The original - the best?
Tomb Raider's beauty lies in the level design - usually very simple, but giving off a very natural atmosphere, in places (most notably the Lost Valley) really giving the impression that people had lived and died there. Combat is more or less well executed, given the limited nature of the controls - Lara can jump and somersault around to effectively avoid oncoming foes. There are niggles (see below) but by and large it works well enough.
Graphically, the game has been left way behind by more modern games, but still exerts a particular charm. Somewhat humorously, the polygon count on Lara's most...ahem...prized assets is rather low, leaving the impression that Lara could spear her enemies by jumping on them with her breasts. Still, Lara as a whole still looks good, enemies (especially the T-Rex) look great and the backgrounds look natural. The textures don't look overly washed out, and the game looks great when using a DOS Glide wrapper like dgVoodoo.
The soundtrack is haunting and atmospheric, and the sound effects are crystal clear even by today's standards. The sparse nature of the sound, with the makers preferring to pass on using bombastic orchestral music, instead using subtle musical keys and effectively using sound effects to signal coming events, is in my opinion one of the most effective uses of sound ever in the history of gaming.
The game looks and sounds great, and the level design is unbeaten, so it's fine if you're just watching
the game. However, when you come to actually play it, you'll realise that the controls have been overtaken drastically in the years since. Lara is quite a pain to control at times, with her slow turns and sometimes lethargic reaction to the controls.
Tomb Raider is also a little repetitive at times, especially in the early levels, which rely heavily on a lot of searching for obscure items. While the level layouts are not hugely difficult to learn, a lot of the first four levels looks identical and it can be difficult to maintain your attention.
The Bottom Line
Tomb Raider 1, for its time, was an absolute marvel. The gameplay spawned a whole new genre of 3D platformers and still hasn't really been beaten today, even by its own sequels, especially more the most recent ones. Proof of this is Eidos' intention to release an "anniversary" edition of the game - updated graphics, sound and production values, but at heart the same old Lara.