Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Tomb Raider: Unfinished Business (1998)

Name:Tomb Raider: Unfinished Business
Levelset for:Tomb Raider
Developer:Core Design
Genre:Third-Person Shooter/Platformer
Time:5 hours 10 minutes

Tomb Raider doesn't really have expansions like most games, despite the popularity they once had. Instead they got bonus levels only available on PC. (Hacks exist for console versions) These came standalone on disc, via download or like me, with the gold version. The Gold version has a bunch of stuff that comes with it, including a screensaver, an interactive demo of Tomb Raider 2 and a few demos for other Eidos games, and patches for various graphics cards I do not have. The book also serves as a weird sort of developer commentary from the level's designer, Philip Campbell, who I believe would work on the sequels. Two people worked on the game, Campbell and an artist, while a dozen did other work.
To get these working in TR1X, the version of TR1 Main I've been using, well, you just use the commandline. Ugh, really?

Firstly, we have The Shadow of the Cat. Lara returns to the city of Khamoon in Egypt to discover the secret of a cat statue. I don't remember that. This starts inside a cat's head statue. I don't really remember this, was it a secret? No choice but to go down.
Wait, here? Really? This is just Egypt. I apparently never played these levels, considering I don't remember this at all. There are three crocodiles here, two behind me in a small room, and one in front of me. Lara starts off with no fancy items, but the game drops ammo and medikits like usual, that is, just behind Lara are some shells, magnum mags and a small medikit. There's just so much to explore, I got 4 sets from this room alone, and on top of the pillar, which opens a secret.

This is that series of niches room that you had to go through originally. This time a secret, two shell pickups and a small medikit. I think, this one puts you under pressure because there's a croc here and no way to get to land, I didn't stick around to search all the niches thoroughly.

The actual path forward is to here, that big room with the cavern above. Still doesn't look like you can reach that greenery. Take out two crocs, one of which may be the one that followed me. What a cavern, I wonder what secrets it holds now. There's no pool down, and when I get to the cat statue...ah, the cat statue, now I get it, the way down is also blocked, though there is a lever there. The secret I thought was blatantly obvious isn't there either, and the only item I could find was a pack of shells in the water. There's a door that wasn't there before, very interesting.
Hey, wait a minute, what's this? Panthers above Lara? This explains how the level has 41 enemies. You know, that would be pretty sneaky if I didn't have my guns out. Left of Lara is a new room, one I remember being different, it has two panthers you can't easily snipe from safety. But running around in a circle always works. Also, shotgun and another pack of shells. My total after getting the shotgun is 14. That outta be good for when I end up having to fight the Atlantians in the next set.
I caught this one right at the instant Lara got hit by a panther, how goofy.
After opening the door with a lever in there, I reach here after a few rooms. The manual played up how you should follow or not follow the cat paws, since they may lead to something good, or to death. Makes my job annoying. There are spikes in each of those central pieces, but on the opposite side of this room are some areas Lara can safely land on. I just need to jump over the pillars. I'm not really sure why they didn't do this in the original game, despite the jankiness of 3D objects, maybe they thought it would be too janky? (said by a team who make the face of one Sphinx a 3D object, if so) I go to the area on the left, since I spotted an exit there.
Holy crap, someone put in a sky. It's a Christmas miracle, well, Christmas 1998, anyway. You know, I wonder if someone hacked one into the original game sometime. This is just a nice pleasant area to walk around, but that makes this really nice.
Even this weird stuff here doesn't affect my opinion. Hard getting a screenshot of everything. To the right is a cat statue, the manual talks up something about cats role in these levels and the number 9. Wait, I made that Mercyful Fate joke in the base game and I had no idea that another album could be referenced here. One that wasn't yet released...much like the first one. If you go there, you can't climb up and the statue turns into a panther. It runs out before I can kill it though. Middle are spikes, Lara can walk through these to get some shells, assuming she can kill the panther that comes after her though. And then there's a little cave there, with a boulder that pops out that I wasn't expecting. Because it falls down one space away from the spot it activates.
But wait, there's more, it's not a little cave, it's more of the place. It links back to the section where the cat statue came alive, but that isn't important, because there's a path to the area on top of it, which has some shotgun shells. Then I spot a ledge Lara can reach that Aw, yeah. To get over there, you have to do a running jump to the left, which lands you on a stable ledge, then, do a running jump from there to the shells, there are places you can relatively safely land from there. That's a secret, by the way, and the best one since the dino valley. Back to the movable blocks.

Move the first block back and the second one forward and you reach here. Of course there are more panthers here, you expected otherwise? There's one in that hole on the left and another one spawns when you jump next to the key, thankfully he can't reach the key. Also, a croc spawns in the water when you reach a certain section, and another when you reach somewhere else. All for some measly magnum magazines. Or not, I didn't see anything else and there's a movable block down there that I just know means the water is getting drained later. With this area searched I have two ways out, one left where the panther was and one right, up the bridge. I go right.

I go up a pillar, netting myself a big medikit. I find two paths from here, a chute down and a regular looking cave. I chose the chute first, saving, of course.

Hey, I think I found where all the enemies are. I wasn't expecting this particular Temple of Doom reference, but it is appreciated. I don't think Lara can get out of here, though the crocodiles can. So I go through the other path, only to find a room quite similar to this one, and a croc pops out, but it isn't the same. Rather, after shimmeying across a random ledge, Lara can pick up some shotgun shells and then jump over to a cat statue where a door that needs a key is. I take this opportunity to check the other path, and just find a small medikit.
Entering the room causes three boulders to start rolling towards Lara. There's nothing in front of them, they're going to go into the area I just came from. None of them block access to any items, unless those items were so small I didn't notice them. This is a fairly big area, between those ramps is a drop down to a very big sandy area. More panthers down there, because of course there are. They're not really a problem, you get plenty of places you can shoot at them safely. Instead, the problem is that there are more boulders from that side of the room, how very generous the game is. A lot of items, shells, magnum mags and medikits, all throughout the convoluted hallways that make up the lower area.
Those boulders could give you a very nasty scare if you reach them after opening the door out, since the easy way through is here, where there's another panther, and despite the game's generosity, I'm not really feeling a lot of health here. To the right is where Lara came from, jumping over bridges. Jumping over bridges make me nervous, you know the game is going to play a nice little trick on you. Still, there are a lot of items here, and outside I can see a mummy. Since there's that and a cat statue looking outside, it looks like I am going out there after all. Impressive. There's a tricky underwater passage out, it has two crocodiles but you don't get a chance to shoot them until after you find the way out, and it required me to do a lot of swimming back to the entrance because I just couldn't find the lever opening the door out.
There's something to be said for games meant to create indoor levels doing outdoor levels well. Those fences aren't meant to prevent you from going out of bounds, they just divide up sections. And any sections you might, say, jump into from another section unintended has a pit with a spike trap. More panthers, they can go past the fences. Many, many more items. I haven't been conservative with my shotgun use and I still have more shells than when I entered here. When I finally got around to the section you see here the statues turned into Atlantians. That, I wasn't expecting. As I approach the standing Atlantian, ready for anything...he drops down and the level ends. Wait, what? I reload, surely this isn't the end of the level. Perhaps I can reach those other areas? I'm missing 10 enemies and 10 pickups, as well as a secret. Surely there must be some way out there? Well, if there is, I won't figure it out.

Temple of the Cat starts you in a slightly different hole with no Atlantian to be seen. You can tell because Lara isn't dead and there's a cat statue above. After pulling a lever and going down, Lara seems to be back in that boulder area. 44 enemies, 63 pickups, two of which are near the start and 4 secrets. I see I'll be returning to this starting area later, there's three doors I can't open. Also, a different fence texture which Lara can't shoot through for some reason.

...And we're just back up. It's a different area, of course. While plinking away at two more Atlantians, I spot those boulders in the distance. Wow, there are like 6 of them. From my position just on a pyramid, I see four distinct areas. A pool left of Lara, the boulder section, a little upper niche I can't reach, and behind Lara a rising series of levels. More panthers up this way, I get the commitment to the cat bit, but why the Atlantians? Hinting at the next two levels?
From climbing up, I see two more options, there's a roof Lara can't reach, probably somewhere I go later by the looks of things, and a drop down hidden by pushable blocks. Now, those boulders, well, they don't activate like other ones, often they activate after you pick up an item. Two of the shotgun pickups here can be gotten without incident, the third, not so much. Though in retrospect, I see I did the boulders the wrong way. I also notice two more shotgun pickups hidden away in a different area before I notice there's a block that can be moved towards that upper niche I couldn't reach. A long way away. It's not even secret, it has a key to a door, meaning it was necessary.
The pool. Suspiciously clear. There's the door out, I need another key. Worryingly, I see an area Lara should be able to get the right. You can't see it from here, but there's a door in that water and a lever. Unsurprisingly, a crocodile pops out of the door after you open it. It's timed too. This is the other key. Okay, what about that drop down I mentioned? It leads back to the upper niche. Okay, what about those doors I couldn't open at the start? No idea about one, but another is another one of the game's new traps, an Atlantian and two small medikits, which are revealed after you pull a lever. Get the two medikits, and the Atlantian awakens.
Right, to the locked door. This opens a very Doom-esque section of the map, one of the bad levels. It's very dark, so I press forward, taking out a panther until I eventually find a accident, and then the way forward. First though, I go to the other corridor I ignored, and find out that it turns the lights on. It's also connected to a door closing the secret. Very annoying. Down is more Doom-esque design. I was liking this levelset. Another set of timed switches and then another underwater passage with crocodiles.
Then, this. You can't see it in a static image, but those cats are moving. The music is triumphant here, as well it should be. I get a key, kill some panthers. Then I find another two keys. Huh. Then I spot on one of the walls five slots for keys. I find another key after searching until I can find nothing else. At this point I realize I should check the water and find the final key. This opens one of two doors here, what opens the other is probably a secret.
I somehow managed to land precisely in the spot here that allows Lara to live, something I will never ever be able to repeat. This section is weird. The designer is settling into a comfortable pattern of having items in little niches over spike pits. To advance, you jump into an area that slides down behind where you entered, pull a lever which allows Lara to enter a door just above this section, where I entered.
I didn't realize this was a crocodile eating a cat back when playing.
The next area is a big underwater section, find the lever that opens the next door. Stopping you is the general layout, a lot of fences and it's generally designed to be confusing, and a crocodile of course. You can't shoot him, you just don't get a chance. I find two sets of Uzi magazines here, nice. Wish I could find some more guns.
This leads to here, two more Atlantians. Huh, they don't explode anymore. It takes me a moment, but to advance there are two levers on one side that look like a door. One moves a boulder so you can go to the next room, which has a crocodile for some reason, and the other opens the door out. Which leads back to that central room and the other door.
...and there are Uzis. What's in those niches? Atlantians? Uh-oh. Well, the Uzis themselves don't wake up my new friends. Nor do the Uzi magazines. What are you planning? Well, the trap is going to be activated later, seeing as there's a door to Lara's left. Three, three activate. One after you reach the end, two after you pull a lever there. That was underwhelming.
That door leads to here, this eye-searing place. Turns out there's a reason for this. At the entrance, you're presented with a stairs up, which at the end activates another Atlantian, and two chutes down. If you go down, when Lara lands she dies. Not because of fall damage but because it's hot. So, you have to platform across carefully. Those Uzi magazines aren't really optional, they're the path forward. Reaching the end opens up a magical gold path back, which you'll need because pulling the lever here opens a door back there.
Suddenly all turns to green!
This area's weird, it's mostly a break from what you've been doing, nice greenery, some crocs on land, easy one shot kills, a dip in a pool and then up some more. That's a weird room where you step on a particular tile to open the way down. Tomb Raider usually doesn't do that.
Four doors and six levers. No trap doors to my eyes, which means they're well hidden or the game is going to kill me some other way. Right lever causes the camera to look funny, I'm going to regret that. I suppose I should recognize that this section is making the left more noticeable than the right, all the cats eyes textures have the glowing eye on it's right, my left. I enter, an Atlantian pops down from above, no doubt because of me picking the wrong lever. Right, well, what's behind... All roads lead to Rome, or in this case two roads lead to Rome and the other is a mystery. This is a big area, and despite what I thought at first, these are not moveable blocks, they just the level geometry. More Atlantians, because the game hasn't been feeding me more shotgun ammo I'm running low. This is a really big area. You go into the central statue, climb up, do a full running jump to a ledge on the second floor. Shoot some more Atlantians and find another pair of Uzi magazines.

And you're still not done. I go around and around. Up and up. This is really trying to reach the edge of Lara's capabilities in a way I'm not quite sure would work until I try it. There's one bit where you have to grab a pillar, but it seems to be right next to the ceiling, meaning Lara shouldn't get up, which would be true if there wasn't a hole there. Eventually I jump onto a spot with a cat statue, then do a running jump onto the top of the sphinx. Take out another Atlantian, pull a switch, then drop down into the mouth. Make one final jump over a sneaky pit, open one last door and see another cat statue, and the level ends there. If I had a second complaint, beyond the part where I had a reason to push a block halfway across the map, it's that these level endings feel too soon.

That brings us back to Atlantis and to the second level set here, the Unfinished Business of the title. Lara is here to kill some "aliens" in a ruined segment of the city, guarding an alien hatchery. Actually looking at the manual again, I see something about Seth's room in the last section, no idea, but apparently it was tough. This one is intended for the expert player, facing a horde of "alien creatures" but was also intended to be played before The Shadow of the Cat or at least with a pistol start. I'm supposed to be alert, since transparency allows me to see the sense of place and future confrontations.

The start of this one's weird. You slide down a chute and then get two choices. A jump over lava and a drop down. I go to the jump first and am greeted by two packs of shells and the secret sound. That was a secret? Down is one-way, naturally, and leads to a boulder trap that isn't even really a boulder trap, since when it activates you're not even in it's path.

The transparency. The regular Atlantis had these tiles, but just for floors. That's a good sign. That's what, 8 or so? Plus the centaur. Right of me is a small niche that you have to do some bizarre jump over lava to reach, not happening, so I walk behind me, which is a big open area. I take out a regular Atlantian and find my way... More flying Atlantians, but you get the picture. There are a lot of shotgun shells here. A lot. I've been keeping to using the Uzis, since that's safer against the flying ones, but it's racking up. This section is very open and has a lot of enemies. When I eventually made it down, I had to dodge quite a few unexpected boulders. Eventually, I get stuck, there's a Stargate in one corner, but it's just a wall texture and this isn't Stargate. Two closed doors, no levers or anything. I spotted some stuff on a high ledge earlier, but I see no way up there unless the game pulled a sneaky one on me. The way out is a very tricky hole you have to enter, you have to do a very precise jump, more precise than I've ever done. You slide down into it from a slope above, but to get there you need to make the jump from a slope going down one tile back and to the right.
This is a very deep hole. Deep enough that it triggers Lara's falling scream twice. I don't spot anything on the way down.
Now comes the question of getting back up. More of the game's transparency stuff, I see more Atlantians. Only way out is a door with a lever and...the level ends. What? That was really short. Something's wrong, unless this level had about 30 enemies just there for flavor I must have accidentally skipped over some stuff. But how, what could I have possibly missed? It's not a way to the stuff on the way down or that stuff I couldn't reach before. The ones on a very high level have a hole there you're clearly supposed to go through. I find it eventually, it was another hole I was supposed to go down, one I missed completely.
Oh, this is worse than it was before. The only way down that looks safe is on the other side of these 3D objects, at least there are medikits. I try to get around it somehow, but it's impossible. So I look down. Maybe it's just safe enough for Lara to fall, they did give me two small medikits. Wow, it works.
The eggs have a strange green hue I associate with tennis balls. This area has more shells thankfully, and another small medikit. The two eggs here naturally open up as you get close, but a third Atlantian pops up when you pick up one of the shell pickups, landing in an area that leaves him little more than a turret. Shells are just keeping pace with enemies, until they don't anymore. Good thing I still have the Uzis.
This area is less tricky than it looks. I look around and see the blow gun and an area behind it. Assuming that's a secret, I explore the rest of the area first, oddly, and only succeed in activating a bunch of Atlantians. Not now, later, because they're behind glass. That's good. I can figure that out later.
That leads to here, an area with a lot of levers, and the Atlantians I spotted earlier. Throwing caution to the wind, I pull each lever in turn, making sure to check for any alert Atlantians. I take them out as they become alert, but a centaur spawns in the area where the level exit is and the camera switches to the last area with eggs. The Atlantians have ammo hidden where they were asleep, so I'm mostly keeping just above no shotgun ammo.
The central room now has another area, but first I check out this area opened up by a door. Two more Atlantians, and since I get a perch from which to shoot from, Lara can do so safely but boringly. A lot of items here, but still no magnums. I am getting Uzi magazines now though. This seems to be the section I just saw past the glass a moment ago, and while there's more to it, there's none I can seemingly reach.
Going to that new area in the central room, it's a hallway up, lava on the sides with an Atlantian running around. Naturally he takes me out once, then I reach here. I don't understand why the developer thought this would be a good idea, the level geometry breaks visually as I try to get my eyes around the area. Seemingly, there's no way down, but as I turn to leave I spot a way up.
Wow, I would have expected this to hurt Lara. I mean it does, those lava orbs deal minor damage to Lara, but I meant the ground itself. This is a simple but interesting room, you have two ledges which form a hill pattern, items on the ends where you didn't come in and an Atlantian. The way out is a simple jump over one section of one ledge into a hole on the same side, you can't go directly to it because there's a slope in front of it.

That leads to a hall with more dart guns, Atlantian dart guns. They're getting a lot of mileage out of that recolored dart texture. Too much mileage if you ask me, because that hasn't just been a mildly annoying hazard once. That time it was an annoying hazard, shimmeying past them. With Lara's speed you can't really do that more than once.

This really opens up. There are a lot of little areas here, and I do mean a lot. It's a convoluted tangle of levers, doors, Atlantians and items. A lot of swimming too, between two areas that aren't connected. By the end of it, I'm not really up any items, but I've opened the two doors in that big central area from earlier.

After taking out another Atlantian, I'm left with this. To get to a large medikit on Lara's left, I need to jump over to the right, then do a running jump over the lower side of the slope, landing on it sends Lara straight down. I'm not sure if that's a one-way trip or not. Because down has a lever that opens the door you can see in that screenshot., but it also has a big underwater area and no way up. Two levers down there open timed doors, one of which is a big underwater passage. A lot more items, including magnum magazines I still can't use.
So I continue underwater. I get more items and make it past a timed door to this. It makes a sound like a secret, but it is not a secret. On a jutting area up on Lara's right is a medikit, and to the left of that slope is a lever. Which opens another timed door in the underwater section. I think it's very tight to walk there and then swim, probably why the game gives you a small medikit in front of the lever, but it's worth it, it contains the magnums. So much for problems with enemies on this level. But it's back up. Turns out to be very easy.
Ah, that presents problems. This seems to be another item finding section, jump over peril, get more shells. Except I've found that the shotgun really isn't effective against the Atlantians, so that's not a very good carrot. I do like this section. Especially one part where you have to jump over raised lava tiles, illogical but fun.
That brings us to the part I thought was a secret, right above the big room that began this area. You know, this level has really liked that 0 and + design on the ceiling and floor for some reason. Almost as much as it loves putting Stargates everywhere. Two more flying Atlantians show up, I make quick work of them. Now to jump there. This feels just as tricky to get right as the wrong way. I can't help but think if you're designing your level to function at the very edge of what's possible and then don't check that someone can't break that, you're kind of screwing yourself over. The "wrong" way is easier because you aren't jumping down a dangerous height and if you miss you aren't falling into lava or dying.

The Hive, this one starts off very generously, magnum mags, two sets of Uzi mags and a small medikit. Even that the two Uzi mags are in front of Atlantians does nothing to worry me. I do take them cautiously, however, these guys are activating later. To the left and right on the screenshot are holes down, directly over lava but there's rock next to it, I could do so easily if that wasn't a one-way trip. Two doors, closed, and while there's a lever behind Lara, what it does is beyond me. Forward, at which point a boulder falls down and I realize the entire ceiling is boulders. This is very tricky, because for obvious reasons, you never know which tiles are going to activate a boulder, or not.

It's a very complex sequence designed to trip you up, but the end is relatively subdued. Two levers, each of which opens one door and activates one Atlantian. I thought a boulder might cause an unwinnable situation, but fortunately, it is not designed that way. It turns out you can't go down those holes, too far down, and despite some boulders falling down there, they disappear when you try to land. Possibly something that always happened, I never really ran over one before.

The two doors open two areas, one with magnum mags and one forward. Both have traps. The way forward is this, shown after getting past it. You have to jump over a series of slopes, until you reach just next to flat ground, only Lara is stuck doing jumps between slopes. You have to take advantage of Lara's air control to land on the flat enough ground. Interesting, but that has the potential to get really annoying if it pops up again. There are three enemies here, which each pop up gradually as you explore the area.

Behind Lara on the left is the place below the entrance. Left are two doors, gotta find those levers. The middle is a very tricky path down, precise jumping over lava again. Right is a glass wall showing something, and Uzi magazines. So I climb over there, only to discover that the doors are activated by pressure pads, timed, of course. One of these things has to be a secret. I go right.

That leads to here, a very tight area that's one whole slope jumping puzzle. Left returns you to the previous area, while right continues on. Those eggs explode whenever you're on solid ground, and they seemed to want to exchange fire with Lara rather than throwing her into a lava pit. This leads into a hallway with a centaur who only activates whenever you get close, how nice. I didn't get him thanks to him knocking me into a hole. Hope I didn't miss anything.
There's a slide down to here. A lot of area of which I'm not quite sure where I'm actually supposed to go. There are enemies on all platforms except the central one, but that's okay. They like shooting more than chasing after you and there are five sets of Uzi magazines here, Lara is fine ammo-wise. There's a door at the top of the central structure, but the only doors I could open were one in one of the corners.
Despite looking like this, the circle track really doesn't help you that much.
That leads to this section, with two centaurs. Great. That's not annoying at all! Almost as an apology, the game gives you three sets of Uzi magazines. At this point, ammo is no concern, but health might be. They're guarding a room with four levers, and there are two doors on the side you didn't enter. Expecting a trap, I pull one, finding it opened the door. That brings me to an Atlantian, but not as a trap. The other three just open doors. Including two which open the doors at the top of that central platform. not a secret but it makes a noise. It is quite a lot of items. A lot of shotgun shells on the way here, then two doors, and the one to here opened. They're not alert, the shells around them don't awaken them, the ones on the altar do. Taking one causes half the activate, but you have enough time to run out to the corridor, at which point I can quite leisurely take them out with the Uzis. Another activates the rest and the other two are free pickings. I didn't even want shotgun shells.

It's quite the sight seeing these guys barreling down a hallway only to hit the ceiling and stop. I'm sure this would be an absolute nightmare in an open space. There's another egg room, this time with a timed door connected to two levers. You could get past this one without ever fighting the Atlantians.

That leads to here, the place I saw all the way at the beginning of this set...and after all that it's not that interesting. Another centaur. Those eggs? They just explode, no Atlantians inside. There's another room with a timed door after that. That one at least has some Atlantians inside, but it's the final room.
You slide down another slide, see some exploding eggs, and then swim through a tunnel. The end. A disappointing ending to a pretty good levelset. This did what it set out to be, a hard levelset for Tomb Raider. I have minor complaints related to how it's obtuseness doesn't quite work without checking that it's the only way and how awkward the level transitions are, but otherwise it's pretty good. 8/10

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