Move over, Resident Evil. The new benchmark for 32-bit 3-D gaming is here. Tomb Raider combines slick graphics with a fantastically agile character and an excellent story, offering proof that the 32-bitters can hold their own with the Nintendo 64 and its plumber juggernaut.
The most striking thing about Tomb Raider is its 3-D environment. Players will explore immense caverns, often bigger than the worlds in Mario 64 (with fewer polygons, but polygons don't guarantee greatness), and zero delay after the initial load. While Tomb Raider may not be as clean as the 64-bit Mario, it is very impressive nonetheless. What's more, it has a compelling storyline and a great Indiana Jones-style heroine, resulting in a much more interesting atmosphere. Fans of Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat, and their gothic ilk may actually prefer Tomb Raider to Super Mario 64.
As Lara, players walk, run, jump, dive, swim, roll, hurtle, shoot, and dodge their way through temples of doom, unveiling a mystery that seems to lead to a sunken continent. Gameplay favors puzzle solving and skillful maneuvering (making the right jump, finding the right key, searching every corner of a cave) over shooting and conflict, making Tomb Raider is more like the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark than its finale. Nonetheless, it's completely mesmerizing. Tomb Raider instantly sucks players in with Laura's deft movements and death-defying jumps. (Be sure to bring along a hintbook or FAQ). In addition, by restricting forward movement to 12 o'clock on the gamepad, rather than allowing control to shift with the camera angle, the game lends its protagonist the capacity to actually walk in a straight line.
Of course, Tomb Raider is not perfect. The animals seem to be on a polygon fast. Also, some of the problematic camera angles familiar to players of Super Mario 64 occur here as well. They have a smaller impact on gameplay here, however, because of the game's emphasis on puzzles over action.
Tomb Raider is simply a smart game, bursting with great touches. In the training level, Lara takes players through her house, into her gym, and tutors them on the skills they'll need to stay alive. Fortunately, the complicated maneuvers can be learned in moments. This is the first 32-bit game to compete with Nintendo 64's polygon arsenal, and it handles itself very well. If there are more Playstation and Saturn releases like this one, Lara and her followers might very well be uncovering Nintendo 64s along with the other artifacts in Tomb Raider 5.