Home > Chronological Challenge > Chronological Challenge Reviews – Tomb Raider 4 / Spyro 2

Chronological Challenge Reviews – Tomb Raider 4 / Spyro 2

Time to sing the praises of some of the best games of 1999!

Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation
Publisher: Eidos Interactive | Developer: Core Design| Year: 1999
Original System: PlayStation
Played on: PS3 (original PS1 disc)

Goal: Find all the secrets and prevent the end of the world (which you caused, Lara, good job)

Actual Outcome: Obtained all the secrets and got to the final encounter…then the game glitched out and I couldn’t finish…but close enough!

Tomb Raider 4 is my favourite game in my favourite series.

I figured I might as well open with that, because anyone who follows me already knows my love for The Last Revelation, so keeping it a secret to egg you on to reading the full thing would be wrong. So, up front, this game is one of the best games ever made, in my opinion. But why?

After Tomb Raider 3, Core Design seemed to be very aware that merely building on the same game time and time again wasn’t going to be a useful strategy forever, so they largely went back to the drawing board. They studied what made the first game a runaway success – dark and moody tombs filled with enticing yet chilling atmosphere, tricky puzzles and confusing mazes of corridors to explore. They took this, along with various refinements from the sequels, pieced them together with a few new improvements, wrote the levels around a clear apocalyptic plot instead of forcing Area 51 into a story about Charles Darwin, and the end result was The Last Revelation.

In short, it’s all the good bits of the first three games mixed together, and it’s hard to turn that down.

Everything in this game is quintessentially Tomb Raider. The game is all about discovery and exploration, and with the game focused on one country (Egypt), everything feels like it fits together better than it did in the previous game, adding to the sense of wonder and intrigue that comes with delving into these musty crypts and ruins. Stumbling on tributes to Roman soldiers and Greek gods mixed in with the usual crowd of mummies and hieroglyphics, as well as excursions through modern environments, makes this feel like an Egypt with a history beyond the pharaohs. Core did an extensive amount of research for this game, and it shows.

Gameplay-wise, this is Tomb Raider with smoother and more responsive controls. Lara feels a lot more acrobatic and speedy than in her earlier titles, and the vehicles that pop up (a Jeep and a motorcycle and sidecar) aren’t a chore to control like, say, the kayak or UPV from the third game.

On top of that, the world feels more open and, almost, a little like Resident Evil in its structure. While typical Tomb Raider levels are present, some levels weave in and out of each other rather than simply follow one after another. The way the Alexandria levels play off each other is wonderful, with vast, interconnected levels requiring you to explore and find required items to progress further.

Puzzles also feel a lot more refined, with plenty of challenge in store here. In fact, the challenge on offer in The Last Revelation merely highlights the problem with TR3’s difficulty all the more – while TR3 was often punishing and occasionally unfair, TLR tests your mind. Whether it’s the age-old “measuring out specific amounts of liquid with two differently-sized containers” puzzle, or making use of a clockwork beetle to de-activate spike traps, TLR always lets you feel that you’ll find a solution eventually, and I’m always willing to praise that in my games.

Now, of course, this game is the greatest game ever made, so it can’t possibly have flaws, right? It does, actually, but it’s because I love what it does right so much, that I can’t help but feel disappointed when the flaws show up. Cairo, for example, is a multi-level flaw of far-too-dark locations that stretch the weaving structure to its breaking point, often tossing in annoying locust swarms or dragons (yes, really) just to annoy you. If this had been a single level, it perhaps wouldn’t have been as bad, but it goes on far too long and tests your patience, although Lara’s interactions with Egyptian soldiers battling the powers of Set do make for good entertainment.

Oh, and speaking of which, the series was four games in by this point, and they still seemingly couldn’t afford decent voice actors. After sounding like an angry schoolmistress for two games, she now sounds like a child again, and her friend and ally Jean-Yves has possibly the worst French accent ever heard in a piece of media (Amulet of Horus pronounced as “ham-yu-let of ‘oruzz”). Fortunately, this is an aspect that is fairly charming in a cheesy b-movie sort of way, so it’s easier to let slide.

Those things aside, The Last Revelation is a rather wonderful piece of work. It’s the perfect summary of Tomb Raider as a series, the new method for developing the storyline makes a more coherent experience all round, and the atmosphere is consistently spot-on. Best game of all time? I don’t know if I’d go that far, but ooh, it’s close.

Spyro 2: Gateway To Glimmer
Publisher: SCE/Universal | Developer: Insomniac Games | Year: 1999
Original System: PlayStation
Played on: PS3 (original PS1 disc)

Goal: See how far I can get in a single session

Actual Outcome: Played around in a few levels, can’t remember exact progress

Spyro the Dragon was a shining beacon of greatness in a market of 90s 3D platformers oversaturated with bland, forgettable mascots and broken camera systems. But as great as it was, there were flaws, and the call for a sequel which improved on its flaws was fairly prominent in the late 90s.

Enter Spyro 2, a game that shows exactly how you improve on a game without ever getting rid of the key things that made the first game what it was. This is a more confident Spyro, one that knew what made the first game great, but places it all in a livelier world with improved mechanics.

No longer is our dragon friend merely exploring vast expanses of land hoping to bump into a crystallised dragon, this time he is running errands for a wide array of characters, from guiding an alchemist through a maze of rock monsters to having trouble with a trolley, eh. The game feels a lot more vibrant as your purpose is constantly changing, and the mini-games on offer expand the gameplay variety rather than feeling shoehorned in.

It’s also nice to interact with characters who do more than offer somewhat patronising advice or lazily say “thank you for releasing me” before vanishing. We get to hear the woes of many different races throughout the world, and it is, of course, Spyro’s job to solve them all. As such, each level stands out on its own rather than feeling like another place to dig around for gems. The gems are still present, but they’re no longer the sole population, and it makes it a world more worthy of saving.

It also helps that the voice acting adds to this more active world, as it’s some of the best voice work of the time. The PS1 era was still a very experimental time when it came to voices, with every Metal Gear Solid having about twenty Resident Evils, so hiring actual talent like Insomniac did here stood out from a long way. With established cartoon actors like Tom Kenny and Gregg Berger on board, it’s another reason why this cast is so universally likeable. Unless you have trouble with the trolley, eh.

And yet, while the structure of the game changed dramatically, the core mechanics remain. Spyro’s abilities have been expanded rather than revised, the controls are as fluid as the first game, and gliding has improved with the addition of a hover mechanic. Not one thing that made the first game great is absent here, but almost every problem has been rectified.

In short, Spyro 2 is one of the greatest 3D platformers ever made. It’s fun, it’s vibrant, and it holds up today in so many ways. Just don’t have trouble with the trolley, eh?

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