Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Bypass Operation

Yes, it is another Tomb Raider 2013 rant. I wouldn't be doing this, really, if there wasn't so much to like about the game...

Anyhow, responding to the complaint of a strong ludonarrative dissonance, one of the developers retorted that you didn't have to kill every Solarii you encountered. You could "just bypass them."

So can you? Playing up through the Radio Tower, the totals were roughly one live body left behind for every person Lara was forced to kill. Discounting the large set-piece battles/ambushes, where it was necessary to kill everyone in order for the game to advance.

1) Deer. You have to kill a deer to trigger the "go back to the campsite with meat and get a radio call from Roth" event. I shot a couple rabbits and a crow, but no, has to be a deer. However, you can leave all of Bambi's little friends unharmed (really, one deer carcass should feed her for the rest of her island stay!) 0/0

2) Wolves. After Mathias leaves with Sam, you get stuck in a bear trap. Three wolves will charge and the only way through the semi-quicktime is to kill all three. 0/0 humans, 3/3 wolves.

3) More wolves. The game really thinks you will fight them. It puts you on a bridge with clear lanes of fire and three more bundles of fresh arrows at your feet. Instead I scramble-ran all the way up the hillside to trigger the cutscene with Whitman. Got bit a couple times but super-healing power, right? 0/0 humans, 3/5 wolves (counting only combat encounters).

4) Vladimir. Killed in a quicktime. You kill him or get killed. That's your only bullet, so bypassing the other Solarii in the scene is not a moral choice. 1/1

5) Two guys in front of a door. This is the scene I thought I could win. You are trapped in a courtyard between a fire that springs up the moment you enter, and a door that requires you pry at it with your hand axe. And...no go. The guys discover you in cutscene so you must fight them. I tried pushing them over. Tried shooting them in the knee. But no matter what I tried, the moment I started prying at the door someone would shoot a flaming arrow into it and Lara would drop the axe. 3/3

Yeah, the game is making a big point here with you getting over your first kill, being totally cornered, and choosing to fight back. So it is not a ludonarrative disconnect per se...although it is a little odd that exactly two minutes after throwing up, you are gritting your teeth and shooting people again. Plus, both headshots and finishing moves are already active by this point.

6) The Silent Kill. The game really, really, really wants you to stealth kill this one guy. It gives you fresh arrows and a cart to hide behind. And guess what? Movement keys are locked. Weapon switch is locked. It's pretty much another damned QTE; all you can do is track and fire. And if you shoot at so much as his big toe, he falls over dead. 4/4

7) Two more guys at foot of cliff. They spend a while facing each other, then one walks over towards you and will discover you. And even if you ran past them -- the rope ladder that gets you up the cliff isn't unrolled until you start shooting. If you stealth kill (what the game wants) the rope ladder guy comes down for the hell of it anyway. Regardless, you can't climb the ladder until they stop shooting at you, meaning once again, TPK. 7/7

8) The not-fireproof hut. The game has decided you are okay with shooting people in the back with a bow and wants to teach you a new trick now; to do it up close and personal. There are two bad guys with their backs to you and the game flashes up instructions on how to garrote them with your bow. Then you are supposed to get discovered by four other guys including a molotov-thrower who will set fire to the building you are fighting in. (The same move, a little later in the game, you upgrade to burying your ice axe in the back of their neck). Well, I was having none of that. I jumped over the first guy, scramble-dodged the second, took a couple flaming arrows in the butt scrambling up to the next level, scramble-ran across that while everyone was yelling and shooting, and hopped on the zipline out of there. Success! (Assuming you don't count own-goals from Mr. Firebug.) 7/13

9) Wolf in cave. Killed in a QTE. Still 7/13, and wolves are 4/6.

10) Men at top of cliff. Well, what do you know? If you wait long enough, they say "Let's go inside out of the rain," and they do. And you can actually stroll right through the camp without them seeing you. (Not only that, but there's more conversation triggered if you do so; always a bonus with the clever writing and nice voice acting). Another four lives saved, and these ones didn't finish up the encounter setting fire to themselves. 7/16

11) Men on trail before Broken Tunnel. These ones are not designed to by bypassed. If you use the zipline, they trigger. If you chose to jump, you are injured but heal...and they trigger the moment you walk any closer. All three have cover and one of them is throwing molotovs to flush you out. Hell with it; I was on easy setting; I scramble-ran right up the trail, shoved them out of the way, got hit a few times with arrows and one axe but survived long enough to wriggle into the crack to the next level. And they VO's comment on this "That's too narrow for us...we'll have to go around." The developers think of everything! 7/20.

12) Broken Tunnel. The way this is staged, you are supposed to fight your way from cover to cover against the six mooks in the courtyard, under constant fire from the machine gun, then fight your way up the stairwell to take the gunner from behind. The smart way to do it is to snipe the gunner, then silent kill all the mooks on the ground one by one.

I took the third path: I ran like hell. Rolled a lot and zig-zagged from cover to cover right through the whole mess. Now, later in the game you have to do this against Dmitri, so you know it is possible. This early on, no-one is going to break cover under fire from six guys and a heavy machine gun. Went right up the stairs, pushed the two there out of my way, jumped to the tower and had to struggle in that narrow walkway to push the other two down just long enough to climb up the ledge. They kept shooting and shooting but scenery blocked their bullets. 7/31

But the developers are still lying here. I'm using the easy setting, abusing the dodge mechanic, and relying on AI stupidity to do things that also break the ludonarrative dissonance. Lara may be, at this point in the game, reluctant to kill, but that does not in any way translate to "Cheerful about running right at a heavy machine gun!" And, no...there is no alternate path, no climb high above their heads, no concealment you can use to make a long torturous sneak. There is either combat and kill, or take an insane risk.

13) Inside the bunker, two mooks are wrestling with a big drum painted bright red and anyone who ever played a game in their life knows what they are supposed to do here. After you've killed them, another will pop out of a ceiling hatch. Instead I run, run, run, shove shove shove run run run. 7/34

14) The gas trap. The only way to advance is to light off the gas. And that fatally injures the mook with the Type 100. You can mercy kill him if you like, but irregardless, you set off a gas explosion in his face. 8/35

15) Ambush! Here the numbers go bad. The game gave you a light machine gun. It auto-selects to force it into your hands, goes into slow-mo, and glues your feet to the ground while three guys close on you with axes. On any mode other than easy, you pull the trigger or you die. I was on easy mode. I waited until the slo-mo ended, then jumped up to the balcony. Someone was already up there shooting at me so I pushed him off. And he died. OSHA is right, apparently. You can jump up and down this balcony all day, but if they fall off it, they die. And, well, stymied.

The iron door to the next room is opened by the reinforcements, and reinforcements won't come until all but two of the mooks are dead. At least I could make a partial sop to my desire to not engage in combat with them; I ran around like mad, jumping up to the balcony, pushing people off it, jumping back to the floor when it got too busy up there. Actually managed to kill about six of them without firing a shot.

The door finally opened, but the next door had the same latch problem; if you approach the door to lever it open, someone sets fire to it and Lara drops the axe. Even if there is just one guy left, and he is disabled, a flaming arrow will appear. You have to kill every last one. The only possible sop to your conscious is a couple are bomb-throwers, and you can maneuver them into own-kills. Twelve more kills; 20/47

16) Guy on the bridge. Killed in a QTE. And, no, you can't climb over the truck or anything; the only path forward is through the cutscene. 21/48

17) The bunker in front of the tower is already alerted. Now, it is actually possible to run past all of them and into the second courtyard. But the doors won't open until they send the "big guy" out, and he won't come out until you are down to two or less alive in the entire freaking complex (minus the idiot who shows up with a molotov only after everyone else is dead. He is, at least, surprised to find you alive). I lost track a little at this point. There's two at the short tower, three or four in the tower filled with handy red drums of bang, another four that spring up after you've encountered the drum people, three or so snipers in the last building, plus the first of the guys who carries a safe door around with him all shift. I gave up and shot one of the drums, then ran around the courtyard like mad trying to taunt the big guy out. Shot people in the knees, but it was so crowded down there I accidentally triggered a finishing kill animation, and then we just said the heck with it. The only person Lara didn't kill was the idiot with the molotov. Call it 12 kills; 33/60

So, yes, by the time you've reached the radio tower, you've killed over half the people you've met. And those that survived are still shooting at you; there are a grand total of three Solarii still sitting comfortably in their huts at the top of a waterfall, out of the rain, unaware of how close they came to encountering Wolverine.

I tried to go a little further with this increasingly quixotic quest. I found one loophole; there's an ambush right after you get the flaming arrows and once again you are glued to the ground with an arrow notched and will die if you don't immolate three guys. But after that, you can actually run away from the entire ambush; they eventually say "Let the guys at the gate take care of her," or words to that effect.

So that's another twenty or so who you can spare, although the gate does not allow such mercy; twenty dead there. Then the tower Grim is holed up in; you must complete that fight and kill at least a dozen. And another dozen when you've fought your way around to take it from a different angle. There is about eight on the windmill you can bypass, though. Can't sneak past them; once again, the game triggers them automatically (in fact, the one time I crawled all the way around, they actually teleported in right in front of my eyes). You might confuse or reset them by going into the nearby tomb. But if you run around like a mad weasel long enough to confuse them properly, you can jump on to the tramway and leave them behind. Three or four machine gun bullets in the back are nothing to Lara -- not on easy mode, at least.

So for those next encounters, you are forced to kill roughly 3/5 of the people you encounter. And these are larger encounters, too; the blood on your hands is up over a hundred by the time you get out of the geothermal caverns. This isn't player choice; this is built into the level design.

(Yes...the Solarii revival meeting can almost be bypassed; stealth-kill two guards, run like hell to the gas valve, blow it up to open the next door...and the dozen or more you ran past die screaming in the resulting eruption and flames. Oh, well. At this point, one needs to take notice that since you set fire to their building, at least fifty die in the flames; you see some two dozen blasted by gouts of fire, crushed by flaming debris, or falling off a roof in flames. You hear a lot more voices screaming in the distance. Still, even counting only direct player kills, you leave over a hundred bodies in your wake.)

So, no. The ludonarrative dissonance is alive and well. Me, I have my own head-cannon. Especially since I have the out-of-game knowledge that the first tortured sacrifice you see strung up is another student, a member of your expedition, and a friend, I pretty much decided my Lara went straight from fear to murderous rage. The moment she got a weapon, she was happy to kill every single cultist on that island. With an axe. Close-up.

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