The first game of the “heroine with the big ‘guns’”, Tomb Raider was one of my favorite games in the teen ages. Not only because of Lara’s boobies!
Tomb Raider is an excellent 3D action/adventure game, with some platformer characteristics, which sold 8 million copies worldwide, and started one of the most recognizable media franchises up to today. And set a lot of patterns in 3D adventure games.
How I got it
I remember long hours playing Tomb Raider (mostly in the daylight, for I was not the bravest guy when I was 13 and foes appeared unexpectedly). I also remember long afternoons in a “cooperative-play-when-one-plays-and-one-watches-and-they-switch-when-they-lose-a-life” with a friend, calling Sega’s helping line every time we got stuck. But most of all, what I really remember is, after killing two raptors in a valley, walking a little more and watching A FREAKING T-REX running towards me. I was a Jurassic Park fan when I was a kid, and like all kids, had a fascination with dinosaurs. So, being able to kill one is still to this day one of the greatest moments in all games I played (albeit not the toughest). If killing the T-Rex in Tomb Raider taught me something by comparing the dinosaur with Lara, is that while growing up, I should not be afraid of things with big fangs, but be very very careful of things with big boobs, for those could easily lead me to extinction!First of all, I must clearly state here that I didn’t buy Tomb Raider because of Lara’s pixelized sexiness. Well, at least not only because of that. Of course when you’re like 13 years old, a game box cover with a large breasted female clearly gets your attention in a video games’ store. But besides that, all the commercials and mostly the reviews in the game magazine I read at the time, stating that Lara was “the female Indiana Jones”, together with some friends’ opinions made me crave for the game.
Condition and Description
It really shows the box was opened and closed a lot of times. And carried around. And lent. Apart from that, the game is complete and working.
The first game featuring the female British archeologist was released in 1996, for Sega Saturn, Playstation and MS-DOS. It is a 3D action-adventure game, filled with platformer traits and a lot of exploring to do. This mixture of “jumps and guns” was a unique selling point when compared with the 3D games being released at the time (albeit not exactly new if we consider 2D adventure games like Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures or Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure). The game mechanics and great level design contributed highly for the success sales (8 million copies worldwide), starting a successful franchise that still lasts to this day. And of course, besides all that, there was Lara.
The game is played through 15 levels (ignoring the training level) located in South America, Greece, Egypt and Atlantis where Lara must find the pieces of an ancient artifact she was hired to retrieve. Of course “life’s a bitch”, and Lara finds out that so is the woman who hired her, and that she is not the only one searching for the artifact.
The gameplay is based on the exploration of the extensive levels, finding a path, solving puzzles and finding secrets. There are also a lot of different enemies (mostly animals) to kill. All this while performing amazing acrobatics, shooting different weapons and maintaining the sex appeal.
This game was one of the most influential of its times, setting some standards for the 3D action-platformers and winning multiple prizes. And Lara became a pop-icon, with a popularity surpassing that of the games.
Unique and Notorious
The game was very well designed as a whole, with several characteristics which made it appealing. However, I will introduce the ones which appealed the most to me. I will also talk about something which I didn’t find all that good.
Lara – I think you already realized that I thought Lara was sexy. Of course I preferred when “Jolie Lara” hit the cinemas, and the “Top-model Laras” which usually appeared in the game conventions (which I read about in game magazines), but I also found the virtual Lara kind of hot (in a geeky, pre-teenager, nerdy way).
Leaving my hormones aside, the fact is that Lara is indeed one of the game’s pluses. The incorrectness of her anatomy was a great design decision, together with the revealing clothes as a way to appeal to the male players (and the game box cover is totally set on Lara’s physique). But Lara’s look reveals more than a voluptuous lady: the two guns, always present show this is no delicate flower.
More than just the look, also Lara’s personality was well chosen. The British lady with a rebellious and adventurous mind, which chooses fighting a bear in a tomb somewhere in the world over spending the day at a spa or shopping, proved to be a winning bet.
The fact is that Lara was hot enough for every man to look at her. And at the same time didn’t felt like playing with “a girl”. She was so badass that it was not a problem to “be” Lara Croft for a couple of hours. Coincidently or not, Lara also appealed to the female public. Apparently, “lady gamers” enjoy being strong, independent women, not needing the “cartoony cute” look or colorful levels to be engaged in a game. Serves as a lesson!
Resuming: Lara was an important asset. In fact, this character became more popular than the game itself, achieving a “pop icon” status, between gamers and non-gamers, of both sexes. For someone who was introduced as the “female Indiana Jones”, that’s really something! In fact, I do believe that in some age groups, she is eve more popular than Harrison Ford’s character.
Levels – Let’s be honest: Tomb Raider is (in a simplistic way) about a chick who explores tombs. And that’s why levels are so important. Tomb Raider’s levels are well designed and varied, filled with secret areas, different puzzles and obstacles and well placed foes (whose apparitions are well balanced in number). Although I still remember some parts of the levels (like the T-Rex valley, the beginning of the level where you first see the lions or the carefully descent in the fifth level), what I really remember is the feeling of exploration. Foes add adrenaline, but too much of them and the game would feel like a shoot’em up. Puzzles add some cerebral activity, but in bigger number would make the levels feel unrealistic. What really was cool about Tomb Raider was the exploration part of it. Those seconds between puzzles and foes when you were just entering more and more into the unknown felt both as a rhythmic break and as a time for you to realize that you are indeed walking to areas never seen and you really don’t know what to expect next. Don’t really know why, but they kind of remind me of musical pauses. Anyway, all this to say that even without Lara, and the story, you would still get the feel that you are an explorer. And that’s thanks to the great level design.
Physics – This is not something uncommon in games, but in Tomb Raider the “relaxed” physic system is quite notorious. Strangely enough, it became “natural”, feeling “realistic” actually (Uncanny Valley, anyone?). The fact is that in Tomb Raider the physics became a main characteristics, and Lara would not be Lara without the “super jumps” and the unnatural acrobatics skills. And Tomb Raider wouldn’t be Tomb Raider if we had to use rock climbing material to reach a high place in the level. It’s much more fun to just make a jumps’ combo and continue on our way.
Narrative – Because not all is good in Tomb Raider, let’s talk about the narrative. I like games with narrative. I do not believe, however, that a narrative is necessary in any type of game (except perhaps graphical adventures). What I do honestly believe is that if you’re going to put narrative into a game, you better make it good. Tomb Raider’s narrative is about an explorer who gets hired to retrieve an object, and finds that there are more people interested in that object. She will eventually find that the woman who hired is some sort of ancient God, who wants the object to control the world. It is not exactly an original argument by my book. And to add to this, I only recalled the story when reading some sites in my research. Usually, when I forget something IN A GAME (in real life, this does not apply) it’s because it was not that important nor memorable.
Formal Elements (as defined by T. Fullerton)
Players: 1 player.
Objective: Explore different levels to retrieve the pieces of a missing, ancient object. Ultimately, defeat a Goddess who wants to rule the world.
Procedures: Lara can walk, run, jump, swim and shoot multiple weapons. Besides this she can grab ledges and climb platforms. She can also interact with different objects in the scenario, like door switches or ropes. If you press the right combination of keys on some special places on some levels, Lara can perform a (partial) strip for you. No she can’t. I’m just kidding. Would be cool though!
Distinctive Rules: Lara has limited health points. Health points decrease when Lara is hit by a foe, when she is hit by some projectile (like in a booby-trap) or when she falls from a great height. Falling from a great height may also cause Lara to lose all health points, as so happens when she takes a big hit from a foe (a good T-Rex bite will do the trick, for example). Getting med packs increase health points. Lara also dies when she falls into spikes or other hazards alike. The game starts with Lara holding 2 pistols, with infinite ammo. All other weapons have finite ammo, which may be picked in levels. Since levels are linear, the player must solve some puzzles in order to advance. A player can save its progress in a level by touching a “Save Crystal”, in the Saturn Version.
Resources: Health, additional weapons, med packs, and weapons’ ammo.
Conflict: Initially, Lara explores the Tomb to get an artifact. After some revelations (and a treason), she finds the artifact she retrieved was simply a part of an artifact of power, and she starts to collect the remaining bits. Finally, she is trying to stop world domination, and destroy the artifact of power.
Boundaries: The game levels are linear, with a well-defined path, with the player not having much liberty on where to go apart from where he needs to go. There are some secret areas, but nothing more than that.
Outcome: There are 2 outcomes: Lara can destroy the artifact and save the world (while killing the evil goddess) or she can die trying to do it.
Name: Tomb Raider
Platform: Sega Saturn
Genre: Action-adventure / platformer.
Game Designer: Phil Campbell – CORE design.
Fullerton, Tracy, Game Design Workshop, 2nd Edition: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games. Morgan Kaufmann, February 2008.