Returning to Games After a Decade
I never had the money for serious gaming, and perhaps it did me well; I’ve focussed on other things. But when the pandemic hit, I decided that this was exactly the time to start playing again, so I bought Tomb Raider from 2013.
Having not played anything much since Metal Gear Solid 3, I was blown away. The seamless way the creators had pulled the graphics into the story, the attention to detail in the face, and of course the first puzzle.
Tomb Raider puzzles understandably dealt with switches and levers beforehand. They didn’t make much sense, but we could forgive the old creators, as they had very little to work with. Here, puzzles interacted better with the environment.
And the hitpoint bar was nowhere to be seen - instead, Lara simply displayed her wounds. And you could kill animals for food. The introduction promised me exactly the excitement I wanted after leaving computer games for over a decade.
Soon after, disappointment crept in. Cut scenes still wandered in needlessly. She could have simply observed enemies while they did a monologue - we didn’t need the camera being wrenched from the player. And if the player had interrupted some bad-guy monologue, the game was already set to insta-death in many cases, so it seemed to break the immersion without any real reason. Or the creators could simply have allowed the player to wander off without looking at the cut-scene. I don’t see any practical difference between letting players wander away, and letting them skip a cut-scene.
Then I had to start collecting loot boxes. At the game’s start, it tried to explain that the loot boxes were necessary for parts so Lara could…modify her gun? As if she - while wandering through an overgrown island - would modify parts of her gun. The player can find loot boxes scattered throughout the levels randomly, as if some careless Santa Clause had drunkenly flown about, while dropping valuable gun-parts and ammunition. Even more strange, the player can find loot on the animal corpses. So Lara wanders through the forest, kills a deer, and finds it has eaten a shot-gun upgrade, which she then adds to her gun while sitting by a fire.
The fires in the game form camp sites, which let you fast-walk to any other fire. Initially I thought this must be some open-world game, where I plan my trip around the island, depending upon which mission I want to do, but no. Lara has no business with old areas once she’s walked past them.
Soon after, I got a new weapon, then another, from the bodies of the enemies. That all made sense initially, but then I noticed the enemies would gain access to those same weapons about the same time as the player. You find a hand-gun when running into enemies with handguns, and the same goes for machine-guns, the rifle, et c.
This gun-upgrade immediately suggested a lost opportunity - why not simply let the player pick up any weapon from the bodies of enemies? You could get the same progression of weapons, without the cut-scenes where a new weapon comes up, and add any audio (“oh look, a shotgun”), to whenever the first time Lara picks up a new gun. And instead of gun-upgrades, she could simply take better weapons from the bodies of her enemies.
The first-time playing, the player really has no idea which gun-upgrades they want, so finding random improvements - better balanced guns this time, and a gun with more ammo the next - doesn’t seem to detract from player agency.
But instead of scavenging from the dead, Lara was scavenging gun-parts from deer and rabbits, then going to her fire to quick-walk to a previous level, where she could search for all the loot-boxes she missed last time, so she could insta-fix her shotgun with less recoil.
All in All
The creators have evidently stuck to old video-game tropes, needlessly. The cut-scenes, the pulling loot-boxes from dead birds, none of them served the game.
I had an inkling to buy the latest fad - Elden Ring - but once I saw a little play-through, all the old tropes wandered onto the screen immediately. So many creators seem stuck in tropes which existed only due to the limitations of old tech.
I think I’m going to return to just playing Keeper-RL from time to time. At least there, the loot boxes make sense.