The Ten Thousand Deaths of Lara Croft

It hasn’t been that long, really, since I decided that I should really start trying to play through some of the games that I’d piled up over the years of playing nothing but Everquest.

I say “decided”, but the reality is more that I realized I actually could finish some games; it was a mindset change from “I have too many games and will never play them” to “hey, if I just play through these, one at a time, eventually I’ll feel like I’m less buried”

I didn’t come to this epiphany by myself, mind you, it was thanks to a friend who pretty much forced me to sit down and play through Star Wars: Battlefront II, in co-op mode, sticking with the game even through the really nasty storming-the-blockade-runner level.

It made me realize a couple of things: 1, that game designers did actually design their games to be finished, but that 2, sometimes there’d be a really annoying bit and you’d just have to keep throwing yourself at it.

I’ve since come to realize that (1) doesn’t always hold true.  There are still some designers out there who design games so they’re hard to finish, so actually completing them is an accomplishment.

I have a couple of adjectives to describe designers like that, but I like to keep the language on this blog fairly polite so I won’t go into it.

Anyway.  Uh, Lara Croft.  Tomb Raider and the subject of many a geek fantasy since 1996 or so.  She was big in the mid-90s, hit some career downpoints in the late 90s, became almost completely irrelevant in the early 2000s, and then got a full-on makeover with Tomb Raider: Legend, which just happened to be one of the first games I played through after reaching the above epiphany.  It was actually the first game I completed on the Xbox 360, back in 2007, and I followed it up by playing through Tomb Raider: Anniversary, also in 2007, which was an eye-opener for me in that it was a PC game but one that used the Xbox controller and tried to be every bit as user friendly as a console title.

It was also blisteringly hard – it was the first game to send me to Youtube to look up hints on just how to beat certain boss fights.

Anyway, Legend and Anniversary formed the first two parts of a trilogy, with last year’s Tomb Raider Underworld making up the last bit – and after playing through the first two and enjoying them, I had to buy it.

Note: “buy”, not “play” – looking at my Amazon order history, I ordered it on December 1st of last year… and I then let it sit until Dec 23rd of this year, so almost 13 months, during which time I’ve seen it for as little as $7.49 on sale.

Oh, well.

Having now played it, I give it high marks for wrapping up the story from the first two games, in highly satisfactory fashion.  It also added some new moves to Lara’s repertoire of tomb-raiding moves, and actually took place, for the most part, IN TOMBS.  Moreover, it did away with both annoying QTEs (the bane of Tomb Raider: Legend) AND the sort of frustrating boss fights that pockmarked Anniversary; the result is that your enemy is, in most cases, the environment.  There are lots of assorted creatures that try to kill you, to be sure, but they rarely get in your way too much.

On the other hand, it was rather buggy in bits.  I managed to avoid triggering the set of conditions that actually result in a broken game, which was nice, but I did have several occasions where I’d walk onto a slight incline and Lara would suddenly die as if she’d fallen from a great height.

Also, the camera hates you and does everything it can to kill you.  And when I say “hates you”, I believe that the single-mindedness with which it obscures the precise viewing angle you absolutely need to see the only safe move is, in fact, a sign of emergent artificial intelligence, a malevolent and calculating proto-mind which knows only its desire for your destruction.

But that’s a minor quibble, really.

Oh, because I didn’t mention it before: between “World of Goo” and this, I played through “Mini Ninjas”, which was endearingly cute and generally enjoyable. It’s been written off as mostly a kid’s title, but this adult got a great deal of pleasure out of the attention paid to the environments and the streamlined (OK, OK, “button-mashing”) combat system.  Oddly enough that means that I’ve played through three Eidos games in the last few days, I think they’re rapidly becoming my New Favorite Publisher despite their widely-publicized review manipulating hijinks.

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