Flashback to Atlantis: Playing the Original Tomb Raider Twenty Years Later

Since I’ve just finished posting the As-I-Play series for Rise of the Tomb Raider, it seemed like a good time to revisit the game which launched the Tomb Raider series twenty–yes, twenty–years ago.

As regular readers are fully aware, I have developed a passion for the recent 2013 and 2015 Tomb Raider games (Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider) I’ve written about both here, and—thanks to a Steam sale—have recently acquired the entire franchise collection, going all the way back to the original 1996 Tomb Raider by Core Design. Given that it’s 2016—the 20th anniversary of the franchise—it seems appropriate to revisit the origins of the intrepid Lara Croft.

So I’m going to play it (at least the first game, if not more of them). I’m intrigued by the longevity and popularity of the franchise as a whole, particularly since Lara Croft (like Samus Aran) is a female protagonist in a sea of male leading characters and because she dates back to an era of videogaming in which there was an even greater dearth of women than there is at present. I’m also interested in the franchise from the train-wreck angle; Lara Croft is known world-wide as the quintessential sex-icon character, the worst-of-the-worst when it comes to depictions of women in videogames.

To be honest, I don’t actually think she’s the worst—I’ve seen some outfits (particularly worn by elves in fantasy series that shall go unnamed, although there’s a sniper outfit or two in more recent series that are positively shameful) which are far more ridiculous than Lara’s traditional booty-shorts-and-tank-top get-up. Admittedly she looks idiotic in the snowy mountains of Peru when her stereotypical-Mexican-sidekick-sherpa is in full winter gear with a sombrero and poncho in the opening of the original game. (Note: I’m actually playing Tomb Raider: Anniversary, which was released in 2007 just for the sake of better graphics, although the internet assures me that the gameplay is the same as the original game.) It’s also worth noting that some of the later Tomb Raider games “updated” Lara to have even bigger breasts (over the objections of Toby Gard, her creator), but these are still inhumanly proportioned.

That said, I’m not actually even half as horrified as I thought I was going to be. Yes, her “idle” posing in both the menu and in-game are a bit unnecessarily sexualized (stretching up to show off her ample bosom and bending over to stick her booty in my face), but for the most part the actual gameplay isn’t all that bad. Her deaths, for instance, aren’t even a fraction as creepy as those in the 2013 Tomb Raider and she doesn’t make weird little kitten-grunting noises throughout the game, either. She does need to put on pants, though.

But Lara’s lack of leg-coverings aside, the gameplay is pretty familiar: puzzles, jumping, climbing, ledges, a grapple hook… it feels really similar to the gameplay of Rise of the Tomb Raider in all the ways that are actually good, which is to say that the gameplay is pretty darn solid. At least until the dinosaurs show up. They totally lost me at the dinosaurs.

So for some reason known only to this game’s designers, there are dinosaurs living in a cave underground in Peru (there are also bears, wolves, and giant bats). Mostly velociraptors, but also a T-Rex. I don’t know why. No explanations were offered, and even Lara had very little to say about it other than a shocked mouth-open expression on her face when it came charging at her.

But then I had to kill the stupid thing. I hate boss battles in the best of circumstances, and playing a re-released game from 1996-remastered-in-2007 (whose graphics really aren’t 2007-worthy, given that BioShock and Portal both came out that same year) on a laptop with a 360 controller isn’t exactly what I would call the optimum conditions for enjoyment. Fortunately, there’s a spot where the T-Rex couldn’t get me, so I could stop trying to get it to bash its head into the spikey things (I did get it to do that once), although then I spent far, far, far too long shooting it with my pistols. I really miss the bow. The bow had some skill to it. On the up side, Lara has infinite ammo, so at least I didn’t have to leave my safe spot in order to go get more.

But the T-Rex does not signal the end of Lara’s time in this temple, so I continue on. There are a lot of jumping puzzles. A lot. Many of them with those idiotic shoot-darts-out-of-walls things that are in every Indiana Jones movie ever made. There are also boulders that roll down inclines and swinging blades coming out of ceilings. This makes me think about the mechanics of such things—and grow increasingly incredulous about the fact that not only were mechanized seemingly infinite dart-blowing walls created in the time of the Incans, but those mechanisms are still functional several centuries later, just so they can shoot me. And yes, that is something I’ve always wondered about the Indiana Jones movies, too. But there’s more charismatically charming (and 80s cheesy) dialogue and plot in Indiana Jones than there is in Tomb Raider (thank you, Rhianna Pratchett, for actually giving the new Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider plot and character development and story).

And, I’m sorry, I’m trying very hard to keep my inner (okay, not-so-inner) feminist quiet, but I just can’t handle the pole climbing any more. It’s not so much the fact that Lara is all-but-sexually-assaulting the poles while climbing them (you kinda can’t help that), but she’s doing it in shorts that only barely qualify as more-than-underwear, and my god the splinters that woman must have. As someone who climbs things fairly often (multiple times per week), even I know better than to do so in nothing but booty shorts. The chafing!

Sadly, this is one of those posts—and playthroughs—that is not going to end well. Why? Because of a game-stopping bug.

They exist. The poor game-testers do their very best to keep them from happening, but they happen. And I’ve found one. (Note: the internet confirms that this has happened to more than just me. However, I do not have a save from anywhere before the incident occurred, and I am absolutely not re-killing the T-Rex, particularly since, from what I can tell, this bug is one that has the potential to recur.) The problem? I am in the Tomb of Qualopec and I’m supposed to swing from one grappling hook to another. First hook, no problem. Second hook? Just not happening. The indicator tells me that I can swing to it, but I can’t. Yes, I have shot down the mandala. Yes, I have opened two out of three gates. Yes, I have been trying and re-trying to do this for the better part of an hour. The problem? A stupid wood-artifact from the mandala didn’t “fall” from the hook, so it’s being blocked by something that the game thinks both is and isn’t there. So I can’t get to the last pathway to open the gate, and because the mandala is down, I can’t shoot down the piece of wood (not even with manual aim, which I learned how to do just because of this problem).

So I can’t finish the game unless I literally start over from the beginning. Which is so not happening, because, quite frankly, I do not love jumping puzzles that much (or at all, really—I tolerate jumping puzzles), and I really do not love T-Rexes. So that, sadly, is the end of my adventures in two-decade-old Tomb Raider. I am not sad that I never encountered the centaur, since, apparently, there is more grappling that has to happen to defeat it.

I’ll stick to my nice, modern, feminist Lara Croft, with her pants and her parka and her bow.

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Comments (1)

I had to research this for quite some time to figure out if I had become senile. As far as I could remember, there were no abnormal boobs. Lara’s in-game breasts seemed to be a quite reasonable and non-sexy four-polygon approximately-b-cups (the cutscene and promo material boobage, however, is cartoonishly exaggerated. We’ve talked about the phenomenon of in-game vs promotional mammaries before). The original Lara is little more than a pointy polygonal stick figure in-game. She is certainly under-dressed for the occasion, but it would require quite a lot of imagination to find her sexy (or sexualized). See for example this video: https://youtu.be/MF2BS3OBBDM?t=2m17s
Or this picture: http://tombraider.wikia.com/wiki/Lara's_Outfits?file=TR1_Classic_%28In_game%29.png

I also could not remember any mandala, climbable poles or hooks to swing from. It turns out that the Anniversary Edition has had a lot added to it. So much, in fact, that it’s an entirely different game with completely new mechanics. I watched some gameplay videos, and indeed, those ancient wooden poles do look very inner-thigh-incompatible. (Also, the non-existence of poles in the original version completely vindicates her short-shorts, so take THAT, feminism! *snaps brim of fedora*)

It could have been worse, as the developers of Anniversary (Crystal Dynamics) were also responsible for the previous game, TR:Legend, where they saw fit to give Lara a very low cut v-neck crop top, and her shorts barely reached her thighs.

In the original version opening cutscene, Lara wears a thick, hooded, ankle-length woolen poncho/coat when she approaches the Incan temple. Presumably, the ancient mechanism that eternally powers the dart traps also provides ample indoor heating, which necessitates her shedding this impractical garment.

The traps do require some suspension of disbelief. One thing I’ve always found strange is that while there could perhaps be some ingenious mechanical way to power dart or blade traps over centuries, the boulders are definitely single-use. So if you enter an ancient temple, the first thing you should see is a pulverized skeleton wearing a pith helmet under a crumbling boulder at the end of a corridor.

I fully empathize with your decision to not replay the boss fight, as I hate boss fights with all my heart.

Watching playthroughs on Youtube, I’m reminded of how good this game was when it came out. I usually hate jumping puzzles, especially in first person games (looking at you, Half-life!) where you can’t see your feet and you slide around as if you’re wearing roller skates. The jumping and climbing in TR felt incredibly solid and understandable. You could see that this chasm is a simple “jump”, while that abyss is a run-jump-grab-shimmy-drop. If you failed, it was because you made a mistake, not because the controls were imprecise or the camera angle suddenly changed during a crucial moment. TR was more like a strategic jumping puzzle platformer than anything else.

Have you checked out XCOM 2 yet? It’s tremendous. Now with plenty of user mods and character customization options.
And as always, I implore you to play Spec Ops: The Line

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