It’s time for Tomb Raider III, and you know you’re in for an fun ride when this is the main game screen. Lara Croft nonchalantly waving a pistol about, things burning in the background, a meteor plummeting to earth while the planet Mars (?) looks on; it makes the first two Tomb Raiders look like Sunday tea with Winston.
Of course, the screen makes more sense in context, which is why we get to watch this scene-setting FMV before arriving at the main menu:
Somewhere in space, a meteor / potato is seen spinning purposefully along its course towards Earth, burning up in the atmosphere as it draws near. Finally, it hits; prehistoric wildlife scatters and indifferent crocodiles watch on as the immediate area is engulfed in a storm of fire.
The viewer is introduced to Willard, seen here pretending to be an aeroplane (it’s been done, Willard). Willard is the reluctant leader of a team of apparent imbeciles pitched up somewhere in the middle of this snowy desert. He spends approximately 95% of his screen time whining and/or looking irritated. He’s like a Scottish Alister Fletcher.
Willard is dragged off to go and look at some big stone heads, similar in appearance to the Moai of Easter Island (and that’s my obligatory fact learnt from this Tomb Raider game). One of the bumbling fools nearly blows them up; luckily, he fails. Where did Willard get his staff from? Do Larson and Pierre run a recruitment agency now?
While failing to destroy the stone heads, the explosion does unearth this crude grave marker for some poor sod called Paul Caulfield. The discovery seems to cheer Willard up, anyway.
The FMV ends and we’re dropped into the afore mentioned main screen. To quote Lara (again), now it’s time for our third adventure…
First stop is the Indian Jungle, introduced here in this pleasant loading screen featuring some of the things you can hope to encounter (quagmires, temples, excessively noble-looking monkeys…). I’m glad they finally started including these screens in the PC version as well as the console one, it’s much more interesting than looking at a blank screen.
She can just slide down the slope to the bottom (taking care to jump over the odd spike pit), or she can do a little exploration on the way. This monkey sits atop a fallen tree that’s wedged between the walls of the narrow canyon.
Monkeys don’t attack Lara if she leaves them alone, but one bullet in their direction and they’re on her like a…well, this one looks like a small child pestering its mother for sweets, but you get the idea.
At the bottom of the slope, we find this monkey scampering around. As soon as it sees Lara it grabs a nearby medipack and runs off with it. I know you’re not supposed to shoot the monkeys, but they sure are pushing their luck…
No, the jungle has other ideas, i.e. almost instant death in this treacherous bog disguised as solid ground. I can empathise with Lara, having once stepped in a puddle disguised as a rock, although that ended in embarrassment and a wet foot rather than, you know, drowning. Still, same ballpark.
When I was ten I used to spend a lot of time (possibly hours) jumping through the canopy of leaves that separates most of the level from the sky above. Here’s a screenshot of that place. Not quite as exciting as I remember, but hey, I was an easily impressed child.
Have I mentioned how pretty this level is? It’s not something I remember the level for, so it was a pleasant surprise. I almost made this my desktop picture until I found something superior (see below).
Fabulous. Even more so than that snow leopard in Alaska…
Fade to black and…a cut-scene? First an FMV, now this. No wonder it’s taken me so long to write this post.
As Lara heads deeper into the jungle, she comes across a campsite. It’s silent except for the sound of Willard, angrily calling for someone called Tony, a call which is barely audible through a crackling radio.
With a final burst of static, the radio dies, prompting a delighted “whoo-hoo!” from within one of the tents. Lara addresses the sound with a slightly apprehensive “Hello?” and is rewarded with the emergence of Tony, a man who looks like he should be walking around with a surfboard under his arm.
There’s a brief exchange, in which we learn that Tony has jungle madness, Lara is looking for something called the Infada artefact (which resides in a nearby temple) and that a hapless duo called Randy and Rory were also camping here before they wandered off and got killed by a mudslide. (The whole team is probably another courtesy of Larson and Pierre Recruitment and Training Incorporated; hire a pair of catchily-named goons and get an mentally-unstable surfer for free!) We also learn that Lara gets really annoyed if you call something Voodoo and it isn’t.
The latter picture is my desktop background, by the way, because what better motivation is there than Lara Croft crossing her arms and looking disapprovingly at you? Update your blog more regularly, she seems to be saying. Start ordering Christmas presents. Do something with your degree. Isn’t that your third whiskey, and don’t you have work tomorrow? Hey, Lara, at least I’m not personally responsible for the decline of the Bengal tiger. Judgemental cow.
Uh, moving on…
Tony announces he’s leaving and tells Lara she’ll die if she doesn’t do the same. Lara stands in this uncomfortable-looking position as Tony runs off and jumps down a nearby ledge.
And so ends a good-looking, enjoyable and fairly tame first level. But Lara shouldn’t get too complacent; tigers and monkeys aren’t the only creatures lurking in the jungle…