time, ticked all the right boxes and turned everything on its head. It wouldn't be the first time something in any medium has become a symbol of what it represented far above and beyond its individual merit. However, the praise is, at least for the most part, entirely deserved.

Of course, judging Tomb Raider by modern standards it really isn't all that impressive. Visually solid, maybe, but a long, long way from being anything remotely outstanding, with smooth animations that feel generally natural. The controls are a little clunky, definitely too slow for an intense action game, but they're responsive enough, fully customisable (something some games eighteen years later still don't do!) and it was never intended to be a fast paced action game.

The plot is simple and lightly developed, yet it still remains engaging, whilst the characterisation, dialogue and, most importantly, voice acting are superb. Every character, Lara in particular, feel like real, unique people, each with their own goals, plans and points of view. Even the antagonist, Natla, is fleshed out and believable, a far cry from the typical 'muwahahaha,' evil for the sake of being evil, Saturday morning villain.

Goddamnit! You woke me up. What's for dinner?

Goddamnit! You woke me up. What's for dinner?

It would be inaccurate to say the game is a timeless classic, nay, it’s not quite that good. It has its issues, both technically (improperly loading textures and an irritating, inconsistent delay when you press jump sometimes) and in more general design areas, such as the aforementioned plot, which mostly develops in the latter third of the game. It's still entertaining, responsive enough that gameplay never becomes unbearable, just a tad irritating at times. And the level design, well, that remains outstanding.

Most of the areas in the game are pretty small by modern standards, despite being unimaginably massive at the time. They are, however, intricate, intelligent and most of all intuitively logical. You may find yourself unsure what you are doing at times, not knowing where you should be going, yet you never have one of those moments where you won't know where you can go. Inaccessible areas are clearly out of bounds, rather than being oddly blocked off for no discernible reason. Puzzles are simple, but engaging, and a very clever use of directions makes the smaller sections feel a lot longer by treading over old ground, without feeling like backtracking.

It remains a fairly lengthy game too, clocking in at around eight to ten hours of gameplay even when you know exactly where you're going. That estimate, naturally, doesn’t take into account all of the various secrets hidden throughout the game. Even its age, requiring DOSBox to run, fail to be a mark against it as it runs smoothly, without any crash issues, with only some minor problems with music not playing for some players, and a bit of distortion to the full motion video cinematics.

Next up: The Nutcracker Suite.

Next up: The Nutcracker Suite.

It even, in the case of the Steam release, comes with some third party fixes that dedicated fans made to smooth out the playing experience on newer systems. Something which, quite ironically, elevates it back into a position of respect in the gaming world by serving as an example of older software shown the attention and care it needs to remain accessible to new audiences. In short, not a great game; not a timeless classic, no, still not that. But a damn good one that has stood the test of time.

Comments (3)
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Posts: 1548

The biggest difference is at those days we didn't know better.

Posts: 3290

I've heard so many people say that...and I've never had any trouble with it. Maybe it just likes me

Posts: 1317

Yeah the first couple of Tomb Raider games were pretty astounding for the time. Though the camera was and still is total tripe, and ends up being your worst enemy most of the time. And it's the enemy you're never prepared for, that sneaks in whenever you're least expecting it.