Anyone who has been a gamer for the last two decades will know how much the industry has changed since the early days. There is something to be said about games that have survived through the years, and Tomb Raider seems to be leading the way. Originally released in 1996, Tomb Raider is 20 years old, and so much has changed between then and now. Looking all the way back to the very first installment, Lara looks pretty rough. The characters can’t even open their mouths to speak! But how many of you played this game back in the day? I did, and back in the day, this game was amazing. The original was ahead of its time and there really wasn’t another game like it. Just the other day, I found myself at the controls of this prehistoric game and was still awed by its visual graphics and satisfying controls. While it is no where near the scope that modern-day Tomb Raider is, the old TR games are still very dear to me. Perhaps it’s because it was one of my very first games, or maybe it’s because it’s just that awesome.
Over the years, Lara’s story has truly evolved and has developed from what it once was. In the first few games of the series, we see Lara as a strong, independent explorer/archeologist who “only play[s] for sport,” according to her. We know relatively little about her background or her life story.
The farther you go along in the series, the game developers decided to bring out more and more of her story, emphasizing crucial life-changing moments, such as losing her father, learning from her mentor Werner Von Croy, and becoming who she is today. However, no other game has gone so in-depth as the two most recent game launches, Tomb Raider (2013) and Tomb Raider: Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015).
With these games, Crystal Dynamics decided to do a complete overhaul of the franchise. While keeping some of the key aspects of Lara, they decided to give these two games a new direction. No longer focusing on the sassy, smart-mouthed portrayal of Lara Croft that gamers have known for so long, they decided to take gamers back in time to her early years. As a result, you are able to see her first adventures and play as a novice, uncertain-of-herself Lara and understand that she wasn’t always so strong-willed.
This is an interesting twist to the plot that enabled the writers to take a new direction, bringing new life to the franchise. In the two most recent encounters, we see and feel so much more of Lara’s pain and the decisions she is having to make. In the olden days of gaming, it was perfectly normal to give a vague storyline with a strong emphasis being placed on the gameplay. Why waste time on the storyline and graphics? The technology wasn’t polished and gamers didn’t demand the cinematics. But as time went on and and the gaming industry changed, it was all too obvious that Tomb Raider needed the visual and cinematic update to compete.
Honestly though, Angel of Darkness has to be the most unique game of the series. Suddenly you find yourself running through Parisian streets and shooting at guards rather than the usual vicious animals. I mean, she’s running through a museum for crying out loud!
The developers really went for it, and in the end, they came up with a pretty cool game. I know there are a lot of critics, for a lot of reasons. So yes, I understand it wasn’t by any means a big seller, but come on. Give some credit. It was the first major attempt to change up the controls and overall look and feel of TR. It was also the first TR game released on the PS2. The storyline took an interesting spin when Kurtis appears, posing as a potential love interest. Of course, this is short lived, but proved interesting while it lasted.
Although the story lines have majorly changed over the years, I am thankful to see that Lara is still Lara…mostly.
If there’s one thing that has changed drastically, it’s the gameplay. At first glance, you might think that the gameplay hasn’t changed too much. Lara still carries on a lot of the same actions that she did in the earlier games and you basically still run around and find secrets and shoot whatever is attacking you… But then I thought about it more (and I also replayed some of the older games).
Remember the days of save/check points? I do. And I still have a love/hate relationship with them too. They present a nice challenge. Oh, you just fell off that cliff? For the 25th time? Here, start your game way back here, fight off those 15 enemies, take a severe amount of damage this time around, and completely forget to get that health pack. Hey look, you finally made it. Now you can save your game! Like I said, I loved it and I hated it. It’s actually become a little nostalgic. “Remember those days when you couldn’t save your game whenever you wanted?” “Yeah, I just saved my game 5 times in a row just to make sure I don’t have to take those 10 steps again.”
Or how about the animals? In the original Tomb Raider game, you pretty much just fought wild animals all the way through. But unlike so many of the games today, these would scare the junk out of you, and the music would already have you set on edge. As you walk down the narrow corridor, you’re sure there’s something down there around the corner. Nope! It just attacked you from behind! The old games really loved to freak you out over and over again with the surprise attacks. I actually really loved this.
Of course, by the time we get to Tomb Raider II (1997), we’ve already seen the ability to fight off human attackers. TR also likes to make you fight against the undead and other mythological creatures, which was heavily emphasized in Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (1999) and in Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (2003). By the time we reach the two most recent installments, we see virtually no animals or mythological creatures. Instead, Lara finds herself in several gun fights against mercenaries and fanatics. I honestly felt like it was a combination of Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty, especially in Rise of the Tomb Raider. Another thing I noticed in the modern TR games is the lack of surprise. It’s usually pretty obvious that you’re about to fight somebody. They’ve even allowed you to take them by surprise or take them out through stealth. Very cool option, but I do really miss being randomly attacked by wolves and gorillas. And if you don’t understand, go back to the original game.
And this is not putting the game down at all. It is definitely a good game. But I missed seeing Lara in her usual setting. If you want to know what Tomb Raider is all about, you really need to start with Tomb Raider I. And yes, that’s going back a ways, as in 1996. If you can overlook the old-school graphics, you’ll really enjoy it. It’s pretty much a concentrated version of what Tomb Raider is. Diving off waterfalls, climbing rock faces, jumping from ledge to ledge–this was all established in the first game. As you continue through the series, you will mostly be in these types of settings, performing these types of tasks. Just a typical day at the…ruins?
So one of my first thoughts when I saw the new Tomb Raider, and somehow my last point, was where are the puzzles?
If you grew up on Tomb Raider, you will know what I’m talking about. Many of the modern games have left them out. In modern-day TR, she even points out everything as you go. “I need to find a way to fix ____” or “I should be able to use ___ to ___.” It all felt really spelled out. By the end of it, I was really wanting Lara to stop telling me what the next moves were. Gone are those beautiful days when you could be stuck on a level for days because you overlooked one tiny thing in a massive level.
Throughout the Tomb Raider series, I think the puzzles have been very iconic. It wasn’t just about fighting your way through, it also took a lot of brain work to figure out what your next move was and how you were going to go about it. Can I jump from this ledge to that ledge? Nope. Just fell. Or maybe, I did it wrong. Nope, definitely can’t make it. Oh look, here’s a pathway that blends in so well I didn’t see it the past 20 times I went this way… The developers loved to use falling floors, spikes, darts, and fire in so many of the original games. While it proved to be annoying at times, it made for a very diverse and satisfying gaming experience.
After 20 years, Tomb Raider is still finding itself as one of the best selling games in the market. Lara Croft has managed to beat the odds and come out as both a well-loved classic as well as a modern-day favorite. There have been good and bad changes made. There have been some major improvements made to the storylines, graphics, and controls; but what about all the things that made Tomb Raider great? The things that made Lara Croft a known name? The beauty of this franchise it its ability to change, to morph. After seeing how well they’ve done it over 20 years, it will be exciting to see where time takes Lara in the years to come.