Tomb Raider, Why It's Not Crap
There has been a lot of stuff going around over the years about how bad Tomb Raider either always has been, or has become. There are many complaints going around, like they haven't replaced the game engine, they haven't updated the graphics, or it's just the same old thing. Most of it can be ignored, it's just people who are more interested in shiny new things than actual good games. However, due to its success, Tomb Raider's actual flaws have had the spotlight thrown on them for a long time now, becoming almost as famous as the game itself. The purpose of this document is to refute all the rubbish that has been spouted by people saying the series is bad or going downhill.
There are some things to remember
before you start trying to determine whether the arguments against Tomb Raider
are worth anything:
Tomb Raider is not perfect, though many people expect it to be.
Tomb Raider isn't just any game. You can't just come along and change it. To do so would destroy a very famous and successful series.
A guideline many, many people forget : If you don't want Tomb Raider, don't play Tomb Raider.
This is not Final Fantasy
The first thing you have to clear up about Tomb Raider is its' story. This is not Final Fantasy. FF deals with a completely different story dealing with different characters in different worlds in every game. The style of gameplay differs a bit from game to game, and there are always new features. This is easy because they aren't really related to each other. People seem to be happy with this arrangement, and anyone who isn't, simply doesn't buy the games. Tomb Raider does the complete opposite. Tomb Raider only follows one character, This character doesn't even have a set of completely different extraordinary adventures (like some game's characters do), this person is simply doing what they enjoy doing, which happens to make for good gaming. This character (in case you haven't guessed) is Lara Croft. Lara is The Tomb Raider, and spends most of her time going on various (fairly similar) adventures. Some people are happy with this arrangement, and anyone who isn't buys the games anyway and complains about it.
Lara is a very realistic character. She has a complete history. She isn't just a character that magically appeared out of nowhere. She was an aristocrat with an adventurous spirit, and chance brought her into contact with a world she hadn't really known previously. So she gave up her past life and became a Tomb Raider. Lara chose this life, so it is unlikely she is going to turn around and choose to do something else with her time (knitting perhaps?) just for the sake of change.
Lara is the character that the Tomb Raider series follows. Not one of the characters, not the character for the time being, the one and only character. Tomb Raider is Lara's adventures. They happen to be interesting and make for good gaming (always assets when making a game). The story of Tomb Raider is Lara's life, or at least the more interesting aspects of it. She writes about her adventures to make money, while out here in the real world we buy games based on her adventures.
Tomb Raider is the story of a (fictional, but realistic) person, and therefore the games are based wholly on that person. As I have said, such a realistic character is not going to change what they are doing for no reason, therefore the games will stay roughly the same too, and will also not change for no apparent reason. People always seem to want this, they claim the games are too similar. If they changed them every time they released a new part of the series, it would not only destroy the storyline, but would also make the games less realistic.
Sequels? What Sequels?
People sometimes say that the games are heading to sequel hell, or that each sequel is worse than the last. What sequels?
Tomb Raider tells the story of Lara Croft. She is a realistic character, who is doing something with her life (fictional though it is). Because the games tell the story of her life, they really are one big series. They can, of course, be described as a series just because they all have the same name, just as they might have been described as a trilogy if there had only been three of them. But, they really are a proper series. The games do not have a bunch of disconnected storylines, or even very similar ones, they are all running on exactly the same story. Lara's story cannot be seen in any one game. The story transcends all the games, each one merely telling a small portion of it. Would anyone one call the latter five books of The Lord Of The Rings sequels? Undoubtedly some would, the point is they'd be wrong. The Lord Of The Rings is not a collection of stories, it is one story told across six books. If you read one book, you only have part of the story. Tomb Raider is the same, and that is why the first five games are all similar to each other, as a good story can't be rushed.
If you need an example, just look at TRV. It's own bit of the story is not even contained fully in that game. It starts with Lara's 'death' in the previous game, and ends with her re-appearance in the next game. TRV itself is just a bunch of flashbacks while we wait to see what happens to Lara. This is also an example of how the games are so closely linked to Lara. TRVI is going to be a very different game to the previous ones, as Lara has gone through a change herself. The next part of her story is now beginning.
In short, and as evidenced above, the story of these games is a realistic one based on a realistic character. The story is not a short little one, just telling a part of it has covered six games so far, and it's still going. The games are based completely on the story, and that can no longer be taken for granted these days, considering some PC games don't even have single player modes as such anymore. If you are not interested in the story, then you will not enjoy the games nearly as much. If you are complaining that the games are all the same, you have missed the point completely (and been hibernating since before TRVI was announced). If you have only played one game you have only seen a small part of the story, so you don't know what you're talking about. The most important thing to understand with these games is that it is one big long story.
The Tomb Raider games do not extend an already written story, rather they continue a yet unfinished story. Tomb Raider is a story.
TR is not a FPS
The first thing you have to clear up about Tomb Raider's gameplay is that it is not a FPS. Obviously it violates the definition of an FPS because it is played solely from a third person perspective. It must be understood however, that Tomb Raider is not a shooter of any description. You are introduced to the fighting side of the game quickly in each one, and there is a lot of it, but the game is not based on fighting. The point of the game is not to go around shooting things. Fighting is merely an element of the gameplay, which makes the game more enjoyable and fits in with the story. This is why you find that out of all the controls in Tomb Raider, only one button is to do with weapons, 'draw/holster'. Firing uses the usual action button, just like climbing and unlocking a door.
What is it?
Once you understand that Tomb Raider is not a shooter, you can start thinking about what the gameplay is really like. The first aspect of the gameplay you must consider are the puzzles. Tomb Raider is based around the puzzles. Some of them are fairly obvious ones, like using pictograms to figure out how to open a door. Some are more subtle, like trying to find your way out of a room, or crossing a pit by finding a way to fill it with water. Whatever form they are in, puzzles are all over the games. If you are not looking for puzzles do not play this game, as they go well beyond the simpler puzzles found in most FPSs. If, however, you are looking for a game that requires a fair bit of thinking, Tomb Raider should suit you.
The next important aspect in gameplay is actually controlling the game. The controls in Tomb Raider go way beyond most games, and are much more accurate too. Running around bouncing from wall to wall (proverbially or otherwise) is quite rare. Getting around in this game is all about using the myriad of moves to get Lara around the place. This includes proper climbing, as opposed to simple jump or jump-and-grab behaviour in other games. Swimming is another good example of how the game is more complex than most, it's not simply a case of pressing in the direction you want to go in, it's a case of controlling the direction and the actual swimming action separately. The only time it's a simple case of 'going from A to B' is if you're running down a straight corridor. The bulk of most walkthroughs is where to go next and how to physically get there. Again, if you are looking for a game where you just run around shooting things, you won't like Tomb Raider, as it really is more complicated than that.
The Story Vs. The Gameplay
Now you have to take into consideration the relationship between the story and the gameplay. If you look at most FPSs, they use fairly generic gameplay, all the same moves and features. Some FPSs have brilliant storylines, which could even be made into good movies, and yet share their gameplay with many other games, all telling different stories. The gameplay and the story are separate in these games, they stick a story on top of an existing game engine. Tomb Raider does not do this.
Tomb Raider's story and gameplay are intrinsically linked. The story of Tomb Raider is about a person who is very strong and fast, and relies on her abilities to tackle danger, rather than just carrying really massive weapons around. This is reflected in the gameplay in that it mostly consists of running, jumping, climbing, swimming etc. and the actual use of weapons plays a smaller part than in many games. This I have explained above, but the point here is that there is a strong tie between the type of story and the type of gameplay.
Many people complain that the gameplay in Tomb Raider never changes. They never complain about the story never changing, because they haven't quite reached that level of intelligence, all they see is the gameplay. The gameplay is a part of the story of the game, to change the way the game plays, you would have to change the story, and I have already explained fully why that can't happen very easily. A twist has been introduced into the story with TRVI, and notice how the gameplay is changing with it. The gameplay is part of what Tomb Raider is, so if you go around madly changing it, you will destroy Tomb Raider.
Classically lacking in anti-aliasing
One of the earliest complaints against Tomb Raider's graphics was the fact that the textures were very 'pixelated', as people dubbed it. Basically this means that they had no anti-aliasing. Quite simply, the PSX does not do anti-aliasing. This was one of the classic arguments against Tomb Raider, presumably because it puts you in such realistic locations that the graphics can let it down a bit. But the simple fact is that it is a feature that the console lacks, not the game. If Tomb Raider's graphics look worse than another PSX game's do because of the textures, it is probably because Tomb Raider is aiming for more realistic environments, which will show up the graphical flaws more. Most people seem to have figured this out by now however.
The Cuboid Factor
Another classic complaint against the graphics in Tomb Raider is that the levels are done in a grid-like way. This basically means that everything is made up of cuboids (or slightly more complex shapes) put together from rectangles at specific angles. The argument against this is a very simple one as well. This game (speaking from the point of view of Tomb Raider I) features more complex controls than a lot of brand new games. These days there are a lot of new technologies, we'll have full-on physics engines in a year or two, but back in the time of Tomb Raider I this level of realism was difficult to achieve, and wasn't attempted very often. To get in the complexity of control in Tomb Raider simply required a world constructed of such simple building blocks. Back in the old days creating an engine that could handle all these controls with a fully realistic 3-D environment would have been an almost insurmountable task.
Moving on towards the newer games, they stayed the same, based on the same engine, for reasons stated above. Not only was the game given new moves as it progressed, but the engine was also greatly improved, and given the ability to handle things like triangles, curves and complex 3-D shapes much better. The later games look very good, and still have the immensely complex, but fully functional, controls.
Now that the game is making the move onto a far more powerful console, the PS2, the 3-D world and the moves are getting overhauled. The worlds will be much more realistically shaped, and the moves will be much more fluid. And no doubt they will improve further as the game settles onto the PS2. This was simply another restriction due to the console it was created on, that was not resolved for fear of ruining the gameplay.
The Graphics Don't Improve?
One final note on the graphics, anyone who says that they don't improve from one game to the next is either blind or just stupid. The Tomb Raider games set the standard for graphics in their genre. Compare Tomb Raider I to Tomb Raider II. Addition of a proper sky, and dynamic lighting. Tomb Raider III brought a higher resolution, multi-colored dynamic lighting, and a particle system. Tomb Raider IV and V brought all the additions in the previous games up to their maximum potential, while adding in their own things here and there, like the proper flat sky. The quality of the textures and level design got better with every game. Every single one brought noticeable graphic improvements. Anyone who can't see that is either blind or stupid.
Tomb Raider is not as bad as people say it is. The complaints against it are completely illogical and baseless. The game has flaws, as many games do. But what it is as its core is what makes it better than so many other games. If you ignore the outdated graphics and gameplay, the original, TRI, is better than most new PS2 releases, because they focus on pretty new graphics and gameplay, rather than being good games. Something Tomb Raider could never by accused of.