Here we are, three games into the Lara Croft legacy!
Tomb Raider III, subtitled Adventures of Lara Croft, sees our globetrotting British badass exploring places like India, Nevada, and Antarctica, reaping her special brand of destruction in the pursuit of artifacts carved from a meteorite.
Geez, what would action/adventure tomb raiders do without meteorites? Seems like there’s not a mystical object on Earth that wasn’t carved from a meteorite!
We’re now entering Lara Croft related media that I’ve never played before. By the time Tomb Raider III was out and readily available to me, I had kind of lost interest in trying my hand at the new entries in a series that had so thoroughly kicked my butt in the past. I mean, I couldn’t even get fifteen minutes into Tomb Raider II as a kid! What hope did I have at the third game?
Well, now I’m a grown-ass woman and I’m ready to attempt it!
Bring it on, Tomb Raider III!
Tomb Raider III begins millions of years ago in a time after the dinosaurs but before humans. A meteorite has plummeted to Earth and landed on the tropical island that would later become Antarctica. But before the paradise of sun and sand is frozen completely over, some early human Polynesians came to inhabit the land and they found the meteorite.
As stories of this nature usually go, the Polynesians found the meteorite and worshipped it. They did so because the rock had strange powers. They carved the meteorite into Four Meteoric Artifacts but this caused an overexposure to the powers, like the effects of radiation. The natives fled the island when one of the King’s children was born without a face, leaving the four artifacts beneath Antarctica’s surface. The artifacts were found thousands of years later by men aboard Charles Darwin’s HMS Beagle and then sold around the world: London, Nevada, India, and the South Pacific.
Enter present day and a mining company is drilling and excavating in Antarctica. It’s being headed by one Mark Willard who found a diary speaking of the artifacts and wants them for himself. He ends up finding Lara in India and obtaining her services to find the artifacts. Obviously for diabolical reasons because there’s never any other reason that people approach Lara Croft to find shit for them.
You think she’d learn.
After meeting with Willard, Lara travels to the South Pacific, Nevada, and London to find the artifacts. The story is a little batshit crazy in its details, so let’s just say all you need to know is that the artifacts are pretty much turning everything they touch to shit and a hell of a lot of people know about them and want them despite the above fact.
Like guys… it’s so fucking crazy! Take for example the London levels. Lara goes up against one Sophia Leigh, the head of a cosmetics company. She uses the artifact to perform sick experiments on humans as she searches for her own immortality and eternal youth. The experimental people are presumed dead and dumped in a sewer where Lara finds them very much alive and helps them in exchange for their help in return. Who thought of all this?!? Whatever happened to just the collection of artifacts that would open Atlantis and release a swarm of mutant monsters to kill the human race? Simple overall: not at all. Simple compared to this: you fucking betcha!
After collecting up the four artifacts, Lara heads to Antarctica to meet up with Willard. Because it’s Lara Croft and bad luck follows her like a devoted puppy, her helicopter crashes and she has to trek across the frozen wasteland to get to where she needs to be. While making this trek, Lara discovers some very disturbing things, the biggest being a mutated scientist who worked for Willard in the past.
Lara makes the comment that the scientist might as well be Brundlefly. So she’s a Cronenberg fan, huh? Or perhaps a Goldblum fan.
When Lara finally gets to Willard she confronts him right away. And Willard doesn’t disappoint with his villainous exposition. He originally got Lara on his side by saying he wanted to halt the mutations, but he actually wants the opposite of that and on a global scale. Lara isn’t a fan of the plan, but Willard steals the artifacts before she can do anything about it and runs off into the mines his company has dug.
Lara makes chase! She rides in dangerous, icy mine carts and goes mano-a-mano with legless mutant men and giant claw mutant men. Anyone else think these mutations are happening a lot faster now than they were in the prologue?
Buried deep in the ice and snow of Antarctica is the Lost City of Tinnos, and these ruins are where Lara ends up. She finds Willard, who has now used the power of the four artifacts to activate the even greater power of the meteor and has greatly speed up the evolutionary processes of the human body. With his own body. His choice of mutation? If it is a choice, I’m not sure if it’s ever said if you can control the mutations… Well by either his own choice or random chance, he’s turned into a giant spider-man!
Lara does what she does best here: fucks shit up!
She removes the artifacts from their holy positions, kills Spider-Willard, and escapes in a conveniently placed helicopter. She gets away in one piece and leaves Antarctica behind for good. I guess she’s just more of a heat person than a cold person.
Or, you know, doesn’t want to be turned into a giant spider. Either/Or.
So how do I like Tomb Raider III’s story compared to what’s come before?
I think I like it more than Tomb Raider II but it feels too similar to Tomb Raider to really leave any impression on me. The pacing seems off and the amount of different villains you face before fighting Willard are probably to blame for that. I think if it had focused on supernatural enemies instead of mutated human enemies there could have been a more cohesive feeling narrative. But as it stands now, I enjoyed this story of a meteorite mutation plot a lot more than a dagger that turns the possessor into a dragon, but didn’t enjoy it as much as searching for the lost city of Atlantis.
Our returning characters are Lara Croft and… no one. She killed so many people last game there’s no one to return!
And yes, she’s as big a sociopathic killer as she ever was in Tomb Raider III! Personally, I’m fine with that. What’s bothering me more and more as games pass is that there’s something up with her face. I don’t know what’s happening as these games evolve, but Lara’s in-game face is not holding up. The first Lara had some bags under her eyes. The second Lara had her eyebrows, like, tattooed on? They’re pretty sharply angled. The third Lara? I don’t even know what’s up with her other than she’s clearly deteriorating under the stress of tomb raiding!
Now, as far as the villain goes, Mark Willard is an interesting addition to the Tomb Raider archive of bad people trying to end the world. In a way, he’s a more organized Natla, since he sends out his underlings to do his bidding but actually lets them do what he sent them to do before revealing his evil plans. If you remember from my first retrospective, Natla sends Lara after one artifact and then sends someone else to kill her and collect the token instead of just, you know, waiting for Lara to hand the artifact over.
Willard learned from her mistake and kept his damn mouth shut as Lara did her thing!
And Lara does her thing as emotionless and efficiently as possible, breaking into museums when need be, ruthlessly slaughtering the CEO of a cosmetics company, killing Willard’s mutated scientists to put them out of their misery because, c’mon. Those guys just need to be killed for their own good.
Surprisingly, we’re still not getting much in the terms of characterization for Lara. In my first retrospective, I mentioned how there was someone working on the reboot who said in an interview that they always thought that Lara had a lot of characterization. But… where? The only time she ever speaks is to either make a smart-ass quip or to threaten someone’s life.
I guess threatening bodily harm at every turn is a character trait.
The gameplay of Tomb Raider III is a slightly tweaked version of the gameplay of Tomb Raider II. Which was, in turn, the slightly tweaked version of the gameplay of Tomb Raider. Lara Croft, depending on who you speak to, is either delicately aging or stuck in a state of arrested development. I’m personally neutral on it. I mean, Lara’s move set can only change so much between games where she’s doing the same thing.
Added last game, Lara could climb ladders, use flares, and drive vehicles. Here in game three she can do all that–and more! That’s right, and more! Now she can do a crouch stance, she can crawl on her hands and knees, swing on overhead bars, and sprint for short periods of time. There’s also a better balance between killing dudes and doing literally anything else. You actually get to put your guns away and solve puzzles or jump around! It’s still the same puzzles and jumps we’ve seen before, but they’re back in a more balanced puzzle-to-gunning proportion.
Other elements of the previous games are also proportioned differently here. Flares make a return because of the dynamic lighting, but this time around you don’t have an infinite amount. You have to pick them up just like you do for ammo for your non-pistol guns. The save system is also a balanced mix of the two games that came before it. You can save whenever you like as long as you have found at least one of the finite amount of save crystals that are stashed around each level. You find them, put them in your passport, then go into your passport to use the single save crystals. Offers an easier save system than Tomb Raider but a harder save system than Tomb Raider II. I’m sure people still found fault with it because videogame fans kind of suck a lot of the time.
Myself among them! There’s always something I can find to complain about so you better believe I found one here! What I absolutely hated seeing in this, the third entry of the series, were more dinosaurs.
Yup! That’s right! Dinosaurs make their third appearance in a series that’s only on their third game. The ratios just don’t add up. I mean, if there’s this many T-Rexes left on the Earth that Lara inhabits, why hasn’t anyone else ever found one?
To counteract the dinosaurs though, we get a mine cart riding sequence. Lara Croft is legit in a mine cart and I guess there’s really not that much to say about it. I just thoroughly enjoyed watching her jump in and zip around tracks!
I’m so very, very, very happy to see that Lara Croft has been put back in more (mostly) natural and ancient locations! Lara belongs in pyramids and jungles, climbing rubble that’s been deserted by ancient peoples for thousands of years, not running through a sunken cruise ship from the 1960s or navigating the waterways of Venice! Tomb Raider offered nothing but abandoned ruins, whereas Tomb Raider II offered mostly only industrial looking place and cities teeming with people. Tomb Raider III struck a balance between the two.
The running theme of this game is definitely working out the balance of the last two.
India is definitely my favourite of the locations. I just have such a great love for lush, tropical jungles and the huge, stone, forgotten monuments and buildings that may be hidden in them. It brings back the awe and mystery that the first game captured so perfectly in its hidden caverns and long abandoned ancient dwellings.
Like all Tomb Raider games (or at least the early ones), Tomb Raider III is hard as tits, but I’m okay with that (mostly) because the natural hazards of a jungle or a completely frozen continent are easy to fall prey to in real life, so dying to pitfalls like weak ice or quicksand in a videogame feels more… natural, for lack of a better word. You won’t feel great falling out of a tree and onto spikes, but you’ll feel better dying that way than trying to make a jump between chandeliers in Venice and plummeting to your death on a marble floor.
A note I feel I have to make about the setting of Tomb Raider III is that this is the last game until Legend to include the optional tutorial level inside of Lara’s country estate. Personally, I always liked this little touch. Found in the main menu of the games, these tutorials taught you how to make jumps, swim, and just make your gaming experience with Lara more pleasant overall (which means teaching you the walk button so you’re not constantly running off cliffs).
Plus, in games two and three, Lara’s butler follows you throughout your training. Why should you care? Because you can lure him into the walk-in freezer and then lock the door, trapping him inside! It’s a funny little touch, and besides, locking elderly men who live to serve you into walk-in freezers is a blast, I don’t care what you say!
Okay everyone, I have some shocking news. You may want to sit for this. Lara’s in-game boobs… are getting smaller.
It seems like with improved graphics of in-game gameplay, Miss Croft is getting more manageable boobs. Such a double-edge sword!
But I swear, all the graphical power must be going into Lara’s chest because eyes and mouths still don’t move in the in-game cutscenes. Just solid, stony faces on heads that move like cheap bobble heads because I guess that denotes life? Considering this is the third game of the series, and consequently three years further in the ever evolving hardware of videogames, I’m not pleased that nothing seems to be changing in terms of graphics. It was a major complaint at the time as well.
And for some reason, Lara’s face is getting worse and worse as the games go on. I think they tried to make her more human but they either didn’t have the tech or the skill to do it. So while there is clearly some sort of nose taking shape on her face from straight on, it’s not taking shape in a good way. At all. Whoever did her nose job should have been sued and had their plastic surgeons licence taken from their sloppy, unskilled hands!
Then there’s the very obvious fact that some pretty basic things are still just flat textures programmed into the game. While that might be charming by the first game’s standards, it’s getting to feel a little lazy here. The team was bigger than the last two titles, couldn’t they put one guy on maybe popping objects to give it all a bit more life? I think the cord going from an explosives plunger box is the most egregiously obvious flat texture. And I’m not overestimating how much the Playstation could do with this, it could do a fucking cord on the ground, okay!
Looking at other games of 1998 (Ocarina of Time, Crash Bandicoot 3, Metal Gear Solid, Spyro the Dragon, Sonic Adventure) and you’re left wondering why Lara seemed to be having so much trouble shaking up the flat textures and her quickly deteriorating facial structure.
Something nice I can say about the graphics in this game are that small touches were added here and there to give Lara more of a physical presence and a bigger role interacting with her environment. You can see her breath in the cold air of Antarctica, and in the desert level, she leaves tiny footprints in the sand! I have yet to get over the tiny footprints!
Guess who’s back to do the music once again? That’s right, my boy Nathan McCree! Nothing has been more consistent throughout these games than McCree’s soundtracks. Each track strikes the perfect mood for the scene that it’s in and I’m sad that this is the last entry that McCree has as the composer for a Tomb Raider game.
I think McCree does go out on a good note, and even a bit of an experiential note, at least as far as this soundtrack goes compared to his first two. Whereas the music in the first two games was sporadic and used to create a mood, be it an “oh fuck get out of the way” reaction to a sudden blare of dangerous sounding music, or the feeling of awe as a hymnal chant slowly fades in when you enter a long forgotten tomb, the music created moods.
The music of Tomb Raider III however is beginning to be a little more atmospheric and omnipresent. I’m not against atmospheric music in anyway, it’s just a shame to leave the strategically placed music cues for a more modern videogame feel. Mostly because the triggered music cues felt like a reward for your hard work exploring. And goddamn if I am going to die over and over again because cliff edges look the same as solid ground and supernatural abominations are taking pot shots at me, I want to be rewarded!
Tomb Raider III is an interesting beast. It’s an amalgamation of the first two games in nearly every way. The gameplay mixes exploration and running-and-gunning more equally, the save system is a save any time but only if you have found a save crystal with which to do it. It’s also the perfect combination of abilities to make Lara actually feel like a functioning human being. A lot of people hold Tomb Raider III up as the best of the original trilogy because of all these improvements.
I personally don’t think it holds a candle to the first Tomb Raider. It’s better than Tomb Raider II in terms of story and overall gameplay, but between game one and game three, I’m going to go for one every time. And that’s because these early Lara Croft games don’t go far enough to distinguish themselves from the game that came before. Slight graphical improvements, dynamic lighting, being able to crawl, it’s all good surface level stuff, but when the story follows almost the exact same route as previous entries, it’s kind of clear that surface level stuff is all you’re getting from Tomb Raider III.
Up next is Tomb Raider IV: Revelations in which all I ever played as a kid was a demo on a disc of demos that came with the official Playstation magazine. Will Lara break out of the tomb raiding related rut she’s been in for the last two games?