Friday, October 24, 2014

For Archaeologists Who Have Considered Suicide When the Scion is Enough

And just to round things off, started Tomb Raider: Anniversary. That's the Crystal Dynamics (the first reboot group) remake of the very first Tomb Raider game.

It is definitely the hardest of all the Crystal Dynamics series. The controls are not even quite as fluid as Tomb Raider : Legend, and the camera screw is much worse. Particularly awkward are the wall runs; in those, the direction Lara will leap depends on the exact instant you jump, as the camera changes axis at the apogee of each swing.

The first two games give insight to just how mature Tomb Raider: Underworld was; much more fluid animation, better combat mechanics, minimal camera screw. Although Legend includes several vehicle sections, only in Underworld is the vehicle integrated into the same environment as Lara, meaning you can drive over the same terrain you can run over. And also meaning you can use the vehicle in melee.

Underworld also did the best job at integrating story and tomb exploring. The puzzles were, unfortunately, simplistic, but the tombs were monumental and the isolation palpable. For all that the tombs of Anniversary are equally without human presence (aside from your own and the occasional appearance of a story element), there is a distinct lack of context, of any scenes outside the tombs that can really give you a feeling of having pushed far away from the world outside. Instead it becomes a series of puzzles in some interior space, as hermetic as the (rather more intentionally so) Portal.

The puzzles in Anniversary are difficult and few of them are the contrived "shoot the beam that against all logic falls across the stone to knock it into the lever" types. There's been only one so far that I stopped and went for help on, though. And, pity -- I was doing exactly the right thing already, but the quirky controls were making my action fail.

The oddest reality break in Anniversary occurs in large part because of the hub structure of many of the puzzles. Frequently, a mistake will send you back to a common place where it will take you a long and frustrating time of recreating your previous moves. can step off a platform or into a whirling blade, and restore to a more convenient save point.

Literally, suicide is painless (compared with the alternative).

I think personally the hub nature of the puzzles doesn't help. In Underworld, you always had the sense of moving closer to your ultimate goal. Even in some of the more hub-based systems, you were visibly progressing across a long hall or up a huge structure. In Anniversary, you end up crossing a room multiple times; going up to collect a key, back down to open a door. This makes it feel less like you are accomplishing anything, and makes you impatient to finish that room and move on.

A number of the puzzles involve a similar lack of progression. More than one "flooded room" appears that requires you to climb down the room progressively turning taps to lower the water, do something at the bottom of the room, then climb all the way back again turning the taps back on again. And repeat this several times if you didn't position the thing at the bottom exactly right for where it needs to be when you are finally back at the top.

They even nest; one door might take three keys to open, which are each held in a hub of their own that takes multiple keys to open, each of which is, of course, some complicated little problem of ramps and spinning blades and so forth.

When you come down to it, it is boiled down to mostly pure gameplay. But considering that the story elements, character interaction, and so forth in the other games is extremely scripted and minimally interactive -- little better than watching a cutscene -- I'm not entirely sure this is a bad thing.

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