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.
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
Alas, here we are: the final level of the original Tomb Raider. I thought I might be low on things to say about it since the level designers are far to busy trying to kill Lara dead to put in any beautiful vistas or meaningful symbolism, but naturally, sensible things like that don’t hold me back.
I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I’m not typically interested in feminist criticism. When a text actually lends itself to it at all, the resulting analysis is often obvious to the point of being banal: you mean, stuff written decades ago was more overtly sexist than we generally see today? You don’t say.
However, when the penultimate level of a video game involves traipsing around what is basically a giant womb, pitting one alpha-female absolutely obsessed with self-reliance against another alpha-female absolutely obsessed with the power of creation, while giant eggs are bursting forth with new life all over the place, well…there might be some feminine symbolism going on there; I could be wrong.
This is a roundabout way of saying that some of my thoughts on this level may seem a lot like feminist criticism, and that’s a bit of a pain; I still don’t like it on general principle. It’s just, even a stopped clock is right once a day, you know? Continue reading Tomb Raider Level 14: Atlantis
Overview, or in Need of Level Replayers Anonymous
Confession time: I seriously screwed up this level for myself. First I played it two or three times, as is my habit for these things, fully intending to write up a level review shortly. Then I moved into my new apartment and got sidetracked. Then I played the level again, thinking I would THEN review it, only to get buried in work for a few weeks. So as I played it again just now, for what must have been the fourth or fifth time, I realized I had managed to make one of the great Tomb Raider levels of all time appear boring via repetition.
It’s obvious that this level is a sister level to City of Khamoon, but what I didn’t realize until this time around was that it’s also a sister-level to St. Francis’ Folly; it’s all about going vertical. The main Obelisk room is all about the height, and most of the side puzzles involve traversing great heights. It also benefits from being a level with a strong central location, without it being too obvious how you’re supposed to progress.
However, unlike SFF, jumping from down from on high isn’t necessarily fatal, and it can actually be useful- it’s just a more inviting atmosphere. It’s interesting in that this is one of the levels where the whole thing is obviously an elaborate puzzle expressly created to keep people out (hence my feeling that this whole Egypt section is one giant tomb), but it never really feels like Lara isn’t welcome.
I’m a bit out of my depth with the Egypt levels- on the one hand, from the standpoint of playability, they’re all pretty much great. However, they don’t seem to conjure up the kind of thoughts in me that many other levels do, leaving me constantly aware while I’m playing them that I’m playing TR levels, albeit some very good ones, and NOT really exploring some ancient locale. This may have more to do with me than the game, but it does leave me a little puzzled in terms of how to rate them.
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.)
Midas Water District: Tax Money Well Spent
Like City of Vilcabamba, this level makes you think just a little bit about what life must have been like for people in ye olden tymes. Unlike Vilcabamba however, I don’t get a sense of sadness from this level; it’s more like, “Once upon a time, people used sewers for municipal waste; they still do, just not this one. The End.” It doesn’t seem to be haunted by ghosts from the pasts, perhaps because ghosts aren’t particularly attracted to what’s basically a lot of plumbing.
That said, perhaps it’s appropriate that this level is much more alive than many of the others- and by alive I mean, full of things you probably find disgusting. The walls are infested with mildew, and instead of just having wildlife to deal with, here the key word is definitely “vermin”; seeing the rats swimming in the sinkholes makes me want to turn off the game and take a shower. There’s a palpable ick-factor here that even the fantastical, pulsating walls of flesh we see later in the game can’t match.
It’s almost like the holy temples are frozen in the past- Qualopec’s tomb, St. Francis Folly- the spirits that haunt them too dignified to play host to decay. In The Cistern, life does in fact go on, but it’s basically one big bacterial infection.
That said, it’s still a highly enjoyable level. I don’t know if it’s the lack of religious/symbolic imagery or what, but there’s something relaxing about this level. Even though there are still plenty of ways to kill Lara (see below: Crocodiles), I don’t find there to be a sense of peril about this area- it seems to lead more to calm, analytical thinking. “Ah, so if I pull this switch, the cavern will flood and I can swim over those spikes that would otherwise be impassable. Splendid! I’ll just swim on over this way and pick up some magnum ammo before I go after the key…” It’s all very civilized, really.
It’s also a level that involves a tremendous amount of swimming underwater, which I enjoy, without much danger of running out of air. Another personal thing: I’m not much of a swimmer in real life- my crawl stroke looks pathetic-but I’ve always been able to hold my breath for a long time underwater. So, when I do swim, I tend to spend most of my time chillin’ at the bottom of the pool. Exploring ancient ruins via swimming is something that appeals to me a lot, since it doesn’t seem that far afield from something I could actually do in real life, given the opportunity. Of course, the frequent deaths by suffocation that start to become common in TR2 freak me out a bit for the same reason, so I’m happy to have a chance to swim with Lara without being afraid of an imminent, watery grave.
Announcement: Crocodiles are the New Bears
I try to make a point of killing as many of these things from above as possible, however somehow, there’s always more around once I get into the water. Maybe it’s like pulling the legs off of a starfish- kill one, grow six more?
Crocodiles are clearly the big threat on this level- so much so that you wonder why they even bothered with the monkeys and lions. Despite the more-or-less relaxing environment, if you’re into “OMG, where the **** did THAT just come from!?” sorts of moments, The Cistern has a lot of that- it’s like the oodles and oodles of crocodiles spontaneously generate from the mildew or something. There is one room where you are attacked by, no joke, three crocodiles. One crocodile would have been threatening, two would have been menacing, but three? Once you’ve gone that far, why not just put in 47 of them and make it like a clown car, only with vicious prehistoric killers instead of clowns?
Seriously, they should have done that for people on a replay game; shooting 47 crocodiles would probably use up all of your magnum ammo, but on a clear file with infinite uzis, I fail to see a downside.
Anyway, another notable feature of the local croc population is their tendency to chomp on Lara’s head when she goes for some of the keys in this level- and I’m not being cute, I mean they literally put their jaws where Lara’s head is. I don’t know if that was intentional, or it’s just the effect you get when Lara is picking up a key while a croc swims through an underwater door that just opened, but it’s disturbing nonetheless.
It’s interesting- back in the day, Lara’s horrible deaths were kind of fun because they were graphically incapable of being truly gruesome. Today, all Lara can do is fall over and grunt, and it’s really kind of a drag in comparison. I’m not a fan of gore by any means, but I kind of miss the idea of video game gore being so totally harmless- it’s the same reason I don’t enjoy any of the post-PSX Resident Evil games.
I confess, I’m a bit disappointed by this edition of Stupid Pierre Tricks: I kept hoping I would find some interesting method to Pierre’s madness, but it really does just seem random. You run into Pierre a ridiculous three times (hmm, weird theme with the number three…), and there doesn’t seem to be any pattern to his disappearing; sometimes he’ll disappear quickly, and sometimes he’ll stick around and soak up damage for a fairly long time, despite the plethora of corners available to slip away behind. The only thing I can really say for sure is that he doesn’t ever stick around for as long as he does in the Coliseum in this level, probably because that would make things too difficult, health-pack conservation wise.
Now in theory, Pierre’s frequent appearances should ruin some of the sense of isolation and whatnot in this level, but you know what? I’m not sure that’s actually the case. I think his frequent appearances kind of go along with the relaxed feeling of this level. Sure, in theory Pierre popping up out of nowhere could scare the crap out of you, but Pierre hasn’t been scary since MAYBE St. Francis Folly. Instead, he’s more like an old friend at this point; an old friend who shoots you, sure, but honestly, how else do you get Lara Croft to notice you?
This room is just weird- there are gorillas (why?) a fight with Pierre that tends to involve him taking way more hits than is necessary, and a really sadistic non-secret that requires backflipping off a ledge to get. I thought it wasn’t until TR3 that you needed to whip out the “backflip into seemingly certain death to adjust trajectory” strategy, but apparently I was wrong.
I think this may be like all those times when my Mom said the boys just picked on me because they liked me, and even though I thought she was crazy at the time, now I see that she was right. It’s just unrequited love, people.
Best: Flooding the main room and swimming through it. There’s something really satisfying about making such a huge change to the level just by flicking a lever, and swimming through areas you could previously only traverse with running jumps feels great, almost as though you can suddenly fly.
Worst: There isn’t anything that particularly stands out as bad in this level; the only potential annoyance is if you can’t find one of the many keys you need to progress, but getting stuck on this level is relatively rare- there’s always somewhere you haven’t explored yet. Really, calling it a “worst” may be a bit of a stretch, but the beginning and end of the level seem kind of disconnected from the main cistern area; they seem like they were just tacked on for a bit of extra length.
Whether they be rusty, silver, or gold, Lara never leaves abandoned keys out in the cold! Wow, that was terrible, let’s try again….Lara never met a key she didn’t like, the better to Tihocan’s Tomb to hike? Yeah, I think I’ll stick to prose….
Rating: Four Uzi Clips out of five. It’s hard to give this one less than 5/5, since flooding the main room and swimming around in it is one of my favorite TR moments in the franchise, but if I’m honest, is the entirety of the level that high-quality? There is an awful lot of key-fetching, and as mentioned above, the opening and closing areas aren’t anything to write home about. So it’s 4/5, but believe me, I was sorely tempted to go higher.
Next: Tomb of Tihocan, or ‘since it seems like this level is totally just filler, why is it still so fun?”
(Screenshots in this post have been taken with permission from Katie’s Tomb Raider Screenshots.)