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Old 23-03-19, 17:50   #11
sheepman23
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INDIA
Level 1 - Jungle




For me, coming back to Tomb Raider III is like returning to your hometown after many years away. You drive past your old high school, reminded of the memories made there (good or bad). You stop at your favorite local ice cream shop, and little has changed. You may notice things that you didn't before, largely because your perspective on the world has changed, but in essence, everything is exactly how you left it.

This isn't often an experience I get with gaming. I do feel heavily nostalgic when playing old titles that had impacted who I am today - the Crash Bandicoot trilogy, Mass Effect trilogy, and Assassin's Creed II are all examples of this - but there's something different about Tomb Raider. I understand the classic Core Design engine in a way that I don't with the aforementioned titles. I used to have every detail of these levels mapped out in my head and understood the gameplay grid system in a way that could allow me to do many things that weren't supposed to be possible by the designers. Hell, there's even a really huge shortcut in Jungle (across the quicksand swamp) that probably wasn't intended; regardless, intent gamers like myself picked up on it and exploited it.

What's particularly interesting to me is that 2013 was probably the last time I played the entirety of TR3. Six years isn't a long time, but it is enough time to forget some of those minute details that I used to have cached away in my brain. There were multiple areas in Jungle where I had to take in my surroundings before immediately discovering every single pickup. And I'm truly excited and happy that I'm getting the chance to experience this title with a more fresh viewpoint now; I expect this playthrough will be a treat for me, especially once I get into levels which are further on.



One of the trickiest things for a game designer to do is introduce their player to the world and gameplay. If you start off too boringly or don't engage the player with diverse gameplay, they're not entertained and don't want to continue with your game. If you start off with dodgy, trial-and-error game mechanics or by throwing the avatar down a treacherous slope with little to no guidelines (... ), you risk losing the player's trust too quickly and frustrating them before the real fun can begin.

In case I can't make it more obvious, Jungle commits the latter flaw with the use of the mudslide at the very beginning. That's a pretty drastic way to start the game off, and while it's not too hard for the player to just slide and jump a few times to reach the bottom, I think the addition of spike pits on the way down is pretty damn unforgiving for someone who may not even know HOW to jump - let alone decipher that on the slide down. I do consider this a minor flaw that seems like it could've been alleviated with a tad bit less ruthlessness.

And yet, after that grueling opening slope, I actually think that Jungle does a pretty solid job of keeping the difficulty on the challenging-yet-not-frustrating side. For one thing, Jungle succeeds in one area that TR2's opener, The Great Wall, doesn't: it doesn't blindly shove the player into a series of trap gauntlets halfway through the level and expect them to succeed. Don't get me wrong, I love The Great Wall, but Jungle only contains small bursts of action (a boulder rolling out of the bushes, a single tiger attack, a slope with spikes, etc.) instead of a series of brutal gauntlets. So kudos for not completely alienating the player by the level's end!





Combat is also pretty reasonable here too. The Bengal tiger encounters are cleverly placed to give the player plenty of time to develop a game plan on how to dispatch them; there are even a few scenarios where we're forced into combat with one under less-than-ideal circumstances, such as that final poolroom where we must climb out and hope not to get chomped on. That one works particularly well and tests the player's ability to respond quickly to vulnerability.

I also can't get out of this review without mentioning the hilarious macaques, which make odd primate sounds and steal items from our heroine. I actually used to never know that these "enemies" were friendly to Lara... until she shoots one of them! I would always just shoot everything on sight without the slightest care about whether or not it was going to hurt me... This time around I saved the macaques, although you can be damned sure that I grabbed my medipacks and Indra Key before those devils stole them.



For being an opening level, Jungle also wastes no time in giving us a solid variety of gameplay mechanics to play around with. I already mentioned the good use of combat, but I also think that Jungle should get some praise for throwing in a few light puzzles. The level's final quarter sees Lara attempting to flood an entire patio area, and this is accomplished through some switch-and-door action. It's not the most exciting or original puzzle type, but it isn't tedious or frustrating to complete. It also allows for a pretty cool final climb up the waterfall areas to pull the last switch we need.

I'm also appreciative of the level's 6(!) secrets, which are all very different from one another. Some of them are one-off areas that simply require you to be observant of your surroundings, while others test Lara's basic gameplay maneuvers (jumping around corners and descending through openings to name a few). I think that spreading so many secrets out across the first level is a good way of signalling to the player that this game is going to contain plenty of side rewards and challenges to enliven the experience.





Finally, I like the level's use of flow and goals. Jungle doesn't feel like we're progressing with no intention or purpose; the observant player is going to be able to look out across the quicksand swamp and see that out-of-reach, inaccessible area. We also notice that traversing the river is impossible due to the piranha and current, so we know that a separate path needs to be taken instead. We catch glimpses of the river as we progress through Jungle, right up until the end when we finally realize we've reached the other end of the swamp! That's when the stage ends, too, which is great because it doesn't tack on an unnecessary journey after accomplishing our big goal.

I also hate it when game designers throw switches on one end of a level which open up doors and areas that we've seen ages ago; it's tedious, not productive, and doesn't enhance the player's skills or enjoyments, so why do it? Jungle does an awesome job of not making any of our tasks feel like chores, and that's really important in my final assessment of it. I had a good time here, explored a bit, but didn't get frustrated, and that's what matters.



Summary

Pros:
+ Moderate difficulty is appropriate for the first level
+ Bengal tiger and macaque encounters are also suitable
+ Great variety and mix of gameplay mechanics to show off the world
+ Level progression feels purposeful and isn't tedious
+ Good secrets

Cons:
- The opening slope is slightly off-putting in an otherwise fun level
- No real standout moment to sell this as a recognizable stage

Jungle is a case of a stage with solid, acceptable design quality that holds up the standards we've come to know and expect with Tomb Raider games. The jungle environment in itself is wholly different from anything the player experienced in TR1 and 2, but the level's gameplay is truly where Jungle shines. It has just the right amount of traps, enemies, and puzzles to keep the first experience light and manageable.

On the downside, I think that Jungle is almost a little too on the safe side, which probably lowers its overall memorability for many fans. It's a great opener, no doubt about that, but I think you'd be pressed to find many TR fans who consider this one of their all-time favorites - there are just too many other TR3 levels which have more exciting or risky encounters and gameplay mechanics.

Still, that doesn't detriment the level design quality that we have here, and I think Jungle will remain one of the best TR openers for that very reason. It's engaging, has appropriate difficulty, and introduces the fundamental parts of what makes TR3 the great game that it is.

Rating - 8/10

Last edited by sheepman23; 06-04-19 at 02:39.
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Old 23-03-19, 18:25   #12
Samz
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It begins!

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Originally Posted by sheepman23 View Post
INDIA
Level 1 - Jungle




Damn, if only I had a handy helicopter to drop myself in the right place!
]
Funny you say that, TR:The Prophecy GBA game opens with Lara on a cliff a small distance away from her goal.

Lara: "Mmh...
looks like a long way up...
next time I should get another helicopter pilot.

I like India overall but its kinda weird how they throw so much ammo you'll barely get to use at you, considering how you only get the shotgun in India. (I know you TECHNICALLY get the Grenade Launcher for Tony but considering how the boss fight consists of dodging instant kill projectiles you'll probably not pick it up til' the fight is already over.)
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Old 23-03-19, 18:25   #13
NoahCrofRaider
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Excellent opener! The slope at the beginning didn’t feel very off-putting to me, but I was also already fairly good at the classics’ controls by the time I played TR3. Jungle is a great, enjoyable level to me, and indeed a superb opening level, but I agree that it definitely lacks any memorable or “iconic” moments, making it an unlikely candidate for one of my favorite levels in the game.
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Old 24-03-19, 00:48   #14
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Thank you sheepman23.
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Old 24-03-19, 02:00   #15
sheepman23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Samz View Post
Funny you say that, TR:The Prophecy GBA game opens with Lara on a cliff a small distance away from her goal.

Lara: "Mmh...
looks like a long way up...
next time I should get another helicopter pilot.
It's been ages since I've played that game, but yes, I remember!

Quote:
I like India overall but its kinda weird how they throw so much ammo you'll barely get to use at you, considering how you only get the shotgun in India. (I know you TECHNICALLY get the Grenade Launcher for Tony but considering how the boss fight consists of dodging instant kill projectiles you'll probably not pick it up til' the fight is already over.)
True - that's one of the problems I have with TR3 as a whole. It doesn't really provide many weapons until much later on in the middle sections, and then, depending on your order, you may not see the Uzis or Harpoon Gun for quite some time (I think the Uzis and Harpoon Gun are ONLY available in London amidst the three middle sections. Nevada Desert Uzis don't count.).

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Originally Posted by NoahCrofRaider View Post
Excellent opener! The slope at the beginning didn’t feel very off-putting to me, but I was also already fairly good at the classics’ controls by the time I played TR3. Jungle is a great, enjoyable level to me, and indeed a superb opening level, but I agree that it definitely lacks any memorable or “iconic” moments, making it an unlikely candidate for one of my favorite levels in the game.
That's totally fair - "off-putting" is really the wrong word here, although I imagine that for a new player, it probably was quite frustrating to get down with no scratches and obtaining some of the secrets. Just seems a lot more drastic than the way that Caves or even The Great Wall eased us into the adventure.

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Thank you sheepman23.
You're quite welcome!
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Old 24-03-19, 02:10   #16
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Well well, it's been a while but always happy to read another of your review series, and of perhaps my favorite TR game to boot It's been years since I've played it, so I'm looking forward to seeing what jogs my memory as I read along.

Great start with Jungle, keep it up
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Old 24-03-19, 11:33   #17
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Jungle
Where do I start? Well I start with the opening cutscene. I know I was one of the players who wonders why we start with a cutscene in Antarctica and all of a sudden Lara is in India. Now I think, this is a brilliant choice. First show us the main object of the game (the meteor in Antarctica) and then let Lara all of the sudden start in India, a region which can hardly be connected with Antarctica. And in my opinion it didn't even need a cutscene. It would only have shown the same as in Tomb Raider 2: Lara lands with a helicopter.

Quote:
In case I can't make it more obvious, Jungle commits the latter flaw with the use of the mudslide at the very beginning. That's a pretty drastic way to start the game off, and while it's not too hard for the player to just slide and jump a few times to reach the bottom, I think the addition of spike pits on the way down is pretty damn unforgiving for someone who may not even know HOW to jump - let alone decipher that on the slide down. I do consider this a minor flaw that seems like it could've been alleviated with a tad bit less ruthlessness.
I know what you mean here and you can see it from both views. The mudslide is the first hint and right at the start, that this game will be no stroll through the park, but a very challenging and hard task. What is especially mean about the spikes is, that they changed the spikes from Tomb Raider 1 and 2. In these levels they were normally white with bloodied tips (only in Floating Islands they were green). Now they are the same color of the textures in India and doesn't stick out (pun intended) very much. So even a veteran player will see them almost at the last moment, when he is playing the game for the first time.
But you are also right, punishing a gamer seconds after he start can frustrate him too much and he might lose the passion to play this game. Luckily for Jungle after this mudslide the level is challenging, but not unfair.

Quote:
The level's final quarter sees Lara attempting to flood an entire patio area, and this is accomplished through some switch-and-door action. It's not the most exciting or original puzzle type, but it isn't tedious or frustrating to complete. It also allows for a pretty cool final climb up the waterfall areas to pull the last switch we need.
This is something I also liked about Jungle. It already has such long tasks like floating this area, but it is easy to figure out. And it uses the traps a little less harsh than Great Wall. The monkeys are a fun element they put it. They are harmless, but can steal important items.

Quote:
I'm also appreciative of the level's 6(!) secrets, which are all very different from one another.
The first secret is in my opinion one of the most unfair one in all Tomb Raider history. The player doesn't expect a very good hidden secret at the start and I would bet, that the only player who found this first secret without any hint, were by happenstance. But it is a good reminder, that the secrets in this game will be very well hidden and need some extra-thinking to get them. The mudslide is again a good example. If you just slide it down and continue through the temple, you already have missed half of the secrets of the level.

Quote:
Finally, I like the level's use of flow and goals. Jungle doesn't feel like we're progressing with no intention or purpose; the observant player is going to be able to look out across the quicksand swamp and see that out-of-reach, inaccessible area.
Another good example why Jungle is an excellent opener for this game. Exploration, level complexity and different ways through the levels are the norm for most of Tomb Raider 3 levels. Jungle for example have this path over the river, where you enter the to-be-flooded area from the other side and have to deal with two tigers (they really scared me, when I found this way and all of the sudden bumped into them).

Quote:
- No real standout moment to sell this as a recognizable stage
I have one: After opening the door behind the boulder and be attacked by the tigers there starts the "Mighty-Jungle"-theme. This is the one moment of this level which is sticked in my brain.

Quote:
the best TR openers for that very reason.
You said here something. Like Caves is the perfect opener to not only Tomb Raider 1, but the whole Tomb Raider gaming experience, Jungle is the perfect opener for Tomb Raider 3. Punishing segments, very well hidden secrets, complex level structures, different paths through the level and standard combat. If I compare this with Great Wall, it is little distracting that after Great Wall you have a bunch of urban levels, many human enemies and only a few traps. It doesn't prepare you much for the rest of the game like Jungle did.
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Old 24-03-19, 18:09   #18
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Excellent! Always a pleasure to read your tomb raider reviews sheepman! Looking very much forward to follow your revisit of TR3.
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Old 25-03-19, 15:16   #19
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Great review! As far as opening levels go, this one is solid. I'm excited to see what you think about Temple Ruins.
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Old 25-03-19, 16:49   #20
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Great review! As far as opening levels go, this one is solid. I'm excited to see what you think about Temple Ruins.
Jungle is solid indeed. And particularly in combination with Temple Ruins makes for quite a brutal introduction to the game. Compare that to the first couple of levels of TR1 and TR2 I'd say it's quite a step up in terms of difficulty.
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