Man, Tomb Raider III is a hard game! I was a very young, innocent raider when I first played Lara Croft’s third globe-trotting adventure, and I was in awe of its zany colours, its soundtrack, its storyline, its environments, its weapons… and Croft Manor! Never before had it looked so lush. But when I tried to scramble my way to the end of Jungle (that is, the very first level!) I quickly realised that it wasn’t a game I was going to complete easily… if at all.
I was only 11 at the time, and even though I’m a wee bit older than that now(!) it blows my mind to think that this classic Lara Croft title is 20 years old this week. 20 years! How did that happen?! Yes I’ve grown a bit since then, but I didn’t think that much time had passed. Happy birthday, Tomb Raider III!
Now, I’m fairly sure I’m in the majority when I say that I abused the game’s cheat codes in the early days. When I discovered that trying to reach the end of Jungle had eaten into a week of my life – and a terrifying week at that – I took to the internet to see if there was any way of experiencing the game’s storyline without having to go through the trauma of actually traversing the levels. And it turned out there was! And unlike Tomb Raider II, you could initiate this cheat by quickly pressing a complicated series of buttons, and zap, you were onto the cutscene – level done and done. Okay, it required some lightning finger-work at the start of Meteorite Cavern (which begins with an oversized arachnid on your case) but it was otherwise very doable. In the former game, you had to make Lara perform a strange set of athletic manoeuvres as part of the level-skip cheat, something that was impossible at the start of 40 Fathoms, for example, which began with Lara swimming on the ocean bed, being pursued by sharks! Aaaaarghhhh.
I should say, though, that as much as I enjoyed using the cheats to immerse myself in the gripping story of Tomb Raider III, I was genuinely keen to play the game through… It’s just that I was scared. But I finally resolved to undertake the challenge in my mid-teens (with a little help from Stella) and I opted to do so on the Sony PlayStation – by far the hardest way to experience Tomb Raider III, as the game grants you limited saves; you basically have to collect special crystals as you explore the environments, and store them for a wise deployment further down the line. However in the PC version you have unlimited saves and the aforementioned crystals simply give you a health boost. “Ahhhhh…!”
Anyway, my complete run-through of Tomb Raider III was going terribly well, and I raided my way through the labyrinths of India, Nevada and London before hitting the sun-kissed beaches of the South Pacific, pumped and ready to take on the army of dinosaurs that awaited me in the mysterious Crash Site.
And then, for some unknown reason, I hit a problem that even the grenade launcher couldn’t save me from – a corrupted save file. I don’t know how it occurred, or why; it had never happened to me before, or indeed since – only once in my life have I ever encountered a corrupted save, and that was during my first serious attempt at Tomb Raider III. It was heartbreaking. Suffice to say, I gave up – I abandoned mission. Lud’s Gate had been such a traumatic experience that I had no intention of revisiting that Roman sewer anytime soon, so with my head bowed in defeat – and with a glint in my eye – I left Lara Croft stranded in a corrupted save somewhere in the South Pacific’s Coastal Village. It wasn’t until much later – 2014 – that I finally rolled up my sleeves and vowed to Finish What I Started.
All of this might sound as if I’m branding Tomb Raider III a chore. I mean, yes, it kiiiiiind of is – it demands a lot of time, energy and perseverance, and at times it may push the very limits of your sanity. But like every Tomb Raider title, it’s incredibly rewarding. I’ve spoken in the past about the richness of ideas that are present in Tomb Raider Chronicles (Lara’s fifth outing) and Tomb Raider III is no exception. There aren’t many titles that pack so much art, adrenaline and adventure into one 800MB disc. Lara travels from the temple ruins of India to the flying saucers of Area 51; from the swirling mists of the South Pacific to the unlit chambers of the Natural History Museum. And to cap it all, Tomb Raider III boasts the most comprehensive and intriguing storyline of the series to date, meaning that just ‘level-skipping’ your way through the FMVs can be entertaining enough in its own right.
So, if you’ve never experienced Tomb Raider III and are curious to see what all the fuss is about, you should totally use the 20th anniversary as an excuse to pick up a copy. Be on the lookout for poison darts, invisible platforms and – ahem – corrupted saves, but so long as you hold your nerve, I can guarantee that you’re going to have a great ride.
Thanks for the memories, Lara.