The Lara Croft of the 90s still lives. While Crystal Dynamics reimagined Lara as Girl Rambo, dedicated fans keep her original lycra-clad incarnation in shape thanks to the editing tools included in 2001’s Tomb Raider V: Chronicles. The TRLE.net community hub hosts over 3,000 new playable adventures added over the years, many complete games packed with new environments and enemies.
For over 20 years, fans have mastered and perfected the Chronicles tools that allow you to export standalone games for easy sharing. Tomb Raider’s 25th anniversary has brought out the best in itself, though even the most notable releases of 2021 remain just a sampling of a vast vault of treasure.
The movement at Australian developer Lochie’s monastery is an example of what ‘classic’ Tomb Raider looks like today. Challenging even veteran players, Lara is invited on a surreal adventure through a titanic Tibetan monastery, a single structure containing dozens of challenges, side quests and secrets, capped off with a spectacular cinematic ending.
Lochie began editing Tomb Raider as a teenager. Now 36, he has become appropriately thoughtful about the process. “It’s like a creative purge, you can write a story, design and detail rooms, add music, sound and cameras, and even write scripts if you want to, and you just have to take on as much of these things as you can bother with,” He says. It’s not all relaxation, as he adds: “At some point, the level starts to possess you, and before you know it, you have to finish the damn thing so you can get back out there and get your life back on track.”
Lochie tells me that MatM started out as a small blocking project, using in-game objects like rolling rocks to act as internal timers for the mechanisms. The limitations led to exploring the deeper end of the editing suite. “I stumbled upon scripting and also figured out how to use conditional triggers. You could take things up a few notches in complexity. Then I got a bit carried away – I was in a kind of creative paradise. Heaven had opened up.” and only game-breaking bugs would bring me back to earth from time to time.”
While he’s more of a creator than a gamer, Lochie (and every other creator I interviewed) recommended 2011’s Mists Of Avalon: Part 1 as a must-have TRLE project. It also has a sequel in the works, which will hopefully be released this year. Lochie also has a great concept for what to do next: a time-loop adventure inspired by Mobius Digital’s Outer Wilds.
Premonition is more accessible to returning and new players. Avoid crumbling ruins in favor of Lara exploring in and around a sunken Russian submarine. It is incredibly haunted. The small physical space of the submarine gets more and more flooded and cursed over time, giving it the feeling of being a non-linear hub, even if the progression is relatively straightforward.
Developer Luis ‘LOTRKingluis’ Cupido from Portugal is a fan of 2nd generation TR. “I’ve always loved the Tomb Raider games from a very young age, mostly thanks to my father’s love of the games as well,” he says. “My first Tomb Raider game was Chronicles, and I found out about the TRLE community when I was 13, around 2010.”
He explains that even a relatively classic project like Premonition requires a large set of community tools and resources to put together. “Roomedit for building levels, Wadmerger for adding objects, Strpix for textures, Ng_Center for scripting, Metasequoia for modeling, etc.” Many items and textures were crafted or sourced from sites like Lara’s Levelbase. As a whole, Premonition is the fruit of around two years of work.
lara gate of hell
What defined the TRLE scene in 2021 was a trio of spectacular full games, every year in development and inspired by survival horror. One, Horizons: The Hellgate Saga, is the work of Justin Brinner, who has been mapping for Tomb Raider since 2001, and this project dates back to his teenage years. (See box for the other two.)
“I was 16 at the time, and I produced over a dozen mediocre levels in a short period of time,” says Brinner. “Some of these levels were part of a series I was creating called Dark Skies, the ending of which was lost due to a PC crash in 2003. Horizons is effectively my reboot of those Dark Skies. It all started as an idea in 2003 to create a set of fantasy levels and evolved into a multiverse story-driven adventure.
Horizons begins with a Resident Evil-inspired dive into a zombie-infested city, and getting bitten will slowly cause you to lose health unless you get treatment. It soon escalates sharply into a dimension-hopping quest through alien environments filled with new monsters. It’s really impressive on its own, but it’s also part of a planned multi-game series. A great ambition, considering that parts of the saga date back to 2005.
Brinner considers RE inspirations to be secondary in Horizons. “I’ve only played RE 1, but it had a huge impact on me. Having said that, Doom is actually the main inspiration, but we’ll see more of that in the second series, as this first series is just a set piece.”
This is just a taste of what the classic TR scene produced in 2021, and their plans for the future look even bigger. These games play like no other today, and there seems to be plenty of life left in Low-poly Lara. Dust off your best adventure shorts and check out TRLE.net; you can find something you treasure, or even create a timeless artifact yourself.