Lara Croft returns in Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft, an adventure game featuring 19 levels set throughout India, London, Nevada, the South Pacific, and Antarctica. In her travels, Lara Croft will come across and battle hordes of enemies including monkeys, snakes, and even dinosaurs. Lara can deal with these creatures thanks to a range of weaponry, including dual pistols, a shotgun, grenades, a rocket launcher, a harpoon gun, and flares.
Tomb Raider III reveals the heroine in four different outfits that change depending on her mission, ranging from her usual attire to a new cat suit and winter jacket. Over the course of the game, players will have the option to control vehicles such as a quad bike, a kayak, a cart, and an underwater propulsion unit. Levels are less linear in this adventure and feature a total of 59 secrets and a number of short cuts. To help you find all these things, Lara can now crawl, sprint, and perform monkey swings. The Croft mansion returns, with larger rooms, a shooting range and a personal gym.
Visually, the game takes advantage of 3D accelerator cards, allowing for advanced lighting and special effects as well as varied colors and textures. The aural experience has been changed and adds new walking and weapon effects. Keeping in the tradition of the series, however, the soundtrack is mostly silence with the occasional ambient tune.
First off, some added features of Tomb Raider 3: The levels are much larger with huge areas to explore. Snakes and darts are able to poison Lara, meaning she'll continue to lose life until a medipack is used. Quicksand will also suck Lara down to a watery grave if you don't watch your step.
Lara benefits from two new moves, crawling and dashing. These she can use to get into tight places and to give her a speed-burst in combat. Lara also has a larger arsenal that includes the trusty shotgun, a rocket launcher, a grenade launcher, the silly harpoons, an MP5, and Uzis, of course.
Now that the new stuff is out of the way, there's really no other way to describe Tomb Raider 3 other than to say it's an inferior game in an otherwise solid series. Although it looks and plays very similar to TR2, this newest installment has lost all its soul. It offers very little in terms of innovation or decent gameplay. I've tried to like it, forced myself to like it, but, for all intents and purposes, 40 monkeys and a game developing kit could've done a superior job.
The biggest problem in this game is that the designing team confused challenging gameplay with irritating gameplay. Trust me, you've seen this game before in a million inferior platformers. Lots o' instant death? Check. Falling off ledges and dying? Check. Trying to kill a boss while jumping around little islands in a fire pit? Check, check, and double check. The latter is (so far) the most pathetic example of game design.
True, the previous two titles had some of the same elements, but here's how they differ. Usually, instant death came about if you were trying to rush through an area and you did something stupid. In TR3, every step is a potential threat of instant death, no matter how careful you're trying to be. Falling off ledges in the previous two games usually meant you had to start the whole climbing thing over again with little or no loss of health. This time around, however, falling off a ledge means one of two things: 1) Death or 2) significant loss of health.
After playing through several levels of TR3, I got the feeling that I was fighting the game every step of the way. Most of the creative energy in this rushed-out game was put into new and interesting ways to die or get stuck. Unlike the previous two, this time there are plenty of false paths intended to mislead. Although this adds to the realism of the game, (archaelogists shouldn't expect to follow bright neon signs reading, "This way to treasure!") this really just makes every level an over-glorified maze.
In my book, implementing too many mazes in a game merely hides a weak game-designing mind. Traditionally, the Tomb Raider series was never about this nonsense. You knew more or less where to go and you could see where you wanted to go. The puzzle was how to get there, which usually made for some very interesting gameplay. You want more irritating gameplay? You got it.
The programmers have implemented new lighting and shading techniques which make the graphics dazzling, but the gameplay crap. This game is dark, folks. There's about twice as much darkenss as in the first two installments, and the flares last about half as long. Every single crucial item, switch, or path is shaded so heavily Lara could literally stand right next to it and you won't see it unless you light a flare. Maybe Lara should invest in a flashlight.
Just for the record, hiding things in obscurity instead of putting in some real creativity and effort in the game design is a big cop-out. Can you picture yourself enduring heavy eye-strain, searching every inch of every level with pathetically short-lived flares? If you can, you'll be wearing Coke-bottle lenses by the end of the third level. I guarantee it.
I've never been a big fan of the camera in any of the Tomb Raiders, but this one's by far the worst. Obstructions between Lara and the camera happen way too frequently and at inappropriate times. In one area, Lara has to outrun a boulder (in darkness, of course) and jump over a pit of spikes at the bottom of the hill. Naturally, the boulder is between Lara and the camera the whole time. And that ain't even the worst part. Not only does it select the absolute worst angle before a crucial jump, but also bugs in the programming make it jerk and shiver so violently you'll be getting migraines well into the next century.
Tomb Raider 3 isn't a game, it's a marketing concept. Rather, it's a thousand and one reasons why you should shell out twenty more of your hard-earned dollars on a strategy guide. I don't condone the use of such cheating devices, but this game is impossibly difficult without one. On top of that, add the Lara action figures, the shirts, the breakfast cereal, and the upcoming movie. Wait, didja hear that? That was the sound of all the Eidos fat cats laughing all the way to the bank.
Amid all of the darkness (pun intended) surrounding Tomb Raider 3, there are a few bright spots. Enemies either sneak up on Lara or are placed around dark corners providing for some Resident Evil style jump-out-of-your-underwear surprises. The levels look great when they are lit, and the textures are much-improved. After successfully completing the first mission, you can now choose which area Lara will explore next; London, Area 51, or the South Pacific. Choices are always good.
But, if you need more proof that Tomb Raider 3 sucks, check out the back of the CD box. "Lara Croft is our kind of action hero!" proclaims Rolling Stone. Uhhh, what? Last time I checked, RS reviewed music, not games. Plus this is the exact same comment that's on the back of the Tomb Raider Greatest Hits edition box. Fishing for praise anywhere you can find it, eh?
If you're fiending for some more Lara, and I mean absolutely jonesin'... then I guess you could pick this one up. For the other 99.9% of us, go play TR or TR2 again or even for the first time. Or better yet, forget about Lara Croft altogether. I know, I know, you'll be moping around the house for weeks humming "Hard Habit to Break" with visions of the buxom beauty in your head.
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