Tomb Raider - A hugely successful retro gaming classic gets a Cola Powered Gamer review

Video games have many recognizable characters and mascots, but one of the most successful female characters and heroines is Lara Croft. Lara Croft is a titular character of Core Design’s most memorable franchise Tomb Raider. Developed by experienced game developers from Derby, England, Tomb Raider was released in 1996. Initial development was started in 1993, with various ideas and concept art. The game was finished in just 18 months, by a team of six people. It was originally envisioned as a game where the player would have a choice between playable characters, and Lara was designed to be a female alternative. Lara Croft herself, went through various design and concept changes, during development.

Creator and lead graphic artist, Toby Gard went through several designs before settling on a final appearance. He initially created a male character, with a whip and a hat, but Core Design co-founder Jeremy Smith said it had too much similarity with Indiana Jones and wanted more originality. Gard cited Virtua Fighter as an influence when he noticed that people selected the female characters, in every match that he saw. 

He didn’t want to create a stereotypical female character (that he didn’t like), and while Jeremy Smith was initially skeptical, he liked the idea of the female character as a great hook for the game. Lara Croft was inspired by Indiana Jones, Tank Girl and Gard’s sister (a rock climber). He experimented with different designs, including a muscled, militaristic style, and eventually settled on a South American woman, named Laura Cruz. Eidos wanted a more “UK friendly” name, so Core Design changed the name to Lara Croft, after going through the Derby phonebook (another theory is that it was an homage to accountant Laura Croft). The backstory was also changed to suit her British origin.

So, what is Tomb Raider actually about?
You play as Lara Croft, a famous archaeologist and she is approached by Larson Conway, a rival archaeologist who is working for a wealthy businesswoman Jacqueline Natla. Natla hires her to find an ancient artifact known as Scion, in the tomb of Qualopec (the ruler of Atlantis), hidden within the mountains of Peru. This adventure will take her all around the world, and you will visit places like Peru, Greece, Egypt, and eventually Atlantis.

Tomb Raider is played from the third-person perspective, meaning that Lara is always visible on the screen. The game was one of the rare games that were presented in the third-person perspective, and it has a severe case of “tank controls”. What this means is that you control Lara similarly to a tank. You can move forward and backward, but there are separate keys for strafing and turning. You can control the camera around her, but you can also take control of the camera for a better look (but only while standing). Lara has a small, but a decent arsenal of weapons at her disposal and you start with two pistols (which have infinite ammo), and can later pick up a shotgun, magnums, and dual Uzis. Besides the weapons, you can also pick up small and large medi packs and various tools, keys and artifacts.

While the game has gunplay, the large part of the game is exploring and solving puzzles. Tomb Raider can be looked at as an evolution of 3D platformers, and to solve various puzzles and challenges, you will need to avoid traps. Lara can die from various lethal traps, and this includes being impaled on spikes, burning, drowning, killed by enemies and of course falling. To progress to various levels, you will need to climb, roll, side-step and swim.

The game can be hard at times, and it can be difficult at times to navigate the level, as there are times when you use a switch and the game will automatically switch the camera to show what you activated. The problem arises, as they may be instances where you haven’t explored the area yet, and the switch you activated is on a timer, which can force you to backtrack the level.

The levels are vast and detailed, and each level is appropriately themed. In the early level, you will be attacked by various animals and creatures, with a good variety of bosses. Human enemies are quite rare and are usually plot-driven. Each level has secrets, and a special tune plays when you discover them, and you are usually rewarded with an item (ammo, medi packs, and rarely artifacts). Levels are completed in several ways, either by reaching a doorway, collecting artifacts and of course defeating bosses.

Tomb Raider also, popularized tutorials, as most games at the time didn’t include tutorials, and instead relayed on instructions in the manual. Instead, before starting the game, you have the option to play a training level (Lara’s Home). Here you can familiarize yourself with the controls, game mechanics and even find several Easter Eggs and secrets. Lara’s Home (or Croft Manor) will become a mainstay, and it was present in almost all Tomb Raider games. The music is amazing and features a memorable Tomb Raider theme, which was composed by Nathan McCree.

The game also received an expansion pack, called Unfinished Business and it featured two chapters: “Shadow of the Cat” and “Unfinished Business”, and each features two levels. This expansion pack was later re-released as Tomb Raider Gold – The Shadow of the Cat (in NA), and as Tomb Raider: Unfinished Business (Worldwide). The first chapter (Shadow of the Cat) takes place in Egypt, to investigate a mysterious statue of the goddess Bast, and the second chapter (Unfinished Business), takes place after the end of the game, right after the final level.

The game was released for MS-DOS (at the end of its life cycle), Windows, Playstation and Sega Saturn. There are small differences between the DOS and Playstation and Sega Saturn versions. The DOS version lets you save at any time, while Playstation and Sega Saturn have fixed saving points, marked by a floating blue crystal or by completing the level. The game later received releases on macOS, iOS, Android and N-Gage.

Tomb Raider was a huge success, selling over 7 million copies. During the first three months of 1997, Tomb Raider was the ninth-best-selling console game in the United States, with around 143,000 copies sold. This made it the highest-selling Playstation title for the period, in the United States. The game also received a “Platinum” sales award for PC and a “Gold” award for the Playstation.

There is plenty of info about the development and the franchise available online.

This game managed to create a franchise with 12 games in total (not counting the spin-offs), three movies, animated series, comics, and even a collectible card game. It’s also one of the rare franchises that had two reboots, one in 2006, and the second one in 2013. Tomb Raider also received a remake. called Tomb Raider: Anniversary in 2007, and it’s an amazing remake, and while it was very well received, it was actually one of the worst-selling titles in the franchise, with around 1.3 million copies sold worldwide. The game is available on both Steam and GOG (bundled with the second and the third game) and is an excellent introduction to the franchise.
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