Tomb Raider III is generally considered ‘the hard one’ when ranking the classic Tomb Raider games. And boy it lives up to that reputation. This is a game that takes a sadistic delight in repeatedly kicking you in the crotch over and over. It feels as if the developers want you to fail, give up and never look at a Tomb Raider game again. And given the notorious stress and pressure that Core Design were placed under by Eidos that may not be fair from the truth.
For example, the game begins with you in front of a giant slope. Step forward and you’ll slide to your death on some spikes. Avoid them waiting for you are are boulder traps, many hidden spike traps, ravenous tigers, piranhas in the water – and this is just the first level.
Things only get tougher from here, a factor not helped by the level design that’s more non-linear than previous games. They are sprawling and complex places, requiring a lot of backtracking and trial and error to progress though. Let’s just that I am now fully desensitised to watching Lara die in an endless amount of painful ways. Plus, and this may just be a bug, the laser traps in Area 51 were essentially invisible.
But, despite having to resort to a walkthrough more than I’d have liked, I got through the game. It was touch and go at some points (those London levels…). Given that it was this hard on the Windows version where you can save whenever you like I have no idea how anyone ever finished the PSOne release which used the a consumable save crystal system.
Environmental design is also a bit iffy. The classic Tomb Raider block-based engine does a decent job of environments like the Nevada canyons, Area 51, the London tube and Antarctica. But the organic tropical levels like the Indian jungle and South Pacific island are a mess of textures as the technology simply isn’t there to create a believably tangled forest.
But despite all that, I had fun. By now I’ve totally mastered classic Lara’s control scheme – which fits the level design like a glove. Strictly grid-based movement governed by canned animations just isn’t done in action games anymore – but knowing exactly how far Lara can jump or what will happen if she steps on a surface means you feel confident and skilled getting about.
I’m looking forward to getting through to the next couple of games – but here’s hoping Tomb Raider III is the high mark in terms of difficulty!
Next up, this game’s mission pack: Tomb Raider: Lost Artifact.