(In this feature, I focus on a singular level that I love. It will obviously contain some spoilers for said level, so if you have not played the game in question, read at your own risk. These aren’t appearing in any order, just kind of picked randomly when I feel like writing about them. With the Tomb Raider reboot releasing tomorrow, I figured I’d take a look at my favorite Tomb Raider level.)
I am a huge fan of Tomb Raider: Anniversary, the remake of the original Tomb Raider, that came out back in 2007 for the PS2 (and eventually other systems). In fact, it is my favorite Tomb Raider game. I will admit, there are some compromises made for this remake. I will gladly take the more updated control scheme in TRA over the added difficulty and freedom of the original. It’s just a lot more fun for me this way. Some levels don’t make as good of a transition as others, but my favorite in both versions of the game, St. Francis’ Folly, makes the jump very smoothly. Everything that made it so great back in the day has returned and the updated controls and visuals make the TRA version a more fun experience today (for me at least).
St. Francis’ Folly is the fifth level in the game and the first in the game’s second location, Greece. You start in a room with various large columns. By climbing and jumping about between these, you will gain access to the upper parts of the room. From here you will solve a couple of puzzles to release a sphere which allows you to activate a pressure switch which will let you move on in the level. The biggest takeaway from this part of the level is probably the new move it teaches you for the first time, the wall run. Using hooks on certain spots and Lara’s grappling hook you can run back and forth across walls as well as repel up and down them. This is a great new move that adds another element to the platforming that will be used during this level and more so during the rest of the game.
This first area is just an appetizer to the main course of St. Francis’ Folly. After activating a couple more doors, you will find yourself moving down a spiral staircase. When you reach the end, you will be confronted with the part that makes this level so special. You’ll be standing at the top of a long vertical shaft. At the bottom lies the exit to the level, but reaching the bottom won’t simply allow you to leave. You must find four keys to open the final door. Each is found in a room related to Greek mythology. You will have to move down and around through this tall chamber to not just make it to each room, but to first hit the switch that opens the door to each of them. This area is like one giant platforming puzzle. You must survey the room to figure where to go and how to get to each area using all of the traversal moves at you and Lara’s disposal. This is really where Tomb Raider shines, this sort of puzzle-focused platforming and environmental puzzles. And it is never better than here in St. Francis’ Folly.
Each room also has its own set of challenges related to the myth the room is named after. Poseidon’s level involves changing water levels to gain access to its key. Damocles’ key is very easy to get, but then you must sneak and climb around the room to find a way out, all the while avoiding sword traps on the way. Atlus’ room has you triggering a giant rolling globe trap and then running to avoid it to get its key. And Hephaestus’ room tasks you with solving a couple of puzzles, one while avoiding lightning and another involving a large hammer. The puzzles in these rooms are a lot of fun and each bring their own unique feel to them. My favorite of these rooms is probably the Poseidon or the Damocles’ ones. Tomb Raider is one of those rare games where I enjoy swimming and that makes Poseidon’s part really work for me. But I really love the trap-laden platforming in the Damocles’ area as well. Though again the real highlight of this whole level is puzzling your way through the towering central room. I’m a huge fan of verticality in platforming. Especially in the more realistic variety like this and Prince of Persia (one of its towers will likely find itself in a blog like this someday). Something about climbing on tall structures like this with the ever-present possibility of falling and all that involves just makes the traversal even better.
You’ll notice I didn’t mention combat here. That is because like a great Tomb Raider level should, the enemy encounters are kept to a minimum. You will run into a few lions, bats and other animals to take out, but your real enemy is the environment. Finding your way through it and avoiding all its clever traps. I also didn’t mention story because this game really isn’t about that either. It’s about you as Lara, isolated, exploring ancient locales, looking for artifacts and inching your way closer to the next piece of the Scion. The narrative is extremely minimal here, instead focusing on the gameplay, where this series has always excelled the most.
St Francis’ Folly feels like exactly what I want from a Tomb Raider level. It keeps combat to a minimum while giving us the right balance of all the things that make TR great from the sharp level design to the challenging platforming to the clever puzzles. It is all here. In fact, a whole Tomb Raider game designed with this level as the inspiration would probably be pretty amazing.
Do you have a favorite Tomb Raider level? Let me know in the comments. Keep your eye on The Whiteboard as I will have plenty of thoughts on the Tomb Raider reboot in the next couple of weeks. Thanks for reading!