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Old 10-10-18, 01:06   #200
sheepman23
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ATLANTIS
Level 13 - Natla's Mines




Out of the Tombs and Into the Mines

Natla's Mines is really the first level of the original game that swaps ancient caverns, ruins, and structures for a slightly more modernized feeling. I say "slightly" because this certainly isn't your High Security Compound or VCI Tech; rather, it's a desolate system of mines that has man-made objects scattered throughout with hardly a trace of ancient architecture (until the final moments, that is). The result is a level that stands in stark contrast to the rest of the game's ventures - and that's a really good thing in my opinion.

Interestingly, the first half of this level feels more desolate that many of the ruins in this game have. That's because there's absolutely no enemies until you run into the Cowboy near the lava river, and even past him you don't encounter anyone for quite a while. Without having a single tomb, temple, or catacomb, Natla's Mines manages to capture the true feeling of Tomb Raider in the same way that the rest of this game does. It doesn't overload us with shooting or bombastic theatrical gameplay - it's just Lara and the mines, and there's something really cool about that.


Wtf how did we wind up inside of the Windows maze screensaver

In fact, levels like Natla's Mines really beg the question: What is the Tomb Raider series all about? Yes, one could argue that it's about exploring lost civilizations, but I don't think that's honestly the core principle. I think it's more tied to the isolation, sense of discovery, and thrills of exploration... and it's the reason why the first four Tomb Raider titles are my favorites. While 2-4 have a tendency to overload on humans, there are still moments where the player feels absorbed into their environment and distant from the rest of the world. TR1 does this almost constantly, and it persists in Natla's Mines - the ONLY level of the game to include humans! That's largely because there's only three of them, and they turn into "mini boss battles" of sorts.

If I could honestly give Crystal Dynamics a piece of advice, it would be to bring back the isolation, discovery, and exploration that the series once held. Games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider seem to be going in the right direction, but when you take a closer look, they really aren't effectively capturing any one of these components... and that's really unfortunate since the series has so much more technical capability than it used to.

Cabin Fever

Natla's Mines starts off with one of my favorite segments of the game, and that's the process for retrieving Lara's pistols. This gives me another reason to knock TR2, by the way... in TR2's Offshore Rig, the player finds Lara's signature pistols very quickly, which completely erodes the sense of danger and nakedness that the player might have had upon losing them. In Natla's Mines, this is not the case. It takes a great deal of exploring (and even a quick brush with the Cowboy) before our heroine can get them back. It creates a really interesting dynamic that the rest of the game doesn't contain, and the only thing that could have made this better would have been more brushes with enemies... alas, that's not the direction this level chose to go in, and the idea wouldn't be truly explored until High Security Compound in TR3.

(As for TR2... I'm knocking it quite a bit in this review, but I honestly adore the game. This level just seems to point out a couple of large flaws that the game possessed - namely the overabundance of humans and Offshore Rig's pistol retrieval process. )


Pictured: College students looking for low-price rental houses


So glad to have the twins back! Wait...

But anyway, back to the fuses. It's a fine bout of gameplay that keeps us occupied while Lara is trying to avoid confrontation with any of Natla's goons. I'm not normally a huge fan of "find x identical items and insert them to move forward" puzzles, but the Tomb Raider series has a knack for doing them pretty well (The Lost Valley, St Francis Folly, Palace Midas, and Barkhang Monastery all use this concept very well), so I'll let it slide in this scenario. Plus, this little area feels really interactive with the moving mine cart, floating boat, running conveyor, and falling cabin! Oh, and there's that really random boulder cave in the middle of it, which is slightly out of place but adds some spice to the level.

However, the fun really starts once Lara obtains her pistols. Going back to defeat the Cowboy is quite satisfying, even if he takes a ridiculous amount of bullets to dispatch.

It's Not a Video Game if You're Not Jumping Over Lava

Ah, Tomb Raider - even you couldn't help yourself on avoiding the molten lava trope, could you? I must admit that the lava channel is a fun test of Lara's jumping skills, and another testament to the designers progressing the gameplay difficulty exceptionally well. These jumps aren't the trickiest stuff in the world, but they do feel a lot easier to complete now that we've been through quite a bit of leaps and bounds to get here. There's even a nice secret tucked away, and a TNT explosion puzzle in order to advance further in the mines.


I think the most hilarious part of the original Tomb Raider games is the physics of boulders. I mean these things don't give a flying **** about anything: they will start rolling whenever they want, their momentum will take them across any surface, and in this level, they TELEPORT if Lara tries to re-enter an area.


Speaking of unrealistic science, lava merely eight feet away is definitely not melting Lara's face off at this moment...

It's all good stuff, and it fits this level's theme of quirky gameplay that doesn't really fit with the rest of the game. Is this a bad thing? Not if you ask me, but it's possible to see why Natla's Mines is one of the less-loved levels of TR1 when you consider that it doesn't contain the striking sense of wonder that a massive sphinx, long-lost dinosaurs, or ancient Greek ruins might give the player.

This level trades the sense of wonder in discovering a lost tomb for the vengeance that Lara has to those who stole her weapons and Scion. Facing the Cowboy, then the Skateboard Kid, and finally the Bald Man just leaves me with a huge sense of accomplishment as I near the end and know that I knocked out each of Natla's rats.

Skateboard Parks and Pyramid Schemes

That being said, the final third of the level starts to feel pretty long. Battling it out with the Tony-Hawk-wannabe in the underground skateboard park (yes, that's a real thing that the designers decided was necessary...) is good fun, but the remaining stuff after this bit begins to feel really tiresome. There's more boulders, a vertical jumping challenge, and then a golden maze before you reach the final chamber with our shotgun friend. The first two portions rehash multiple other challenges throughout the level, while the maze bit is just straight up frustrating. It's not overly difficult, but the monotonous golden walls, tedious block-pushing, and a particularly teasing timed door combine to really just make the player wish they were at the Atlantean pyramid already.

Speaking of tedious block-pushing, Natla's Mines does lose some points for how much it relies on the cumbersome displacement of massive crates. It happens quite a bit over the course of the level, and because the mechanics make this process so slow, it's not really a winning point to constantly be utilizing that within one level.


Unbeknownst to many 90's gamers, the beta version of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater allowed you to murder civilians with Uzis in addition to skating. Hard to say why they removed it...


Is this shotgun proportional to the man's size? Why on earth is MY shotgun not the size of a damn fence post?

Conclusion

I honestly like this level a lot more than I was expecting to on replay. Natla's Mines has a tendency to forgo solid level design in favor of quirkier environments, and I'm actually totally okay with this. More than that, I love the story that's told in this level - and without any cutscenes or FMVs to tell it. Battling your way through 3 of Natla's flunkies to finally lay eyes upon the place Lara has been after this entire game is just fantastic, and feels way more meaningful than any of the human kills in the next three games do. The designers also handle Lara's loss of weaponry incredibly well, and while it doesn't resort to the cool-as-hell stealthiness of TR3's weaponless venture, it keeps the player isolated and on the defensive, which is more than enough for me.

I really enjoy Natla's Mines. It's not a stellar level of the series, or even one of the best of TR1, but this is a game that already has so many standouts; Natla's Mines is a good case of the designers letting their hair down a bit to create a slightly more whimsical adventure with less gunplay, lots of animated objects, and fun brushes with boulders, lava channels, and even an exploding TNT box for good measure. Even though the final portion slacks off a bit with a misplaced maze and some rehashed gameplay, the level as a whole is still really fun and a good precursor to the two Atlantean killers coming up...

Rating - 8/10


Level Rankings so Far:
1. Palace Midas (10)
2. Sanctuary of the Scion (10)
3. The Lost Valley (10)
4. Obelisk of Khamoon (9)
5. City of Vilcabamba (9)
6. City of Khamoon (9)
7. St. Francis Folly (8)
8. Cistern (8)
9. Natla's Mines (8)
10. Colosseum (7)
11. Tomb of Tihocan (7)
12. Caves (6)
13. Tomb of Qualopec (5)

Last edited by sheepman23; 10-10-18 at 01:08.
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