I think I said at the beginning that these level write-ups would probably get shorter once I got into the game, and if anything they’re just getting longer and longer. By Natla’s Mines, we could be in Anna Karenina territory here.
Like Tomb of Qualopec, this level is more a gauntlet of traps meant to keep you from your destination for just a bit longer than an exploration-friendly locale. However, unlike Tomb of Qualopec, it feels less like an individual level and more like a mix of several unrelated ideas strewn together. Still, despite lacking cohesion, it’s actually more fun than the previous tomb level; the collection of traps and puzzles is varied enough not to get dull, and the level actually becomes something memorable towards the end.
Idea #1: The Cistern, Part Deux
Hmmm, where have I seen this before? Other than ten minutes ago?
The puzzles in the first half of the level just seem like an expansion of the previous level, the Cistern, complete with obvious-but-still-nifty water puzzles, fungi infestation, crocodiles (ack!) and rats (ick.) However, that’s not a bad thing, necessarily; because the puzzles are simple (in fact, calling them “puzzles” is a bit of stretch), you never really get bogged down in this area. I think the Cistern-area decor doesn’t get old because you’re quickly through this section before you have time to get sick of it.
As TR fans, we like to talk about the “diabolical” puzzles that tripped us up, but the sad truth is, not every puzzle can be a brainteaser; we don’t have the patience for it. While too many easy puzzles can start to bore, a few easy puzzles when all you want to do is get to the end of the section (which you clearly want to do at this point in the Greco-Roman hub of the adventure) can be satisfying in its own way.
Idea #2: Block Puzzles For Dummies
I actually don’t have a screenshot of the block puzzle, because uh…it’s a block puzzle, who cares. But I did want to point out that I hate these metal shutters that start appearing in this level, they make no sense.
Now on the other hand, the one major block puzzle is easy to the point of being kind of insulting; there aren’t really any choices to make, you just push the block onto the obvious places to push it- the order doesn’t matter- and doors open. Upon replay, I was struck by what a total free gift this “puzzle” was; we’re being herded, with a wink and a nudge, toward the end of the section.
A shoutout to the keyholes in this room for being one of the few sets of keyholes in the game you can traverse perfectly with a sideways jump; I always try to travel between adjacent keyholes/switches/etc. with a sideways jump, and it usually doesn’t line up properly and I feel stupid. At least, this one time, I was able to use the sideways jump for something more useful than wasting time in Lara’s music room.
Idea #3: Introduction to Atlantis
The underwater section preceding Tihocan’s actual tomb is among the game’s prettier areas, and there’s a great sense of majesty as well. It’s fitting that Tihocan’s tomb is surrounded by water, given that the Grecian section of the game is by far the most water-oriented of the four. The only downside is that it seems like the vast underwater caverns should be filled with secrets, and there’s really nothing there- I kept thinking a piece of seaweed was one of those TR2- style gold dragons, but alas, it was only some yellow-green pixels.
The statue coming to life is also a very surprising moment (although the story behind this confuses me, which I’ll get to in a minute), and I like the fact that both statues don’t come to life together; I don’t think I knew that the second one even could come to life after you’d entered the temple until this playthrough.
However, remember how that mummy in Tomb of Qualopec was implied to actually be Qualopec? Well it would stand to reason that the Atalantean Horseman is Tihocan (or his spirit, or whatever), except how can that be? I thought all the red creatures were abominations that Natla had created, and buddies Qualopec and Tihocan were decidedly not in favor of her handiwork. Okay, I know the real reason why the horseman is there is because a)it scares the daylights out of you in a good way and b)it’s foreshadowing the Atalantean hijinks to come, but it doesn’t quite make sense to me in the larger context of the story, which is generally more cohesive than many have given it credit for.
Stupid Pierre Tricks: Finale
It seems like the Stupid Pierre Tricks segment should end with some sort of glorious, no-holds-barred battle, but the last two encounters with our favorite magical Frenchman are nothing terribly exciting- although you do fight Pierre in much closer quarters than usual during the first one, making his teleportation act much more obvious than usual, since there’s just nowhere for him to run most of the time. Now, I know that not everyone is sold on my theory about Pierre, but honestly? After this level, I think the burden of proof is on anyone who thinks Pierre ISN’T magical.
The final confrontation is also kind of underwhelming- you shoot him, he forgets to teleport/run away this time, thus he dies. Hmm. I can’t even make some snide comment about how I’m glad to put him out of my misery, because I was actually kind of starting to enjoy having him around by this point…I think it’s Stockholm Syndrome.
I do like the fact that he actually reached the Scion before Lara; the implication is that he was in the area quite a while before her, since Larson knew that Pierre was headed to Greece when Lara was still tied down in Peru. Actually, the fact that he was there first brings up the possibility that he actually had plenty of time to leave before she got there, but decided to stick around just to finish her off- or was he going to suggest another activity entirely, if she hadn’t drawn her shotgun so quickly? I guess we’ll never know- thanks for ruining that budding romance, Lara.
As I said previously, I’m not looking to get all secrets: typically, I play the level once just to complete it, then I play it again actively looking for secrets, and then I MIGHT play it again after looking up the locations of the secrets I haven’t found yet in a walkthrough. While I usually find at least one or two on my own, I had no idea where either of the secrets on this level were before I looked it up, and I don’t think I ever would have found either of them on my own.
I actually love the little jumping puzzles WITHIN these two secrets, but they got me thinking- what is the purpose of a secret, anyway? Secrets like the ones on this level seem to be really meant for the people who are willing to comb every pixel of the game looking for a pleasant surprise, and I just don’t have the inclination or the time. I’m kind of glad that they put that sort of thing in the game to give the truly hardcore a reason to keep playing, but it makes me feel kind of bad that even as someone who blogs TR, my dedication has its limits. For me, doing an “all secrets” playthrough would mean “all the secrets that I looked up on the internet, ‘cuz I’d never find them myself,” and I find that a little sad. I anticipate this becoming a major problem by TR3, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
Look Over Us Kindly, Tihocan
I’ve always been very impressed with how much this short cutscene gets across about our heroine. 1: She can read the hieroglyphics, something the other tomb raiders probably can’t do (although Pierre’s abilities are questionable.) 2. She reads them in a slightly halting manner, because she’s not a perfect Mary Sue-type who’s fluent in a zillion languages- she can read it, but not quickly. 3. Regardless of what she may have thought coming into the temple, after reading about his noble, childless life, she seems to have some sympathy for Tihocan- it’s not all about breaking into his tomb and taking his stuff. I think at this point in the story there’s a subtle shift in Lara’s motivation; rather than just going after pieces of the Scion because they exist and she’s curious, she’s taking over for Qualopec and Tihocan in protecting the world from Natla’s horrible ambitions; she just hasn’t realized it yet.
Now a lot of the apparent empathy for Tihocan comes from Shelly Blond’s vocal performance rather than the script, but nevertheless, it’s in the game.
I also like the fact that Lara never says, “My, what are Egyptian hieroglyphics doing in Greece (or sometimes, more like Rome)? How strange!” Often in TR, they seem to give us enough credit to connect the dots ourselves without needing explicit instruction. I’ll get into the Egypt/Greece/Peru location issue, to the extent that it’s explicable, next level.
Swimming around in the large underwater area before Tihocan’s tomb is great fun, although this could rapidly become a “worst” if you spend an hour scouring the area for the secrets that aren’t there. The surprise appearance of the first Atalantean creature is also a best, although it’s in the exact same area, so I guess this whole segment of the level could count as the best. Is that cheating?
That annoying glitch in the area where you get the gold key that prevents Lara from shimmying across the alcove unless the door is open. Although you can drop down to the spikes and survive with minimal damage, it certainly looks like you just glitched yourself to death, leading to unnecessary reloading. Most people probably find the switch first, thus never encounter this problem, but if you do encounter it, it’s annoying, and quite possibly the sloppiest glitch in the entire game. Also, as mentioned above, I hate the metal shutters- they always look out of place.
Rating: Four Uzi Clips out of Five
I was actually going to give this a three due to the fact that only the last third of the level feels cohesive, but then I remembered that I bumped up the score for Tomb of Qualopec because of the boss fight and the end-level cutscene, and this level has two boss fights and an awesome little cutscene, so it’s only fair.
Next: City of Khamoon, or save me from the terrible panther mummies- seriously, they’re horrifying.
(Screenshots in this post have been taken with permission from Katie’s Tomb Raider Screenshots.)