After jittery rumors, false cancellations and surprise showings at various game shows, Lara Croft has finally hit Pocket PC in one of Eidos’ first efforts to take the Pocket PC as a serious gaming platform. Relying on ideaworks 3D (the crew that brought you Rebound), the original Tomb Raider adventure is brought to the Pocket PC virtually unchanged; save for a few facelifts to the gaming interface. All in all, the 3D third person action adventure that took the world by storm in 1996 surfaces unscathed on the Pocket PC.
How is this possible? Recall that the original Tomb Raider had little reliance on hardware acceleration. So ATI’s graphics processor for Toshiba, the new XScale Intel processors in Pocket PCs and the proposed MMX instruction chipsets will have little to do in improving the performance of Tomb Raider. That doesn’t mean the developers had a cakewalk in transferring one of the first fully 3D worlds to handheld format. The framerate is hardly as smooth as it could be. Tomb Raider may look great in the screenshots but there’s significant lag in the camera, particularly when you move it laterally from side to side. Running straight in and out of environs, on the other hand, results in less of a framerate drop. Furthermore, using faster processors, like the XScale (400mhz) ones didn’t really result in a doubling in performance. That’s not exactly news to irate owners of the new devices.
Notwithstanding the sluggish framerate, the actual game is here in its entirety. The dinosaur scene, the waterfalls and eerie caverns are all well preserved from the source material. While the texture quality is less than fair, you can’t complain much. The original Tomb Raider, by today’s standards, was never a looker. Its trademark characteristics, like jagged rocky outcroppings and boxy polygon designs, are still here. In some sense, it’s a bit charming because Tomb Raider’s engine changed very little beyond the first game, save for cosmetic dress-ups. And Lara certainly does not look as voluptuous and attractive as her more recent outings.
Yet Tomb Raider still has that magic of adventure and sense of wonder. The cutscenes found in the original CD-ROM version are all removed. Still pictures have replaced them but the general story continues to move along the same arc. Some people continue to claim the first Tomb Raider was the best of the series. It has a mix of puzzles, in the form of prosaic rock pushing and platform jumping. It also has its mix of action and one-on-one duels. And while pre-scripted surprises are a dime a dozen these days, the ferocious encounter with the tyrannosaurus rex remains one of the scariest encounters in a third person action game.
The hardware may all be present for Tomb Raider to look and sound good. But the interface is a toss-up. You’ll either like it or you’ll hate it. Tomb Raider is played in landscape mode and the developers have used a slew of virtual buttons to cope with the amount of actions you can do with a laterally placed PDA. The direction keys move Lara in the game world but inventory manipulation, jumping, looking and weapons are controlled via virtual ones that are transparently overlaid on top of the gaming area. The handheld buttons serve to execute actions or draw your guns from the holster. The interface turns out to be a hit or miss for players. You’ll either think it’s ingenious or completely frustrating.
Much of the reason behind the use of virtual buttons is due to the relative complexity of Tomb Raider. But it is also due to the platform. Tomb Raider is only supported on iPAQ Pocket PC devices. Everything from the venerable 3600 series to the newest 3900 series is supported but curiously, a lot of other similar (ARM/XScale) processor-based PDAs are omitted. Hopefully, this serves as a caveat emptor to potential buyers.
Featuring sixteen levels, it’ll take some time for you to complete Tomb Raider on your PDA. The sluggish framerate prevents you from performing as well as you could with a mouse and keyboard but Eidos has not snipped anything out. It takes up over twelve megabytes of space and requires even more for the program to run. It’s too bad that the developers didn’t have enough hardware power or development time to add some PDA-enhanced features to lure people to buy it. It’s great you can play Tomb Raider on the go but a few incentives like bonus levels or special aids for handheld playing would have made the package a lot more attractive. In the end, Lara Croft may look better in recent outings but this shot-by-shot translation of the original is able to convey much of the feisty spirit and sense of adventure that literally made Lara Croft a household name. Here’s hoping Eidos will continue to publish titles on the handheld platform. This is a good but not yet perfect start.
[06/10] Program Size
[13/15] Learning Curve