So many of my gaming memories revolve around the original Sony PlayStation. I’d had a few consoles before but that console solidified my affinity for video games. The early days of 3D were truly exciting, that extra dimension inspired a level of exploration that was mostly unheard of.
As a child my hands would fidget on the controller and I’d have butterflies at the mere thought that there were uncharted lands and I was going to find them. And this was a time where games were incredibly linear, so you could only imagine what I was like when open world games started surfacing. I was bouncing off the walls as if Robin Williams himself had patted me on the tush with a moist hand of Flubber.
I’ll be the first to admit that the early days of 3D games were rough. Boy, they were rough. The ugliest textures wrapped around the crudest models made every game look like a poor man’s Picasso.
Taking on a third dimension also meant developers had another problem. The camera. We weren’t blessed with analogue sticks yet, L1 and R1 would be the tools we’d use to scan the world. As the camera slowly turned the environment would writhe and shake as if it were alive. It also meant characters would move with the grace of a Dalek, every move had to be a deliberate one. Platforming was an utter nightmare but we didn’t know any better.
So along comes Tomb Raider (1996). A third-person action game with a hot, polygonal British lady. This was a game for little Darren. It had guns, secrets, puzzle ridden temples, and dinosaurs! I couldn’t wait to jump in.
Little did I realise, this would be the first horror game I’d ever play.
I’m sorry, Lara, this is the only angle I could get!
This wasn’t quite the tomb raiding experience I thought it would be. I was absolutely terrified to move through the levels using those clunky controls. The game turned into a trial and error experience where checkpoints were few and far in between, and the awkward camera angles made avoiding traps and timing jumps nerve-wracking. One wrong move meant you’d be treated with a graphic death, watching this poor, enthusiastic woman get mutilated. I would often linger and explore the sections I’d cleared purely because I was too scared to move on.
The game had a very limited sound bank too. There were no ambient sounds, at least to my memory, and the only thing you’d hear would be the crunchy audio of Lara’s grunts and footsteps. You also wouldn’t know a beast was lurking in an area until it was already snarling and biting your face off. The lack of sound built up suspense and genuinely made me jump when I heard something. Even cycling through the inventory felt ominous!
Remember this A-hole?
Combat mainly consisted of having to watch Miss Croft flail around firing her pistols. The camera would stay locked on her and often I had her backed up against a wall. The only way I knew I killed an enemy was that I didn’t die once I stopped firing. If the camera did decide to get involved it would also flail around, throwing off your orientation, it might as well have flipped upside down for all it mattered.
The game hated me and I hated it, but for all the struggle and tug of war controls I couldn’t stop playing. The game scared the life out of me but it was a hurdle I wanted to overcome. Did I complete it? I can’t remember.
So I know what you’ve been thinking. You’ve probably said it out loud a few times. There is a level in Tomb Raider II that is the scariest of them all.
Why? Well it’s not because there are tormented spectres lurking in the halls or stone gargoyles watching over the estate. There’s none of that. You already know what it is. It’s the eternal chase of The Butler.
Without a doubt, most of my time with Tomb Raider II was spent in Croft Manor. It was a true sandbox with plenty of activities to do, some made by the developers and some you made up yourself.
4ft 5in of pure evil.
My favourite game to play was hide and seek with The Butler. I would run, climb and swim to great lengths to get away from him, but he would always find me. It was like the original Slender man. If you were well acquainted with the grounds you’d navigate your way to the kitchen and bait the old bastard into the freezer.
You would sit and wait, listening for the groans and rattling tea tray. Slowly but surely he would emerge from the corner, tired and clinging to life. He only wants to give me tea but I have other plans. He edges closer, and closer, he’s almost there. He’s getting close I swear. Here he comes. Bam! Ninja flip over the top and lock the old fool in. Some say he’s still in there to this day.
Wrap up warm, Gramps!
Even if you took The Butler out of it, Croft Manor really had a presence of its own. The cold, high contrast textures and the static, open spaces all contributed to a level that felt really spooky to explore.
If you’ve played the first three Tomb Raiders then we’ve probably just shared some very fond memories. If you haven’t, then I’m afraid that it’ll be lost on you. Nostalgia prevails! Could you go back and play them? God no.
Could I? I wouldn’t want to. It’s too spoopy.