There aren’t many video game characters that have gained as much attention as Lara Croft did. In 1996 she wasn’t just a revelation, she brought with her one of the first adventure games that understood what it was to be a game in a three-dimensional world. 22 years later and the original still comes packed with a chest full of treasure, though it has lost some of the quality that made it such a classic all those years ago.
Raiders of the lost Scion
It took bold and brave moves from Core Design to dump the stereotypical male adventurers of the 90s for a female, but in its wake lied a heroine waiting to capture the hearts of gamers around the world. Lara’s very first adventure saw her doing what she loves most – exploring tombs. She has been hired to track down the pieces of an ancient artefact known as the Scion. Equipped with her trusty pistols, she enters her first tomb, unbeknown to her that there is a darker sinister plot at hand that’ll test her to her very limit.
Combat is something you have to deal with, but it never takes centre stage.
The SEGA Saturn version of Tomb Raider was the very first Tomb Raider game to be released (before it launched on PlayStation and PC thereafter). It’s also, unfortunately, the version that runs the worst out of the lot. The frame rate is beyond comprehensive and the SEGA Saturn controller just never lent itself well to 3D games, before the launch of the 3D controller. Therefore Tomb Raider was the first game to really grasp how to control a game character based on 2D controller hardware, based in a 3D world. Compare it to adventure games in the modern age and it feels exceptionally dated, but for the time Core Design did the best they could using a D-Pad and what is there works, if a little clunky here and there.
Lara came with a very unique set of moves from the get-go that allowed her to run, walk, climb, swim, roll, side-step, dive, vault and shoot. These moves, for the time, made her one of the most agile characters in video games and thanks to this, it allowed her to explore worlds like never before. As limited as these worlds were in size, it made up for it with puzzles. Tomb Raider is a puzzle game first and foremost with a bit of combat and adventuring thrown in for good measure. If you don’t enjoy solving puzzles, where there is no holding your hand, then it’s probably a good idea to never give the older Tomb Raider games a go. Some of the puzzles are brutal and had me scratching my head a good few times in my attempts to solve them. Unlike modern games there are no clues. You have to explore every corner of the map and work out the logic for yourself. The combat, though functioning, was never the highlight of the game.
When you encounter your first foe, a pair of bats, Lara can pull out her pistols and it’ll automatically aim at anything that it considers a threat. Simply hold the shoot button and Lara takes care of the rest. The only way to dodge enemy attacks is by running, jumping and rolling. Get a good grasp on that and you’ll disperse any pack of wolves or crocs that might consider you their next meal. Combat is something you have to deal with, but it never takes centre stage. I generally feel very clumsy when shooting anyone in the first game as you’re simply jumping and rolling over your enemies to end the fight and move on to the next puzzle. Tomb Raider was the first of its kind, and thanks to that it’s showing its age all these years later in other areas too.
Tomb Raider is based off very exact shapes. Would you like to jump and grab the ledge over that gap? Walk up to the ledge, by pressing up on the D-Pad and holding in the left bumper to walk without running off the edge, tap down once to jump back and now run and jump to grab the ledge. The game has a very precise playing method – ignore it and you’re bound to have a world of pain trying to enjoy a game that had these limitations of space at play. From the very beginning, when you get to explore the Croft Mansion, you’ll get to understand that you have to adhere to these very unique rules. The design is very ‘square’ and as such the puzzles and everything that ties in with it comes from the same cookie cutter. Even with all these restrictions in place, Tomb Raider is still an enjoyable experience if you have the patience.
Unfortunately the SEGA Saturn falls into an era of games that have visually not aged well at all.
Persevere and any new player to the original Tomb Raider game will find what we all loved about it. There is a certain charm hearing the timed music sequences letting you know you’ve just uncovered a great secret or that there is trouble brewing. It was one of the first games to include that use of music in a game. It does take some time getting used to using save crystals and not just saving as and where you please. It stops players from taking chances to uncover secrets, as dying will put you back to the last save point – no there are no checkpoints. Lara will also be on the lookout for new guns, such as the Magnum and Shotgun, as well as medium and large health packs to refill your health bar. Unlike modern games you don’t recover over time – it sticks to that 90s formula. Something else that stuck to the 90s formula is the dated graphics. It ain’t a pretty sight.
Unfortunately, the SEGA Saturn falls into an era of games that have visually not aged well at all. To top it the SEGA Saturn is known for being the black sheep in the graphics department and in Tomb Raider it really shows. The polygons are big and in your face and at times it’s a mess of browns and greys. Besides the water perhaps looking better than the PlayStation version, there is just nothing that has aged well visually. This plays a huge part in 2018, especially when you consider that there are better ports on other formats and that there has since been a remake that looks like a tomb we would love to explore instead.
Tomb Raider was the perfect game at the perfect time in 1996. Today it’s a game that’ll remain in the history books as a classic game of our era. It’s probably a good idea to leave it at that because modern-day Lara would go out of her way to stash it in a tomb no one will ever find again. Not even that infamous T-Rex scene can save it from what it’s become. It’s just too prehistoric.