Because Greece and Rome are Clearly Right Next to Each Other
On some level, I always assumed that the reason there was a coliseum at this point was because Lara had somehow passed- on foot- from Greece into Rome. Now in my regular, non-Tomb Raider life, I’m well aware of the fact that Greece and Rome are not within easy walking distance, but it never bothered me until I came back to this game for this project. Somehow, while playing Tomb Raider, my brain has protected me all this time from the crushing tyranny of geography.
The official Prima strategy guide tries to play it both ways: “Here’s a real treat! A Greek Coliseum complete with maniac lions roaming around.” No, strategy guide, we know coliseums are not Greek; don’t try to be clever (although in fairness, the guide does point out a major shortcut in this level, so maybe it is a bit clever.)
I think I must have played this level about ten times over the past week or so while trying to figure out what I was going to say about it. It’s another one of those levels that people tend to remember, but I’m honestly not sure how much I like it; once you’ve reached the main section of the level and have that “oh cool, it’s a coliseum,” moment, the level empties its bag of tricks rather quickly. The traps are fairly pedestrian, running around the “stands” gets repetitive (and disappointing, due to an inexplicable lack of pick-ups there), and it’s actually one of the more simplistic levels in the game.
Part of the problem here is probably me, since the concept of a coliseum doesn’t speak to my imagination as much as a lot of the other concepts in the game do- I never bothered to see Gladiator, and never really had much of an interest in Roman culture, period. I think some people probably played this level soaking up the atmosphere, thinking what it must have been like to live in Roman times and watch actual gladiators battle actual lions for their actual larynges, but my mind doesn’t tend to go in that direction, and that’s really not the game’s fault.
All that said, this level does have some rather interesting touches. They totally fake you out with the ending- it seems so obvious that the goal of the level must be to get through the giant double doors on the balcony, since, like trained seals, by this point we have learned to associate large doors with progression. It’s actually kind of a surprise when the level ends with Lara underwater.
We also get a save crystal about one minute before the end of the level (behind the aforementioned double doors), which is quite odd. In theory, you could die in the underwater passage before you complete the level, so the crystal isn’t entirely useless, but it still seems out of place.
On the plus side, for people who enjoy messing around with Pierre (and I hope that includes you and everyone you know), this level happens to be a particularly fun place to play around with his wacky disappearing-mechanics. Since the stands of the coliseum are long straight-aways, Pierre can have a hard time finding a decent corner to slip behind for his ninja routine, and as a result, spends a tremendous amount of time getting shot. I think I shot at him once for five minutes straight.
Interestingly, he will often run far away from Lara, and then loop around back for some more punishment- as though he suddenly decided “No, I’m not going to be a sissy-man and run away, but rather be an HOMME about this and finish off ma petite* once and for all! ,” then changes his mind again sixty rounds later.
I think if you keep him out and about long enough, he will basically teleport away from you- at one point, the camera angle changed when Lara rolled, and by the time I reoriented the camera, he was gone. Poof. Bam. Like Nightcrawler or something.
Based on this indisputable in-game evidence, I have now concluded that Pierre Dupont is a sorcerer.
It is now my intention to gather more evidence to back up this exciting new theory in the realm of Tomb Raider scholarship.
Best: It’s really satisfying the first time you get to the elevated room with the chaise lounges, I mean the Emperor’s Balcony, according to the strategy guide. Climbing on the rocks to get to the balcony is fun in that Lost Valley I-love-jumping-on-stuff way, and it’s just cool looking out at the expanse of the coliseum once you’ve ascended.
Worst: The first minute or so of the level is boring. You might be thinking “hey, it’s the FIRST ROOM, why be so harsh?” but think about it: we just did HOW MUCH work to open that door in the bowels of St. Francis Folly? I don’t know about you, but I was expecting more from the other side of that uber-defended door than a room full of sand and a disoriented crocodile. Plus, I find the lack of pick-ups in the stands area to be truly disappointing.
Rating: Three Uzi Clips Out of Five. The idea of the coliseum, geographic switcheroo aside, is probably great, but the execution could have been better as far as I’m concerned.
Next up: Palace Midas, or I no longer care about the whole Greece/Rome mix-up because OMG SHINY THINGS!
*Yes, all of my knowledge of French comes from Gambit of the X-Men. Why do you ask?
Edit: I just realized that Katie’s TR Screenshots DOES have screens of this level, I just missed them- considering I’m working on Palace Midas now I think I’m going to let it slide, however.