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Tomb Raider
Lara CroftWhen in early 1995 the relatively unkown British software house Core Design started works on the first Tomb Raider game, no one - not even Lara's creator Toby Gard himself - had any inkling of the overwhelming success they were going to have both with their sophisticated game in general and their first virtual celebrity Lara Croft in particular. The idea behind Tomb Raider was to combine game elements of several genres such as exploration, action, and puzzle-solving with a storyline. What they didn't want to produce was another Doom-style title. The game had two key elements other titles lacked at that time: on the one hand, you could move freely through the novel 3D environment. On the other hand, there was no muscle-packed testosterone heroe ploughing through the levels like Duke Nukem but an intrepid British archaeologist proving her mettle. And what that meant has long gone down into gaming history.
 
A question of polygons:
Entrance to the caveQuestion is whether Tomb Raider would have been similarly successful without its female main character, since the hype about the virtual heroine that followed in the wake of the game's release was astounding. Never before did a celebrity out of bits and bytes manage to jump on the cover pages of such renowned magazines such as "Time", "Newsweek", "Rolling Stone" or "The Face". Lara starred in several international advertising campaigns as well as in one of U2's music videos. Innumerous websites celebrated their new cult-like figure.
But the answer to the above question must be "yes", because Tomb Raider had a lot more to offer than voluptuous Lara Croft. Above all, there was the 3D environemt with its complete freedom of movement and innovative third-person perspective. The engine's potential became evident immediately when starting the tutorial in which you had to complete a training course set up in Lara's stately home. Of likewise quality were the hand-made and, thanks to 4,000 frames, very smooth animations of Lara, as well as the display of huge and cavernous underground complexes. The graphics, consisting of polygons covered by textures, were among the first to take advantage of the emerging 3D accelerator cards from 3dfx, resulting in a boost for this technology. Despite the range of novel effects developers could now make use of, these cards couldn't prevent sporadic clipping errors that occur when polygons overlap or don't fit together seamlessly.
 
Train your movements:
ArtistryBasically, Tomb Raider was the modern 3D reincarnation of the jump'n'run games of the past, although the game had been enriched with a set of innovative ideas. To master the 15 levels in total that confronted you with jumping sequences gradually increasing in difficulty, Lara had access to a surprisingly wide range of movements: she could swim, run, jump, climb, cling to ledges after jumps, and as some sort of artistry make a handstand. It required some training and a certain endurance to overcome all pits and traps unscathed. Apart from acrobatic interludes, Lara also had to cope with various beasts such as bears, lions, or apes; in level 3, two gigantic dinosaurs made the earth quake and later on she had to fight against alien creatures. In these situations, Lara could always rely on her trademark, her dual pistols, which did not have to be reloaded. During the game, she could add a shotgun and a Uzi to her arsenal, for which she had to look out for ammunition that was often hidden in secret or nearly unaccessible places. First aid kits as well as occasional objects could be stowed away in her small backpack.
 
A series of successes:
In the templeIn the course of her five adventure games, Lara has been constantly on the search for powerful but (expectedly) lost artifacts. Her first assignment on behalf of Natla Technologies led her on the trail of the Scion, for which Lara had to find the lost continent of Atlantis. The mission disc Unfinished Business lacked any innovations. In Tomb Raider II, she had to compete against Marco Bartoli in her hunt for the legendary Dagger of Xian that was rumoured to grant dragon-like powers to its owner. Considerably enhanced graphics, new movements, more diversified locations like Venice, and more action were some aspects that helped turn the game into an instant success (mission disc Golden Mask). Tomb Raider III, in which Lara was to discover the Infada Stone before the Scotsman Dr. Willard did, was the first title to show signs of gradual stagnation. Despite refined graphics, additional weapons, vehicles and movements, there were not enough features that made it stand out against the second installment (mission disc Lost Artifact). Again, the same was true for the slightly modified Tomb Raider IV - The Last Revelation, where Lara had to face the scientist Werner of Croy and the ancient God Set. Some sort of playable flashback on the archaeologist's former adventures awaited the gamer with Tomb Raider Chronicles, after he had witnessed the seeming death of Lara in TR IV. Also the fifth installment was in principle based on the same graphics engine as the first one, making quite a number of fans turn their back on the series.
Details:
Producer:
Core Design,
Eidos

Published:
In 1996

Nostalgia:
very high

System:
MS-DOS

Playable?
more or less

Available?
Low budget

Links:
Croft Times
Tomb Raider
Laracroft.co.uk
T. Raider 4
Lara's future:
Pic from the creditsEven though the game's concept and its graphics engine have been recycled a little bit too often so far, you cannot deny the great success of the entire series. The first two installments combined sold more than 7 million copies world-wide and received countless accolades, among them "Game of the Year", "PC Game of the Year", or for Core Design "Developer of the Year". For months, TR 1 & 2 in particular dominated the international sales charts. Apart from our virtual British archaeologist Lara Croft, this could be ascribed to the games' dense atmosphere created both through the mystical locations and the exquisite graphics. The seemingly free-moving camera and the uncommon perspective over Lara's shoulder marked the expression "Tomb Raider perspective", which was then used to describe the camera behaviour of similar titles.
Although it seemed at first as if there were to be no successor forthcoming to the fifth title Tomb Raider Chronicles, it was rumoured at the beginning of this year that Core Design had embarked on a new project. However, things are likely to be different with Tomb Raider 6 - The Angel of Darkness - first of all, the game will come along with a brand-new graphics engine. Recently published screenshots hint at a darker atmosphere that becomes evident as well when regarding the more mature storyline. Lara is framed for murder and has to redeem herself during the course of the game. What's more, Kurtis Trent will be the first character the player will have control of next to Lara. There's reason to believe, therefore, that after some unsatisfying sequels the great Tomb Raider series will be rewarded with a worthy successor in November this year. By the way, Lara's creator Toby Gard founded his own software house Confounding Factor some time ago and is currently developing the promising privateer-style game Galleon, which cannot deny completely its Tomb Raider roots.
© 07-14-2002 by CE

 
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