Fail Forward: Tomb Raider

Fail Forward is a series of videos all about the bits of games which don’t quite work and why. In this episode, Marsh Davies discusses Tomb Raider [official site], evil wizards, falling off things and the forthcoming demise of the cinematic shooter.

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57 Comments

  1. draglikepull says:

    The primary way Tomb Raider failed was that it played like someone had given Uncharted to the director of the Saw movies. “What if we took something great and drained all the fun out of it?”

    • gwathdring says:

      I’m not sue if we agree or disagree.

      I don’t think it needed to be more Unchartedy and cartoonish to be fun. Consider Raiders of the Lost Ark; the tone is frequently quite grim and borrows horror tropes as it tells it’s relatively light and silly adventure story. It tries to disturb and unsettle you and make sure you know you’re not in Kansas anymore. When it is humorous it is usually wry rather than silly though there are exceptions.

      Given how well received that film was and how well suspense, survival, and adventure go together across all mediums, it’s not so strange to consider applying a more complete borrowing from horror and suspense to that kind of Indiana Jonesy action-adventure plotline. Frankly I think that’s one of the things that served the game most well. While the environments should have been cleaner and clearer in specific ways, the general aesthetic actually worked for me; it’s one of the few times I’ve wanted to call an aesthetic “gritty” without being disparaging or meaning anything even remotely connected to the realism-in-games discussion.

      I’m not interested in the sadism or the gore and I had issues with it’s mechanical presentation and the frequent stupidity of it’s story and characters … but being a horror-and-suspense answer to Uncharted isn’t what sucked all the fun out of it; it’s specifically the SAW angle combined with some mechanical pacing issues (there’s ONE fight scene that really capitalizes on the excellence of that system … and it happens too far from the end of the game and you can’t easily replay it … but it was great and I wanted more of that; there was also too little of some of the excellent traversal and far too much of the QTE rollercoastering).

    • KenTWOu says:

      Strongly disagree. To me the Descent inspired moments from Tomb Raider reboot were the most memorable.

  2. TheAngriestHobo says:

    Is Tomb Braider that upcoming undead hair salon management sim I’ve been hearing so much about?

    • Marsh Davies says:

      I thank you for your vigilance.

    • Minglefingler says:

      No, I can see why you got confused, that game’s called Dreadlocks. Tomb Braider is a third person shooter where you get to reverse time so that you can rescue someone who doesn’t like you. Because you’re undead.

  3. Freud says:

    I quite enjoyed it, but it was the 1990s elements of the game I liked.

    I hated the QTEs. I hated how the game insisted on wrestling control from me. I hated the Lara death scenes, because they were pubertal violence fantasies.

    Instead of rebooting it the wrong way, they should have realized a third person exploration/puzzle game with light combat/stealth is a perfectly fine foundation to build a game on.

  4. Lacero says:

    It’s a good point that as other genres are heading to an open world paradise, the tomb raider franchise is alone in going the other way. Taking a game series previously about exploration and movement through space into a linear, scripted format.

    I think it actually is alone in it too. I can’t think of anything else getting more linear rather than less.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      Well, in the 2000s we went through a long period of everything becoming very linear (because game design!), so there’s not really anywhere to go in that direction. There are still a ton of very linear games being made.

      Even most of the “open” ones are really just theme parks.

  5. padger says:

    How the f u c k is Fail Forward not the most popular game video series right now?

    RPS readers should be tweet/fb/etcing the shit out of this.

    Marsh: amazing work.

  6. James says:

    I remember when Lara solved puzzles, does that make me old now?

    • meepmeep says:

      The best bit of Tomb Raider is the bit they’ve glaringly left behind – the How On Earth Do I Get Up/Over There sections.

  7. Synesthesia says:

    Re:Language.

    I think this is a really interesting point to make.
    Film has been perfecting it’s language for a while now, with the help of their theorists. Deleuze, Barthes, etcetera.

    The kind of we have none in videogames. We have some very intelligent dudes talking about making games, such as the Vlambeer guy, the frictional people, but it’s always from the inside.

    We have no proper videogame theory/analysts, which is weird. 30 years is more than enough to start spawning some. Maybe the film critic hulk is our guy? He’s pretty big on games. You should tell him to write something for RPS!

    Also, for what it’s worth, you are the closest thing to it I can think of at the moment, Marsh. Fantastic work, as always. I love the cinema digressions. (Although as a composite artist, It hurt when you told me I couldn’t take camera control from the player. I think there’s an art to that too. Metal gear: Snake Eater comes to mind, certain moments of the first silent hill.)

    • LogicalDash says:

      For your consideration, the book A Game Design Vocabulary, by Anna Anthropy and Naomi Clark.

    • RimeOfTheMentalTraveller says:

      Campstar of Errant Signal is the only critic who thoroughly analyzes and talks about game the way you would analyse a book or movie. For what its worth, I really enjoyed the new Tomb Raider, but I completely agree with him about the mechanical and writing problems, though I didn’t feel Lara’s character arc ended with the tower and I liked the moment when you find the grenade launcher. Here is the video link to youtube.com

      • RimeOfTheMentalTraveller says:

        only critic I can think of*

        damn lack of edit button

  8. gwathdring says:

    I’ve typically found puzzles in these sorts of games, and exploration for that matter, incredibly frustrating. I love me a good brain teaser but whereas a game like Space Chem gives me a feeling that I’m solving a puzzle, adventure games and action games with puzzles in them far too often merely make me feel like I’m playing “Guess What The Developer Is Thinking.” In terms of the mental process involved, it’s not a stark difference. But it certainly effects how I feel while I’m playing, and that’s rather the point of clever design–manipulating player experience to create an effect. Of course, I’m just one player of many so take that with as much salt as you please.

    The Tomb Raider/ Sands of Time sort of “Which button do you press before you pull the lever and then what do you do?” puzzles were never my favorite parts of these games. What I liked, instead, was the puzzling element of some of the more intricate platforming sequences. The “Navigate this environment” puzzles. Especially the ones that used reincorporation–that caused your navigation of one obstacle to alter your navigation of an upcoming obstacle or put you through different aspects of the same obstacle as you proceed through the area.

    Puzzles, I will further note, are about as linear as most games can get. They have one solution or a narrow band of solutions that you must plod through methodically. This isn’t seen as a bad thing by people who like puzzles quite simply because it makes a sort of sense when the game sits you down as says “Your character wants to look at the funny symbols and press all the buttons because they’re curious or because they want treasure” whereas the same sense doesn’t appear when your shooty-bang space marine can’t walk up the hill to get a better tactical view of the situation because of an invisible wall or because the developer wants you to open the sewer grate and go under the hill. Tomb Raider didn’t have to justify itself with a complex narrative because players at the time weren’t looking for that. I suppose you could argue it was clever in aligning the player and character interests so simply; she wants to explore and get shiny stuff, so if you get arbitrarily locked into something … well, that’s ok. You want shiny stuff too, don’t you? But ultimately, this was more a consequence of absent narrative thought than clever narrative tweaks.

    An issue in modern gaming is that we collectively want complex, robust systems we can explore mechanically, narratives that engages us and preferably can also be explored rather than merely experienced, big worlds with fine details and space to engage with the systems, and tons of content so we can do all of this for a respectable amount of time. AAA development, by nature, wants to do all of this in one game while also being as pretty and hype-inducing as possible. No one of these goals is bad and a game that truly managed all of them would be rather fantastic. But that doesn’t happen; and when it gets criticized for doing it’s particular blend of these things badly, the takeaway from both fans and financiers alike is typically to assume that the game wasn’t enough–that the mixture was wrong and unfortunately often that the way to better the mixture is to put in more of pretty much everything. That the game needs to be MORE cinematic, more narrative focused, more open, more complex, more deep, more content rich, longer. Sometimes the game was just right on paper and what it needs is simply more work. More attention to detail. More careful sculpting of the pieces–from the story to the mechanics to the environments to the incentives. Scaling back in some places, scaling up in others. Fine tuning. Evolution rather than growth.

    I think that’s what Tomb Raider needed. It was fun. I have a lot of issues with it and think it was rather silly for a lot of reasons, but it was fun. It had some nicely designed environments, some lovely third-person combat mechanics, some cool camera work (I don’t actually mind some of that sort of thing–as long as it’s during linear platform sequences anyway and it doesn’t detract from the platforming itself, why not have some carefully crafted and interested camera work?), an enjoyable upgrade system for once, and a pleasing movement system. Taking that and applying it to a new IP or just refining and repairing some of the silliness, some of the bloat, and some of the overserious guff could produce a far better game than many of these open world stints have managed.

    Linear isn’t bad just because it’s not the way of the immediate future. Not so long ago it WAS the way of the immediate future.

    • gwathdring says:

      Overserious isn’t quite what I mean. I don’t mind the “darkness” or severity of the tone. What I mind, I suppose, is that it didn’t quite have enough muted levity bound up with that. I don’t think games have to be bright and cartoonish to be fun or that games can’t take on a serious tone during bombastic and ridiculous sequences. As many a comedian will tell you, the opposite of serious isn’t funny or absurd or fantastical. The opposite of serious is quite simply unserious. You can be fantastical, funny, absurd and serious all at the same time. I didn’t like the aforementioned twinge of sadism, but I didn’t mind the muted tone; I think want it needs is refinement. Not more “self awareness,” not less seriousness. Less archness, surely, and moments of brightness. But there was a glimmer of something really interesting buried in the less well crafted parts of it’s Dark and Edgy aspect, and I’d rather see that explored and practiced than booed offstage.

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    Ninja Dodo says:

    This is quite good. I enjoyed new Tomb Raider but yes, the QTEs seem an odd relic. I’m always sort of baffled when I run into these, like do people playtest this stuff and not find it excruciating after 5 plus times? The only kind that’s vaguely acceptable is when a game simply uses the core mechanics, like using the actual jump button to jump in a scripted sequence, or attack for combat: eg that TR scene with the boulder could have been improved by ditching the analog stick wiggle and just letting the player use the melee attack button to freely kick the crazy man in the face a couple of times… This way at least the player is not left scrambling for whatever arbitrary button the designer wants you to press now… but then, if you’re doing gameplay actions, maybe it should just be gameplay.

    • gwathdring says:

      I agree; it’s an acceptable mechanical conceit that the designer wants me to experience something that the game’s systemic logic can’t put me through routinely … however there should be as firm a continuity between that experience and the rest of the game as possible, and that means sensible mechanical requests of the player.

      • Awesomeclaw says:

        I think it might make sense to move towards having the prompts be ‘do this thing’ (e.g. jump, shoot this guy, melee attack, dodge, whatever) rather than ‘push this button’. This way, QTEs would use the regular gameplay controls but could still have the actual result be scripted.

    • Freud says:

      There have been some games where QTEs leave me with a very bitter taste. Two examples are Shadow of Mordor and Far Cry 3, which for some bizarre reason decides to have final boss fights be QTE after having a game with no QTE and combat mechanics that work well.

      And it’s not like it becomes more cinematic because you actually watch less of what’s happening in a QTE because you are busy looking for the next prompt.

      • gwathdring says:

        I agree it doesn’t make it more cinematic. That’s where it goes most wrong–using it where cinematic techniques are needed/wanted is just asking to piss people off for no reason.

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      Ninja Dodo says:

      I think the only QTE-ish thing I actually like are the Paragon/Renegade prompts in Mass Effect because it’s a choice: You’re making an active decision to intervene during a conversation, AND they’re optional: You can just let the scene play out without doing anything… but even there I still get annoyed when I miss one because the window was too short and I was paying attention to the cinematic and dammit now I have to reload because I neglected to properly greet Anderson. It feels like there has to be a more elegant way to achieve this.

    • Bugamn says:

      The only kind of QTEs that I remember enjoying were the ones in Just Cause 2, used for hacking and hijacking vehicles. They made more sense to me because they felt like reacting, and they had real consequences. If I couldn’t hijack a vehicle, or if I took too long, it isn’t the same as an auto hijack. Meanwhile I hate QTEs that mean instant gameover if failed. Like the ones in RE4, or the ones that the video showed in Tomb Raider. If it appears in a cutscene, and I’m forced to replay it until I get it right, wouldn’t it be better simply to play the entire cutscene at once?

  10. noom says:

    Just because I haven’t taken the opportunity to say it yet, I’d like to say I’m really enjoying this video series Mr. Davies. Insightful and entertaining stuff.

  11. Wulfram says:

    But… the open worldy bits were all kind of boring and pointless, weren’t they? As most of the open worldy bits in games are, really.

    I’m not sure why I’d look at them and think they were the future. They’re just cheap filler that you use to make your expensive cinematic meat go further.

    • Frank says:

      Yes, 1000x this.

      Open world in the style of GTA or Assassin’s Creed is not a panacea; nor is it new to AAA. I can’t stand playing even half an hour of GTA, it’s so dull. And open-world almost ruins Arkham Knight. At least its filler traversals are fun (gliding around and such).

      • welverin says:

        The open world aspect is why I think Arkham City is a lesser game than Arkham Asylum. All the extra stuff they threw into the game because of that ultimately detracts from the game.

    • drewski says:

      I think you can do open world well and poorly, as with most motifs. When it’s done well, it’s an excursion in player creativity and systemic storytelling. When it’s done poorly, it’s an excuse to fill a map with busywork and spread objectives over huge distance to pad out the game.

      I don’t think the second is something to get excited about, but I think you can see gaming fumbling for the first.

  12. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    More! More! More! Love these vids

  13. liquidsoap89 says:

    I’m not sure I’m excited for this move to open world games. As a film nerd, I usually get quite a bit of enjoyment from the shorter, more linear games (such as this Tomb Raider reboot). I find a good story can’t stay that way after 20-30 hours, there’s always too much filler in between the plot points. Now, an open world game that DIDN’T try to mimic the Ubisoft template of filling every gap with stickers and confetti would be something I could get behind!

  14. stkaye says:

    Very interesting stuff!

    However, I think I disagree with the ur-point here. The perspective underpinning this analysis is that emergent content and deeply interacting systems are inherently preferable to carefully orchestrated and directed pre-written narratives.

    On the face of it, this argument is appealing, right? Play through the single player campaign in an instalment in the Call of Duty franchise (as I am at the moment, god help me) and you’re in a letterboxed world where everything essentially proceeds without you, and waits for you to press a certain button to move the story and the spectacle forward a bit. This is pre-written and pre-directed narrative done wrong, certainly. It doesn’t come close to comparing to the thrill of realising your own unique narrative when a game’s systems are richly and deeply layered. I remember getting completely consumed by the ongoing multi-generational family sagas that emerged from tinkering with the family trees in early total war games, and getting struck again and again by the range of alternative routes and the depth of interactivity in Deus Ex and Thief.

    But that’s to relegate story and experience too far, isn’t it? I wouldn’t have loved Deus Ex or Thief nearly as much without their weird narratives driving me forward. And I’m also prepared to defend Call of Duty or Uncharted or Tomb Raider.

    Look at Bioware games. These have essentially become very simple ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ stories – much less complex than most of those old Steve Jackson books, anyway. The idea of choice and consequence has an impact on our experience of what, in the end, are very similar stories. In Dragon Age: Origins, the game played pretty similarly (give or take a different NPC here or there) until the epilogue screens, which explained – in text! – how your choices affected different parts of the world. Even in the most choice-infused Mass Effect game, you were simply picking a route between different bits of pre-written, pre-directed content. And there’s nothing wrong with that! The systems are simple, the core mechanics of gameplay hold your hand, you get a big blue or red indicator to show you when you’re being a badass or a hero – and the games are great. They tell a fascinating story in a rich world.

    TL;DR: A videogame can be an experience, too: it can be a rollercoaster or a popcorn movie. The illusion of interactivity can be enough. I don’t always necessarily want the real McCoy.

    • Munin says:

      I very much agree with a lot of the broad thrust there. A lot of my favourite games are much more curated experiences and not procedural or open world. Story driven RPGs like Planescape Torment, Project Eternity and the likes are one but tactical RPGs like the Fire Emblem games are another.

      Now Dragon Age Inquisition, Witcher 3 are both open world games but again with both the focus is on the hand crafted content on offer at these locations.

      I do think that the new drive towards open world and procedural games is no bad thing considering some of the great games that have come from it. However I do think that the fact that being procedural and open world is not a be all and end all and as those attributes become critical darlings I do see the threat that they get shoehorned into everything.

      One thing I do not fear is that games which aren’t focused of open world and/or procedural stuff are dying out. If they is one thing I do appreciate about the modern games industry landscape is the ridiculous diversity of it (as long as you cast your net wider than AAA where you do usually see the latest design fads predominate).

    • Rizlar says:

      Indeed! I really enjoyed playing this Tomb Raider as a throwaway blockbuster thing after picking it up for a pittance. There are specific issues but in general I feel like it gives you enough freedom to carry on enjoying the spectacle. Like the upgrades system, which isn’t really about RPG style character customisation but more giving you a bunch of toys that increase in power as you go along.

      The use of that radio tower scene as an example of camera direction done badly seemed a bit off. That scene is great, (spoilers) it comes at a moment when Lara is safe, she has apparently succeeded in saving everyone and help is on it’s way. The pace changes, you just slowly climb a tower and enjoy the view, it’s not a dynamic moment and the lack of camera control at that point kind of makes sense. Not least because of the distance at this moment between player and protagonist – the player knows it cannot last, that something will inevitably go wrong.

  15. Munin says:

    Another game where you occasionally had similar glaring issues with camera control was Assassin’s Creed 3. In one of the very early sequences on the ship just as you are getting into sight of thee new world I thought they had set things up perfectly and was praising them internally because I could see how they had perfectly set up the view whilst maintaining interaction. You’re asked by the game to climb the ship’s mast to get a view of the land from the crow’s nest. Since you’re climbing a ladder your camera control is limited and the view is blocked by the sail in front of you setting up a beautiful reveal as you top the mast. Of course instead of working it that way they cut away to a cutscene when you near the top… I was most disappointed.

    Also in terms of cutaways and the blurring of the scene I would also definitely mention Max Paine. Interactivity is maintained as the world and scene shifts around him.

  16. cylentstorm says:

    Sorry–couldn’t stand listening to this tool’s voice after the first 5 minutes. Anyway:

    No one likes QTEs. Yes, it is a bit too linear. ( Lara needs an open world.) The “story” is a little rough. Wait…it sounds like I’m describing Uncharted…only without all of the weird platforming bits. The truth is that the goob in the vid could have been describing any one of dozens of games.

    In any case, I can’t wait to see how the next chapter in Lara’s new life expands upon the foundation established in this “obsolete” reboot. (LARA NEEDS AN OPEN WORLD)

    • Marsh Davies says:

      Sorry–couldn’t stand you. So you’re banned now. Ta ta!

      • Jediben says:

        And I was just about to become a supporter, when I saw this outrageous abuse of the author’s ability to censor criticism with the mod powers bestowed unto him. For shame!

        • gwathdring says:

          “We encourage you to disagree with us. However, we will not tolerate spitefulness or rudeness.”

          • gwathdring says:

            Calling the author a “tool” isn’t criticism. It is, however, spiteful and rude.

  17. Eight Rooks says:

    Yeah, I’ll try not to be like that guy further up, but I’m not liking these videos much, Marsh, for what little my opinion’s worth. There seems to be far too much emphasis on academic analysis of problems which I feel you’re giving considerably more significance than they really warrant, and I’m not really getting any sense of “Yes, I see that now, X, Y and Z really do need to change” from any of your key points. nu-Tomb Raider was terrible because

    The art design was horrid: a dreary, washed-out colour palette that made everywhere look the same

    The emphasis on gore was horrifically (sigh) misjudged – the Descent ripoffs made me feel alternately physically ill and then on the verge of hysterical laughter, and the death scenes were queasy, torture-porn-esque voyeurism

    The level design was mediocre – yes, the extended combat sequences were perfectly playable, but the shanty town, say, looked like nothing so much as a bad CS:Go map. Bland, empty rooms, no detail anywhere, no attempt to make it feel like a real place – it was obvious within five seconds it was nothing more than “Here is a maze. There are Bad Guys in this maze. Kill them all” and nothing else. There was no sense the island as a whole had ever been a real place, to be honest, beyond the ridiculous plot and the complete lack of any meaningful characterisation

    …and yes, the plot was ridiculous and there was a complete lack of any meaningful characterisation. Christ, Amazon’s cutesy mobile adventure Til Morning’s Light was a far more credible, nuanced portrayal of a scared young female character facing up to a hostile environment and discovering her inner badass.

    I could go on, too, but in the face of that, a video centred around “I have seen the future, and it is a free-unshackled camera permanently under the player’s control, clever visual cues and stylistic trickery with a dash of open-world” just seems disingenuous at best, IMO. None of that would change that the game was twenty-some hours of needlessly violent, soulless tedium with no understanding of how to build a meaningful setting or tell a good story of any kind. Fix those things, were it possible, erase everyone’s memory of what had gone before and I’d bet money that no-one bar a small, disturbing internet minority would be saying “You know what this game needs? OCEANS OF BLOOD”.

    • Marsh Davies says:

      Fair enough! You’re right about the weighting I give these problems: the series is intentionally trying to focus on problems that I think are peculiar, intractable or have multiple sides instead of problems that are perhaps more obvious but less interesting. The dialogue might be rubbish but that’s not an *interesting* problem. To what extent you control a player’s experience in a medium principled on interactivity is one of the most interesting problems to have, meanwhile. Sorry the vids aren’t your bag, though.

      Totally disagree on the art direction, mind. Once dawn hits the island, I think the game looks pretty fuckin’ spectacular.

  18. Monggerel says:

    Tom Brader reminded me that TR III was one of the most… “magical” experiences I’ve ever had with games (at the age of, iunno, 10 maybe?). That game felt… weird, and hostile, and mysterious in a kind of cutesy (musical stings that would be extreme for the X-files, for instance) way, like a STALKER-before-such-could-be and so I replayed it and found it held up.
    For the most part. Not the bosses. Dear god no.

    Also miss the time when Lara was a charmingly arrogant adventurer superhero, not… whatever character the latest Reboot has tried to sell (or Legend, beforehand). Lower bodycount, too. And it’s not like those games weren’t trying real hard to be edgy, either – perhaps the lower expectations explain my lack of distaste? Who knows. I don’t.

  19. Romeric says:

    I think your dissection of games in this series is excellent. I’m also really interested in the balance of player freedom, agency and control; it is games such as Uncharted and similar that don’t really appeal to me since it feels like the player is merely of secondary importance. I’ve not played the latest Tomb Raider but it appears the same criticisms apply. You make some very considered, fascinating points in this video – this is fast becoming my favourite internet series!

    I’d love to see your take and games like the Witcher, Dragon Age and Mass Effect. For me, many of the best AAA experiences are those with player choice. Some do it well, some not so well – it’s all about the smoke and mirrors in some cases. Thanks again for the video, Marsh!

  20. Wetcoaster says:

    I can’t help but feel that the artist in the webcomic Sandra on the Rocks (warning, some sexual content, though not in the linked storyline) had in mind in the story line from strips 46-50

  21. GWOP says:

    I noticed in HL2 how you would be oriented geographically to see something important without having to wrestle camera controls away from you (like the exit of a cave facing a distant bridge where a reinforcement of Striders you would be facing soon were passing through ), but realized the function of the birds until now…

    Good wtuff.

    • GWOP says:

      *stuff

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      Ninja Dodo says:

      Also general lighting and composition leading the eye (we typically focus on light and contrast and follow lines, see also sevencamels.blogspot.com) and they would do stuff like hit you with damage from the direction they want you to look. I remember there being an EP1 commentary node specifically about that one.

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    Thirith says:

    I liked the previous videos, but this one didn’t do much for me – funnily enough, neither did Tomb Raider. It was okay, but I expect to forget pretty much everything about it other than the sadistic death sequences. I’m also not much into its art design, but I think its biggest art fail goes hand in hand with the writing, and it’s that the characters are generally flat, and that’s due to the design, animation, writing and voice acting in concert.

    My main problem with this video is that IMO there is a place for cinematic action adventures. You mention the Uncharted games, which to my mind are examples of this kind of game done right. Yes, I want games that give me freedom, but I also enjoy the occasional title that limits my freedom but does so in exciting, fun ways, and that’s something the Uncharted games did for me. Would a more systems-oriented Uncharted work? It might, but it would no longer scratch that particular gaming itch for me.

    I have to admit that I have a problem with programmatic notions of what games ought to be and what they ought to do. I do think that gaming’s greatest potential lies in interactivity and agency, but that’s not gaming’s only potential. Your argument here strikes me a bit like a film critic watching Pulp Fiction and then saying that Raiders of the Lost Ark is a relic and the future lies in achronological Tarantino fare. I want both Tarantino and Raiders, and Truffaut and Tarr and Nolan etc. etc. I want both systems and tightly authored story. What I want, though, is for the tightly authored story to be authored well, and that’s something Tomb Raider largely failed at for me. It had nice cinematography, but it had little personality, and what personality it had was drab, dreary and uninteresting. More systems-oriented gameplay might have helped gloss over this flaw, but it would’ve still been a flaw. And while I kinda enjoyed what systems there were in Tomb Raider, in the end they too became repetitive and unengaging, IMO largely due to a flawed system: the Ubisoft collectathon.

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      Thirith says:

      And next time I’ll read the entire comments thread before posting what amounts to a longish “Me too!” :-S

  23. welverin says:

    Watching this video on this page reminded me why I keep annotations turn off, the constant stream of pop-ups was distracting and rather annoying.

    Could you guys tone that down a some, please?

  24. Buggery says:

    Personally, I found it interesting that the writers of the game were clearly only involved very briefly and held at arm’s length from the rest of the development.

    It became pretty obvious that the dialogue and design were from different spheres, as the character of Lara seemed to be permanently in shock and horror at what she was doing, while the combat of the game required you to go full Rambo.

    At the end for example, Lara has to climb up the side of a glacier. As she does so, she almost slips and goes “come on Lara, you can do this.” Lara at this point has scaled mountains, towers, murdered literally hundreds of men with her bare hands, swam through a river of blood and body parts… In my game she staked out a forest and descended from the trees, picking off guards one by one until she could lob a grenade at a large group of men. Survivors were bludgeoned with an axe. This was not Lara lacking in confidence and experience, needing the help of her friends and mentors: this was Batman with a ponytail.

    The portrayal of a woman coming to terms with her own abilities was entirely at odds with what the gameplay actually required. Can you imagine if Nathan Drake in Uncharted kept doubting his abilities and crying into Sully’s arms in-between murdering hundreds of goons on a train? How about if Doom-guy had to keep spurring himself on as he revved his chainsaw: “You can do this doom-guy, you have to for your besties.”

    The trailer for the next game seems to be going for the same theme, which is odd because it really doesn’t fit. I miss the old Lara, all pointy boobs and confidence. This new one is laying on the sap too hard for very little effect.

  25. binkbenc says:

    Funnily enough, I just completed this ‘new’ Tomb Raider at the weekend, and have been playing it alongside the original game (until Win 10 borked my DOSbox – not sure what happened there). I totally agree with what this video, and a lot of the commenters have said here about the direction that the game has taken – away from level-as-puzzle, and toward an open world (-ish, the game is still made up of very clearly defined areas that you can travel between, rather than being truly open). I agree about the story as well, for a game that’s supposedly all about setting up the origin story for Lara Croft, the game made a right hash of it. Like Marsh, I did enjoy the combat, but it didn’t feel particularly Tomb Raidery, it was just a pretty standard cover shooter. I think it’s actually handled much better in the original Tomb Raider (in concept rather than execution) where it’s more about your battle with the wildlife as the only inhabitants of these undiscovered places. Once those combatants are gone, it’s all about the loneliness and the sense of exploring the space. The sound design of the original Tomb Raider is beautiful – really enhancing your sense of being the only human in this place – it’s all echoing water and wildlife and the wind rushing through these ancient carved corridors, rather than the bombastic and cinematic of the new game. That’s where a game doesn’t have to be like cinema. We don’t have to constantly rush on to advance the plot. With games – in an aspect strangely more like staring at a painting in a gallery rather than going to the cinema – you can stop and explore your surroundings. That’s what Tomb Raider has always been about for me, the ability to look around and work out where you want to go next, and how you’re going to get there. The Secret Tombs in the new game were a slight nod towards this, but it’s telling that the developers didn’t feel brave enough to include this more sedate, puzzling aspect in the main game story – perhaps they were worried that gamers would then get stuck and be unable to progress with the storyline?

    I also found it slightly odd that while we have Lara as the great female protagonist, at the same time we have her rescuing a weak female damsel in distress. Was it really necessary to follow that trope? The story could have gone a million other ways. (And on a similar subject, I’m also not entirely sure why every enemy had to be a burly (often Eastern-European sounding) male. Sure, you can maybe spin it out as “they’re the only ones the cult allowed to survive”, but a little variety might have been nice. Ha, maybe a few more examples of dangerous wildlife would have done it – sure, shotgunning gorillas in the first game was never politically correct, but it felt thematic.

    Oh, and my final point, which I’ve mentioned before, is about the verticality. The first Tomb Raider games really gave me the willies – sorry, I don’t know a better term for it. That brief sensation of physical panic when Lara looks down – or almost falls off – from a high ledge. The simple graphics, but strong physicality of those early games invoke a strong unconscious reaction in me that the modern game just didn’t at all. I don’t know if it’s because in the modern game, you never had to look around and climb down from anywhere once you’d reached the top – the radio tower highlighted in the video is a case in point – once you reach the top of an area you’d always just magically zip-line down or the game would cut to you at the bottom. I don’t know if the developers felt it would be boring to climb down the same thing you’ve just climbed up, but they’re not the same thing at all. Climbing down is difficult, and it involves always looking down – reinforcing the sense that you’re in a high, dangerous place, and forcing you to constantly consider your own mortality. Again, I think perhaps the developers were worried about the pace of the game and that modern cinempathetic (hey, I made a new word) gamers wouldn’t have the patience for it – but please, developers, have a little faith in us and in your game. Have the confidence in your creation to let us explore it. If it’s an enjoyable, exciting place to be, then we’re not going to get bored by it.

  26. SheSavesTheDay says:

    I think Batman Arkham Knight shares these shortcomings in the worst way. The player-character is interrupted every couple of minutes. The action and movements are so thoroughly scripted, and there are so many voiceover comments and NPC inputs, that you barely get to actually think or do anything on your own. So the aspect of free movement within Gotham that made the Arkham City so appealing is disrupted by plot advancement and gimmicks. I hope that future games will manage to create a happier marriage between the cinematic and the ludic.

  27. Josh W says:

    I was thinking again about one of the criticisms that you made; that taking camera control for cinematic purposes damaged the interactivity. It occurs to me that this doesn’t have to be true; if you think about the god of war series, at it’s best, that embraces something from the early 3d platformer era; that we can only actually see and interact with a certain 2d plane at a time, the screen, and so rather than using that as a representation of the characters’ view, as with an fps game, we can use it as a shifting 2d plane of action, viewed differently according to the situation.

    Many games in the past have played havoc with this idea, particularly the old resident evil games, but paradoxically making things more cinematic, in terms of easily orientable “cuts” between viewpoints, framing that relates to the actions required, and adjusting staging of “scenes” such that the camera’s position is accounted for, actually makes the game more natural and interactive, because rather than trying to fight or adapt to the camera, which you have no control over, it slips into the background while you get on with whatever you can actually do in the world.

    But this ties to the idea of separating cinematic framing completely from a quick time event approach, so that it’s assumed that within the frame, however defined, you will always be able to get involved in the games’ core activities.

    This may also mean making the camera more reactive to the kind of movements or activities you are doing, rather than just being a series of location based triggers, because of the way that the meaning of camera framing changes depending on how players act, (eg walking back through a corridor designed to produce a certain effect when you go through it the first time) but that’s a bigger question.