Tomb Raider 3: Adventures of Lara Croft.
Developer: Core Design
UK Release: 23/11/1998
Format: Sony Playstation (PSX)
I experienced my first Tomb Raider play through back in the winter of 1996. I distinctly remember guiding Lara through St Francis’s Folly, going one-on-one with the Tyrannosaurus Rex and eventually obtaining the Scion. I still look back at that first installment with such fond memories and happiness.
Soon after completing the first game, Tomb Raider 2 had been released, once again I guided Lara through her adventure and eventually obtained the Dagger of Xian, I was slightly more disappointed with the sequel upon completion however and found that the human areas/enemies/elements of game play were hampering the series as a whole. But as a fan of the franchise, I remained loyal and awaited each further installment with excitement and anticipation.
At the time of release many people; myself included, declared Tomb Raider 3 to be the absolute in video gaming “it doesn’t get better than this” I could hear myself saying as I loaded up that first level. “This is incredible” I thought as I witnessed the Indian rain lashing down on the jungle canopy above me. “This is Lara’s greatest adventure yet.”
Looking back and replaying Tomb Raider 3 as an adult however, I can now quite simply reveal that this is indeed, not the case. In fact the developers turned my (and our) love for the franchise into a cheap marketing ploy, which most weren’t aware of at the time.
The biggest complaint with this installment is that it seemed that the design team had ultimately lost sight of what made Tomb Raider so great. With Tomb Raider 3, the challenging enjoyable game play from the first two games had been suppressed and replaced with irritating trial and error, much like any other inferior of the era. When playing through Tomb Raider 3 various things will just, happen.. You may get run over by an underground train with almost no way of avoidance, crushed by a boulder without warning, you may fall off of a ledge and be killed instantly, the list is endless and unfortunately it goes on and on.
After playing through several levels of Tomb Raider 3 (Aldwych, for the curious) I got the feeling that I was fighting the game every step of the way. It seemed that most of the creative energy in this sub-par addition to the Tomb Raider franchise was put into new and interesting ways to get killed or to get yourself stuck and not directed towards creating interestingly formed level design, puzzles and locales as it should’ve, much like its predecessors.
Unlike the previous two games (which for all of their illusion, were in fact, fairly linear) this time there are plenty of false paths intended to mislead and throw you off course. Although this adds to the realism of the adventure it really just makes every level an over-glorified maze, a maze which becomes insanely frustrating very quickly. This new labyrinth like level design seems to try and hide the fact that the development and level designers seemed to have pretty much phoned this installment in.
Lara does benefit from a few new moves since her last outing though, namely; crawling, monkey climbing and dashing. These moves can be used to get her into,(and out of) tight spaces and to give her an additional speed-burst when needed. Lara also has a larger arsenal that includes the shotgun (the franchise mainstay) a rocket launcher, grenade launcher, the harpoon gun, an MP5, and her Uzis. This increase in weaponry however, doesn’t make for any groundbreaking or interesting game play mechanics that we haven’t seen before.
Core Design implemented new lighting and shading techniques for Tomb Raider 3, this made the graphics look absolutely fantastic at the time of release, but with these new lighting masterstrokes came a few real issues in the form of pure unadulterated darkness. This game is dark, very dark. In comparison to the first two installments we are talking a difference of comparing Adam West’s Batman to Christopher Nolan’s, it’s that dark! This isn’t helped when almost every single crucial item, switch, or path is shaded so heavily Lara could literally stand right next to it and the player is unable to see it unless you light a flare (of which the amount you receive and duration of, are both very limited) or if you turn your TV brightness up to a few notches.
The camera has never been a shining example of top notch programming throughout the Tomb Raider franchise, but this one is by far the worst. Obstructions between Lara and the camera happen far too frequently and often at the most inappropriate times. This is noticeable in the first level of the game when Lara has to outrun a boulder (in darkness) with the camera panning all over the place and the screen violently shaking like an excited child. Prolonged exposure really is enough to give you a headache.
At the time of release it was plain to see that the Tomb Raider franchise was being pushed to the limits of the PlayStation’s capabilities, this is evidenced with the occasional heavy slowdown and vast amounts of pop up in some areas. This is especially prevalent during the India and London levels.
The ambient sounds within the game are beautifully orchestrated and when combined with the graphical output on show make for a very ascetically pleasing video game, this is especially noticeable during the initial India levels. The only gripe would seemingly be the voice acting, the accents and muddiness of the voice over samples used are unintentionally and hilariously bad (the Geordie victim, met after the Aldwych level of prime concern) one feels that better, more appropriate voice acting should have been a priority.
With all of negatives named above this isn’t to say that Tomb Raider 3 is not an enjoyable game, it is (in parts) The South Pacific levels are a highlight, along with the initial Nevada sections. The problem is that Tomb Raider 3 presents itself like a gaudy cash grab attempt, this was at a time when the Tomb Raider film was due for release along with various other promotional merchandise.
With all of this being said I cannot recommend number three in the franchise to any nostalgic gamers out there. Simply put, stick with Tomb Raiders 1 & 2 instead.