I've already chronicled my thoughts on Tomb Raider 2. Quite recently I've had some cravings to go check out its successor again, and so I fired it up. How has it evolved? Will the future (i.e. “the now”) look kindly on it? Read on to learn all these things in part 1 of this retrospective! (turns out I have tons of material, so I'm turning it into a trilogy)
I'll chronicle my thoughts like last time, i.e. In bullet-point-form. For your convenience.
Here are some general observations:
The hidden trophy-room with stuff from previous games. The dagger! The sphere-thing from TR1!
You can exit the premises of the mansion this time, which you couldn't in Tomb Raider 2 (well, you could, by exploiting a bug). When you leave you, end up back in the main menu, which is a nice gag.
The rotating inventory is still a thing of beauty.
Flares are so much fun. Pop one, light a room. You can carry them, you can drop them. You can throw them down chasms and into water. If you pull out your weapons you automatically drop them.
The best thing about flares: The T-Rexes you encounter will run towards them. It's lovely.
I've wanted to buy some real flares to play with them for a long time. Turns out a single magnesium-flare costs about 10€, and lasts for ~2 minutes. But they can light a stadium, and they burn underwater.
Enough generalities. On to exploring and raiding tombs then:
The game drops you off in India, with no explanation whatsoever. Actually it drops you off "in the jungle". I'm not even sure "India" is mentioned at all. Tomb Raider 1 & 2 had much better introductions.
The very first scene is so ham-fisted, I will need multiple bullet-points to explain.
You start off at a giant slide, the probably largest in all of the Tomb Raider-games.
Right to the left, hidden under the bushes, in a small spot, is the shotgun. This is the only place to get it in the game.
You can reach it by jumping precisely (and I mean precisely) on the small spot where you won't slide down. This spot is hidden under leaves, and will require multiple attempts.
You'll never be able to figure out there's a hidden weapon under there unless you already know about it.
This. This is were you can get the shotgun. Can you see it?
This game is brutal, it insta-kills you often. It took me 12 tries to reach the bottom of this slide.
Spikes. 3 times. You can barely see them, and they kill you.
A monkey! Well, an evil monkey. It'll try to kill you.
The monkey has purple blood, a weird symptom the German release and concern about "violence". Surely the discolored blood will put parents at ease. Humans have purple blood too.
Down the slide are 2 hidden extras. To the left are ammo and a medpack, to the right is a Sims-like green octahedron-crystal. You can only reach one of these, and only if you prepare for it and jump all the way to the right/left.
The crystals are "save-tokens" in the Playstation-version. Collecting one gives the player the option to save once. In the PC you can save without restrictions. The crystals remain, but are now "insta-medpacks". They still feel weirdly out of place.
The levels are huge, and appear a lot larger. There are tons of spaces to explore, and ammo/flares/medpacks are hidden everywhere.
Every level in Tomb Raider 2 has 3 hidden dragon-statues, which are the "secrets". If you find all 3, you get a special item (like the grenade-launcher in level 1, which otherwise is only accesible after level ~12). In Tomb Raider 3 a level can have a variable number of secrets, which are just stuff. The aforementioned shotgun was a "secret", and things as mundane as medkits can be too.
Funnily enough, the next game to use this color-scheme was Far Cry 6 years later.
The game tells you in the statistics "found 3 of 5 secrets", but this is a lie. There often are more secrets than shown, which is partly due to the large levels and multiple pathways through them. A level with 5 secrets might have actually 9, but it isn't possible to get all of them in one attempt.
To advance from the bottom of the slide you have to press a button that's almost invisible against the wall behind it. I stuck around for an hour before consulting a guide during my first run back in the day.
You meet a mad explorer/mercenary in a cutscene at the end of the level. He closes a briefcase, then holds it by the wrong side, where there shouldn't be a handle. This always bugged me.
The game is split up into locations, and you can chose in which order to play. You start of in India. After that you can chose to go to Nevada, London or Pacific Islands. After those are completed, the game ends in Antarctica.
Tomb Raider 2 feels like the better game overall. The narrative is more gripping, the locales are fun and varied, and there are some good pay-offs. TR3 isn't as good, but still competent and fun.