Tomb Raider Drop of Golden Sun, Lara Note to Follow. So.
This is something I started writing last month, with the intention of documenting my needlessly verbose reactions to a full playthrough of Tomb Raider Underworld over the course of a couple of days. Disastrously, I got bored of playing it before 1) I expected to, and 2) I finished writing about the first level. So that was a shame. In any case, there’s enough witless wordplay here to justify lobbing it up for posterity, and as an excuse to muddle around with Photoshop some more. Incidentally, see if you can spot a reference to the game I had installed around the same time and ended up playing instead, having installed a rather terrific mod for it and playing it mostly at night when I WAS NOT AFRAID AT ALL OF THE CRUMBLING UKRANIAN MONSTER-BASEMENTS and really having a rather interesting time. (Hopefully, I’ll have completed and written about it before my pre-order of Portal 2 arrives in the post. Cunningly, I ordered it from Zavvi, so assuming it ships when it should – tomorrow – I should have until July to get everything finished.)
I’ve had a go at probing Underworld before, but a number of circumstances have drawn me around to playing through it again. For starters, the engine will be used in the upcoming Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a game which causes my lobes to flutter excitedly (and since my first playthrough was on a slightly underpowered system and I’m now in possession of a MIGHTY BEAST, this is a good opportunity to see what the engine looked like at full whack three years ago before Eidos Montreal made it turn orange.) Secondly, I wanted to see if the story made any more sense second time around (although I’ve forgotten large reams of it by now, including all the backstory detailed by Legend and Anniversary, so I suspect I’ll be more confused than ever.) Lastly, it saves me the bother of looking around online for a game that’s on sale for a suitably sub-tenner price that I’m vaguely excited about and I’m really just filling in time until The Witcher 2 comes out anyway.
As a thoroughly uninteresting sidenote, I tried playing Underworld a week or so after first buying this bellowing ox of a PC, but tragedy struck when approximately four minutes after starting an odd physics bug reared its head making it impossible for Lara to place a weighted block upon a pressure plate without the block flying around the room as if propelled by a mischievous poltergeist visiting from STALKER. A complete reinstall did nothing to solve the matter, so it should be of interest to no one to see if the problem reappears.
Oh, excellent – the game comes with a TV serial style PREVIOUSLY ON… featurette, so perhaps my rubbish memory of the other two games won’t prove an issue. Except, no: having watched the featurette, all I can make out is that Lara’s mother both is and isn’t dead, some Atlantean goddess who can’t die has died, and Lara’s blonde companion died, then didn’t die, then tried to make Lara die. This is all such terrific nonsense, but comprehensively useless if you want to make heads or tails of the story. Perhaps I should just look it up on Wikipedia. It probably won’t be important.
The opening Croft Manor bit is rather a shame: one of the best parts of Legend was the bit where you could just explore the mansion tirelessly, swinging from unlikely beams and pillars and flagpoles and buttresses to find some treasure some unknown japester had squared away for a rainy and effortful day, which made the entire house one extended platform puzzle. Now, it’s just a fiery corridor. Still, it’s not much more than a tutorial with cutscenes (complete with splendid voiceover work. One of the very best things to arise from Crystal Dynamics’ takeover of the series from Core post-Angel of Darkness (aside from the obvious spike in general quality of game) was that they brought on board Keeley Hawes to lend Lara just the perfect amount of poshness, as well as doing some decent voice-acting. Also, Zip is voiced by Jake from Becker, so that’s always fun, although I don’t remember him appearing very much in this game. Bah. Becker was great – the last quasi-decent example of the sitcoms that focused on a surly, sarcastic main character who was played by an actor you recognised from an earlier, better sitcom, surrounded by a token ethnic character, a snarky female who may or may not end up a love interest, and a characterful chap written solely to be the subject of ridicule. Now it’s all youths and optimism and chipper singalongs, and who wants that from their light entertainment?)
The next bit, in the Mediterranean sea, is far better, although it starts, dismally, with an underwater forage for relatively tiny stone wheels, which involves piercing sharks with spear guns and dodging electric jellyfish and trying not to stare at Lara’s bum. Luckily, once you’ve realised that all but one of the antechambers around the submerged temple are effectively useless (they contain “hidden” treasures that glow distractingly and make a pinging noise whenever you approach one, so you can’t really call them hidden, except for the fact that a lot of them are contained in antique pots or vases which Lara thoughtlessly kicks into tiny pieces, which isn’t very in keeping with the spirit of tomb raiding. “Hurrah! A valuable antique pot! SMASH.” Perhaps it wouldn’t be so at odds with her profession if every pot contained a treasure (though she could still – y’know – open the lid, or something) but about two thirds of them are empty. It should be called Lara Croft: Pottery Stomper. And all the treasure does is unlock some boring concept art. Hnnnngggh.) (Also, “Physics Bug” would be an excellent anthropomorphic children’s TV science teacher character. Anyway.)
The Kraken makes for an odd enemy. I can understand why – say – Kratos would immediately decide to murder it to death for no apparent reason, or even Princey from Prince of Persia circa the troubled Warrior Within years (because both characters effectively embody the directionless destructive angst of the stroppy teenage Metallica fans the games are aimed at), but Lara is supposed to be interested in preserving this kind of historical monstrosity, surely. It’s probably safe to assume that the Kraken has been living under this temple for at least a few weeks without causing anyone any harm, and now Lara’s barging into its home and KILLING IT, without even telling any marine life experts it exists or anything. AND IT’S BLIND. Lara Croft: Blind Fish Murderer. And not even in a kind way – she runs its tentacles through TWO sets of huge stone gears, and then drops a thorny chandelier on its head. She tortures the poor thing, and it never even attacked her. I mean, mechanically, I certainly prefer this “giant environmental puzzle” boss battle to a straightforward “Shoot them in the glowy bits” boss battle that irritated everyone in the other Tomb Raiders by being so tooth-chisellingly awful, but at least in the latter kind, the boss is usually trying to kill you. Here, it’s just the tragic murder of a wondrous beast. It’s like if David Attenborough stumbled upon a special kind of wasp that had two stingers and could talk, but then remorselessly smashed it to bits with a hammer because it brushed against his earlobe in flight.
(Actually, I’m not sure if it attacks you if you fall into the water it’s reposing in because I gracefully avoided any ill-fated leaping except for that one bit where I’d carefully avoided disturbing a sinewy Kraken limb that was wrapped around a stone pillar, then, once I’d hoisted myself on to a ledge, the game shifted into an awkwardly angled slow motion bit that didn’t play nicely with the joystick. But even then, Lara just crumpled agonisingly against the stony ramparts below. Point is, if you play well, then the Kraken never does you any harm.)
Also, by this point, I can confirm that the Physics Bug has declined to show up, which is mystifying, because I can’t think of anything that’s changed in the meantime – it’s the same patched version of the game, and I can’t imagine that slightly updated graphics drivers would make any difference two years after release. Still, at least the game’s now allowing me to progress past these wonderfully silly pressure-plate-and-grappling-hook puzzles to reach THOR’S GAUNTLET, which turns out to be some kind of stony strappy thing that attaches to Lara’s hand before she’s knocked out cold by some thugs, led by some Irish heavy who then nicks the stony strappy thing and EXPLODES THE TEMPLE LEAVING LARA TO MAKE A DARING ESCAPE. (It’s this kind of things that means whenever I play a Tomb Raider game, I’m always inspired to watch some Relic Hunter, before remembering how rubbish Relic Hunter was, and deciding that instead I should write a pointlessly in-depth dissection of this Tomb Raider game for my no readers.) Excellently, after having it away from the temple, Lara resurfaces to her little speedboat and finds the thugs just idling around on a larger boat perhaps twelve metres away.
A weird feature – or lack thereof, I suppose – of the game is that instead of binoculars, Lara uses a HD video-camera to get a closer look at distant enemies or zoom in on some ancient carvings or whatever, both in cutscenes and in the game proper. It strikes me that, rather than having Lara stomp indiscriminately on antique vases to collect those baubles (all the exact same shape, colour, etc.), why not have the player use the camera to take pictures of some of her notable finds, like some stone carvings about a proto-Norse afterlife OR MAYBE THE GIANT LIVE KRAKEN YOU JUST MURDERED to unlock the unlockables? Eh? It was a lovely feature of ruthlessly-ignored-by-punters-and-of-course-loved-by-critics-and-now-available-in-HD-on-your-Xboxotron gem Beyond Good & Evil. So it’s both a brilliant game mechanic, and more in keeping with the character. Honestly, I’m rather surprised that I think of these things and the wonderful folks at CD don’t.
(Aaaaaaaaand at this point I lost interest and wandered off to watch Amelie which isn’t as good as you said it was.)