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Video Game / Tomb Raider

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This page is for the first game in the Tomb Raider series. For the series as a whole, go here and for the 2013 reboot of the same title go here.
The game that started it all.

Natla: Feast your eyes on this, Lara. How does that make your wallet rumble?
Lara: I'm sorry. I only play for sport.

The first game in the Tomb Raider series was created by a team of just six people, and was released for Sega Saturn, PlayStation and PC (and Mac) in 1996. A heavily-altered recreation, taking place in the first Crystal Dynamics continuity, was released in 2007, known as Tomb Raider: Anniversary.

Lara Croft is hired by a wealthy businesswoman, Jacqueline Natla, to recover a piece of an artifact called the Scion, from the lost city of Vilcabamba. After Lara is inevitably betrayed by her employer, she races across the world to find the two other pieces of the Scion and prevent it from falling into Natla's hands. Along the way, Lara visits Peru, Greece, Egypt and a remnant of Atlantis.

The game received sizable critical acclaim (including a couple of "game of the year" awards), and established many of the tropes of the Action-Adventure genre. As a result of the amount of genre conventions it established, it is frequently cited as one of the most influential games of all time.


The game was made for Sega Saturn, PlayStation and PC, with ports to N-gage, Windows Pocket PC, and iOS.

The game contains examples of:

  • Advertising Campaigns: The U.S. ad was very strange, and a classic example of a Dada Ad: Over a desert setting, an announcer asks, "What makes you sweat? Is it passion? (brief shot of two people making love) Or is it just heat? (snake slithering) What about not knowing if the very next breath will be your last? (shot of man pounding on a locked door, presumably running out of oxygen) What about all three?" (cue gameplay footage)
  • Atlantis: From where the Scion and the Three Rulers originated. By the end of the game Lara visits one of the ruined, but still semi-functional outposts.
  • Ascended Glitch: The game features the "corner bug", which causes Lara to warp to the top of tall structures. The developers were aware of this, and placed a large medipack on top of a tall column in Palace Midas that can only be reached with the help of this bug. This also started a Running Gag of unreachable large medipacks that lasted for the first 3 games.
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  • A Winner Is You: The pyramid explodes, Lara sails away, a couple of seconds of credits rolling in silence, then back to the title screen.
  • Behind the Black: Pierre will shoot at Lara forever and take an infinite number of bullets, until he is offscreen, at which point he escapes. Sometimes he simply vanishes in mid-air after taking enough damage, or the player can choose to ignore him, and he will not spawn again for the rest of the level. This jarring behavior was even lampshaded in the remake during Pierre's cutscene, during which he screws with Lara by constantly teleporting around her (off-screen) as she vainly attempts to follow his voice.
  • Big "NO!": Said by Natla when Lara aims at the Scion.
  • Bigfoot, Sasquatch and Yeti: The first time we see Lara it's of her on the cover of a magazine where she has successfully hunted Bigfoot.
  • Block Puzzle: Many of them, the difficulty often exaggerated greatly due to the slow push-pull controls.
  • Body Horror: The Atlanteans, deformed human-like creatures with no skin on their bodies.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Natla defies this trope when her goons corner Lara and recover the stolen MacGuffin; she admires it for a second, then turns to her henchmen and lets out an impatient "Well? KILL HER!" Said henchmen neglect to shoot at Lara until after she makes a High-Dive Escape into the canyon below.
  • Boring, but Practical:
    • Lara's basic pistols are this, since they have infinite ammo and can be used whenever firing from a position that an enemy cannot reach her. Takes longer than using stronger weaponry, but saves a lot of ammo and medipaks.
    • The Shotgun actually becomes this for the battle against The Abomination in The Great Pyramid. While slower than the Uzis, it's massive damage at close range factors in heavily when you realize that the ledge Lara shares with the thing is pretty small and keeps her close to it...
  • Bottomless Magazines: Lara never runs out of rounds for her pistols.
  • Cave Behind the Falls: Lost Valley. A minor example later occurs in Natla's Mines, where a small waterfall obscures an entrance.
  • Characterization Marches On: Lara's personality resembles more of a cheeky girl-next-door type here.
  • Classic Video Game "Screw You"s:
    • One nasty lever in Atlantis does nothing but release a wall of lava onto Lara. There's no way to tell it apart from the other levers.
    • Previously in the same level, there's a puzzle that involves a room full of switches and eggs. Pulling the wrong switches will only release mutants to harass Lara. And then once Lara solves the puzzle, the game releases a mutant anyways.
  • Collapsing Lair: Taking Qualopec's piece of the Scion caused the tomb to collapse, prompting Lara to make a quick getaway. And once Lara shoots the Scion, the entire Atlantean pyramid begins to fall apart, opening up new paths and eventually exploding.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: In the Palace Midas statue room, climbing on top of the hand will turn Lara into gold. This is based on the story of Midas who gained the ability to turn anything he touched into gold.
  • Convection Schmonvection: One of the worst offenders in video game history, as it normally plays it totally straight, but at one point, in order to acquire a secret health pack, Lara actually has to crawl over a small lava flow to reach it.
  • Cowboy: One of Natla's henchmen, who wears stetson hat, carries revolvers and speaks with a thick Southern accent
  • Deep South: Larson speaks with an accent so cartoonish it's hard to take him seriously.
  • Direct Continuous Levels:
    • Individual levels do this, but chapters involve a transition to a different location. There's still a stats screen at the end of each level, but the transition otherwise appears smooth. This feature was kept in the remake.
    • Level filenames indicate that certain levels in the game, like the Lost Valley and the Tomb of Qualopec, were once part of a single large level before being split in two. This can also be noticed in the stamps that Lara obtains from each location; she won't gain a stamp for a location that was originally part of a larger level.
  • Down the Drain: The Cistern is arguably a subversion, being one of the more fun and interesting levels in the game. The surprisingly adequate swimming controls help.
  • Dummied Out: A surprisingly large amount of content was cut out or rearranged for the final game, including many animations. As stated below, the very first prototype known of the game depicts Lara with a braid and sunglasses in an unknown tomb with several animals, and armed with tools like an electronic map, grenades, and dynamite, which are not present at all in the final game. Level filenames indicate that an entire area, Level 9, was cut out (this would explain why you gain two passport stamps rather than one upon entering Natla's Mines). Finally, Atlantis was going to feature more enemies, including a skinless fish and an *Atlantean dinosaur*. Models for most of these still lurk within the game's prototypes.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Well, it is the first game. But it's different in many ways from its successors:
    • Graphics are much blockier and textures are extremely pixelated compared to even Tomb Raider II. Lara herself looks a bit awkward without her signature braid, which was removed due to engine limitations. The developers tried to model the braid, as seen in the earliest prototypes, but were ultimately unwilling to sacrifice level detail and performance. Likewise, Lara's shirt lacked the low cut that future games would use and her boots in the first game had red laces while later games made them tan. Lara's breasts in the original were triangular due to the limitations of the game engine. The sequels would have Lara's breasts look more proper.
    • Lara is limited to 4 weapons: Pistols, Shotgun, Magnums, and Uzis.
    • Lara's move set is limited. She cannot climb, sprint, crouch, flip in mid-air, or roll underwater.
    • Only a handful of human enemies, and they are all relevant to the plot (appear in cutscenes).
    • No outside areas at all, due to the engine limitations. Even places that should be outside, like Lost Valley and parts of the Colosseum, just have a black featureless sky (the Colosseum was supposed to feature this same black texture over parts of the ceiling, but a texture artist made a small mistake and mapped the wrong texture). In commentary for Tomb Raider: Anniversary, Toby Gard mentioned that he always wanted these areas to be outside with a blue sky.
    • The DOS version also removed the entire soundtrack and replaced it with level-specific ambiances; this didn't occur with any future game. Some unofficial patches can rectify this issue, and the mobile version allows toggling between the ambiances and the PS1 soundtrack.
    • This is the only game where Lara is voiced by Shelley Blond, and is actually the only time in the series where a voice actress only plays Lara for one game.
    • Lara's mansion is quite different here compared to the later installments. The music room has an exercise mat, which is not present in later iterations. Likewise, Lara's bedroom isn't accessible and there's no kitchen.
    • Flares didn't exist in the first game and dark areas were quite rare. The improved lighting system in the sequels gave flares a use for the really dark areas.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The opening cutscene, which in less than 60 seconds established Lara as a character. Players learn from it she's famous in-universe, doesn't care about money nor social convenances and is guided by nothing else than the thrill of adventure. She's barely visible in the cutscene, adding a mysterious aura to her image.
    • Directly followed with her acrobatics and swift fight with a pack of wolves in next cutscene, so everyone can rest assure she can take care for herself and get where and what she wants to.
  • Everything's Better with Dinosaurs: A famous example being the first encounter with a T.rex in the Lost Valley.
  • Excuse Plot: Natla sends Lara after a piece of the Scion, tries to off her afterwards, and Lara ends up hunting down the other two pieces out of spite long before the Evil Plan is revealed. The plot is so threadbare that it's obviously just there to tie together why Lara goes where she does for the next fantastical set-piece batch of stages.
  • Famed in Story: Lara is already a well known adventurer in her first game, having at the very least, hunted and subdued Bigfoot.
  • French Jerk: Pierre Dupont, who is smug, cowardish and obviously Would Hit a Girl. Surprisingly, his smugness is somewhat justified, as he manages to beat Lara to the second part of Scion.
    Pierre: A little late for the prize giving, non? Still, it's the taking part which counts!
  • Game-Breaking Bug: The infamous secret bug in the final level, where it is only possible to obtain a maximum of 2 out of 3 secrets even if you had got them all. This is due to the third and final secret of the level accidentally being defined as the second, and therefore only registers if you didn't get the actual second secret beforehand.
  • Grave Robbing: It's the only part of the series to truly earn the Tomb Raider title - no future installment was so focused on ancient burial sites.
  • Guns Akimbo: Lara uses two pistols and Uzi's at once.
  • Heartbeat Soundtrack: Further establishing Atlantis levels as womb ones.
  • Hell Is That Noise:
    • The creepy, raspy breathing of the mummies and Atlanteans, and, by extension, the horrible, high-pitched shrieks they emit when attacking Lara.
    • The deep groaning noises the Abomination makes.
    • The noises the various animals make - usually while offscreen and not yet attacking Lara - can be this thanks to their sudden nature.
      • If you wait long enough in areas with wolves in without startling them into attacking, they will get up and make this...odd growling sound that seems like it belongs more to a hyena or a jackal.
    • In the PC version the Atlantis levels are accompanied by a heartbeat sound effect, and muffled roaring sounds.
  • High-Dive Escape: Lara dives down a canyon to escape Natla and her henchmen.
  • Indy Escape: Occurs a few times with boulders, but the straightest example is in the Tomb of Qualopec, in which a boulder chases Lara down a narrow hallway. It's easy to outrun it if the player is aware of its existence.
  • Invisible Grid: The entire game world is based on a block system, most noticeably in areas like the Lost Valley. As such, Lara's movements are designed to follow the format: she will always run forward one square, roll forward one square, etc. The system was kept for the next 4 games, but it's most noticeable in TR1 due to its lower-quality textures.
  • Island Base: Doubles as Island of Mystery: The remnants of Atlantis lay hidden under a volcanic island, and Natla carries out her evolutional experiments there.
  • Jump Scare:
    • Whenever mummies or Atlanteans are involved, especially one particular corridor leading out of the panther room in the City of Khamoon...
    • The Tomb of Qualopec also has a raptor that likes to pop out from around a corner as you approach it.
  • Kubrick Stare: When Lara is pushed against the rock in the cinema after "Sanctuary of the Scion".
  • Lava Adds Awesome: One of the dominant elements of the Lost Island is a lot of flowing lava.
  • Living Statue: In the Tomb of Tihocan. Right as you enter the actual tomb itself, one of the statues springs to life, revealing itself as an Atlantean centar.
  • Lost World: You know from the name alone "The Lost Valley" might go strange, but then raptors show up out of the blue and things only get weirder from there.
  • MacGuffin Delivery Service: Lara, along with other Adventurer Archaeologists and Hired Guns, is sent on a search for remains of the Atlantean Scion. After she collects all three parts of it, she is instantly blindsided by Natla's henchmen and robbed of everything but her medpacks.
  • Marathon Level: Almost the entire game is built out of these, creating complex and elaborate labyrinths to traverse. There is nothing wrong in spending a hour per level, all while knowing them by heart. Levels that would be considered long even by the game's own standards include Palace Midas, Obelisk of Khamoon, Natla's Mines and Atlantis. Anniversary got a lot of flak for reducing a lot of levels down to their most iconic elements, removing everything else.
  • Mayincatec: The City of Vilcabamba is based on the real-life last outpost of the Inca. It contains a gold idol modelled on a Tumi, a ceremonial knife used in sacrifices.
  • Misidentified Weapons: The Uzis are actually Mac-10's.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Greece is simply the worst offender, with gorillas, lions, and crocodiles everywhere. The Colosseum tries to justify it by having the implication that they were brought there. Not to mention raptors and a T. Rex in a secluded valley in Peru.
  • Missing the Good Stuff: "Right, now I'd better take off these wet clothes!" Then the level ends.
  • Nintendo Hard: The game is simply unforgiving. It just throws players into the middle of the adventure. It's very easy to die and since it was the very fist game of the franchise, there were no veterans nor established cliches and tropes, as the game was Trope Codifier for the entire genre. And of course almost all levels are marathon ones.
  • No Flow in CGI: The reason Lara has no ponytail outside of FMVs. The earliest prototypes of the game featured a much higher-poly Lara, even including a ponytail, but this caused severe performance issues. Starting from Tomb Raider II, Lara's ponytail was included in-game.
  • No-Gear Level: Lara is ambushed as she exits the Egyptian tomb where she found the last piece of the Scion. Although she manages to best her captors, she loses all her weaponry, and thus needs to progress through the first part of Natla's Mines without her guns. It set a precedent for the rest of the series up until Underworld to have such a level Once per Episode.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: This game, along with the next four, has a low draw distance (this one much more so of course). Anything that's not loaded and/or near Lara is completely black. Right from the very first level, you'll encounter this - and you'll always have to go towards the darkness to see what's actually there. This is combined with the unnerving soundtrack to create a frightening experience.
  • Obvious Beta: Some think this is the Sega Saturn version (especially the European version). The game was always intended to be Multi-Platform, but Sega's contract mandated it as a timed-exclusive in PAL territories for over a month (reportedly three). As a result, development was rushed to meet the deadline and the original Saturn version was missing a few features, including the handstand animation and some areas. The later worldwide Saturn release is somewhat more polished by the addition of some save points, enemy rebalancing, and small adjustments to the level design to match the other versions (among minor things), but even Toby Gard stated that the PlayStation version was the better product. It's a pity - despite the muddier textures, awfully compressed audio and miscellaneous glitches, the improved draw distance and water ripple effects show that it had the potential to be remembered as the superior release.
  • One-Hit Kill: The final boss can kill Lara if it gets too close to her; it will pick her up by the leg and whip her around like a ragdoll.
  • Quirky Miniboss Squad: Natla's henchmen form one. It consists of Scary Black Man, Cowboy and a kid riding a skateboard while shooting uzis
  • Reality Has No Soundtrack: The PC version has no event music (although it came with a few unique ambient themes, all of which were reused in II and III in modified form), although later versions added the music back in.
  • Rule of Cool: So far this is the most escapist installment in the entire series, while also being fully aware how crazy the content of the game is. Dinosaurs in isolated valley, fighting animals in an abandoned colosseum, King Midas palace, mummies, centaurs, mutants, Atlantean ruins, skateboarder boss... Only maybe the expansion pack for Tomb Raider II is more "cool", but it's also strongly implied to be nothing else than a dream, while events of this game happened for sure in-universe.
    • Let's not forget about Lara herself, who is larger than life and goes through just plain weird adventures over the course of the game unscratched. Or doing it all for sport.
    • Commentary made by Toby Gard for Anniversary only pushed it further, explaining such details as mutants not throwing fireballs but explosive sacks of meat among the things lost due to low resolution.
  • Scary Black Man: One of Natla's henchmen who takes the Scion from Lara.
  • Scenery Porn: Upon release, the game was simply gorgeous, being one of the first games to utilise 3D environment in full extent and in the same provide "cinematic" feel due to third-person perspective. Some of the locations are still impressive, if not by sheer graphics, then their ingenious design.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: What Tihocan and Qualopec did to Natla as punishment for her betrayal.
  • Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You: One of the pieces of official artwork for the first game had Lara pointing her gun at the camera.
  • Short-Range Shotgun: While the range of the weapon itself isn't a problem, pellets spread pretty wide, so on any other distance than up close it's hard to hit moving targets.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Super Not-Drowning Skills: It's possible to flood the Cistern while Pierre is there. If you then swim down to him, he's just running around like he's not underwater. (And shooting you, which, since Lara has no underwater weapons in this game, means you're defenseless.)
  • Suspicious Videogame Generosity: At the end of the Sanctuary of the Scion, Lara ascends a spiraling series of ramps that seems to go on forever, and the game provides her a few Magnum clips on the way (as well as a save crystal). Picking up the item at the end opens the gate and 4 Atlanteans immediately converge on her.
  • Third-Person Seductress: Trope Maker. This is Lara Croft we're talking about.
  • Treacherous Quest Giver: Both Larson, who is sent as a messenger, and Natla. He's suppose to rob Lara after she collects Qualopec's piece of the Scion, while Natla continuously uses Miss Croft to get the whole artifact.
  • Trophy Room: There's one in the Croft Manor, where the relics you've found will be displayed.
  • Trope Codifier: Popularised a lot of the tropes used in 3D Action-Adventure games, and is likely the Trope Maker for some.
  • Unique Enemy: There are also only 3 bears in the entire game and one of them is fully optional, guarding a secret. Lara also runs into all of two panthers in Egypt.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Lara was used the whole time and even when she supposedly gained an upper hand, it was still part of the plan to get all three pieces of the Scion from her, without paying and probably leaving her body behind.
  • Updated Re-release: First a "Gold" version for PC, then ported to iOS in 2013 with some new features such as HD textures for most levels. Unfortunately the port is somewhat half-baked- the achievements are copied off of Anniversary's, and don't work properly, and HD textures don't exist for the latter 2 locations.
  • Womb Level: The Atlantis levels have walls of pulsating flesh and tissue mixed with tons of lava.

Tomb Raider was later re-released on PC as Tomb Raider: Gold, and contained four extra levels known as Unfinished Business. The first two detail a return to the locations visited previously in Egypt, while the second two are an extended ending to the original Tomb Raider story, where Lara must escape from the exploding pyramid. These new levels are also available on the iOS port.

Unfinished Business contains examples of:

  • A Winner Is You: A copy-pasted ending from the main game.
  • Death Trap: While obviously a staple of the Tomb Raider series, Unfinished Business contains a section where the player has three routes to take, two safe, one deadly. This death trap is very difficult to escape, and doing so is the key to obtaining a secret. In fact, developer commentary on this level, featured in the TR Level Editor manual, states that this was a deliberate, sadistic choice on the part of the designer. Well, he certainly did his job.
  • Dummied Out: Originally, the Atlantis levels came first, before the Egypt ones. This was revealed by the level designers, and is also evident in the way Lara slides down a slope in the beginning of Atlantean Stronghold (the same slope as the one at the end of The Great Pyramid).
  • Early Game Hell: Your main enemies in the first level are panthers, crocodiles, and the Atlantean monsters. You only have your pistols and later on, the shotgun. Health packs are also hard to find. The enemy types don't change as you progress to later levels, but supplies start to become slightly more abundant to ease the sting of the level designs.
  • It's All Upstairs from Here: Atlantean Stronghold: You start at the top, plummet to the bottom, then spend the rest of the level climbing back to the you can fall all the way down to the bottom again to reach the exit.
  • Living Statue: The cat statues can turn into panthers. This trait would later become a staple of the Gold expansion games.
  • Expansion Pack: Contains several new levels with difficult challenges.
  • Marathon Level: Pretty much all of them from start to finish, taking roughly half an hour for each level.
  • Nintendo Hard: Much harder than the main game due to the high abundance of death traps and enemy placement. Health and ammo pickups are also more scarce.
  • One-Hit Kill: Some of the levels have certain floors that will kill you instantly if you land or step on them and almost none of them have any indication that they're dangerous. One notable case is in the first level right by the exit. If you try to go past the exit, Lara is promptly killed if you stand on a certain sand tile. Another level has a trap that, when activated, turns the ground beneath you into a slope, which then has you sliding down into a pit where Lara dies on the spot and it's not from fall damage.
  • Schmuck Bait: The majority of item pickups and switches will trigger enemy spawns on you. Two notable cases are in the Atlantean Stronghold level: two switches are next to each other. One switch opens a door while the other spawns four monsters in the room next to you. Another switch opens a door containing two shotgun ammo pickups, but a monster will spawn in the room as soon as you approach the door.
  • Soft Water: Happens very often, right from the very beginning of the first level, but also contains the most ridiculous example yet. At the end of Atlantean Stronghold, Lara needs to line up a precision jump into one of the grooves in the building on the ground. The "groove" turns out to be a vertical shaft spanning at least ten floors (judging by texture changes) and is long enough that some versions of the game actually crash while Lara falls. Of course, at the bottom is a pool of water.

Alternative Title(s): Tomb Raider I, Tomb Raider 1996


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