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Retrospective: Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation

Welcome back to Survivor Reborn. Today, we travel back to the turn of the millennium, back to the race against time that was Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation.

Retro TR4 alt FEATURE

In 1999, PC owners and corporate businesses alike were anticipating everything from minor inconvenience to global meltdown over the Y2K bug. Cinema-goers were revving up to the first new Star Wars film in sixteen years. Earthquakes and other natural disasters in places such as Turkey, Mexico, and Taiwan whipped every tin-foil-hat-wearing Armageddon-predicting cult into a frenzy about the impending end of the world. And a certain video-game archaeologist was about to experience an adventure that would change her – and the Tomb Raider franchise – forever.

Tomb Raider: Desert storm

Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation opened with a sixteen-year-old Lara Croft accompanying her mentor, Professor Werner Von Croy, to a hitherto undiscovered tomb in Angkor Wat in search of the Iris artefact. However, Von Croy became trapped in the ruins while Lara made her escape. The game then flashed forward to the then-present day (December 1999), and to Egypt’s Valley of the Kings where Lara was searching for the hidden Tomb of Set. She successfully penetrated the depths of the tomb and removed its most precious treasure – the Amulet of Horus – from Set’s sarcophagus.

Amulet 01

How do you say ‘uh-oh’ in ancient Egyptian?

Lara then discovered that her local guide (known in various sources either as Ahmed Ben Trayal or Sahib), was actually in the pay of Von Croy. The professor had evidently dug himself out of Angkor at some point and was holding a grudge against Miss Croft. He, too, coveted the Amulet of Horus, and was willing to kill Lara to get it.

Upon escaping Von Croy’s henchmen, Lara paid a visit to her faithful friend, Jean Yves. Unfortunately, her friend had bad news; by removing the Amulet, Lara had unwittingly released the essence of Set himself. An ancient prophecy, written in Hebrew, confirmed that Set – the Egyptian god of darkness and chaos – would once again walk abroad and violate the Earth at the turn of a distant millennium. Well done, Lara!

Happily, Jean Yves also revealed ancient clues about how Set’s spirit could be re-imprisoned. The exact information was located in the tomb of Horus’ high priest, Semerkhet, in Karnak. With Von Croy hot on her heels, Lara successfully located the tomb. However, she was sealed inside and had the Amulet of Horus stolen by her old mentor. Such an old romantic…

Semerkhet montage 01

Senet, scarabs, and sphinxes, oh my!

Semerkhet turned out to be so delighted to have a visitor that, after a friendly game of senet, Lara learned that Set could only be re-imprisoned by summoning the spirit of Horus. This could be accomplished by placing the Armour of Horus upon his statue, at midnight at the turn of the millennium, in his temple deep beneath the Great Pyramid at Giza.

One escape and desert train ride later, Lara reunited with Jean Yves in Alexandria and began hunting for the pieces of Horus’ Armour. Her search also revealed that Set’s binding incantations were inscribed on a Ceremonial Tablet buried under the Citadel of Saladin, in Cairo. Unfortunately, the irrepressible Von Croy had followed Lara and deduced the same information. Von Croy kidnapped Jean Yves and offered Lara a trade – her friend’s life for the Armour.

En route to Cairo in search of the Tablet, Von Croy became possessed by the spirit of Set. Dark and deadly things began stirring in Cairo. By the time Lara arrived, the place was under military lockdown, with undead monsters haunting the streets. With her customary ingenuity, Lara bypassed these hazards, freed Jean Yves, and stole back the Amulet of Horus from her former mentor-come-god.

Possessed Von Croy 01

Nope, nope, nope

With time running out, Lara braved the Pyramids and their supernatural perils in order to place the Armour on Horus’ statue. However, Set interrupted the proceedings and banished Horus back to the stars. Faced with an invulnerable (and furious) god of destruction, Lara’s only choice was to get out – fast. She managed to escape the chamber by the skin of her teeth, and used the Amulet of Horus to seal Set inside. As she made her way out, the passageway began to collapse and she was confronted by Von Croy. The apparently penitent professor urged her to escape, but turned tail in the face of falling masonry and debris. Lara fell, and was buried beneath tons of rubble. There was no way she could have survived… or was there?

Lara falling 01

Tomb Raider takes its cliffhangers rather literally

Revealing the Last Revelation

Lara Croft’s fourth major outing debuted on 18th June 1999. It was released on Windows, PlayStation, the Mac and, for the first time, the Dreamcast console. The team at Core Design had seen many faces come and go since the original Tomb Raider in 1996; writer Vicky Arnold left and was replaced by a small group of script writers, including Core Design veterans Richard Morton and Andy Sandham. Nathan McCree departed the sound department, and newcomer Peter Connelly took on both composing the score and, with Martin Iveson, producing the sound effects (Connelly had actually done some additional sound effects on Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft the previous year). Connelly’s score paid  homage to Nathan McCree’s original theme, and gave it a melancholy, Egyptian-inspired twist. Actress and voice artist Jonell Elliot replaced Judith Gibbins as the voice of Lara Croft, and Kerry Shale also made his Tomb Raider debut as the voice of Werner Von Croy and several other, uncredited, characters. The game was also accompanied by a stand-alone bonus level co-released by The TimesThe Times Exclusive level – to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb.

Peter Connelly – The Last Revelation: Main Theme

 

As had become customary by now, the game engine benefited from yet more tweaks and improvements. Lara could now climb and swing from ropes to cross larger gaps; she could climb up (and slide down) vertical poles; and she could now climb around corners, Spiderman-style. Her character model was also enhanced with animated mouth textures and more seamless joints, giving her a smoother, more refined appearance. The game followed in its predecessors’ footsteps by giving us more vehicles to play with – a Jeep and a motorbike with sidecar (a pity we couldn’t carry passengers or extra gear, except for one wounded soldier in a cutscene!). However, some mechanics were fundamentally different. The inventory screen – which had been a circular menu for the past three titles – was now a linear ‘conveyor belt’ which also allowed us to combine several items to create new or upgraded ones. We could combine several pieces of a broken artefact to create a whole new one (leaving us to wonder where Lara hid the superglue), and upgrade certain weapons such as the revolver with a laser-sight attachment. Sweet! We even had a nifty compass on the inventory screen; this wasn’t used in anger except for one puzzle in the Citadel level, but it made walk-through creators’ lives a wee bit easier.

The game’s inventory system might have been linear, but the game itself certainly wasn’t. The majority of the game’s levels were based around hub areas – such as Karnak, Alexandria, Cairo, and Giza. Combing forwards and backwards through these areas was a major challenge, and many players spent weeks if not months endlessly exploring, not for every last item, but simply as a means to progress to the next area. The game did not have the combat-heavy bias of Tomb Raider II, or the emphasis on knuckle-whitening action of Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft. Instead, The Last Revelation took its cue from the first title in the franchise, and was filled with wide open areas, puzzles, and a strong sense of isolation.

Puzzle montage 01

Puzzles, puzzles everywhere, no time to stop and think!

Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation deviated from the by-then established Tomb Raider formula in several ways. For starters, and in stark contrast to Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft, over 90% of the game was set in a single country – Egypt. The game also dispensed with a Croft manor training level. Instead, the first two levels (set in Cambodia’s Angkor Wat) provided both the tutorial and a fascinating prologue into one of the central pillars of the game’s story – the relationship between Lara Croft and Professor Werner Von Croy.

Story was, in fact, one of the game’s strongest assets. The race-against-time, end-of-the-world, and mentor-turned-rival tropes were taken down, polished off, and given the Tomb Raider treatment. Whereas the previous three Tomb Raider titles could comfortably be considered stand-alones, The Last Revelation began a story arc that would continue for the following two titles – Tomb Raider: Chronicles, and Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (and was intended to stretch to two AoD sequels). The initial chapter of the game (Tomb of Set to KV5) can be seen as ‘more of the same’ in terms of Lara’s gung-ho adventuring. However, it was this raiding obsession that led Lara to the Amulet of Horus and set in motion (ba-dum-tsss) a chain of events that would lead to her apparent downfall. The relationship with Von Croy also showed Lara’s character in a new and more complicated light. She proved herself more than willing to take on Von Croy and his goons, but she also demonstrated genuine hope at the prospect of her mentor being finally rid of Set’s influence. Could these two rivals have reconciled their differences if fate – and several tons’ worth of Pyramid – had not intervened at the last moment?

 

Reception and controversies

Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation received largely positive reviews. It was a UK bestseller for two months after its initial release. Gamespot gave it 7.4 out of 10, calling it ‘far and away the best of all the sequels’. There was a definite feeling that The Last Revelation was an excellent game by itself, but that the franchise as a whole was starting to look in need of a fresh start.

The team at Core Design was also feeling frustrated with the franchise and the pressure of bringing out a new game, year after year. Many amongst the team felt they had exhausted the franchise’s possibilities and took the decision to kill Lara off, just to try and bring the series to a natural end. Fans were horrified by what appeared to be Lara’s swan song, and the online rumour mill – still in the Internet equivalent of playschool – buzzed with speculation about Lara’s fate. Much as some people wanted to walk away and/or have a break from Tomb Raider, fans – and money – would inevitably bring everybody back for more.

Another sticking point about The Last Revelation came from an unlikely source. In 2001, Eidos Interactive found itself facing a lawsuit from a French Egyptologist named Dr. Jean Yves Empereur. Dr. Empereur was famous for, amongst other things, discovering the ruins of the Pharos Lighthouse – one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. Based in Alexandria, Empereur claimed that Eidos had used his likeness without his knowledge or consent. Indeed, the similarity between Empereur and Lara’s fictional friend Jean Yves is uncanny to put it mildly. Whether the company had knowingly used him as inspiration (okay, directly copied him) or not is now considered a moot point. In August 2001, Eidos issued a public apology to Dr. Empereur in French newspaper, Le Monde, and promised never to use his name or likeness again.

Jean Yves prophecy 01

By the power of the Amulet, I shall transform into Charles Kane

Out of the tombs…

By the end of 1999, the Tomb Raider franchise was poised to leap into the lucrative arms of movie tie-ins. Talk of a Tomb Raider movie had already been circulating for several years. In 1998, Paramount Pictures acquired the rights to produce a Tomb Raider movie. Several scripts had been written but rejected. It would not be long, however, before the cameras would be dusted off and actors readied to bring Tomb Raider – and Lara Croft – to life on the big screen.

Eidos’ penchant for casting real-life models to help promote the games continued apace. In 1999, the role passed from Nell McAndrew to Lara Weller.

The questionable nature of Lara’s apparent in-game death led to a lot of fan speculation (and by ‘a lot’, we mean that it continues to this day, over sixteen years after the game’s release). In 2003, Eidos Interactive and Ballantine Books Inc. published Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Amulet of Power – the first official Tomb Raider novel. This story bridged the gap between the climatic end of The Last Revelation and Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness.

1999, the year of The Last Revelation, was also the year in which publisher Top Cow brought out the first official Tomb Raider comic series. Lara Croft’s pop culture legacy continued to explore new territories and was all set – lock, stock, and two smokin’ pistols – to enter the new millennium.

What are your favourite The Last Revelation moments? We’d love to hear from you over on the Survivor Reborn forums! Did we mention it’s free to register?

Images courtesy of J. R. Milward and Survivor Reborn.

Thanks to Stella’s Tomb Raider fansite and savegame resources. Thou rocketh mightily.

References

Creative Commons Licence
Retrospective: Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation by J. R. Milward / Survivor Reborn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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About jrmilward (21 Articles)
Researcher, writer, editor, proofreader, voice actress, science graduate.

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