Going back 25 years later and there’s a lot not to like about this seminal classic. Being the first of its kind there’s a lot of rough edges that stand out today in a way they didn’t way back then. For this reason we need to take care how we judge games like this. It is an early PlayStation 1 classic and everything that goes with that after all.
Importantly Tomb Raider really was the first of its kind and set the ground work for everything that has come since. 3D games existed way back before the early ZX Spectrum days. Machines like the Spectrum, C64 and Amstrad CPC where pioneering this kind of solid 3D rendering in the mid-late 80’s. But it’s very difficult to think of another game that offered this kind of third person action-adventure platforming prior. A couple of contemporaries, Die Hard Trilogy and Fade To Black, come close but it was Tomb Raider that defined the language of 3D third person gameplay that game makers would spend the PlayStation 2 era perfecting.
In Tomb Raider you play Indiana Jones-like adventurer Lara Croft on a mission to locate the missing pieces of the Scion. A quest taking you to fully realised 3D worlds set in caves and tombs around Puru, Greece, Egypt and Atlantis. The majority of the gameplay involves platforming climbing, swimming and leaver pulling to solve a variety of puzzles impeding your progress. This is interspersed with a touch of quick gunfire to ward of dangerous critters and the old rival adventurer.
Looking back from a modern perspective the low screen resolution, minimal texture detail and flat 2D sprites in place of 3D objects do stand out but all were incredibly impressive to gamers at the time coming from, at best, flat shaded 3D models on earlier 16-bit machines.
Likeways the tank controls can be a trial. Being used to modern dual analogue thumb controls with control over camera positioning. Tomb Raider hails from an era where the venerable D-pad was the only option. Still once you get used to the controller layout it is an incredibly responsive and fluid game to play.
One area where Tom Raider really excels over modern games is in it’s level and puzzle design. It’s the Goldilocks design of puzzle platforming. Modern games tend to be a little to hand-holdy. Earlier puzzle platformers could be a little obtuse in their solutions (get jerry can and take to Fred fill with spring water before pouring on magic bean to grow beanstalk to climb!?!). Tomb Raiders puzzles revolve mostly around finding the platform path, pulling the right leavers, and locating fairly obvious keys.
All in all the game still stands up. It’s a little clunky today but once you get used to the controls the revolution gameplay design shines through and remains every bit as enjoyable and challenging as when it first hit the shelves.