The classic first adventure in the Tomb Raider series was developed by Core Design and published by Eidos Interactive – initially for the Sega Saturn – in 1996. Then PC MS-DOS and PlayStation versions followed soon after.
The game was a smash hit on the PlayStation and sold well on the PC too, making it something of a breakthrough title for Core Design, whose stature was greatly elevated with the success of the Tomb Raider series.
Tomb Raider follows the adventures of archaeologist-adventurer Lara Croft, who is hired by a businesswoman called Jacqueline Natla to find an artefact called the Scion of Atlantis for her.
The game is split into four zones: Peru, Greece, Egypt and the lost continent of Atlantis. A training level, called Lara’s House, is accessible from the main menu, but the player is not required to play through it.
What makes Tomb Raider great is how Lara controls. Her running and jumping and context-sensitive actions are finely tuned and make playing Tomb Raider a lot of fun. Lara is super agile and can climb and swim like a champion, and she’s also brutal with her two pistols, and other weapons later in the game. Tomb Raider has a cinematic feel when the auto-aiming system in Lara’s arms locks onto enemies and the camera swoops around during combat. Exploration and puzzle-solving in Tomb Raider is surprisingly enjoyable when you fully master the controls. When you start finding all the secrets you’ll then start to feel like you’re getting into the swing of things.
In spite of the [current at the time of writing] lazy ports on Steam and GOG.com, Tomb Raider is still an enjoyable game to play now. For a few pounds it’s very much worth playing Tomb Raider, if you’ve never played it before. The controls in the PC version work extremely well – even giving you camera control. So you can survey your surroundings before taking a jump. Walking instead of running gives you a safety mechanism from falling and other dangers. Every step in Tomb Raider is a risky puzzle filled with traps and platforming, and armed combat. In the PC version you can save whenever you want, and in the more modern re-releases you can even quicksave by pressing Alt+F5. Expect some rigorous platforming and armed combat scenes along the way, and a shocking point in the story… that turns the game on its head. I won’t say what it is but it certainly shocked me. At that point the game opens up to cover a much wider area, which you must then hurriedly explore to upgrade your weaponry. While at the same time being chased by a very large monster. It’s a tense experience and you’ll probably die trying a number of times, but you somehow have to bring it down. Which is where the save system comes in handy…
The original Tomb Raider has its faults, but at its core the movement and combat are first class. The mechanics achieve a balance between user input and automated camera movement to create a cinematic feel. Tomb Raider is a masterwork of world-building and game design, with an interactive Lara who is a joy to control. Core‘s proprietary engine does the trick, even if there is some noticeable texture tearing (black lines between shapes). If you’re prepared to dig around the internet you can find mods to the engine that give a better appearance. The version I’m showing here is the basic Steam SVGA (640×480) version, which is a reasonable representation of the original PC retail version of Tomb Raider, but not 100% satisfactory , and is £4.99 on Steam; less in a sale.