Tomb Raider 3

Posted on January 13, 2024 by Richard Goulter

I just finished re-playing Tomb Raider 3.

I’d played it many years ago, but almost certainly with cheats, as well as closely following a walkthrough.

This time, I didn’t lean so hard on the walkthrough, and at least gave an honest try through most areas before looking up the walkthrough.

Overall, I think I can stand by my opinion that Tomb Raider 2 is the better game. TR2’s challenging levels at the end are demanding but not over the top. It’s satisfying to complete the TR2 levels.

I rate TR3 a bit lower since at its worst it’s more obnoxious and less fun than the bad bits of TR2.

Overall, the stuff I found really-not-fun was where the game is unreasonably difficult.

To give a couple of examples of where TR3 was really-not-fun:

“Getting stuck” is part of a good adventure game. – In an action game, the obstacles you have to overcome are the enemies you face. In adventure games, you have to figure out how the level you’re exploring “works” (where you’re allowed to go, what ‘locked doors’ are preventing you from reaching other places, how you might get the keys for these), and work your way through the puzzles.

But, whereas, say, I recall in the TR2 level “Living Quarters” when I was stuck.. the area I was stuck in was limited enough that by re-treading all the locations, I was able to find which places I had overlooked. The same is true for many parts of TR3’s levels.

In terms of what the game does well? Kinda the opposite: being challenging enough that you feel good for solving it, but still being easy enough to solve. Some examples of what I liked:

Any long-running series is going to have an identity.. things which work with that identity or things which maybe didn’t work so well.

Tomb Raider was the definitive action adventure game of the 90’s, with its gameplay built upon its tank-controls and its grid system, with all sorts of platforming, exploration, puzzles, traps, and combat.
Of these, the combat of the classic games is what feels most archaic. Tank controls are unpopular in the era of twin-stick controllers and WASD+mouse gameplay. And while removing all friction/difficulty from games would ruin the fun.. that the classic Tomb Raider games don’t allow Lara to strafe-around a target she’s locked onto feels limited. – For me, a lot of the combat involved flipping around to get behind where the enemy is. Strafing would make that much easier, and wouldn’t feel out of place.

That said.. the combat itself was never quite the strongest part of Tomb Raider’s gameplay. It provides good pushback so that there’s tangible benefits for exploring: you explore and you find ammo for the good weapons you have, so then you can use the good weapons and take care of enemies easily. And it keeps you on your toes: you’ve gotta be prepared to fight an enemy when you enter a new area (or re-enter an area after solving a puzzle!).
The recent and related-only-in-name Tomb Raider games opted for third person combat … but also lacks an identity. I think the combat in the classic Tomb Raider games at least fits with the rest of the game’s over-the-top acrobatics. I don’t think the classic games’ combat is inherently boring; but I think an extra feature or two could go a long way to making it more dynamic. (e.g. like how Halo at least has energy weapons vs bullet weapons, or how Doom 2016 has the idea of getting health/ammo from enemies directly).

Tomb Raider 3’s Story?
I’d say it doesn’t do much, but that it doesn’t need to do much.
Lara’s exploring for some artifacts. Gets told that there’s more/similar artifacts. Surprise twist that the guy asking her to collect the artifacts has turned crazy. Boss fight. The end.
The game does feature some cutscenes with dialogue, otherwise it’d maybe be a bit too bland.
I guess the story archetype to compare to is Indiana Jones.. “hey, there’s this powerful mystical artefact; let’s find it, and stop the bad guys from finding it”.
The recent big budget games with the title “Tomb Raider” have put much more emphasis on the story (although notably without having such a kickass Lara Croft).. but, focused on drama and relatability, that just didn’t seem all that interesting. – In contrast, I think TR3’s story is simple.
I’m not sure what it’d take to make such a game story “good”. Interesting lore? Compelling villains? Compelling side characters? Stories which really drive the setting? Interesting settings?

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