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‘Tomb Raider I’ for iOS game review

The original Tomb Raider game was a milestone in the world of gaming. You could say it singlehandedly created the third person action, adventure genre and made it what it is today. Even today, it remains a benchmark in terms of level design and masterfully combining action, platforming and puzzle solving elements all in one game.

Seventeen years after the original game debuted on the PC and consoles, Eidos (now Square Enix Inc) has ported the game over to iOS. The mobile version features the complete first game, along with the extra levels found in the 1998 re-release, Tomb Raider: Unfinished Business. Let’s see how good this port is.

Title
Tomb Raider I
Developer
SQUARE ENIX INC
Platform
iOS
Release Date
December 17, 2013
Content Reating
9+
Size
294MB
Price
$0.99

Gameplay

The original Tomb Raider needs little introduction to veteran gamers, but those of you who missed out on it back then, here’s a quick summary. Tomb Raider follows the story of British adventurer Lara Croft who is seeking a mysterious artifact called the Scion for a powerful businesswoman named Jacqueline Natla. As she follows the trail of this object, she learns there is more to it than she was led to believe, as is the case with the woman who hired her.

The gameplay is classic third person action adventure genre. Well, it is classic now but it was pretty new when the game originally released. You control Lara in a third person view and move around the environment, killing enemies, climbing ledges and solving puzzles. All this seems pretty mainstream now but was quite amazing back then. Play the game with that in mind and you’re blown away by just how good the gameplay still feels, even after all these years.

Tomb Raider has one of the most perfect balance of action, adventure and storytelling. The gameplay is genuinely entertaining from start to finish and the story is also quite good, filled with twists and turns. The game has stood the test of time remarkably well, which is a testament to just how good it is. In fact, Eidos remade the game a few years back with a new engine (from Legend) and some minor differences and called it Tomb Raider: Anniversary. If you feel the original is too old for your tastes, you should definitely give Anniversary a try (although the original is still highly recommended).

Now coming to the iOS port, this is where it all goes horribly, horribly wrong. The game was conceived when spotting a touchscreen was as rare as spotting the Helley’s Comet. Naturally, it does not lend itself well to touchscreen controls. The biggest problem here is that there is no control over the camera in the game. This means, you control Lara’s movement and the camera separately. There is one virtual D-pad on the left responsible for movement and direction simultaneously. This wasn’t that big a deal back in the day when camera control wasn’t available and not that much of a problem on a controller but it’s an absolute nightmare on a touchscreen.

If this was a simple game, this would again not be a problem. But Tomb Raider often needs precision movement or you’d be plummeting to your death. You need absolute control over your walking, running, jumping and shooting. If you can’t do that, you will just be frustrated with the game, and that is exactly what happens here.

Square Enix has done a ridiculously lazy job in porting the game over. The on-screen controls do no justice to the game and it just ends up being an exercise in frustration. They didn’t even bother updating the menus, instead going for the nostalgia factor, which would have been fine had it not been so difficult to control. This game absolutely screams for a controller and without one you’d be joining it in the screaming as you play the game and fall for the 89734218th time because the stupid controls did not work as you’d expect.

Graphics and Sound

I was curious to see how Tomb Raider would look on a modern device with several times the resolution and processing power of even the supercomputers of 1996. Surprisingly, the game looks quite decent. You can tell the textures have been updated to look decent on the insane resolution of the iPad’s Retina display. Admittedly, the polygon count is very low and there is not much that can be done there but overall the game does look quite decent. Only problem I had with the visuals was in the cutscenes, which are very low resolution and look pretty bad in comparison to the rest of the game.

Audio-wise, Tomb Raider is very basic. There is no background music in the game and the sound effects now seem quite dated. However, keeping the age of the game in mind, this is excusable.

Verdict

The original Tomb Raider is one of my all time favorite games. Unfortunately, the iOS port feels like a slap in the face of all the fans of the original. The controls, which are an essential part of the gameplay experience, are a mess and the game is nearly unplayable. Despite my desire to play through the game again, I couldn’t go far into this without wanting to throw the iPad out the window. If you are a fan of the original, just stay away from this. It’s not even worth the $1 asking price.

Rating: 3/10
Pros: The actual game is fantastic…
Cons: … but this port is terrible thanks to the controls

App Store

This game was reviewed on an iPad Air.

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