Tomb Raider (1996) Review

Tomb Raider 1 - Title

Game Title: Tomb Raider
Developer: Eidos Interactive
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: PS One Classic
Download: 209 MB
NA Availability: Digital Download
EU Availability: Digital Download
PSTV Support: Yes

Did you know that last year was the 20th anniversary of the Tomb Raider franchise? How sad that I didn’t even do anything to celebrate it. I mean, sure, I reviewed Lara Croft Go, but I’m talking about the Tomb Raider franchise. I personally view the Lara Croft series and Tomb Raider series in different lights. And it is high due time that I did something on the site to help celebrate that anniversary, even though it is no longer 2016.

The 3DS doesn’t have much in regards to Tomb Raider and I have already reviewed the PSP version of Tomb Raider Anniversary and Legend, so there’s only one thing left to do. It is time for me to go back and do retro reviews of all four PS One original games. Note that I say 4 because Tomb Raider Chronicles never released on PSN.

So, let’s start with a retro review of the original 1996 classic, Tomb Raider!

Story

Tomb Raider 2 - Story

The original Tomb Raider is about a young adventurer named Lara Croft being approached by a big company owner named Jacqueline Natla. Being a woman known for going on adventures and exploring ancient tombs, Lara is enticed to go and find a strange magical artifact for her, completely unaware of the significance of the artifact that she seeks being tied to the ancient past and a long-lost civilization.

Now, the above paragraph and the story shown in this game’s remake offers far too much credit to the actual story of the original game. You do get the basic setting in the intro, but the actual overall story and background is far less in-depth than people are used to by now. You are given bits and pieces of the story, but once you do get the whole thing, you’ll find that the story and villain’s plot in the original is far different and more “basic” than that of Anniversary, despite being the same game.

Not to say it’s terrible, as you’re given plenty of story in each level, but it’s nothing like players of Anniversary will be expecting.

Gameplay

Tomb Raider 3 - Gameplay

Tomb Raider is a 3D Platforming Adventure game with combat elements thrown into the mix. As you play through the game, you’ll be navigating through dungeons and tombs full of platforms to jump across, enemies to gun down, and lots of puzzles to solve. It’s typical Tomb Raider formula, though a little more puzzle-oriented if you haven’t played the original series before.

Let’s start this off to clarify that anyone who played Tomb Raider Anniversary will find this a similar yet very different game from that remake. Many rooms are very different in the original, from the Waterfall room near The Lost Valley to the “Tower” room in Greece. How each room plays out, what order they’re in, and how you fight off each of the human “bosses” of each level is also different. All of the quick-time events of Anniversary are actual combat boss situations in the original game.

So, the progress of the game is mostly in the form of platforming and puzzles, where enemies are more or less distractions to deal with before taking a look and figuring out the next puzzle for you to solve. Your task is to explore every room from top to bottom to find items that you need for solving puzzles. Now, if you have played Anniversary, what you need you already know, like the Cogs from The Lost Valley, the Keys in the Greece Tower, or the artifacts for the Obelisk in Egypt. They just won’t be in the same, precise locations.

This increases both the difficulty of the game but also one of the biggest issues. Lots of the most important rooms are easy to miss. One of the Cog rooms, for example, is well-hidden behind vegetation, making it hard to find unless you know where it is. This amount of hide and seek does add length to the game, but can make it frustrating without referencing the renounced Stella’s Tomb Raider website for walkthroughs.

Tomb Raider 4 - T Rex

The difficulty is also increased by combat. The game uses auto-lock whenever a weapon is equipped but many bosses bring about unfair situations. The final boss of the first level set starts out while you’re swimming and can easily knock out the majority of your total possible health before you even get out of said water to begin attacking them. You can refer to THIS VIDEO on my YouTube channel for this example. This turns even boss fights into puzzles.

Of course, if you know what to do, you can balance this with the many cheat codes that are available in the original series. With a quick trip to the internet, you can find a nice, little cheat code that gives you all weapons and maximum ammo. Note that these unfair boss fights are still very hard with this cheat, but it will give you a better chance of taking them down within the first dozen attempts as opposed to many, many more. Especially considering the PlayStation Version of TR1 has limited save opportunities and no checkpoint system.

The length of this game is around the same as its remake. I spent roughly 30-45 minutes on each of the 15 levels of the game. That leaves the game around 8-10 hours in length, though I do admit I used Stella’s walkthrough a lot past the initial level set. So, going through without a walkthrough could potentially put it far above that length.

Controls

First off, this game is compatible with the PlayStation TV. So, unlike Anniversary, Vita and PSTV owners can enjoy this classic adventure on the big screen without owning a PS3.

Now, let’s talk about controls for a moment. You use the D-Pad to move (There were no Analog Stick controls back in 1996 when this game first came out). Like the original Resident Evil games, Tomb Raider used what is now known as “Tank Controls”. You could turn once you started running or walking, but to set up intricate platforming, you would have to stop, hit left or right to manually turn and then set up your jump.

Most of the rest of the controls are less awkward. The L button is used to manually look around with the camera and the R button is used to hold to walk instead of run. L2 and R2 are used the side-step and that can be a little tricky on the Vita, unless you own Joetsu’s handy little L2/R2 grip. You can manage by using R with walk with some extra turning before jumping, but it is so much easier with the side-step commands.

Then we have the X button for picking up objects and firing weapons, Square for jumping, Triangle for pulling out weapons or putting them away. Circle for Rolling to face the opposite direction, and that’s about all there is. Though I will say that Square for jumping makes side-stepping during combat extremely hard to do (Holding X to shoot and hitting square at the same time when you need to dodge). I, myself, prefer to move the free-look to R and jumping to L to make it a little easier.

Presentation

Tomb Raider 5 - Presen

Visually, the character models look pretty decent for an early PS One title. The environments, on the other hand, are quite blurred out and very hard to make out. Of course, this is a 21-year old game, but in comparison to other PS One games, it really is relatively ugly as far as environments are concerned. Especially when compared to Tomb Raider 2, which is only one year less old than this game.

The music in the game is quite nice. In fact, the music used in one of the tombs is one of my favorite music tracks for the entire franchise. But one thing that makes the sound side of things not so good (outside of the bad voice-acting) is the fact that so many of the levels have no background music at all unless there is an enemy you’re fighting. Then, you have some intense music and once they’re dead, you are given silence.

Performance runs well for the entire game, though the CG scenes do have a problem with stuttering and audio cutting out, whether you’re on Normal or Fast Disc Load Speed.

Summary

The original Tomb Raider is a classic yet very flawed experience. The controls are awkward, environments are blurred, many fights are unfair even with cheat codes, and audio has some problems in CG scenes. But, if you’re a fan of the series, it’s a game you should check out to see Lara Croft’s roots.

6/10

Related Posts