Tell Lara I love her

The latest version of Tomb Raider has given game playing Matthew Valentine a sore wrist. What higher praise can there be for the programmers?

Computer game heroine Lara Croft has seen a level of exposure that must have surprised even the staff at Core Design, her creator. She has already been the star of two top-selling games, graced countless magazine covers, and is to be the star of a forthcoming movie. Legend has it that unscrupulous boffins have even posted faked nude pictures of her on the Internet. And her third computer adventure, Tomb Raider III – The Adventures of Lara Croft, will be in the shops in time for Christmas.

Lara’s adventures involve exploring the world, Indiana Jones-style, in search of ancient artefacts. She must overcome obstacles which range from sheer cliff faces to Italian mobsters, mythical beasts and aliens.

Earlier outings proved Lara has a tendency to wipe out endangered species – blasting tigers, bears, gorillas and panthers. To that list you can now add chimpanzees. In Tomb Raider III she is called upon to bump off several of the cute critters with her blazing pistols, along with snakes and what appears to be a giant incarnation of film character Edward Scissorhands.

There are changes to the now familiar format for her latest adventure. Aware that fans were not impressed by the lack of puzzle-solving in Tomb Raider II, Core has reintroduced these in force for the latest sequel. And Lara’s new ability to crawl down low passages and swing from ceilings means each level is now non-linear, allowing a variety of routes to be taken to reach the end. The player can choose which order to tackle the levels in.

But perhaps the most immediately obvious changes are in the quality of the graphics. The series has never been backward when it comes to visual quality, with each sequel improving in looks. Tomb Raider II saw Lara’s own shape, always pretty startling, become more rounded – in the original Tomb Raider certain of her attributes looked as if they could take your eye out – and Tomb Raider III continues the good work.

The games have always featured atmospheric underwater sequences. These reach a new level in the latest game. Lakes have a realistically liquid appearance, and feature graceful schools of silver fish which swoop around them. Only when you take a dip does it become apparent that they are hungry piranha, making it inadvisable to hang around admiring the programmer’s talent.

There is, though, far less of the well-scored music which accompanied the first two adventures. A test copy supplied by Core seemed keen to burst into song on several occasions, but managed only one note before stopping. In fact, sound quality was patchy throughout.

The game is hard, certainly harder than its prequels. This has got to be welcomed, as many games last only a matter of hours. Resident Evil 2, a big seller earlier this year, could be played through in an afternoon. If you bear in mind that, in Sony Playstation format, games retail for upwards of 40 this is a pain in the wallet. Tomb Raider III would appear to contain better mileage for the money.

Not that Core won’t be milking the sizeable udders of its cash cow. A range of Lara merchandise will be hitting the shops alongside the game, including clothing, luggage, watches, and even a life-sized Lara cardboard figure. Dreams of finding Lara in your stockings could come true this Christmas.

Tomb Raider III is released this week by Eidos and is priced at around 40

Latest articles