I’m sorry, I only play for sport
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a part of the soundtrack, a gameplay mechanic, a line of dialogue, or anything else about the game that is particularly noteworthy and/or awesome.
This series will no doubt contain spoilers for the games being discussed, so keep that in mind if you plan on playing the game for the first time.
This entry is all about the original Tomb Raider. Feel free to share some of your own favorite things about the game in the comments!
T. Rex doesn’t want to be fed, he wants to hunt
One of my most memorable gaming moments was seeing the T. Rex in Tomb Raider for the first time. Keep in mind, this was actually the very first 3D video game world I was exposed to. So that, coupled with the fact that I was very young at the time, helped to make the T. Rex a very mind-blowing experience for me.
Here’s the scenario: As an eight-year-old exploring a three-dimensional cavern for the first time ever, pretty much everything in Tomb Raider seemed incredible to me. Running around, dodging traps, solving puzzles, and shooting at bats, wolves, and even frighteningly powerful bears, I was having an amazing time. Then I get to the Lost Valley, the third level in the game, and things take a surprising turn.
Lara climbs up a high wall and drops down into a curiously lush jungle environment, very different from the rocky caves I was used to. A bunch of skeletons litter the ground, and there are some rather large, bird-like footprints all over the place. What could have possibly made these prints? Suddenly, the sound of something large can be heard coming directly towards Lara, and out of nowhere a huge red creature shrieks and lunges at her.
It happened so fast that all I could think was, “What the heck is that thing?!” as I jumped around like crazy and desperately fired my pistols. Finally it died, and I was able to take a closer look at the corpse to find out, oh my god, it’s a freaking raptor! At that point, dinosaurs were definitely the last thing I expected to see in this game. From then on, I explored the jungle area very cautiously.
Soon after dispatching a couple more raptors, Lara approaches a broken bridge high above her. I was moving very slowly towards the bridge, looking up to try and see if there was anything up there, when suddenly the battle music started and the ground began to shake. I stopped dead in my tracks as an enormous T. Rex burst out of the shadows and quickly bounded towards Lara. My heart skipped a beat and I slammed the pause button and nearly fell off of the ottoman I was sitting on! A T. Rex? I have to fight a freaking T. Rex? How in the world?
After mentally preparing for several seconds, I got ready to attempt to take down the dinosaur and pressed the start button to resume playing. The T. Rex immediately ran up to Lara, grabbed her in its jaws, thrashed her about, and slammed her limp body onto the ground. Welp. That sure was fast. Eventually, I figured out an effective, if rather cheap, method of killing the big dino, but that moment of seeing it for the first time will forever remain one of my fondest memories in gaming.
The wrath of the gods
My favorite level in Tomb Raider would easily be St. Francis’ Folly. It’s the first level of the Greece section, and introduces lions, gorillas, and crocodiles into the mix of enemies. But what makes this level so fun and memorable is the extremely tall, enormous room which leads to four other rooms labeled Thor, Atlas, Neptune, and Damocles.
While it’s admittedly strange that they included the Norse god Thor and the Roman god Neptune in this Greek ruin (they later changed the names to Hephaestus and Poseidon in Tomb Raider: Anniversary), we’ll just look past that for now. These four rooms are some of the coolest areas of the game. They’re all themed around the mythological figures they’re named for, and they’re all quite deadly.
Thor’s room is decked out with a ball of electricity that shoots lightning bolts onto random floor tiles which Lara must carefully avoid, as well as a gigantic hammer which falls in an attempt to crush her if she wanders beneath it. Atlas’ room traps Lara in a narrow corridor with a deadly boulder, which is meant to symbolize the sky that Atlas held upon his shoulders. Neptune’s room has a frighteningly deep pool of water which sucks Lara down to the bottom and won’t let her back up until she finds a hidden lever. Finally, Damocles’ room is rigged with a bunch of huge swords dangling from the ceiling, which fall as Lara tries to leave and even home in on her a bit in an attempt to slice her up.
I always enjoyed the creativity that went into making this level. The traps based on mythological figures were a really neat idea and really well implemented, even if they mixed up some of their mythologies. It added a lot to the wonder of the game’s world, and even inspired me to research some Greek and Roman gods as a young kid to try and figure out what the names meant. Levels like this are what Tomb Raider is all about.
The temptation of the Sphinx
This one is a little specific. It’s more of a small ritual that I personally enjoy doing every time I play Tomb Raider, even though it’s probably not a part of everyone else’s experience with the game. But it’s also possible that I’m not the only person that does this!
Lara actually has two different kinds of jumps in Tomb Raider: a normal jump and a swan dive. The latter is basically just a fancy jump that’s probably only meant to be performed around water. Except Lara can do a swan dive anywhere, and one of my favorite things to do is take advantage of this and have her perform swan dives in some of the most ridiculous locations. Sure, she usually breaks her neck, but at least she looks damn good doing it!
When I first learned that Lara could do swan dives, I was pulling them off all over the place. I swan dived into every pool of water. I swan dived from the top of the waterfall in the Lost Valley. I even swan dived from the top of the really tall room in St. Francis’ Folly (Sorry, Lara!). Then Lara made her way to Egypt, and found herself in the Sanctuary of the Scion. Eventually, she exited into a big, open room with a gigantic Sphinx statue.
I took one look at the Sphinx, towering way above Lara’s head, and immediately thought, “I have to do a swan dive off that Sphinx.” I made that my primary goal as I navigated around the room in an attempt to climb on top of the huge statue’s head. Finally, I arrived at the top. I stood there for awhile, surveying the massive, open room around me and the ground far below. Then I pulled off the most glorious swan dive imaginable as Lara silently plummeted to her death in the sand at the Sphinx’s feet. It was awesome.
Now, whenever I replay Tomb Raider or Tomb Raider: Anniversary, I make it a ritual to perform a swan dive off the top of the Sphinx whenever I arrive at the Sanctuary of the Scion. I wonder if anyone else does the same thing…
Home sweet home
One of the best parts of any Tomb Raider game is getting to explore Lara Croft’s mansion. In many games in the series, including the first, the mansion acts as a tutorial level. It’s completely optional to play, and even the tutorial sections of the mansion are optional as well.
When Lara enters certain rooms, including a gym, a room with a tumbling mat, a room full of boxes, and a swimming pool, she’ll announce to the player all the different moves she can perform and which controls to use. The player can either follow her advice or choose to just keep moving and ignore her if they want, and continue to explore freely. It’s actually one of the best ways to include a non-intrusive tutorial that I can think of.
Unfortunately, there’s not too much to do in the first game’s mansion other than tutorials. The second game introduces a bunch of neat little secrets to discover, hidden rooms to find, and a crazy old butler to mess around with and lock in the freezer (he’s a hoot), all staples of Lara Croft’s awesome home. It’s still pretty neat to run around the mansion in the original game though too.
This may sound weird, but one of my favorite parts of Tomb Raider is actually one of the death animations. The Tomb Raider series is known for having some pretty gruesome deaths. Even in the first game, I sometimes felt really bad about dying because of Lara’s death animations and sound effects. Seeing her thrash about while drowning, hearing the horrible popping and squelching sounds when she falls onto spikes, and watching her get torn apart and tossed around by the T. Rex and the final boss… man, Lara had a rough time. But there’s one death animation that had me literally laugh out loud due to how absurd it is.
When Lara travels to Greece, she eventually finds herself in an area called Palace Midas. There’s a puzzle in this level wherein Lara must collect a few gold bars, except the only things to be found nearby are lead bars. Perhaps there is some way to turn the lead into gold? Those who are familiar with the story of King Midas know that he was said to have the power to turn anything into gold merely by touching it. And wouldn’t you know it, there just so happens to be a giant statue of King Midas in the palace, with one of his hands severed and lying on the ground.
Obviously, the key to solving the puzzle is to place the lead bars onto the statue’s broken hand, which then turns them to gold. But… does the hand turn other things to gold as well? Lara’s curiosity gets the better of her as she jumps up onto the hand and, lo and behold, her body parts slowly transform into solid gold as she dies a horrible, yet totally glamorous death.
I believe the first time I witnessed this death animation it was completely by accident. I walked into the room, saw the hand lying there, and thought, “I should jump on that hand!” The death that followed took me completely by surprise, but as I sat there looking dumbfounded at the continue screen, I slowly started to piece together what had happened. “Oh! King Midas, duh!” Afterwards, I had a really good laugh, and then promptly went back to the statue room to watch the death animation all over again.
Horror in hiding
Tomb Raider is one of those games where nobody seems to realize how terrifying and bizarre it is until they actually play it all the way through. It’s kind of like Ecco the Dolphin in this regard.
For the majority of the game, the locations and enemies remain relatively normal. Lara makes her way through caves and ruins, fighting against the sorts of enemies you might expect to find there, such as bats, wolves, bears, lions, and crocodiles. Occasionally, she’ll also encounter some unexpected things such as dinosaurs, but even those aren’t too disturbing.
But everything changes once Lara reaches the end of the Tomb of Tihocan. The entrance to the tomb is decorated with two statues of centaurs. They don’t actually do anything other than look intimidating, so she leaves to navigate the area to find a lever to open the door of the tomb. But as she begins to enter the tomb, the two statues unexpectedly spring to life and attack. And not only do they do that, but their stony exteriors crack open to reveal a truly grotesque sight of what looks like a skinless creature with muscle and bone clearly exposed to the elements. It’s horrible, and the first time I played this level it scared the crap out of me!
But the horror doesn’t stop there. After the Tomb of Tihocan, Lara makes her way into Egypt, and of course the place is crawling with mummies. But these aren’t ordinary mummies. You might expect mummies to be slow, lumbering, yet powerful monsters, but the mummies in Tomb Raider are anything but slow! These things freaking run and jump all over the place, making an awful shrieking sound the entire time as they’re thrashing at Lara. Their movements are so sudden that they somehow manage to startle me every single time I encounter one.
Finally, Lara discovers the lost civilization of Atlantis, which is not nearly as wondrous as you might expect. It’s actually pretty nightmarish. The place is crawling with creatures like the centaurs from before, with exposed muscle and bone. Not only that, but the walls, floors, and ceilings are all pulsating and throbbing like the entire place is alive, as if Lara is walking through some massive creature’s body. It’s extremely unsettling, and very far off from the relatively normal caves that began the whole adventure. And then there’s the final boss…
I’m fairly sure nobody expected to find something so grossly horrifying from a game like Tomb Raider, but I love how unpredictable it is.
Past Experience Points
Level 1: .01 – .20
.21: Katamari Damacy