Tag Archives: annotated playthrough

Tomb Raider II, Level 2: Venice

So my last Tomb Raider-related blog post was, uh *checks watch,* seven years ago. Look, you can see this as me being lazy and abandoning a project for too long, or you can see it as me valiantly attempting to combat the view that popular entertainment is disposable by refusing to bow to the quiet tyranny of time; the choice is yours.

The Urban Problem

I have a lot of problems with Venice, in fact with this whole Venetian level set, and it makes me feel kind of bad. I know these levels are largely beloved by fans, and I wish I could feel the same. But from the first time I played this level, back in 1998, I found it tedious and frustrating, and I’ve never been able to shake that feeling. Even now, when I have the level mostly memorized and can zip through it pretty fast, I still find it frustrating.

The first problem is that urban environments present practical problems for Tomb Raider, as a franchise. If we’re supposed to be in a city, where are all the people? Well, there are lots of gun-toting Bartoli henchman, but where all the non-packing, non-insane people? Putting in neutral NPCs would probably create as many problems as it would solve, but it still feels weird to be running around a city where no one lives; it’s kind of antithetical to the whole concept of the series, really. The whole set up of Tomb Raider implies that you don’t run into any people, because they all died thousands of years ago; when you’re in a modern city, and there’s still no people, you’re reminded of the artificiality of the situation pretty bluntly.

Yes, in the back of your mind, even in the first game, you always know you’re playing a video game; it’s not like making TRII Venice look more populated would really change that. But I think it’s safe to say that Tomb Raider achieves a higher level of immersion when set in, err, tombs, versus modern environments. Interestingly I think they pulled this off better with the London levels in Tomb Raider III, since in that level set, it felt like it was about 4:30 A.M. there and Lara was exploring mostly abandoned buildings anyway, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first vehicle you can ride in all of Tomb Raider and I…don’t like it too much. Maybe this is just me, but I feel like I’m constantly getting on an off the damn thing when I don’t want to, and it happens a lot less with later vehicles.

The second major problem is I think the level’s primary puzzle is a bit too clever for its own good. Maybe I’m just mad that I blew up Lara about a zillion times on the mines trying to clear this level as a teen, but I still think the boat puzzle is too hard to figure out without the aid of a strategy guide. I mean, this is the first TR level in history where they even give you a vehicle, and you’re supposed to figure out a)that you can completely destroy it and b)you can jump out of it at the last second before an explosion? My memory is a little hazy, but I think at the time, I thought you were supposed to improve your speedboat piloting skills to the point where you could navigate between the mines; obviously, this didn’t work out so hot for me.

On one hand, I complain that this puzzle is too unintuitive. On the other, I know that if this game were made today, NPCs and in-game prompts would probably give you about 47 hints about what you were supposed to do, and there would be no satisfaction when you solved it. Maybe I’m just never happy?

Eventually I destroyed one boat pretty much by luck, and forgot the second one existed, so I completed the level the wussy-way; swimming through the gate and completely missing the harried boat ride through half the level. Imagine my surprise when I started the next level and Lara was in yet another speedboat.

Is it possible that very few players were stymied by this puzzle, and I was just being dense? I guess it’s possible. Besides, I have to admit, when you do know what you have to do and you succeed with the timed boat challenge– complete with taking your boat to places where boats are definitely not meant to go– it is pretty darn satisfying.

The Joy of Awning Hopping

It’s hard for me to see past the negatives with this level, mostly because of bad memories from 20 years ago messing with my perception. However, if I give Venice a fair shake, there are some really nice elements here. Jumping from awning to awning is much more fun than it should be; same with jumping up to the fancy glass windows, shooting them out and then running inside. Somewhere out there, there is custom level that’s all about jumping on awnings and shooting out fancy windows on raised overpasses, and I really need to be playing it right now.

I also like the secret placement; sure, burying two little dragons in the black depths of an underwater catacomb is a little harsh, but if you haven’t figured out by this point in the game that they’ve been handing you buckets of flares for a reason, that’s on you.

Once you get this mysterious door open, that’s when the fun starts. I can never get enough of scouring dark catacombs for shiny things, especially when there are lots and lots of shiny things.

Have I mentioned that love collecting flares in this game? I feel like they’re the closest thing to money in the game, so my hoarding instinct takes over;  I’m pretty sure I’ve finished the game with 60+ flares in my inventory. It’s like a game-within-a-game to see how well I can get along with stumbling around in complete and total darkness without using the obvious tool. Hey, did you know that in a pinch, you can use your pistols instead? Lara’s pistols illuminate the area around her briefly, so if you fire them like they’re tiny little machine guns, you can almost see where you’re going for a little while there. Sadly, this does not work underwater, which is where you tend to need flares the most, but oh well.

Speaking of the swimming element, it’s cool to be swimming along, pull up on a dock, shoot some henchmen, jump back in the water and get on with your day. In practice I always get Lara shot about twice as often as she needs to and end up getting frustrated, but that doesn’t change the fact that the idea of it is cool.

Is there some kind of theme park attraction where you’re in an entirely floating city, and you can climb up on the dock to buy ice cream or something, but then jump back in the water to swim to the next attraction? Because that sounds like it would be insanely fun. I may have to stop playing Tomb Raider for a bit and petition all my local waterparks to implement this feature.

Best: Hands down, the best part of the level SHOULD be doing the timed boat race, which is really innovative and feels exhilarating when you pull it off, but as you now know, I have a love-hate relationship with that puzzle. So instead, I’m going to say that the best part is the whole sewer-like area you enter after getting the first speedboat; you may burn through flares like mad, but it’s a blast finding all of the hidden items and secrets. Those uzi clips nearly buried in the sand in a dark corner underwater…*chef’s kiss*

Worst: The excessive number of enemies in the first area, especially the one that pops up after you pull the switch in the boathouse. We’re just getting used to fighting human enemies in TR2, and you throw like five of these bozos at us? Plus mean dogs? No thank you.

Rating: Two Uzi Clips Out of Five

This is my honest opinion; please don’t hurt me.

Coming Next: Bartoli’s Hideout, where I’m going to try to put aside all my issues with Venice as a whole and just play the damned level.

(Screenshots from Katie’s Tomb Raider Screenshots; used with permission.)

Final Fantasy, Part 1

FinalFantasy

I figured that it was time to make good on my ongoing threat to start blogging the Final Fantasy series from the beginning. I’ve played many of the games, some of them multiple times, but there are several entries I’ve either left unfinished or never even tried. This seems like a good opportunity to raise my FF fandom level from “considerable” to “nuclear,” and that kind of upgrade is always appealing.

However, trying to think of any kind of structure for this beyond “I am playing the games and writing stuff down,” felt pretentious, so I’m just going to do this in the form of sharing my notes as I play. This may change as I get to later FFs that I could probably write entire books about; I will try to restrain myself (but not very hard.)

Continue reading Final Fantasy, Part 1

Parasite Eve Playthrough Part 8

In Day Four of Parasite Eve, Aya races to St. Francis Hospital to get to the sperm bank before Eve does. I have decided that, at least for the purposes of today, I am actually twelve years old and the whole concept of a sperm bank is hysterical. I’m going to try to mention it as much as humanly possible.

Continue reading Parasite Eve Playthrough Part 8

Parasite Eve: Special Soundtrack Edition

I’m taking a break from the annotated PE playthrough to focus on one of my favorite aspects of the game: the music.

I want to confess up front that despite being a fan of music, I actually know very little about it, so any comments here on instruments/composition/etc. will be necessarily vague. All I can really talk about is how I feel about the music, not it’s innate properties. Disclaimers section over. Continue reading Parasite Eve: Special Soundtrack Edition

Parasite Eve Playthrough Part 7

I’ve always been a fan of the “Your home base is now infested with monsters” event. Familiar territory becomes exciting again, and as an added bonus, for once you know where the hell you’re going. When they say “Ben is upstairs”, you already know where the upstairs staircase is! Sweet.

Continue reading Parasite Eve Playthrough Part 7

Parasite Eve Playthrough Part 6

Day 3 begins with Aya waking up alone in the dilapidated apartment in Soho from Day 2. Outside, she discovers that Maeda has been sleeping right outside the door, despite her warnings that he might get set on fire at any moment. Maeda shrugs it off and claims that he won’t believe that will happen without “scientific proof.” Considering the fact he just saw someone randomly catch fire in the middle of the street last night, I reckon he needs a lot of proof. Those scientists: When they aren’t evil, they’re anal. Or maybe he’s just bullshitting and the fact is he just wanted to stay near Aya (which is seriously implied in the game, I’m not making that up– although that’s totally the type of thing I would make up.)

Continue reading Parasite Eve Playthrough Part 6

Tomb Raider II, Level 1: The Great Wall

Lara runs from two boulders, because that's totally apropriate in the first level of the game.I was planning on starting with Lara’s Home, since unlike in TR1, there’s an actual puzzle to solve this time. However, since I hate hedge mazes and everything they stand for, I’m going to pretend Croft Manor doesn’t exist and move on to the first level proper. I’m no longer going to be able to ignore the fact that Lara’s Home has become an actual level by TR3, but let’s deal with one problem at a time.

Continue reading Tomb Raider II, Level 1: The Great Wall

Parasite Eve Playthrough Part 5

After noting how easy Day One was, I have to say that Day Two is a huge step up. I didn’t
remember it being difficult, but after running straight through and not taking on any
unnecessary battles in this playthrough, the bosses were a bit tough– I had no healing
items left by the time I’d finished with Eve for the night…fighting her, that is.

Since I’ve been carefully ignoring any sort of gameplay mechanics in favor of recapping the story thus far, this battle-heavy sequence presents a good time to finally explain them a
little; it’s the battle system, as much as the story, that made PE a standout RPG of its
era.

Continue reading Parasite Eve Playthrough Part 5

Annotated Playthrough: Tomb Raider II

TR2 Lara with shiny new braid
I drew some new fanart to celebrate a new playthrough. Here, Lara is showing off her shiny new braid, since she’s obviously very proud of it; hey, I would be.

Me and Tomb Raider II

Though I completed TR1 first, Tomb Raider II was the first game I ever really wanted; it was the reason I saved up my babysitting money and bought a Playstation. After barely touching videogames other than short Mario sessions at friends’ houses when I was little, sometime in early high school, I was flipping through an issue of Newsweek after school one day to see a one-page article on the upcoming sequel. From the first screenshot, Lara in her leather jacket on a pristine snowfield in Tibet, I was intrigued. The idea that videogames would allow me to explore gorgeous, imaginary worlds hit me all at once.

I used to read my parent’s copies of Newsweek in those days to pretend I understood the articles, and if it weren’t for that, I don’t know if I ever would have gotten involved in gaming at all. Maybe one day I’ll write an alternate history for myself where my parents subscribed to Time instead, I never learned about Tomb Raider, and instead I became a nuclear physicist and solved the forthcoming energy crisis (why not?) Continue reading Annotated Playthrough: Tomb Raider II