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Why I Love... Tomb Raider

PSM3's Christian Donlan on his love for Lara Croft's (violent) approach to virtual tourism

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The save screen for the very first Tomb Raider was based around Lara Croft's passport. It was a brilliant little gimmick: you'd play through the campaign, moving from Peru to Greece to, um, Atlantis, and every time you stopped for the evening, you'd see fresh stamps piling up on the pages. It was a sign that the developers were already in on Tomb Raider's big secret - a sign they understood that sometimes people like me buy videogames because they want a holiday as well as an adventure.


Lara Croft didn't always take you to places you'd want to spend a real-life vacation in - I spent a great deal of time in Tomb Raider II stuck on a stricken ship at the bottom of the ocean, and there wasn't even a gift shop, let alone a duty free - but the games were always very clear that their connection to anything resembling real life was weak, at best.

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The world we actually live in may have provided many of the stops on the itinerary, but Tomb Raider's artists and level designers built their mysterious jungles, forgotten temples and secret hideouts any way they pleased. For me, the series' best games are marked out not by the trinkets you chase, but by the places the chase takes you.

The first instalment played things relatively safe in this respect, sticking to crumbling ruins and sandy wastes, thrusting you deep into the remnants of the ancient world where buildings were crude and not too taxing for contemporary hardware to render.

Tomb Raider II made things a lot more interesting, throwing modern settings - such as an oil rig and that shipwreck - into the adventuring mix along with Tibetan monasteries and magical vaults hidden beneath the Great Wall of China.

AROUND THE WORLD

By the time Tomb Raider III came around, things had started to get out of hand, and you were off to Area 51 in the middle of the Nevada desert. It was a sign of things to come. The story of Tomb Raider is the story of a series getting more and more extreme, as its developer struggled with a schedule that saw it turning out a massive, big-budget game every Christmas. It was obvious it couldn't last forever.

But it lasted longer than you might have expected - precisely because Tomb Raider isn't just offering a getaway from your own neighbourhood, it's offering a getaway from your own life, too. You travel the globe, and you do it in style, as a highly trained and independently wealthy gun-toting posho.

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I was still at University when I played the early Tomb Raider games, and I revelled in their promise of escape. In Lara Croft's world I was good with guns, I was quick-witted in a fix, and I could do a cool sideways flip that always saw me landing on my feet. In my world, by comparison, I was mired in student poverty, I owned a pushbike that was actually two different bikes welded together and sprayed gold, and when it came to savoir-faire and daring escapades, my greatest achievement was probably the time I got my tongue caught in a chain link fence and managed to free myself before anybody noticed. How could I not want to be Lara Croft?

Sure, she was a lady, and she had the kind of tight ponytail favoured by the dangerously repressed, but when she did things, people noticed. She counted for something in Tomb Raider, and so could I.

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