Thursday, 17 September 2015

Scion-tific!

Tomb Raider 1 is finished! Gosh, it took a long time, and I had almost 300 saves by the end of it...I'm so glad I'm on PC rather than the silly old save crystal-bound PlayStation. I have a horrible feeling that save crystals do make their way into the PC series later on, though, boo! I've completed this first game before, but I don't remember it being quite as huge as it was. Weirdly, I remember the first levels really clearly and the last level really clearly, but a lot of the stuff in between was hazy. I still think it is a masterpiece of design. That's not to say it's perfect - it does drag on a bit, some levels have too much back-tracking, and it's easy to get lost on certain stages with no idea how to proceed - but it has a very clear vision and follows it through beautifully. There are arcade segments, sure, but it's much more of a puzzle game than an arcade game. All gaps are carefully measured and pillars precisely placed, the entire architecture is built upon Lara's different abilities, standing jump, running jump, jump and grab. Everything fits together perfectly and feels absolutely solid. Sure, it's a perfectly contrived environment, but it feels like a real space. I want to say that the sparseness of the graphics helps by allowing you to project your own extra details onto the environment, but at the time, when these were cutting edge graphics, it still felt like that. And boy do you feel it when you run round a corner and manage to stop Lara inches from the edge of a cliff...or even worse, when you don't. There's something about Lara and her movement, and the environment and its sense of place that allows you to inhabit it much more easily than many modern games. It doesn't have the overblown dramatics or self-referential wink that so many modern pretenders have, it's all about Lara stuck in that cave searching for a way out. You move step by step, sometimes literally slowly stepping through a level, stopping to gaze around, trying to locate any out of the ordinary ledges that you might be able to reach. There's very little waymarking, like the ridiculous white paint along every ledge in the modern Tomb Raider. Here they trust you to stop and look, carefully taking in your environment and judging your abilities. There aren't many games like it anymore. Slow games. Observing games. Planning games. Those are my favourite bits of Tomb Raider, when you've emptied the level of whatever Atlantean horrors (or fluffy wolves) are hiding there, and you're left all alone with just the echo of the wind and those huge, beautifully 3D spaces to navigate. I mentioned the verticality of Tomb Raider before, and how it's completely missing from the modern game, but it's completely true, and I feel it all the more now I've finished the game. The huge final tower ascent is an amazing level, and I can't imagine anything like it in the modern game. They tried to make the environments so realistic that they forgot what the heart of Tomb Raider was. It'll be very interesting to see what Anniversary - the modern remake of this first game - is like. I'm half tempted to play it now so I can make a direct comparison, but I think I'll stick to my timeline. It's tempting to look back at the Lara Croft phenomenon and see only the magazine cover shoots and impossible body models, but there's much more to why Tomb Raider became so famous - it's a fantastic game. I'm very much looking forward to Tomb Raider 2 and seeing where my adventures will take me (and finally having movable hair!). I remember the Venice level from the demo that was on cover disks at the time, but I don't think I've ever played the full game. First, though, I'm going to see if I can get through Shannara. After I'd been playing it for a while I remembered that I had played it before - maybe at school or in the holidays with school friends - and bits of the game started coming back to me. I don't remember it being that big a game and I'm already a way into it, so hopefully it won't take too long.

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