I've noticed lately that a lot of readers are looking for reviews of older games. This makes sense given the fact that new Saturn games are few and far between these days. So, I've decided to dust off a couple of my early games and give them a second look, just to see whether they've stood the test of time. I'll start things off today with a personal favourite of mine, Tomb Raider.
The story line of Tomb Raider is very similar to an Indiana Jones type of adventure. The main character, Lara Croft, has been hired to seek out a priceless artefact deep in the mountains of Peru. This lost treasure is supposed to have some sort of religious power and is of great value to collectors. This particular expedition does not seem too exciting to Lara but she accepts it anyway (for lack of anything better to do). Little does she know what lies ahead... I don't want to spoil it for you. Lets just say that Lara's employers have not been telling the whole truth about this artefact.
Back when this game was first released it set a new standard for polygon graphics. I remember being absolutely awe-struck by it. The levels are huge ! I've never played another Saturn game that gave me so much room to move around. Of course, there is a down side to this. The Saturn is notorious for pop-up and clipping in 3D games and Tomb Raider is no exception. There seem to be a lot of little graphical glitches that distract you from the game. More important though is the texture mapping, which is all done in low res. It looks ok from a distance but it gets very pixelated up close.
Overall though, the graphics are not bad, even by today's standards. The various enemies are in fact very well done. They look great and move very realistically. I can't recall seeing very much in the way of slow down either.
Sound / Music
The music in this game is somewhat of a paradox. It's very well done and adds a lot to the atmosphere of the game. Unfortunately, there isn't much of it. At certain points it will suddenly appear, play for a short while, and then fade out again. At first I thought this must be a side effect of Eidos rushing the game to market but the PlayStation version is the same. I can't explain it. The sound effects are also good. Hearing the thunderous foot steps of the T-Rex right before it comes crashing out of the trees will send a shiver right down your spine. The sound of the rats squealing in the sewers gets annoying though.
This has always been an issue of contention in Tomb raider. The controls in this game are very complex and take some getting used to. Lara has a wide variety of different moves at her disposal ranging from simple jumps and rolls to some amazing acrobatics. Not all of them are necessary to finish the game though. You absolutely MUST learn to jump, shimmy along a ledge and swim. The rest of the moves are just there to make life more interesting. The down side to this variety, however, is that sometimes you'll be in a tight spot and instead of rolling forward under the flying darts (as you intended) you hit the wrong button combination and Lara suddenly executes a beautiful sideways somersault right off the cliff. It can be a little frustrating. Tomb Raider also suffers from the classical problems that come with moving camera angles. One moment you're seeing the action from behind her and suddenly the camera rotates to a view above and to the right. This makes it difficult to line up jumps in some places. Lets just say that you'll need practice before you can master the play mechanics.
Tomb Raider is not an easy game. As I stated earlier, the levels are very large and are strewn with dozens of obstacles. There are also a few points which can be quite frustrating. One evening I spent an hour repeating the same jump until I finally got it right. The game also uses fixed save points. This means that even after clearing a difficult spot you still have to survive long enough to save your work, otherwise you end up doing it over again. To put it bluntly, this game is not for impatient people. It requires a good deal of practice and timing to get through some of the later levels. It can be done though. I finished it in about 25 hours (over the course of a month). If you do get stuck there are several web sites with walk throughs and hints for the game. Just get on Yahoo and do a search for Tomb Raider.
So, how does Tomb Raider stand up after three years on the market. Not too badly. The graphics are not as good as they could be, and the music is too sparse, but it's still a challenging and entertaining game. If you happen to run across a copy in the bargain bin at your local Saturn dealer, pick it up. You won't be disappointed. Don't expect an easy ride though...
Review By: Sheridan Hortness