The very first Tomb Raider was released back in October of 1996 and my love affair with Lara Croft began soon after. Over the years I’ve played as Lara through multiple timelines spanning three different eras, but you always remember your first. Nothing compares to Lara’s Original Era, with Tomb Raider 2 being the highlight.
I know what you’re thinking. “Are you sure? What about the terrible graphics? The bad collision detection? The weird mutant with no legs?” I am aware of all these things and yet none of them bother me at all. I am a fully paid-up member of the triangle boob Lara fan club and the reason is simple. The original Tomb Raider era has absolutely everything I’m looking for in an action-adventure game.
The most important ingredient is a good protagonist, and Lara is one of the best. She’s smart, sexy, determined, good with a pair of pistols, and knows what she wants. She has an adventurous spirit and she never gives up. She can keep herself safe, outsmart those who come for her, and solve any puzzles in her way. Lara is quite simply a kick-ass heroine and this straightforward and sassy version of her is still one I love to play as. I don’t need to worry about my companions, hunt for the right kind of weapon, or learn about optimization. I can just grab my pistols and backpack then go. I’m here to kick ass and raid tombs, and I’m all outta tombs.
Except I’m not, because the early games have tombs in spades. They also have some other cool locations. There’s a haunted island in Ireland, home to a possessed demon, and an old Opera House being used as a hideaway for a cult. There are tombs in Peru, Greece, Egypt, and China. Lara also explores sunken wrecks, lost ancient cities, and an underground sewer, and the home of a man named Bob - surely the most random name ever for the leader of a cult called The Damned? Along the way she also fights mercenaries, mutants, a yeti, and even some dinosaurs. What more could you ask for?
Lara is constantly searching for mysterious and powerful artifacts and her adventures are always crammed with ridiculous circumstances that I can’t help but fall in love with. Want to see Lara escape a cell because it has a handy lever /inside/ that opens the door? How about sneaking through Area 51 to find an alien autopsy, a UFO, and some random Orcas? Then there are the dinosaurs we mentioned. They appear on more than one occasion and yet are never really explained. Still, who needs a reason when things are this much fun?
When you look at early Lara Croft she’s a hot mess. She has triangular boobs, legs that sometimes bend in the wrong direction, and an outfit that surely offered no protection from all those friction burns she no doubt got on her adventures. Her pistols are only vaguely gun-shaped and she starts out her journey by fighting a tiger that’s only identifiable because it’s orange with an odd black marking. On the surface, everything is wrong with these games, yet somehow it’s also exactly right.
A sassy heroine, exotic locations, high-adrenaline adventures, numerous outfit changes, treacherous betrayals, near-death experiences, crumbling temples, and powerful artifacts. Tomb Raider 2 in particular has all of these as well as one of the highlights of the entire franchise, the assault course in Croft Manor.
Yes, you heard me, and don’t tell me you don’t remember. When you open up Tomb Raider 2 you can scroll around that simple circular menu and select Croft Manor to experience it for yourself. Thrown into Lara’s ridiculously large family mansion you’ll soon find an assault course in her garden. Here you can climb walls, scale nets, jump across gaps, slide down ramps, swim through a tunnel, and even have a go on a zipline - it was even recreated for the Angelina Jolie-led Lara Croft: Tomb Raider movie.
I know this sounds silly to those who’ve never played Tomb Raider 2 or 3, but if you ask anyone who has, I can guarantee that they will tell you that they absolutely loved it. We all did. None of us really understand why but that frustrating series of random low-res obstacles was our nemesis and we adored the fight. We also loved to lock Winston in the freezer - but we don’t talk about that.
Over time, Lara Croft has changed. She’s now shinier and more realistic looking, with friends to keep her company and get themselves kidnapped so she has to go and find them. She cares about resting at campfires and upgrading her weapons. I, however, do not. Yes, I’ve played the newer games, and yes I’ve enjoyed them - mostly - but they’ll never compare to the absolute chaos of the Original Era, and that’s why it will always remain my favourite.
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