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Old 12-09-13, 03:48   #31
sheepman23
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Thanks for the comments guys, and glad to see so many interested in it.

PERU
Level 1 - Caves



This is where it all began...

The nostalgia.

No, really. Although I was a toddler when TR1 was released, I had not received very much exposure to video games by the time I got around to actually playing it. And when I replayed the first part of Caves, there's just an immense... "blast from the past" in walking down those first few droning caves, and feeling that vast sense of immersion that greeted you on your first playthrough. The sense of isolation. The sense of dangers that lie ahead.

A little ways down the cave, we're introduced to the very first - and probably one of the most recognizable - traps of the series, a chain of darts that shoot out of the walls. Simple, but effective. Passing through these unscathed is very easy to do.


Yes, let's head up to the ominous cavern with wolf footprints leading out of it.


Someone dropped a Tootsie Roll.

At the very back of the next cave, our first secret is claimed. And unlike the secrets of most modern-day games, the small medipack you gain is something that an actually help you in your travels, rather than an inconsequential relic or "treasure" that doesn't serve any purpose, other than to maybe unlock concept arts and other stuff.

Another secret is subtly hidden away at the top of the next cave, where we also encounter the very first enemies of the series. Three little bats that make the cutest sound effects ever. No, seriously, I love their little "tweet-tweets!"

The next series of caves, which includes a class switch-and-door combo, is all pretty bare and seemingly uninteresting. To me, that just adds to the sense of isolation that Caves gives us. It's the beginning of the beginning, and the designers don't toss everything at us at once. We slowly soak our way into the world, and I think that this concept is perfectly executed here.


I foresee a future OSC shot...

The bridge room is perhaps the first room of the level where we get a sense of danger when exploring the area. While one could potentially be a sissy and dispatch the wolves from above, the far more reckless (and thus exciting) option is to drop down to the floor level and battle it out. Granted, the wolves are not that hard to kill, but oh well. I like to pretend.

Aesthetically, I find the bridge room pleasing. The bridge colors mesh very well with the snow and the rocks, and you can sense that the light is coming in through the ceiling.

I find it interesting that the designers gave us the option of ignoring both the wolves and the bear that appears after it. It's almost as if they planned to tease us with foes that we could kill from above, only to throw a pair of wolves at us in the room shortly after... however, should the individual venture down into the bear's fortress, they're treated with a little medipack for their troubles, as well as the first use of a pressure plate in the series.


HOLD THE DOOR!!!!


It took me over three playthroughs before I discovered this medipack. I kid you not.

The upcoming room, which features the appearance of two wolves that come from the ground level, brings me to one of the things that I vastly prefer the PS version for. On the PS, there is an up-tempo music track that plays here which defines the intense combat here. While one might argue that music should not play a defining purpose in one's experience, for me it does. It's "engraved" into my memory of the level, so to speak. While I do appreciate the PC version for its varied ambient tracks, I have to admit that I do miss the bits of music that are spread all throughout the game.


Nice try wolf, but I don't think camouflaging will work.

After grasping the third and final secret of the level - which also features a glimpse of a Mayan calendar - we're presented with what could be considered the first actual puzzle of the series. Granted, pulling a switch, jumping a few spots, and running through a door isn't exactly a grandiose puzzle, but it classifies as one all the same.

A few darts, a staircase, a wolf, and two broken tiles later, we wind up in a room that looks pretty familiar if you took the time to glance behind the wooden bars at the midway point of the level.


Jumbo Tootsie Roll.

I like how the game's first Large Medipack is sort of there as a bait for the wolf that appears out of nowhere. On the PS, this is accompanied by one of those music tracks that signifies immediate danger. The room that the wolf was guarding contains the level's final switch, and the one that brings us to the conclusion of the series opener.

Conclusion

Caves is an interesting experience to analyze, because it has a somewhat different approach to its gameplay style than most other levels of the game - and the series - do. We're slowly being soaked into the world of Tomb Raider. If they had just thrown a bunch of wolves at us immediately, how fun would that have been? Instead, the designers choose to put several ominous signs in before we encounter them (the footprints in the snow, the eerie bats, etc.).

The atmosphere is brilliance. The droning cave ambiance is pretty convincing, and more than one time I stopped to just admire the sheer sense of isolation that I felt.

It's hard for me to really come up with any drawbacks about this level. Sure, the gameplay is extremely simplistic and there's hardly any puzzles to speak of, but it's not like they're going to lay it all on us in the very first adventure. I'll go with a middle-of-the-road rating, since I feel that while Caves does a good job of bringing us into the Tomb Raider world, it doesn't particularly stand out in comparison to the majority of the other levels of this game.

Rating - 6/10

Bonus

After every review, I'm going to post a few extra screenshots that detail some of the game's various glitches that are scattered throughout. I've picked these up by simply experimenting in playthroughs, and other times I've tried them out after reading about them on the internet. The first and only one that I experienced in Caves concerns a phantom ceiling. This can be found in the secret room near the bear, right next to the pressure plate:

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Old 12-09-13, 07:08   #32
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When Lara wanted to run away and join the circus, this isn't quite what she had in mind.
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Old 12-09-13, 11:46   #33
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Agree with almost everything you said. Caves does a great job of drawing the player in slowly for the future challenges that lie ahead. So I think you gave a fair rating of 6/10.

I also like the fact that you're mainly focusing on a positive outlook of each level. (Bodes well if you decide to do an AOD review in the future. )
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Old 13-09-13, 16:19   #34
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Great review, Sheepman!

I completely agree with the fact that the music defines it. It sets me on edge and definitely adds to the excitement and tension.

I think I'd give it a 6/10 as well.

Good job!
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Old 13-09-13, 16:29   #35
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Thanks for the comments guys.

I'm busy tonight but I'll be pretty free this weekend aside from my online college class, so I'll probably be able to run through Vilcabamba and Lost Valley at the very least.
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Old 13-09-13, 17:05   #36
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Your review is basically the reverse of the "modern-game-reviewer syndrome" - it reads like a 10 but you gave it a 6! (although your last sentence justifies why)

Reading your opening lines makes me kinda envy you, as I first played TR1 only about 2-3 years ago, so there's nothing really nostalgic in it for me (the most TR nostalgic level for me is probably Tomb of Seth, as TR4 was my first TR game which I played back in 2000).

Still, what I like about Caves is that is really a very short level (takes about 6-8 mins?) and yet the designers put so much work into it. For example, the bridge cavern is just so simple (you just need to follow the path) and yet there's so much else you can explore. The last puzzle is incredibly simple, yet the designers built this massive hall just for that puzzle.

Looking forward to your review of Vilcabamba!
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Old 13-09-13, 23:12   #37
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tomekkobialka View Post
Your review is basically the reverse of the "modern-game-reviewer syndrome" - it reads like a 10 but you gave it a 6! (although your last sentence justifies why)
I do? I'll have to be a little harsher in the future. Caves is kind of a sentimental level for me and probably a lot of other people, so it's hard for me to really criticize it even though I don't think it's one of the most innovative experiences of TR1.
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Old 15-09-13, 18:38   #38
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PERU
Level 2 - City of Vilcabamba



When Lara wanted to run away to join the circus, this isn't quite what she had in mind.

I'm going to just go ahead and say that the review I'm doing right now is somewhat out of the ordinary for me. Then again, the first few levels of the entire Tomb Raider series are anything but ordinary for me. They signify something a lot more than just moving my avatar through a pixelated 3-D environment in hopes of getting from Point A to Point B. They're something a lot more than that, and something that I don't think I touched on too much in the Caves review.

For starters, I've probably played the Peruvian levels a lot more than any of the others in the series, simply because of the fact that they're right at the beginning. Often times I've started playing TR1, just to get a little taste of the experience via the first few levels, and then stopped because I couldn't commit myself to a long run-through. As a result, the City of Vilcabamba is practically engraved into my memory due to the high number of times that I've completed it, and explored every nook and cranny of it.


He's in permanent hibernation.

I don't think that this review would be a true review if I didn't detail the sense of isolation that this level provokes. Sure, there's the occasional wolf pack, stray bear ("Hmm, I'll just take a quick peak inside of this room... OH MAH GAWD THAT'S A BEAR."), or cute little bat to shoot at, but for the majority of the time, I feel like it's just Lara and me, exploring this lost, forgotten city.

In the future, most tombs will try to eat Lara up and spit her out. Vilcabamba doesn't do that. Save for a few darts and some odd swinging axes near the end, this entire level feels almost... welcoming to Lara.

Take the two poolrooms in the latter half of the level, for example. As we ascend to the top of each, there's always the chance that Lara will slip and fall. I know I did this a lot when I was a little kid, as I hadn't completely mastered Lara's jumping skills yet. However, instead of landing on a hard, cold surface or even some trap like a spike pit, we're provided a wide pool of water to land in should we misplace a step. I don't know if this analogy really works, but it feels like the city is almost... "helping" Lara proceed. It doesn't want to fight her. It doesn't want to throw boulders, fire, and every other dangerous thing at her. Instead, it wants her to learn the secrets of this forgotten world, but only if Lara puts forth the effort to do so.


"I'm not strong en- oh, wrong game."


I don't know about you guys, but I think that this medipack is cursed or something.

I'm getting a little ahead of myself. Let's talk about the first part, the village. I love that underwater labyrinth. Not because it's particularly difficult or anything like that, but because it's one of the first times that the game lets us go way off the beaten path for extra things - secrets, in this case. Swimming down there is not something that we're forced to do, but something that we can do by choice to get a few extra goodies for the road.


Ceremonial temple, or glorified bathhouse?

In the previous review, I talked about TR1's music a little bit, and how certain moments are amplified by that background music. There is a moment in the left poolroom that pertains to that statement. As we ascend this harmless little room, the music track that I dubbed "Lara's Theme" plays as she nears the top.

As anyone who has ever played Tomb Raider knows, Lara's Theme is not a track that you would put in the middle of an action movie. It's a solemn, almost sad compilation of various instruments. Most notably is the harp, which plays the memorable sequence of notes over and over again throughout the entire piece.

In this moment... a music track is worth a thousand words.

If the designers had chosen to put some other piece of music here in place of Lara's Theme, this moment probably would not stick out for me. Indeed, some tracks might even ruin the atmosphere altogether. But not this melody. Everything that Lara's Theme symbolizes is symbolized here. The calm, peaceful pool that catches Lara if she falls. The lack of any truly dangerous traps to get caught in. The subtle squeaking of a stray bat every now and then. For lack of better words, it is a beautiful moment.


"I feel stronger now." Wait... what?


The VIP bathhouse has some extra defenses...

The three swinging axes that flank the central corridor, therefore, are almost a bit of a warning from the city about what lies ahead. Like it's trying to prevent us from wondering too far, and eventually into the valley full of monstrous dinosaurs.

Then again, maybe I'm overanalyzing all of this, and the three axes are just there because... why not?


Marco!

It's easy to miss the third and final secret in this last poolroom, when we're so focused on trying to get through the door at the lower level (not to mention that the secret room is very well hidden). It requires both the activation of a switch on the upper level, and the use of the golden idol that we picked up earlier. There's also some random switch in here that turns off the swinging axes for no apparent reason...

Conclusion

With all of my rambling above, I didn't really take the time to actually tear apart the bits and pieces of Vilcabamba like I normally do. At first glance, the level isn't anything entirely special. There are tombs within the series, and within this game that are a lot more grandiose and have atmosphere comparable to what is experienced here.

However, I feel that Vilcabamba is set apart from these other places for a variety of reasons. This is one of those levels where I often find myself just standing around, admiring things like the architecture, the desolate village, or even little things like the pots and other trinkets scattered about. And as I detailed quite extensively in the review, the moment in the first poolhouse where "Lara's Theme" plays hits home for me.

The colorful architecture of the main temple and the exciting battles with wolves and bears throughout just adds on to my immense praise for one of the game's most underappreciated levels. While the City of Vilcabamba may not be at 10/10 status - and to be fair, I believe that there are very few levels in the series that are - it comes pretty damned close.

Rating - 9/10
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Old 15-09-13, 19:35   #39
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Great review. When I think of City of Vilcabamba, two words that spring to mind are 'isolation' and 'claustrophobia'. I don't know, but I've always felt a bit trapped when exploring the level. I think it might be because the sky is missing (exploring a city without a sky is a bit weird).

The red-roofed temple is also a beautiful area. And I love how the level takes you all the way from the bottom up to the ceiling down to the roof. First-class exploration!

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"I feel stronger now." Wait... what?
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Old 15-09-13, 19:49   #40
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Excellent review again. I don't think I would rate the level quite as highly as you have; I'd probably be more inclined to give it a 7 or 8, but it is still a solid level. I agree with tomekkobialka though, the fact that there is no sky makes it seem less of a village.

Also, I love the screenshot captions. (Except the AOD ones. )
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