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Old 30-08-20, 17:24   #1
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Default Tomb Raider Revisited (TR Diaries)

Hello everyone, Iím Smog. Itís been a very long time since Iíve been active on these forums. A lot of things have changed - my interest in Tomb Raider has risen and fallen - but Iíve always known deep down that I would keep coming back to the series - particularly the old Core Design titles - as long as I had a supply of electricity and something to run them on.

Back in 2008/9, I wrote a series of ďTR Diaries,Ē chronicling my level-by-level impressions of Tomb Raider 3, Legend and Underworld. I waxed nostalgic, vented my frustrations and tried to inject a bit of humour in there as well. Looking back at them now, itís impossible not to cringe at my cynical teenage musings, as Iím sure anyone who has ever revisited any of their creative endeavours years later will understand. But people seemed to enjoy reading them at the time, and I enjoyed getting my detailed thoughts on the games out there, stoking lots of discussion and debate. It was fun.

Itís been about five years since I last played the original Tomb Raider, and roughly eleven years since I abandoned my ďThe Lost Artifact DiariesĒ project halfway through. Recently I started following a few Tomb Raider folks on Twitter (including @thatnorskchick, who I remember from my time here, hello!) and rediscovered the excellent AzraelKhan on YouTube. I went to Nathan McCreeís Tomb Raider Suite concert in London in 2016 and was even gifted a set of postcards showcasing those lovely Royal Mail Tomb Raider stamps released earlier this year. Tomb Raider has been gradually sneaking back into my consciousness, so naturally Iím powerless to resist the draw of a full series playthrough.

So, I thought, why not do this thing properly? Why not make a project out of it and share my experience with the community I used to love being a part of all those years ago? Letís revisit Tomb Raider in 2020, level-by-level, 24(!) years later.

(And by the way, hold on a sec. 24 YEARS. Jesus. Holy ****. I turned 30 this year and this is not helping my rapidly-growing sense of mortality.)

So letís head back to Peru, and a time when the third dimension was an exotic new novelty and the world was made entirely of squaresÖ

Note: Iíll be playing the PC version of Tomb Raider through Steam, using a keyboard and Carlmundoís Automated Fix mod. Iíve only ever played through the PlayStation version before, so this is uncharted territory for me!

So it begins...



Tomb Raiderís opening FMV is enigmatic. A close-up of a snakeís eye pulls out to reveal a desert landscape thatís suddenly engulfed in a dramatic explosion, and a round, metallic object smashes into the ground. After some mechanical clanking sounds, weíre shown a strange silhouette shrouded against some sort of glassy backdrop. What the hell are we looking at? I had no idea in 1996, and it was a bold choice on Coreís part to open with something so weird.

Things become a bit more grounded as we cut to the lobby of a Calcutta hotel and are introduced to Lara Croft. What do we learn about her? Well, sheís an ďAdventurer!Ē as Larsonís magazine declares. Sheís not averse to gunning down endangered animals - as Bigfoot could attest to (were he still with us) - and she ďonly plays for sport.Ē If weíve played the Laraís Home tutorial before jumping into the main game, we know sheís a woman of privilege. She doesnít show any academic or archeological interest at all when Natla describes the artefact sheís asking her to retrieve. It seems like Laraís just up for a no-strings-attached adventure that may or may not include a little thinning of the local fauna and the theft of a priceless artifact from a foreign nation before flying back to her enormous manor house for afternoon tea. Two sugars Winston, thereís a good chap.



Look, Iím not saying sheís the walking embodiment of British colonialism, just that maybe I didnít think as much about stuff like this back in the 90s. I know a lot of people donít like the way the character has gone in recent years, but Lara was never really a good person. Maybe thatís why we love her, because sheís actually a bit of an unapologetic bitch. I guess she was never really meant to be examined with much depth or seriousness. The extent of your feelings on the subject was probably only ever meant to amount to: Lara = good, anything in Laraís way = bad.

So, to business. Weíre up in the windswept Andes and the nostalgiaís in full flow here. The sweeping, foreboding soundtrack really sets the scene as Lara and her guide come across a massive set of doors built into a cliff face. Lara scales the wall, presses a button and the doors swing open. Many pairs of glowing yellow eyes shine ominously through the darkness. This was when the game originally instilled in me a sense of fear, knowing that I wasnít in for some laid-back hiking simulator with a few puzzles. Who knew what was lurking in those shadows? This game was scary for six-year-old me, and those eyes were the first sign of things to come.

So out come the wolves - looking a little ropier than I remember - and Lara leaps from the overhang, guns ablaze, dramatically ditching her poncho as the soundtrack swells. Six-year-old me is freaking out at this point. Once sheís done mowing down the doggos, Lara shows the briefest moment of concern for her helpful-but-obviously-dead guide before turning her attention to the cave. Man, I hope she gets word back to his family. I hope once she gets back to civilisation, she at least sends a message back to his village or something. Hopefully she doesnít just leave his body up there on the mountain to be torn to pieces by scavengers in a kind of involuntary sky burial. Thatís not something Lara would do, right? Right? Guys?



As the doors shut behind our heroine, she pulls off her sunglasses and raises an eyebrow in mischievous anticipation. Lara, your trusted companion just got brutally mauled to death not thirty seconds ago, what is wrong with you? Psycho.

Seriously though, these three cutscenes set the game up really well, and with real efficiency. Weíre given a mysterious introduction to the grander plot, learn everything we need to about Lara and her goal, and see her in action out in the field for the first time. We see her climbing on stuff, operating ancient mechanisms and facing down deadly foes, and infer that thatís what the gameís all about. All of that in a few short minutes, so when weíre finally given control, the anticipation really is bubbling and we feel like weíre at the start of a massive adventure.

And I know itís been talked about and I canít think of anything funny or interesting to say about it, but Laraís attire here is ridiculous. Iím aware itís almost certainly down to development restrictions and them wanting to design a single outfit for the whole game, but Jesus. Give the girl a coat, itís baltic out there.



A cavernous tunnel stretches out before Lara, fading into darkness as the draw distance drops off. Whatís lurking in that darkness? Right away, Iím remembering the mixture of fear and excitement I felt the first time I played Tomb Raider. Fear of the unknown and excitement at the prospect of what wonders could be waiting around the corner.

Nowadays, I know pretty much everything thatís around every corner, but that doesnít mean I canít appreciate the game in a more experienced light. The first thing I notice is the atmosphere. Itís been said a thousand times, but the gameís restrained use of incidental music and reliance on atmospheric noise really makes you feel like youíre exploring ancient, uncharted locations. Itís more brightly lit than I remember on PlayStation, but thereís still an oppressive, claustrophobic feel to the world.

The graphics have obviously aged poorly - as is the case with most 3D games of the time - with blurry and repeated textures wallpapered across every surface. The lighting is flat and Lara looks cartoonish and, erm, pointy. You know, anatomically speaking. Running at 1080p, thereís a sharpness to everything that accentuates all the imperfections in crisp detail. I canít tell whether I prefer this to the grainier, more natural look of the PlayStation version, where the muddiness of the textures were masked a bit by the lower resolution. Either way, Tomb Raider is Tomb Raider and Iím not going to complain. This is how itís always looked. Youíll always be beautiful to me, baby.

As for the controls, theyíre instantly familiar to me and - one would assume - instantly off-putting to anyone whoís never played one of these games before. The tank-like movement, grid system and regimented, mathematical platforming are interesting relics of a time when developers were still trying to figure out the best way to make a character move in 3D space. It turned out that this wasnít it, but thatís okay. Controlling Lara is kind of like this weird, esoteric skill that no one else possesses or understands except for me. And presumably you, if youíre reading this. Not at all intuitive but ultimately consistent and logical, and once you understand it, itís hard to blame your mistakes on the game. If you screw up, itís because you werenít pressing the right thing at the right time. Thereís a realistic feeling of inertia to the jumping, even if Laraís kangaroo legs propel her to improbable heights and distances with every push of the jump button.



So with all that said, I venture into the darkness, following the wolf tracks. Theyíre a really nice touch that connects the cinematic I just watched to the game Iím playing. The game eases you into proceedings very gently with a dart trap - easy to dodge and with minor consequences if you get caught out. Then straight away, youíre presented with a choice - you can continue on into a seemingly empty cavern, or climb the wall to your left. Itís a minor moment, but the game is immediately establishing that the path you need to follow will not always be a clear and obvious one. Should you choose the apparent dead end, youíre rewarded with a secret area that requires you to get to grips with sloped surfaces, marked by one of the most satisfying and familiar little audio cues in the world. That little chime was my text alert sound for years, and it still makes me all bristly today.

Following the tracks up the wall, we have our first enemy encounter. Again, thereís no real challenge or peril in gunning down a couple of pathetic bats, but Iíve only been playing for a couple of minutes and the game is wasting not time in subtly establishing all the basics. Can I also just say that bats are cute and present no threat to anyone, and the only explanation for their aggression in this game is that they somehow knew ahead of time that Lara was coming to kill them. Same goes for literally every animal; theyíre probably all in on it.



Soon weíre introduced to our first interactable object, a switch that opens a door. Beyond it is a wooden gate that blocks our way into a large, important-looking room, our first taste of the ďhow the hell do I get there?Ē feeling. They didnít need to have that gate there, but they did it specifically to tease, to make you feel like youíve missed something, winding you up for the pay off later.

Next up is the big room with the rope bridges, and our first taste of larger enemies. Again, itís a gentle escalation. You can shoot the poor wolves from complete safety, or bypass them entirely while they make those weird howling sounds. Honestly, Iíve never heard a wolf make a sound like they do in this game and Iíd be fascinated if someone could link me to a video of a real wolf making these noises. They freaked me out as a kid and they still do a bit now.

Next up isÖ oh jeez. I have a bad feeling about this place. Thereís a horrible, traumatic sense of dread I get when Iím standing over this pit. Back in the day, I didnít successfully make the jump on the first time of asking; having not played the tutorial, I didnít know there was a grab button. I remember thinking that maybe you can swing on the vines or something. You canít.

The bear encounter is devilishly cruel because itís the first time you have to face down an enemy at close range, and itís this big, intimidating bastard. Heís massive and fast and he deals a ton of damage. Bats are cute and harmless. Wolves are kind of cute and somewhat less harmless. Bears are not cute at all and theyíre straight up murdering psychos. Full respect to bears, Iím staying the **** out of their way.



Looking at this bear today, I suppose heís actually kind of round and podgy, more Winnie the Pooh than Grizzly Man. Thatís not how I remember him in 1996 though. So I deliberately fall into the pit for old timesí sake (feels wrong not to). He puts my head in his mouth, I fill him full of bullets, you know how it goes.

Thereís a corridor that takes you back round to the rope bridge room (via the gameís first pressure plate). I imagine if youíd decided to do the honourable thing and spare the wolves, youíd be a bit miffed to discover that theyíre waiting to devour you as soon as you wander back into their den, this time at ground level. Still, while the bear encounter cruelly leaves you little room to dodge attacks, here you can flip and roll around to your heartís content as the wolves desperately try to get their teeth into you.

The way the game funnels you back to somewhere youíve been before, but from a different point of view, is the first example of something Iíve seen referred to as ďhoneycombing.Ē It makes the level seem larger, more interconnected, more logical and, ultimately, more real. It gives you a sense of satisfaction in scoping out new approaches and finding new ways to tackle a puzzle or platforming challenge. Itís minor here, but becomes a running theme to keep an eye out for as the game - and series - continues.

So I make my way back up, leap the gap for realsies this time and head down the stairs. Action music starts pumping and suddenly Iím on high alert. Holy ****, itísÖ like, two wolves. I basically just faced down a grizzly bear in a phone box and Iím supposed to find this heart-pumping? Come on game, get a grip. It wouldnít be a big deal if McCreeís soundtrack wasnít so dramatic, and I kind of wish theyíd saved it for a certain encounter that occurs in a few levelsí time instead of spunking their wad on this canine cannon fodder.

I quickly grab the nearby secret and spot a certain wall texture that I donít recognise from anywhere else in the game. Extra effort for something that very few players would have seen? Pretty cool, I can appreciate that.

The gameís first timed puzzle is next, and I remember having trouble with this back in the day. Itís your first real platforming challenge, as the combination of jumping, walking and grabbing takes some getting used to. It requires patience, especially when you're against the clock. Patience that I may not have had as a six-year-old. It isnít helped by the camera pulling out massively to try and be helpful. Itís okay camera, I got this. Please just stay where you were, that was fine.



Up the big staircase, past the darts, past another wolf, and our first experience with crumbling floor tiles. Cleverly, the game requires you to drop through them, establishing how they work while whispering, ďNext time I wonít be so kind.Ē

And would you look where we are? This seems familiar! Yep, itís the big room we saw earlier. Not sure how we got here but thatís cool. Thought weíd forgotten about that, didnít you game? Well I sort of had, giving me a nice little sense of satisfaction at outfoxing that impassable gate. It feels like I got somewhere I wasnít supposed to, even if, well, the exact opposite is true.

And thatís it! After finding the switch to open the double doors and running through before they shut, weíre done with the first level. Taking it apart like this has really made me appreciate how carefully and deliberately it was crafted, specifically designed to teach you all about how to play the game in gradually escalating increments. However, it doesnít do this in an obvious or patronising way. The bear bit is a big ď**** youĒ that comes out of nowhere and keeps you on your toes, and the crevices and dead ends you can explore give you the feeling youíre not just following a linear, scripted path to the finish. Caves is a great opening level and really sets up the rest of the game well. I wonder whatís up next...

* * *

So there we go, hope you enjoyed the first installment! Iíve gone into more detail here than I thought I would, so hopefully youíve stuck with me and itís not been too boring. If it has, thank you so much for struggling through anyway, and please do drop some constructive feedback because I havenít written anything in ages and want to improve. Thatís part of why Iím doing this! Assuming thereís an appetite for it, Iíll get to work on Part 2. Thanks again for reading!
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Old 30-08-20, 17:33   #2
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Welcome back Smog and thank you for posting.
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Old 30-08-20, 17:58   #3
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cool thread and nicely written. hopefully i can read more soon
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Old 31-08-20, 18:25   #4
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What an amazing read
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Old 31-08-20, 20:31   #5
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Great writeup!
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Old 04-09-20, 17:57   #6
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Thanks guys, I appreciate the comments! On to Part 2...



I step through the big stone doorway and am instantly accosted by four vexatious canines. Whatís sustaining the wolves who live in this forgotten, underground city? Adventurers like me, I suppose, who werenít wise (or paranoid) enough to be packing heat. Maybe thatís why this place is still ďundiscovered.Ē

This is the first time the weaknesses of Tomb Raiderís combat system are exposed. Lara automatically targets any nearby threats, but issues arise when there are multiple enemies attacking at once, like here. With no easy way to switch targets, youíre kind of resigned to shooting whatever the game arbitrarily decides is the biggest threat, and if you continue to hold the fire button down once that enemy is out of Laraís view, sheíll just wait until itís back in range again rather than switching to a new target. And if you kill an enemy, sheíll keep pumping its lifeless corpse full of lead until you release the fire button.

Thatís not the biggest issue in the world by itself, but when you have three or four fast enemies all trying to take chunks out of you at once, with the camera whirling around in a well-meaning attempt to keep track of the action, it can quickly become something of a keep-firing-and-hope-for-the-best ****show. The best you can really do is flip around like a maniac and have faith in Laraís infamous hitscan pistols to do the business. Oh, and try not to get backed into a corner. It works fine when youíre facing one two baddies, but any more and things can get chaotic.

But I have to give Lara credit; the way she can perfectly hit a target with both guns whilst at the apex of a beautifully-executed backwards somersault is pretty impressive. As much as Iím moaning, I canít fault the girl for giving it her all.



Wolves dealt with, I wander into what I suppose must be the town square, complete with water-feature. A little googling reveals that Vilcabamba is an actual, real-world lost Inca city, the precise location of which was hotly debated over the course of the twentieth century. Nowadays, you can go there on Google Earth! Thereís not much to see from the air, however. They need to get a Street View car in there somehow.

While Caves teased us with the prospect of an open, explorable environment with multiple nooks and crannies to nosey around in, City of Vilcabamba actually begins to realise that promise. Straight away, youíre given a whole bunch of different paths to follow and nothing to point you in any particular direction. There are alleyways leading off from the main area, a pool to dive into and a couple of locked doors that weíll presumably have to find a way through at some point. Itís all a little overwhelming at first, and gives the impression that this is a real place to explore and not a video game level with a specifically-designed path for you to follow. In the end, thereís only one way through this level, but all the little optional side areas do a great job of making you feel like you found that path yourself through trial, error and exploration.

So I head straight for the stable because Iím a sucker for getting mauled by bears. I actually had a false memory of the bear only spawning once youíd climbed up on top of the stable roof, so was entirely unprepared for the second big chungus of the game to come barrelling into frame and commence the chewing of my face.



Next, I dive into the pool and go for a swim. My very first memory of Tomb Raider is being at a friend of a friendís house. He had the game and - in my head - there were a whole bunch of us gathered around his little portable TV as he swam through these underwater tunnels. I remember being blown away with how it looked and the way Lara moved around in 3D space. To this day, I canít think of a game with better swimming controls than this, which probably speaks more to the perpetual misery of underwater sections in video games than anything particularly amazing about Tomb Raider. Years later, I remember playing Tomb Raider Legend and being outraged that there were separate buttons for diving and surfacing. Maybe itís because there was no camera control in the old games, but whatever the reason, swimming in the classics is a painless experience compared to most 3D action games since.

After a bit of lever-pulling, I find a secret room with some sinister serpent statues and what six-year-old me assumed were chocolate bars, but actually turned out to be spare ammo for guns I didnít have yet. Actually theyíre magnum clips, and Magnum is a chocolate ice cream, so thereís a joke in here somewhere. But unlike Vilcabamba, Iím afraid it will remain lost forever.



Elsewhere, I come across a grain store and a tannery. I imagine it was pretty hard for the designers to make a location that looked specifically like an ancient settlement given the technological restrictions of the time, but they did a damn fine job of it anyway. There are distinct places in this level that look like they have a history and purpose, successfully distracting you from the fact that youíre clearly just looking at a bunch of blurry blocks. You know when you go to see a play and the set dressing is clearly just some bits of wood and assorted props that have been placed on the stage in a way that evokes a particular location, but doesnít explicitly look like it would in real life? And you just will yourself to fill in the gaps without questioning it too much? Thatís what this is like.

Exploring the outskirts of town, I come across a wolf hidden very specifically around a corner, just so that he could leap out at me at the last second. Itís stuff like this that kept me on edge when I first played this game. I never trusted it not to make me jump out of my skin at any moment, and that feeling only intensified the further I progressed. Little did I know that wolves would be the least of my worries.

Soon I find myself in a room with a pushable block, some crumbling floor tiles and a wall made of skulls. Bit grim. We also get some ominous music which plays as I slowly push the block further and further into the wall, not knowing what could be on the other side. This always unsettled me as a kid, as youíre totally helpless as the pushing animation unfolds, leaving you vulnerable as soon as the tunnel ends and you find yourself inÖ someoneís house? Thereís a table and chairs, an ancient crockery set, more skull decor and a couple of trinkets thatíll be important later. This ancient abode is another example of the designers making the most out of very little, telling us more about the settlement and the people who lived there with only a few blurry textures, assets and musical cues.



Back outside, I use the key I picked up to open a door. Of course, trying to unlock said door without said key prompts a definitive, ďNo.Ē I love Laraís condescending energy when she implies what a basic bitch I am for even attempting this. Iím surprised they didnít include a little exasperated sigh when you try it several times in a row.

I stumble through a dart trap and we find ourselves in an area that - at first glance - almost looks like itís outside, but is actually just another cavern with a high ceiling and some vegetation on the ground. Arguably, none of this game takes place outside (unless you count the cutscenes), because the sky hadnít been invented yet. Instead, we have very short draw distances that create black voids stretching into oblivion, presumably to ensure the PS1 doesnít **** itself trying to render these actually-pretty-big environments.

Thereís a pack of wolves hanging out here and I really feel like Iíve just wandered into their territory while they were just lounging about, doing wolf stuff. One is just lying on a rock, enjoying the peace and quiet, blissfully unaware of the one-woman murder machine thatís just rocked up in town. Giving the enemies realistic idle behaviour was a great way of selling players on the feeling that they were in an actual, reactive place, and not just a level in a video game that would robotically throw obstacles at them. It also makes me feel a little bit bad about gunning them down but hey ho, needs must.

Iím now in front of the most impressive structure weíve seen so far. Itís recognisably an ornate temple of some kind, flanked by several statues and sporting three entryways. Only one is open for now, so I head inside and am greeted with the gameís first precarious jumpy-climby section. Any real peril is dulled by the big pool of water thatís been kindly placed to break Laraís fall in the event of a screw-up. Despite being a bona fide Tomb Raider expert with 24 years (oh god) of experience under my belt, I inevitably take a tumble in a forgotten-the-buttons-on-my-keyboard-related incident. Iím looking forward to that happening again when it actually matters.

I emerge at the top of the temple and remember what a long way down it looked back in 1996, and how impossible it seemed that Iíd managed to scale such a towering height. This is also where I learned about dropping backwards off ledges, and how important that is.

The game now has you do some more climbing on the other side of the temple, throwing in some crumbly tiles to once again reinforce how these work and how grateful you should be about that pool, because it wonít always be there.



With both switches pulled, the central door opens and we can head into the temple proper. But not before weíre given a new trap to dodge in the form of these perpetual-motion swinging axes. I assume that if such a trap exists in real life, it probably relies on the element of surprise to slice up any unwelcome intruder, and if you could avoid that initial swing then all youíd need to do is wait until it runs out of momentum before squeezing past safely as it hangs there, limp and flaccid. But these axes have got more swing than Sinatra, they just keep going. Are they motorised? Magical? Operated by a troupe of tiny ant people? We may never know.

Ah, a switch place conspicuously next to a door. Thereís a cool-looking room on the other side. Iíll simply pull this and-

There goes the floor. Yeah, wasnít expecting that the first time round. Once again, the game is letting you know that itís perfectly willing and able to **** with you, and once again it lets you off with a harmless dunk in a pool. I swim though and surface in the room I saw before, and the game pulls another ď**** youĒ by placing a big old grizzly bear right where I need to climb out. Iím given hope, then panic, then relief, and now fear and apprehension. Itís a rollercoaster of emotions delivered in about 30 seconds.



But because Iím - as I said - a Tomb Raider master with 24 years of Lara-ing to my name, I know thereís an underwater tunnel you can swim through that takes you to an upper level, from which you can kill the bear in safety and comfort, perhaps whilst enjoying an ice-cold beverage of your own choosing. But when I get up there, I discover that the bear insists on running around exactly underneath where Lara is standing. And because sheís standing on a ledge that juts out, thereís no way to target said bear.

So I abandon my plan and fearlessly drop to the ground, filling Paddington with lead on the way down. Thatís three out of three bear battles that have taken place in small, enclosed spaces with no room to maneuver. These guys are getting less cuddly by the second. Now all that remains is to slot the golden idol into its receptacle and head into the tunnel beyond, bringing Tomb Raiderís solid second level to an end.

City of Vilcabamba is a definite step up in scope and difficulty, building on the groundwork laid in Caves to teach you some new tricks and tease the challenges and inevitable ****ery that are still to come. It opens up the environment, giving you a wider range of exploration options and encouraging you to take your time and drink everything in, but also to always remain on your guard. We also get some verticality, which becomes a prominent feature in later levels. Where Caves taught you the basics, Vilcabamba expands on them and prepares you for whatís to come. But honesty, nothing could have prepared my miniature self for what was nextÖ
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Old 04-09-20, 19:54   #7
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I thought I was the only one who thought the Magnum clips bore an uncanny resemblance to Mars Bars. And yes, Lara's 'No' never fails to make me laugh, so much cool condescension in one short syllable.

Looking forward to Lost Valley.
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Old 12-09-20, 14:27   #8
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This level begins in an innocuous tunnel. As I run forward, the sound of running water begins to fade in. The further I go, the louder it becomes until I emerge at the bank of a fast-flowing river. So far, Iíve only explored quiet, dusty, static places, where the silent and secluded atmosphere is broken only by Laraís grunts or the odd bit of aggressive wildlife. But this place has a loud, coursing energy that literally flows through it, immediately lending it a different feel to the rest of the game so far. Up until now, weíve been trudging through dead caverns, but this place feels alive.

I head right, straight into the waterfall cave, and snipe the poor wolves from atop the rocks. Any opportunity the game gives you to take out enemies from a position of complete safety feels a bit like cheating, but knowing some of the chicanery it pulls in later levels, Iíll take it when itís offered. This place feels a lot smaller than I remember, and that goes for most of the rest of Lost Valley too. I imagine Anniversary planted a false memory in my mind, or maybe things just seem bigger and more wondrous when youíre a child. I may have been smaller back then, but Lara has remained the same size, so maybe itís all in my head.



Itís easy to take for granted now, but the river is a really novel part of the environment. It has a current, so it will sweep you downstream if youíre clumsy enough (like me) to fall in. Following it to its source reveals surfaces with moving textures to convince you itís flowing in from some inaccessible cavern through imperceivable cracks. And of course, it culminates in a massive waterfall with a plunge pool, into which you can plunge, complete with dramatic camera angle. Very cool stuff.

But thereís nothing to be done there for now, so I head into the back of the cave, mowing down another family of wolves who were just trying to make their way in the world. As if to scold me for my wanton slaughter, Iím rewarded with a dead end. You donít have to follow the path into the wolf den. There are no pickups or secrets to uncover there, just enemies to shoot. The game wants you to explore, but it also doesnít want to constantly remind you that itís a game, which I appreciate. There arenít shotgun shells and medipacks just lying around the cave systems of the real world, so Tomb Raider tries its best to restrain itself at least a little on that front.

When I first played Lost Valley as a kid, I spent a ton of time wandering around this opening area. I ventured upstream and discovered the cog puzzle, and wondered what the hell Iíd have to do to get it running. I ran around the caves, swam about in the pool and found nothing. What was I missing? Where did I need to go? I turned off my PlayStation for the night, frustrated at my lack of progress.

After Iíd gone to bed, my dad loaded it back up to have a go himself. The next day, he directed me back to the cog puzzle and pointed out the skeleton with a shotgun that Iíd somehow missed the first time. ďYouíll need that,Ē he told me, which Iíd imagine must have sounded pretty ominous. He then directed me back downstream, to the back of that cave that I thought led nowhere. But it didnít lead nowhere. I just had to know where to look.

Climbing up and over the wall, I come across a second skeleton, this one with a medipack. Maybe these guys were the ones leaving all the ammo and medical supplies around? No wonder they perished if they were constantly dropping all their stuff. If only theyíd had an infinite backpack like Laraís, then theyíd probably still be around to tell the tale.

Just beyond the skeleton, I can see some vines hanging down from the ceiling. Things appear to open up into a larger area. Itís a tantalising glimpse into an environment that looks a bit different to what weíve seen so farÖ

I drop to the ground and am immediately ďclever girledĒ by a big, orange raptor. I donít remember that happening before! My original memory of this area goes like this: I walked out into the valley, overwhelmed at the beautiful green foliage that covered the landscape. Itís huge and open, with massive trees reaching for the sky. What is this place? This was here all along? I spent ages running around in caves when this was literally just over that wall? Itís incredible! Now whatís that, emerging from the darkness? A flash of orange, the sound of clomping footfalls. ItísÖ itís a dinosaur!

Contrast that with what happened this time, where I take one step into the Lost Valley only to have my head munched by a raptor before I can even take stock of my surroundings. Loses some of the magic, but it at least gets the point across that weíre not in Kansas anymore.



This place really is a shock to the system. After wandering around predominantly grey and brown environments with predictable wildlife to contest with, stumbling into this place and fighting goddamn dinosaurs is certainly a change of pace. Itís hidden enough within the level that I totally buy that itís a place thatís been forever lost to time. Had you just walked straight in here at the start of the level, a lot of the impact would have been lost. You actually, legitimately discover this place, and itís an absolutely prime example of a game rewarding exploration. Itís certainly my strongest and fondest childhood gaming memory. But as we know, thatís just the start.

I head onward, taking on a second raptor. These guys are tough, fast and can take a barrage of bullets before they go down. Happily, they do like to pause and and roar at you, giving you plenty of time to get the job done before they close the distance. Next, I creep toward the bridge, knowing whatís coming. The music rumbles in, the screen shakes, and here she comes!

The majestic beast steps around the corner and roars, jaws agape. So now Iím flipping around, pistols ablaze, trying not to get the camera stuck behind a shrub. It might seem bold on the part of Core to have you face one of the biggest, scariest enemies in the game after just a couple of hours max, but the T-Rex isnít actually that tough. So long as you avoid being trodden on or eaten, you should be good. Itís a bit of a bullet sponge, but if you hate fun then you can always just hide in one of the crevices or corridors off to the side and gun it down in total safety. Or if youíre a chaotic bitch, you can leave it alive while you go about your business. I think Core might have eventually realised that having a T-Rex constantly trying to eat you is scarier than giving you a fighting chance, which is probably why the T-Rex in Tomb Raider III is, in contrast, an almost unkillable tank.



This T-Rex goes down like a sack of potatoes, leaving me to explore the rest of the valley in relative peace. The ruined rope bridge and crumbling temple imply that an ancient civilisation was living alongside these scaly boys. Iíd love to have seen this explored in more detail, and they had an opportunity to revisit this idea in Tomb Raider III. How about temples built to honour the dinos, warriors wearing scaly armour and domesticated raptors that are used to wage war on Lara? Just an idea.

There are a couple more raptors around the corner, along with a secret atop the temple that requires some slightly unconventional jumping to discover. Inside the temple, a quick dip in the pool reveals the first cog, and a musical cue that lets me know Iíve found something important.

One of the waterfalls around the main area has a plunge pool (can you tell I love the term Ďplunge pool?í) that leads into an underwater channel, taking you through to a cave. Upon surfacing, I can hear the weighty flip flops of another raptor padding around in the next room. Nothing I say can express how reluctant I was to get out of the water here back in 1996. Sometimes Iíd climb out, get a few shots off as the fella came barrelling at me, drop back in the water and rinse and repeat until he went down. This time I use galaxy brain thinking to find the other entrance to this cave back outside, and then gun down the raptor from - once again - relative safety. This game really does give you plenty of chances to avoid direct encounters if youíre careful enough.

Climbing up some rocks reveals the second cog. The third is across the broken rope bridge. At this point, the game gives you time to reflect on your time in the valley and how crazy itís been compared to the rest of the game so far. Wondrous music kicks in as you look down at the body of the T-Rex you slaughtered earlier. Itís a weird, melancholy vibe, but maybe thatís just me. The Lost Valley is this strange, lively, alien pocket of life in an otherwise cold and grey world of stone and snow, and Laraís just discovered and subsequently laid waste to it in no time at all. It feels a bit profound, especially with the big, black, empty sky looming overhead.



And now we backtrack. This is the first time Iíve really had to double back on myself in this game. Youíve come in here to find some stuff and then leave, rather than to directly progress. Returning to the waterfall cavern feels like coming up for air or waking from a dream. Everything feels grounded again.

I head upstream towards the cog puzzle. Some of the jumps required to get there are a little fiddly. Thereís one where you need to hold the grab button even though thereís nothing to grab, or Lara will hit her head and fall into the river. Itís a forgiving way to teach you the more challenging intricacies of the platforming, whilst screwing it up is still annoying enough to encourage you to pay attention and get it right.

The cog puzzle has three slots, so it couldnít be clearer what youíre looking for. If you get here and youíve only got two cogs, then you know youíve missed something and itís back to the valley with you. You could end up coming here first - as I did the first time round - and figure out what youíre looking for pretty easily. Point is, thereís no set order in which to visit different parts of this level. The game doesnít hold your hand, it just gives you a few clues and allows you to make your own decisions, go for a wander and eventually figure out how to get those cogs turning. Itís not complex level design, but itís the most open-worldish that the game has gotten so far, and sets the stage for the more ambitious and intricate levels to come.

With the cogs all in place, I pull the lever. We get a quick cutscene (during which my particular cogs donít even visibly turn, what the hell?) and a rumbling sound as the river is redirected. This is another first for the game; having the environment physically change as a result of the playerís actions. I thought this was just the coolest thing when I was a kid. Itís not clear what exactly Iíve accomplished though.



Swimming through the new channel Iíve created takes me to a secret room, but returning to the plunge pool room reveals that said plunge pool is now just a regular pool. With the waterfall gone, the level exit is revealed. Iím assuming the idea here is that this corridor was previously obscured and thus inaccessible because Lara didnít know it was there. In reality though, you canít actually get there while the waterfall is flowing, implying that the current is just too powerful for little Lara to pass through. She wasnít strong enough, but I bet she feels stronger now after killing all those dinosaurs. Definitely worth it.

Here we go then, into Tomb Raiderís first tomb...
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Old 12-09-20, 19:17   #9
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these are such a nice read
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Old 12-09-20, 19:59   #10
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That screenshot of the velociraptor peeking around the corner at Lara cracks me up.
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