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Old 31-03-19, 17:14   #31
sheepman23
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I agree with a lot of your points. Temple Ruins was a lovely precursor and showcase of what TR3 has to offer. That said, I like Temple Ruins, but it never hit off to me as one of the best levels of the game. Later levels were always much better, personally.
Agreed. I think this applies to India in general for me - it's a nice concept and executed quite well, but I'd be lying if I said that it's one of TR3's best parts. It's a great intro, no doubt, but I think every other section has more to offer in gameplay and mythos.

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And I also found it odd, that snakes can't move. Maybe it was too difficult to program the sinuous move of a snake. I think it is okay with the cobras, but it is weird with the rattlesnakes in Nevada.
Yes, it's certainly more of a problem with the desert rattlesnakes, which should seem mobile enough to chase Lara...

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You are absolutely right, the traps are of the kind, that they will to 99% kill the player at the first playthrough. There are so many examples: the boulder in the first secret room, the collapsing ceiling in this pool room, the boulder at the top of this room, the spike walls behind the two blades,...
Perhaps the most unfair trap is, when after picking up the Ganesha key the room with the invisible platforms is full of mud. And the player have absolutely no clue where he should go through this without dying and on top, there is debris that can kill Lara instantly. GameStatistic criticises this heavily in his review of Tomb Raider 3.
I haven't ever seen this review before today, but I just watched part of it and it was surprisingly hilarious I believe GameStatistic's criticisms about the game's instant deaths, "rules" that it doesn't communicate with you, and, as he describes it, c*** difficulty as opposed to genuine challenge are definitely fair. I've already began noticing it on replay after many years of having not touched the game...

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This could be a cool experience for a Tomb Raider veteran, who enjoyed Atlantis and Temple of Xian and is searching for a more difficult experience; but for a normal player or a newbie this level could easily made him too frustrated to continue this experience.
Good point. I think that the designers were thinking of the veteran players more when they put this level together as opposed to the newbies. Which is fair to a certain extent since Tomb Raider III is, well, supposed to be played after TR1 and 2, but that's not always how it works in practice. I still think that the unfairness of Temple Ruins is slightly off balance compared to what previous titles threw at us, however.

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If you expect to play a typical Tomb Raider level in India, you would expect exactly this: This level feels like something that was put together from many movies you watch with this indian adventure setting like The Jungle Book (not the Disney version, the scary one with real actors), some Sindbad movies (there also very often statues that come to life) and of course the second Indiana Jones movie.
I'm glad you mentioned this - the "movie-like" quality extends to almost every section of TR3. Nevada and London both contain stealth-action genre qualities, and the South Pacific has themes ranging from village cannibals to a lost dinosaur world. And yep, Indiana Jones comes to mind very quickly when thinking of India (booby traps, sadistic images of guys with their hearts wrenched out, spiked ceilings) AND Antarctica (mine carts and more booby-traps).
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Old 31-03-19, 21:28   #32
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Surprise! Another review in the same weekend... shocking, I know. Enjoy, and I'll be back with the finale to India later this week.


INDIA
Level 3 - The River Ganges




Tomb Raider II introduced an alternative form of traversing our environment through its implementation of vehicles. In that game, both the Venetian speedboat and the Tibetan snowmobile were actually completely optional for the player to utilize. This gave us a great choice of whether we preferred the traditional "on-foot" approach, or if we instead wanted to opt for something quirky and fun. While the answer for me is almost always the latter, I definitely don't think TR2's snowmobile was great control-wise, and it really suffered in areas with jagged geometry or narrow cliffs to drive across. Still, it felt like a part of the gameplay that we needed to use to get the full experience of Tibetan Foothills, but we always had the option of abandoning it and carrying on with the level.

In The River Ganges, we're introduced to the quad bike before the level even begins (Lara notices it right before she attempts to chase Tony down the river). After the interesting-yet-flawed inclusion of TR2's snowmobile, I would have hoped that TR3's attempt at a four-wheeled machine would have ironed out some of the (literal) bumps that the first version had.

Alas... it didn't, and in many ways is actually worse.



To start off with the positives: the quad bike doesn't make Lara take unnecessary damage when she crashes into walls, which is definitely nice. It was too easy to take many nicks here and there while riding the snowmobile, even if they weren't intentional. The River Ganges is also a comparatively short level, so there really isn't actually a whole lot of gameplay involving the quad bike here (especially if the player opts to take the right-hand side of the detour... but that's a whole different gripe I have with this stage, so more on that later ).

That second positive is a pretty backhanded positive for me, however, because a vehicle's implementation should really improve my opinion of an entire level, yet the quad bike doesn't. For one thing, the environment geometry here is, once again, not productive to accomplishing our goals of driving the quad bike safely. There are jutting rocks which can have a wonky affect on the direction the bike goes in. There is a descent down a cliff face (see the above screenshot) which can go horribly wrong if you're going even the slightest bit too fast. Finally, there's a very narrow ledge that the player needs to navigate around with the bike, and if you've ever played TR3, then you'll remember that the quad is... less than stellar at making moderate turns like that. The real stinker here is not that the quad bike is all that terrible; on the contrary, it's really fun to use it in Lara's Home on her racetrack. The problem is that the design of The River Ganges exemplifies its negatives. Had the designers chosen to focus on large jumps, wider paths, mowing down monkeys, or simply solving puzzles (kind of like Nevada Desert does later on, actually), I would have enjoyed its use much more.

But as it stands, taking that left-hand side of the detour is vastly less fun that the right-hand side because of the aforementioned negatives. If you instead choose the path through the ruins, however, you're not only treated to less of the annoying aspects of the quad bike, but you get a significantly better experience overall. (More on that later.)





Of course, you're forced to use the quad bike regardless of whether or not you take the right-hand route, and there's also a moment in the first several jumps where the player needs to rev the engine (using the sprint button) in order to clear a gap that's just a little too big for a normal acceleration. This also ends up being needlessly difficult because there is zero indication that this is even a possible function of the bike. I remember how frustrated I was as a kid with this; it's only used a couple of times throughout the journey, which makes it easy to forget on subsequent playthroughs. Sure enough, I struggled again to remember what the combination was on this run. I'm all for not holding the player's hand, but the combination needed to execute this vital move is lost on anyone who doesn't look it up. And that's not good design in my opinion.

As much as I would love to continue with my dislike for the quad bike, there's a lot more to talk about with The River Ganges, so I'll cut it short here. First of all, I appreciate how the designers once again give us a very clear objective - as long as we paid attention in the previous cutscene. We need to reach the end of the river with Tony. But swimming in the river would be way too convenient, right? Sure enough, our attempt at taking the current down leads us to a rock barrier and a school of piranha to eat our heroine alive. To the quad bike it is.

However, the curious player is going to take the time to explore the opening valley and discover a series of rock platforms leading to the river's first secret. I would argue that the trip to this secret room is one of the most properly challenging and satisfying secrets in the game, actually. What makes this one so good is that it relies on the predictable jumping mechanics, but also throws in some variables through the use of low-hanging rock faces and mixing up the types of necessary jumps. It can definitely be frustrating at first, however, but it's not frustrating in a Temple Ruins "you-thought-you-knew-what-you-were-doing-but-SURPRISE!-sudden-boulder!" manner. If you're falling in the river here, it's because you're not judging your jumps correctly, not because the game sprung a spike trap on you out of nowhere.

Other secrets in this level are just fine as well - a few of them even continue to utilize Lara's jumping mechanics - but this one is certainly the most satisfying.



One thing that is not satisfying about The River Ganges, however, is the use of the level's centerpiece detour. After navigating the quad through a series of jumps and dispatching a few cobras, we're presented with a literal fork in the road. Our options are to: A) go left through a bike-heavy section and pick up a secret that we can't get on the right side, or B) go right, use the bike less, and explore through a nice little ruins side area... but finish the level with only 4/5 secrets. Yes, I do know that it's possible to go left, reach the end, and then use some tricky-as-hell jumping to explore the right side and then get back on the main path, but I'm doubtful that the designers intended this in the first place; it's certainly not as smooth as the transition between paths in Coastal Village, for example.

For this playthrough, I did actually complete the above path since I'm a stickler for getting everything the level has to offer. But I don't care for the choice in the first place because all of the level's gameplay should be accessible without having to resort to a drastic hairpin-turn jump.

The other problem with this detour is that the right-hand side - the one without the secret - is, well, just way more fun that the other. The use of a quad bike as a puzzle item that we need to use to jump the river at the end is much better than trying to navigate it along the craggy riverside path. The ruins area itself is also fairly exploration-oriented and gives us a healthy amount of monkey combat, platforming, and key-searching.





The post-detour portion of this stage features a waterfall area where several vultures swoop in to ruin the day. One more secret can be found if the player chooses not to prematurely jump into the drink, and then the telltale sign of Tony's crashed raft shows us that we're in the right place. A quick look behind the waterfall brings us to a level end.

Before closing out the main body of this review (which has admittedly been a little more negative-Nelly than I anticipated at first... ), I do want to point out how vibrant and beautiful The River Ganges is. I think that this level's river-based theme was very appropriate after the dark and foreboding atmosphere of the Temple Ruins. The inclusion of more ruined buildings on the right-hand side of the detour is also a welcome addition to the environment, but overall its quite nice to be back outdoors again.



Summary

Pros:
+ Pretty and vibrant scenery
+ Great secrets (once again)
+ Level design doesn't confuse the player
+ The right-hand side of the detour features a very solid puzzle

Cons:
- Level geometry and wonky quad bike physics can make for some frustrating moments with the required vehicle
- The use of a strict detour is problematic for players who want to explore everywhere
- Left-hand path skips over the stage's only puzzle
- Level doesn't add much new content to the Indian adventure

The River Ganges is a mixed bag. At this point, Jungle and Temple Ruins were both solid levels. No, I didn't give either of them marks above an 8, but they certainly were enjoyable and had two entirely different themes (dense jungle exploration and a trap-filled dark temple romp, respectively). What's the theme of The River Ganges? It contains the same jungle-y environment of the opener with a few ruined buildings mixed in that resemble Temple Ruins. I enjoy the level's feel and appearance and traversing the river, but I think the fact that you can bypass the best puzzle here by taking the left-hand side of the detour is problematic. Furthermore, I'm not a fan of the quad bike, so it's difficult for me to point to that as the level's signature bit when it's arguably signature for the wrong reasons.

As much as I want to award The River Ganges a fairly high rating, it's difficult for me to examine it in context of the rest of TR3's higher quality adventures and place it on a similar tier. It's certainly not bad, and even improves upon Temple Ruins by not placing so many egregious traps that test my patience. But the quad bike manages to occasionally induce some of this frustration on its own, and that shouldn't have happened. At the very least, the bike should have been optional, yet the level is designed in a manner where certain gaps across the river can't be cleared without it.

The quad bike is only part of the problem however; my greater concern is with the level design. I don't like forced detours, and if the game is going to have a forced detour, then I especially don't appreciate the inability to explore one route after completing the other. As a result, I'm going to stick to my guns and probably disappoint some of you with this rating, but I really just feel as though TR3 has much more to offer than it shows here.

Rating - 6/10

Last edited by sheepman23; 06-04-19 at 02:54.
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Old 01-04-19, 17:28   #33
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Oh cool, I didn’t know you’d started this! I love reading your thoughts on the games
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Old 01-04-19, 23:34   #34
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Great reviews! When it comes to Temple Ruins, no matter how hard it got, I always found that the fun outweighed how brutal the level was. I never found myself too frustrated, because it was just fun seeing all the variety that the level had to offer. Compare the level to Temple of Xian, where I find that the difficulty of the level outweighs the fun factor. Like I can appreciate the design of that level, but it's so effing hard and unforgiving that I can't say it's one of my favorites. Temple Ruins, on the other hand, is one of my favorite levels in the franchise.

River Ganges is okay. A 6/10 is the perfect score for it. My main gripe with it isn't even the quad bike, so much as it is that the levels just too short. Although the next level is even worse in terms of it's short length
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Old 04-04-19, 00:05   #35
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Oh cool, I didn’t know you’d started this! I love reading your thoughts on the games
Thanks Fantasy!

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Great reviews! When it comes to Temple Ruins, no matter how hard it got, I always found that the fun outweighed how brutal the level was. I never found myself too frustrated, because it was just fun seeing all the variety that the level had to offer. Compare the level to Temple of Xian, where I find that the difficulty of the level outweighs the fun factor. Like I can appreciate the design of that level, but it's so effing hard and unforgiving that I can't say it's one of my favorites. Temple Ruins, on the other hand, is one of my favorite levels in the franchise.
See, I think it's the opposite way around for me. I felt like most of the traps in the Temple of Xian either gave the player the chance to avoid them beforehand or enough reaction time to be able to escape unscathed. There were a few instances where a dumb camera angle or something with zero chance of reaction time would kill you, but for the most part? It was your own fault if you died. I don't feel like this is the case with Temple Ruins, however. I still personally love Temple Ruins, but I have to dock points because of how inappropriately placed the difficulty is within the first game. This feels like something that belonged at least midway through...

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River Ganges is okay. A 6/10 is the perfect score for it. My main gripe with it isn't even the quad bike, so much as it is that the levels just too short. Although the next level is even worse in terms of it's short length
That's a fair criticism - I think that the ruins portion could have been expanded into an entire level theme if they had really wanted to elongate it. I also would have appreciate more jumping around the actual river instead of just traversing alongside it via quad bike. TR3 has some really great platforming bits when it goes all in on it, so why not exemplify that here? It would have been the perfect opportunity after the fairly pedestrian Jungle and the trap-filled Temple Ruins.

Thanks for the comments TrustyBow!
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Old 04-04-19, 15:55   #36
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In The River Ganges, we're introduced to the quad bike before the level even begins (Lara notices it right before she attempts to chase Tony down the river). After the interesting-yet-flawed inclusion of TR2's snowmobile, I would have hoped that TR3's attempt at a four-wheeled machine would have ironed out some of the (literal) bumps that the first version had.

Alas... it didn't, and in many ways is actually worse.
I can agree with that. Not only are the quad-bike controls really quirky sometimes, too much time the driving is ending in a nonsense death. My biggest problem is the water: When the quad bike hits the water it explodes immediately and Lara is dead. What kind of stupid idea is this? You would have the same effect, when the quadbike sinks and Lara falls in the water, because the Ganges is to 100% a death-trap in this level. You don't need to kill Lara by hitting the water with a vehicle.

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But swimming in the river would be way too convenient, right? Sure enough, our attempt at taking the current down leads us to a rock barrier and a school of piranha to eat our heroine alive.
This is my biggest complaint with this level. Right from the start you have a pemanent death-zone. I think no other level in the entire series has this constantly such a death-zone, not Atlantis, not Tinnos, not Temple of Xian (maybe Madubu Gorge is similar with the rapids). This is in my opinion more harsh than the endless traps of Temple Ruins and I could never enjoy this level, because of this.

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One thing that is not satisfying about The River Ganges, however, is the use of the level's centerpiece detour.
I think also, that this is a real bad design flaw of this level. The left path is only some boring driving with two locations to pickup something (where you have to fight vultures and a cobra). The right path is so much more fun, because of the endless monkeys, the way to the keys and trying to open the gate to continue. But an experienced player who knows the game and tries to get all secrets will never play this path. And I also don't think, that the programmers planned, that you can combine the two paths. It is such a hard jump, that even veterans don't make this jump every time.

Considering all this, River Ganges is a little letdown after the great Temple Ruins and I would probably give it only a 7/10 or even a 6/10.
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Old 04-04-19, 17:00   #37
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Nice work sheepman23.
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Old 05-04-19, 23:44   #38
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Caves of Kaliya will likely be up tonight...

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My biggest problem is the water: When the quad bike hits the water it explodes immediately and Lara is dead. What kind of stupid idea is this? You would have the same effect, when the quadbike sinks and Lara falls in the water, because the Ganges is to 100% a death-trap in this level. You don't need to kill Lara by hitting the water with a vehicle.
Huh. I had never thought of that. Yes, it's a silly animation, and realistically the bike shouldn't just instantly explode upon hitting the water... I think.

The left path is only some boring driving with two locations to pickup something (where you have to fight vultures and a cobra). The right path is so much more fun, because of the endless monkeys, the way to the keys and trying to open the gate to continue. But an experienced player who knows the game and tries to get all secrets will never play this path. And I also don't think, that the programmers planned, that you can combine the two paths. It is such a hard jump, that even veterans don't make this jump every time.[/QUOTE]

Indeed. Seems like a waste to have such a nice little section and puzzle with no secrets attached to it, thus forcing the go-getters to take the left side path instead. Just one of the many flaws that prevents The River Ganges from being on the level of quality I'm used to seeing from this series...

As always, appreciate the comments GRaider.

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Old 06-04-19, 01:58   #39
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INDIA
Level 4 - Caves of Kaliya


You know what would've made Caves of Kaliya much, much better?

If the first 75% of the level didn't exist.



The idea of a maze in itself is not the worst thing ever. There are moments where a network of hallway detours can service a game's needs pretty well. It can lead to unexpected secret areas or can function as a puzzle of its own. I believe there are actually moments in The Last Revelation that do this fairly well, but it's been a decent while since I played that game so it's tough for me to remember for certain. A maze can also be a lot less frustrating if there are visual cues to tell the player which direction they need to go for the main route. Perhaps there's simply texturing on the ground which functions as a main walkway, and thus allows the player to know exactly when they're branching off from the main path.

If it's not already glaringly obvious, Caves of Kaliya does not follow many of these standards.

With a game that's been as generous with its pickup amounts as the rest of India has been, you would think that a level filled with detours and dead-end hallways would contain, well, TONS of goodies, right? Nope. Over the course of three individual maze areas, we pick up a grand total of FOUR items scattered about those mazes. Hell, the last bit doesn't even have a single hidden pickup! It only has a stupid cobra to kill.



As if this wasn't boring enough on its own, there are two particularly dick-ish moments which feel perfectly in sync with TR3's overall theme of finding the most ways possible to tick the player off. Between the 1st and 2nd mazes, there are two boulder encounters. Now, the first one is actually a great trap because we hear the rock rumbling as we're sliding down a slope, and immediately get the hint to run the hell out of the way. We're even facing in the direction we need to run. That's all well and good. The second one, however, drops within like two grid squares of us while we're running TOWARDS the boulder! Again, it's nearly impossible for the player to have enough time to react, roll around, and beat feet in to the safe alcove nearby. This is actually the second time that the game has pulled this exact same trap. I'm fine with the occasional "gotcha!" moment, but Tomb Raider III somehow manages to cram more of those "gotcha!" moments into one section than TR2 did for its entire game.

The second bad design choice comes with the layout of the mazes. It's entirely possible to skip over the aforementioned boulders and second maze area by simply dropping through a hole in the first area. The problem with this is not that the detour is possible, but that once you're down the hole, you cannot return. This shortcut does not reward the player with more goodies or an interesting find; I suppose it does spare them the pain of traversing another maze, but that's not how rewards should work at all.



So Caves of Kaliya sucks big-time for its first three quarters. There's seriously not a single redeemable facet of it. There just isn't.

Luckily, the final two chambers do just enough to save the mess that comes before it. The first encounter occurs when our heroine falls down a VERY dark hole and directly into a nest of cobras. What makes this moment so perfect is the combination of tense music, darkness, and hissing cobras. The player lights a flare to see what on earth the commotion is about, and is greeted by cobras surrounding them. It's a particularly daunting encounter in a level that has been the complete opposite of exciting so far.

The designers also let us know that they're not QUITE done screwing us over with boulders, but the one this time can at least potentially be predicted if the player notices the tell-tale ramp in the chamber's side.



Caves of Kaliya's final chamber contains the boss battle with Mad Tony. Although I would have preferred a few cheeky taunting lines from the man himself, this is still one of the original trilogy's most solid boss battles. Tony doesn't have any weird gimmicks required to defeat him; you just have to shoot him until he keels over in pain and releases the blinding aura of light, which means the player isn't expected to deduce some contrived plan of action.

However, what makes the battle more intense than similar encounters from TR1 and 2 is the fact that the deadly arena and Tony's fire attacks spell instant death for Lara. The fire is slightly unpredictable if you're just side-flipping back and forth (which is what I always do lol), but on the whole it's a very fair encounter that provides just the right amount of challenge to cap off India. There's only one other boss in TR3 that I believe is better, but we'll have to see if that opinion holds up on replay once I get to them.

I also love the fact that the designers reward us with a new weapon after we put Tony to rest: the grenade launcher. It's unfortunately a LOT less easy to wield than TR2's awesome version, but it's still a cool find. Speaking of weapons, however; why so few in India? It seems like the Uzis would have been more than welcome in, say, Temple Ruins, where we could have used them against some of the Shiva baddies towards the end. Ah well, just a minor gripe there.



TR3's second FMV shows us Lara's encounter with a guy who would go on to be the main villain: Dr. Mark Willard. This guy strolls up in a boat cruising down the Ganges and offers our heroine a ride. As Willard explains the origins of the Infada Stone, this FMV shows off Lara's incredibly sassy side with some excellent VA work from Judith Gibbons. "Shoot the breeze with some of your other boys? No thanks." Nice clap back, Lara. Of course, the story isn't as simple as Lara just collecting three other artifacts with zero knowledge, and Willard lets us in on the diary of Stephen Barr, one of the sailors on an expedition for Charles Darwin. Through a series of scenes, we learn of the tragedy that struck when the artifacts were retrieved from the Antarctic caverns, and then Willard gives the final lresting places of each one.

How he had any idea AT ALL where those stones were located? I have no idea, and I'm pretty sure the writers didn't either...

This scene has always stuck out to me - specifically the recounting from Stephen Barr. It feels so movie-esque in portrayal and increases the mythos surrounding our artifacts in question. But Tomb Raider III's narrative strengths lie less in its overall plot (which is... very pedestrian), and more with the individual subplots going on in each corner of the Earth. The overarching story just isn't near as compelling as TR1 or 2, and that's kind of a shame but is probably the trade-off for having a proper globe-trotting adventure.


Conclusion

Caves of Kaliya is so short and disappointing in most regards that I really don't have much to say in this wrap-up. I don't even have a pros and cons list because it's that meek of a level. Here's all you need to know: First 75%? Bad. Last 25%? Very good. That cobra pit is fear-inducing and properly cinematic with the use of music, while Tony's fight is one of the better bosses that the classic TR games have produced. Tack those two chambers on to the end of The River Ganges, and you have a very pleasant and exciting end to India.

Alas, that's not what happened, and instead we get three boring, uninspired mazes to elongate TR3's opener area. I don't like the rating I have to give this level, but when I looked back at my criteria for rating levels, I had no choice:

Quote:
4/10 - A below-average experience that shows large deficiencies compared to the usual quality expected from TR stages.
...

Rating - 4/10

Last edited by sheepman23; 06-04-19 at 02:58.
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Old 06-04-19, 09:53   #40
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Good job on this! TR3 has my first classic TR, I love this game, but I hate some levels... Can't wait to see your Lud's Gate review! Hahahaha
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