Lara Croft is back in the adventure that made her famous. Sometimes, however, things should be left in tombs.
Tomb Raider iOS: On the plus side
With the hindsight of history, it’s hard to convey exactly how much of a big deal Lara Croft was back in the mid to late 1990s. She was a cultural icon, and while debate raged about her role as, variously, a feminist icon or a piece of polygonal eye candy, nothing stopped the Tomb Raider franchise, save for a number of sequels of lesser quality.
None of that takes away from the original game, which took the essential premise of games like Prince Of Persia and applied to what was, for its day, a lush 3D world to explore. So when Square Enix released the original Tomb Raider for iOS, I was all over it.
Yeah, that’s how you advertised games back in 1996.
Everything that stood out (pun not intended) about Tomb Raider is represented quite faithfully in the iOS port of Tomb Raider, right down to the circular menus and reliance on pinpoint accuracy in both jumps and puzzles. There’s little in the way of hand-holding in Tomb Raider, and if you’re not careful, Lara can and will cop it from the very first time she meets a flock of vampire bats.
The less said about the T-Rex, the better.
There are clever puzzles in Tomb Raider, along with a smattering of action, although that’s not really the game’s core strength. You do have to whip out Lara’s signature pistols to keep yourself safe, but this was never really a combat game.
There’s very little that’s really been tweaked here beyond the inclusion of on-screen controls, although this does mean that it’s a game that plays a little better on an iPad than on an iPhone or iPod Touch, as there’s a lot more room for you to actually see what you’re doing.
Tomb Raider iOS: On the minus side
The most obvious thing that could be said about any attempt to make a game that relies on so many inputs into a mobile game is that it’s likely that the touch controls won’t work very well. That’s not an entirely unfair appraisal, and it’s pretty clear that it should play quite differently with a physical controller. They’re becoming more common, but no mobile developer should assume that every gamer will have one.
The sad truth, however, is that controls aren’t the real problem with Tomb Raider.
It’s still a classic of its time, but the “of its time” bit is the crucial part there. Tomb Raider’s controls were always on the sluggish side, and to test this, I checked with the original Playstation code. It’s certainly easier to get around with a gamepad in your hands, but the same design decisions and limitations of its age are present there too.
You’ll fall and die because of weird camera spin, or because Lara can only auto-target enemies, and if she doesn’t, she frequently dies. You’ve got to be right beside switches and boxes to shift them around, otherwise Lara just stands there doing nothing (or perhaps being eaten by wolves) while you tap at the screen in frustration.
That’s Tomb Raider’s legacy, but what it means is that while it’s a fine part of gaming history, seventeen years on it’s sadly not that compelling beyond the nostalgia kick.
Tomb Raider iOS: Pricing
Tomb Raider is currently priced at 99c on the Australian iTunes store.
Tomb Raider iOS: Fat Duck verdict
I’m a retro gaming nut — I’m sure I’ve kept that a secret for long enough — and I’ve long advocated for people playing older games, both as a bit of a history lesson, but also because many older titles stand up beautifully as play experiences.
In fact, here’s a lengthy diatribe I wrote on that very subject over at Kotaku at the start of the year.
Tomb Raider sits in the category of being a historical cultural icon, but sadly the truth is that Lara’s tank-like commands just don’t provide a compelling gaming experience, especially when matched up with touchscreen controls.
The pricing is entirely fair if you’re curious, but if you’ve never played the original Tomb Raider before, be ready for a number of design quirks you might not think of as relevant. If you have played and loved the original, be ready to see just how much it’s aged.