Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Not So Much Raiding, More Killing

A friend loaned me the 2013 Tomb Raider game. The only one I'd played previously was Tomb Raider - Legend, which I liked quite a bit, even if it left me wondering why no one can make a decent Indiana Jones game.

This is a younger Lara Croft, who has convinced a crew to go seek out a fabled island of Yamatai, supposedly ruled by a Sun Queen, before the people were destroyed. Their boat gets wrecked, and many of them are stranded on this island, as it turns out with many other people who have been stranded there over the years, who have been formed into a murderous cult led by a guy named Mathias, who reminds me visually of Saddler from Resident Evil 4. Probably just the hooded robe and the staff. Lara has to struggle to survive, try to rescue and protect her friends, and figure out what they need to do to get off this island. Because it's abundantly clear there's a force at work that has no intention of letting them leave.

There's a lot of running and jumping, climbing ledges, figuring out weights and pulleys that need to be manipulated just so. Sometimes the game is forgiving, and you don't have to be precise in how, for example, you pull a bell so the wind slams it into an obstruction. Other times, the game will make you do the same jump over and over until you, I don't know, leap at the wall at just the right angle, or hit the button to use the climbing axe at just the right moment. It's the kind of frustration where I know exactly what I need to do to solve the puzzle, and I'm doing it, but it's not working.

There's also a lot of gunfights. Really, it's hard for me to believe there are that many guys in Mathias' cult. He admits in documents you find just lying around he kills any newcomers who show signs of resistance, or look too weak. The ones with potential they literally hurl down into caverns and leave for weeks to fend for themselves against each other. Whoever crawls out alive at the end is accepted. Given all that, plus the natural attrition of living on this island full of dangerous terrain, malevolent weather, and relentless armored warrior/demon things, how is it I had to kill hundreds of people? There shouldn't have been that many guys left! But the shooting controls are fine, no real difficulties. I was disappointed when the end of the game brought extended battles against the Stormguard, simply because everything I'd hear and seen of them up to that point suggested they were nigh-unstoppable. Once I went up against them, they proved pretty damn stoppable. And I thought they were going to use the huge, war club wielding one as a relentless figure hounding Lara, light Pyramid Head in Silent Hill 2 or something. A threat better off avoided as much as possible, but he pretty much vanishes until the final act, and then, boss fight. Ah well.

It's especially maddening because I'll be in a battle, and I'll hear one of them yell, 'She's killing us!', and I want to yell back, "I'll stop when you stop trying to kill me!" I was quite content to run around the island, looking for relics, climbing walls, nosing around the secret tombs. I'd have been more than willing to just sneak past these guys, but they insist of trying to kill me whenever they see me. So yeah, when I get the chance, I put the climbing axe in their neck for a stealth kill, or an arrow in their head and move on. Of course, my attempts to be stealthy rarely lasted long. The game seems to revel in making you do things that would attract attention. Here's a locked door, better loudly break it open with your axe. Or zoom down a zipline and land with a lot of noise. I appreciated that I got to be stealthy in a third-person perspective, but it was hard to tell a lot of the time if I was hidden sufficiently or not, which lead to some rough moments.

There are some definite irritating spots with the story. A lot of points where the game requires you to fight and fight and fight to try and reach this one person, and when you get to them, they die in a cut scene, entirely beyond your control to save them. I imagine this is supposed to be a formative experience for Lara, though I'm not familiar enough with the character to say what effect it's having exactly. Most of the people she keeps failing to save are old friends of her deceased father, so it's cutting her remaining ties to him. Forcing her to hold tighter to what she has left of him, his work? I don't know. The whole lead up to Grim's end, or the first attempt to rescue Sam, leading to the hurried escape from the burning, collapsing palace, culminating with the jump to the helicopter, which goes exactly how the game has been telling me it will for the last hour, and oops, someone else dies. I understand Lara is not the super-competent explorer she'll become, but can I manage to save anyone, even by luck?

I enjoyed exploring the secret tombs, even if they sometimes have the most annoying puzzles. At least I don't have to worry about any enemies, which is nice. The mixture of landscapes and structures to explore was fun. Here's an old village of wood huts. Here's the rusted remains of a World War II naval base! Here's the super-structure for a massive trolley system to hop around on! It's a mishmash that gives that sense of overlapping histories, that suggests there really is something here lots of people want.

So, the exploring was fun, the puzzles were mostly not too irritating, the story had some stuff to it, but how it intersected with the gameplay frustrated me, and the combat was well-laid out, but more of it than I was really interested in.

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