Game Reviews

Tomb Raider I

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| Tomb Raider I
Tomb Raider I
| Tomb Raider I

Playing Tomb Raider I back to back with the recent console franchise reboot is a shocking experience.

It shows you how much adventure games have changed in the past 17 years, both graphically and structurally.

It also points out what weak, coddled gamers we've all become.

Imperfectly preserved

Tomb Raider I is brutal. The third-person adventure-platformer that started it all cares nothing for automatic checkpointing, margins for error on platforming tasks, or warning you of treacherous instant death scenarios.

That's not to say it actively dislikes you. It's just indifferent to your suffering. "Here's a sprawling, labyrinthine environment," it says, in a plummy female voice. "Go find your own way out of it."

This has two direct results. On the one hand, Tomb Raider I feels quite unlike anything else on iOS right now. On the other, it can be a clunky and frustrating pig of a game.

Ancient mechanisms

The most obvious difference from modern action-adventure games is one of control. Lara, our acrobatic upper class adventurer, doesn't subscribe to any of the systems or rules you might have learned over the past five years or so.

Jump to an elevated platform and Lara won't automatically grab hold of the edge. You have to time a button press for that. Each manoeuvre requires step-by-step planning and pixel-perfect alignment.

There's a dedicated button for holstering and un-holstering your weapons, too. It's completely unnecessary, but undeniably cool.

You'll also encounter dedicated controls for side-stepping, which also serve to gently steer Lara when she's running. At times it feels more like docking a space shuttle than directing a nimble gaming icon.

Bear with me

Unlike modern games, combat in Tomb Raider I is its least fleshed out element. Lara will automatically aim at opponents when they're in her line of sight, leaving you to take evasive action while hammering the 'shoot' button.

Indeed, that reflects the whole tone of Tomb Raider I. This is an adventure game in the truest sense, favouring exploration over racking up a vast headcount.

Most of the threats you'll face will come from wildlife - wolves, bats, and bears whose main tactic is to charge at you.

The bulk of your time will be spent negotiating blocky (but still frequently impressive) caverns and temples, trying to spot hidden doors and switches, and picking up the scant health packs littered around each level.

Uncontrolled nostalgia

The lack of hand-holding here is liberating, but those finicky controls, some punishingly exacting platform sections, and a few instant-deaths frustrate - especially if you've failed to save your progress.

All of this is exacerbated by a very modern control issue. Tomb Raider I doesn't play too well with touchscreens, as evidenced by the fact that its virtual controls seem to take up most of the screen on iPhone.

It's not too bad when you're taking your time to line up and execute a precise leap, but when a degree of haste or flexibility is required it can feel like you're playing while drunk. You know what you want Lara to do, but you can't quite make it happen.

We were fortunate enough to have the MOGA Ace Power control pad to hand, which made things considerably easier. But we'd guess that most people won't be playing in this way.

History lesson

Tomb Raider I is a truly interesting game to play, both as a pocket history lesson and as a standalone adventure game.

Lara's first game still manages to evoke those wonderful feelings of isolation and discovery that the series - and gaming as a whole - has lost in the years since its initial release.

But this former AAA gaming pin-up is no longer a game fit for a mainstream crowd raised on instant gratification and intuitive controls. It's too exacting, and it requires too much patience and dedication to master its blocky world and tame its wild controls.

Tomb Raider I

Lara's first adventure retains its capacity for wide-open wonder, but the idiosyncratic controls, punishing difficulty, and sparse environments won't appeal to a mainstream crowd the way they once did