Why playing Tomb Raider made me appreciate Uncharted

Posted by Kierkegaard (582 posts) -

I never played Tomb Raider before this week. I've still only now played Legend and (half) of Underworld (more on that later...). I've got the trilogy from gamefly, so I'll check out Anniversary next.

Crystal Dynamics' take on the series is the only part I'm interested in playing. I'm sure the old grid-based gameplay and puzzle design was interesting and cool, but I like me some fluid animation and choice in movement.

So, without further ado, what I like about Tomb Raider, what I don't like about it, and the fascinating way this interacts with Uncharted in my mind

Tomb Raider is cool

1. Lara Croft as a character, at least as Crystal-D has written her, is a multifaceted, funny, clever, sympathetic woman. She's deeply knowledgable like an uber Indiana Jones (can you sight-read ancient Celtic? I thought not) and feels genuinely excited about learning and exploration. As a formerly spoiled English heiress whose parents died doing this stuff, her motivations are pleasantly muddled. Now, her rack is oversized and the dress-up meta game of how skimpy can we make her is sexist and unsubtle, but beneath that bikini is a well-written human being.

2. The puzzles are fun and hard (usually in a good way). The grapple mechanic and ability to move stuff basically make up all the puzzles in these games, but the elaborate, multi-part nature of them feels epic and engaging. Slowly killing a blind Kraken or smashing your way into King Arthur's tomb with a forklift, they are often creative and usually fun.

3. Cool meta-mythology. The history and mythology in the trilogy can get silly, but for the sake of exploring, especially in Underworld, Mayan, Norse, and Hindu tombs, it's all quite exciting. Inspired turns like the King Arthur theme park in Legend and the entrance to Xibalba in Underworld cannot be missed.

Tomb Raider is Silly and Broken

1. The gunplay. God is it awful. In Legend, it's just lock-on and shoot. In Underworld, for who knows why, it's far, far worse. The slow-down mechanic is interesting but repetitive. I liked that Legend had its enemies talk to each other to give some variety, but Underworld killed that, too. With no cover mechanic and dirt-simple melee, Underworld especially feels like a chore.

2. The story contradicts its poignancy with monsters and unreality. Really emotional stuff happens in here. Lara becomes scary angry. I felt something at times. But then it's back to shooting endangered species and fighting an evil Atlantean bat lady. Oh, you liked wielding Excalibur? How about Thor's Hammer? Here's fifty thousand frost giants to kill. Man, that character death sure was chilling... GOTH DOPPELGANGER.

3. Camera and glitches. Damn it. Legend is actually pretty good. It's still PS2 era so it's more gamey and solid. I can't play Underworld anymore without replaying 6 hours. When I load my save, Lara dies. She spawns in death-liquid. At other times in that game, I got stuck in a walking animation or (multiple times) spawned further along than where I died. Blind leaps of faith and random rearrangement of the camera angle so now you're dead! are common. It makes the pretty feel really ugly.

Uncharted

Blasphemous as it may be, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune was my entry into the tomb raiding game. Action adventure roots fall more into Prince of Persia. Uncharted owed a huge debt of gratitude to Tomb Raider. Just in these two TR games I played, I saw:

1. Same or similar locations (Nepal, Scuttled ship, burning house, mediterranean jungle, train)

2. Shoot dudes, set piece, puzzle structure

3. Mythical macguffin=story.

4. Wise-cracking protagonist

But I also found myself missing Uncharted. Deeply.

Uncharted is in the same genre as Tomb Raider, but it comes from a different philosophy. Uncharted wants you to succeed, wants you to believe in what you are doing, and wants to wow you at every turn.

Some puzzle rooms in Tomb Raider require guides because they are illogical and obtuse. Uncharted can be too brainless (the "puzzle" in Drake's Fortune was "read journal, do what it says), but it always makes sense. Similarly, the combat in Uncharted feels fair. You can find cover and pick away at enemies or run up and punch them out. Bats and spiders do not randomly accost you just to add playtime (Spiders in Uncharted 3 are actually a very cool gameplay mechanic). Tomb Raider consistently showed me jumps I knew I could make and rejected that notion as Lara's body slid fruitlessly against the ledge and into death. Drake can feel too guided at times, but, damn it, it's not fun to jump toward a ledge and fail because I was just slightly off. All I learn is to hate that ledge, not become better at the game.

I believe in what I'm doing in Uncharted. Say what you will about painting ledges red, but Uncharted never has a bunch of conspicuous poles poking out of the ice. The environment feels real, even if it is ultimately a construction to lead you onward. All the shit that breaks under Drake makes it feel tenuous and exciting rather than monotonous and predictable. And the monsters that do crop up are explained and matter. Best of all, in each city, in each area, the meticulous attention to cultural detail is astounding. The bazaars of Yemen, the bunk beds in Tibet, the incredible stone work in London--the verisimillitude is to die for. Oh, and the women are treated as people, relationships really matter, and any sexing up is character driven rather than odd (really, Lara, you're wetsuit shows butt cheek? Why exactly?).

Finally, those wow moments. The reason the train, the cruise ship, the jungle vistas, the chateau, the hotel, the reason all those matter is that they make you drop your jaw that you are playing this. Every wow moment in Tomb Raider is in a cutscene. The giant puzzles very quickly become tedious in tomb raider as each one revolves around putting shit in other shit with jumping in between. I can't express how great the puzzles in Uncharted 3 are. From spatial reasoning to fun with shadows, I felt invigorated while solving them. At some point, Tomb Raider just becomes a thankful to be done with it.

The Future

Uncharted 3's puzzles bring that game into a comparable place with the ingenious contraptions of Tomb Raider. The new Tomb Raider looks interesting, if a bit too perilous for its own good. I'm glad these series are forging their own paths. And, now that I know Lara better, it'll be nice to see a new origin for her. I'm happy to have played these games, despite the frustrations and the comparisons. I don't want Tomb Raider to become Uncharted. I want all games to learn from Uncharted's player-appreciation, believable locations and characters, and grandeur.

#1 Posted by Kierkegaard (582 posts) -

I never played Tomb Raider before this week. I've still only now played Legend and (half) of Underworld (more on that later...). I've got the trilogy from gamefly, so I'll check out Anniversary next.

Crystal Dynamics' take on the series is the only part I'm interested in playing. I'm sure the old grid-based gameplay and puzzle design was interesting and cool, but I like me some fluid animation and choice in movement.

So, without further ado, what I like about Tomb Raider, what I don't like about it, and the fascinating way this interacts with Uncharted in my mind

Tomb Raider is cool

1. Lara Croft as a character, at least as Crystal-D has written her, is a multifaceted, funny, clever, sympathetic woman. She's deeply knowledgable like an uber Indiana Jones (can you sight-read ancient Celtic? I thought not) and feels genuinely excited about learning and exploration. As a formerly spoiled English heiress whose parents died doing this stuff, her motivations are pleasantly muddled. Now, her rack is oversized and the dress-up meta game of how skimpy can we make her is sexist and unsubtle, but beneath that bikini is a well-written human being.

2. The puzzles are fun and hard (usually in a good way). The grapple mechanic and ability to move stuff basically make up all the puzzles in these games, but the elaborate, multi-part nature of them feels epic and engaging. Slowly killing a blind Kraken or smashing your way into King Arthur's tomb with a forklift, they are often creative and usually fun.

3. Cool meta-mythology. The history and mythology in the trilogy can get silly, but for the sake of exploring, especially in Underworld, Mayan, Norse, and Hindu tombs, it's all quite exciting. Inspired turns like the King Arthur theme park in Legend and the entrance to Xibalba in Underworld cannot be missed.

Tomb Raider is Silly and Broken

1. The gunplay. God is it awful. In Legend, it's just lock-on and shoot. In Underworld, for who knows why, it's far, far worse. The slow-down mechanic is interesting but repetitive. I liked that Legend had its enemies talk to each other to give some variety, but Underworld killed that, too. With no cover mechanic and dirt-simple melee, Underworld especially feels like a chore.

2. The story contradicts its poignancy with monsters and unreality. Really emotional stuff happens in here. Lara becomes scary angry. I felt something at times. But then it's back to shooting endangered species and fighting an evil Atlantean bat lady. Oh, you liked wielding Excalibur? How about Thor's Hammer? Here's fifty thousand frost giants to kill. Man, that character death sure was chilling... GOTH DOPPELGANGER.

3. Camera and glitches. Damn it. Legend is actually pretty good. It's still PS2 era so it's more gamey and solid. I can't play Underworld anymore without replaying 6 hours. When I load my save, Lara dies. She spawns in death-liquid. At other times in that game, I got stuck in a walking animation or (multiple times) spawned further along than where I died. Blind leaps of faith and random rearrangement of the camera angle so now you're dead! are common. It makes the pretty feel really ugly.

Uncharted

Blasphemous as it may be, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune was my entry into the tomb raiding game. Action adventure roots fall more into Prince of Persia. Uncharted owed a huge debt of gratitude to Tomb Raider. Just in these two TR games I played, I saw:

1. Same or similar locations (Nepal, Scuttled ship, burning house, mediterranean jungle, train)

2. Shoot dudes, set piece, puzzle structure

3. Mythical macguffin=story.

4. Wise-cracking protagonist

But I also found myself missing Uncharted. Deeply.

Uncharted is in the same genre as Tomb Raider, but it comes from a different philosophy. Uncharted wants you to succeed, wants you to believe in what you are doing, and wants to wow you at every turn.

Some puzzle rooms in Tomb Raider require guides because they are illogical and obtuse. Uncharted can be too brainless (the "puzzle" in Drake's Fortune was "read journal, do what it says), but it always makes sense. Similarly, the combat in Uncharted feels fair. You can find cover and pick away at enemies or run up and punch them out. Bats and spiders do not randomly accost you just to add playtime (Spiders in Uncharted 3 are actually a very cool gameplay mechanic). Tomb Raider consistently showed me jumps I knew I could make and rejected that notion as Lara's body slid fruitlessly against the ledge and into death. Drake can feel too guided at times, but, damn it, it's not fun to jump toward a ledge and fail because I was just slightly off. All I learn is to hate that ledge, not become better at the game.

I believe in what I'm doing in Uncharted. Say what you will about painting ledges red, but Uncharted never has a bunch of conspicuous poles poking out of the ice. The environment feels real, even if it is ultimately a construction to lead you onward. All the shit that breaks under Drake makes it feel tenuous and exciting rather than monotonous and predictable. And the monsters that do crop up are explained and matter. Best of all, in each city, in each area, the meticulous attention to cultural detail is astounding. The bazaars of Yemen, the bunk beds in Tibet, the incredible stone work in London--the verisimillitude is to die for. Oh, and the women are treated as people, relationships really matter, and any sexing up is character driven rather than odd (really, Lara, you're wetsuit shows butt cheek? Why exactly?).

Finally, those wow moments. The reason the train, the cruise ship, the jungle vistas, the chateau, the hotel, the reason all those matter is that they make you drop your jaw that you are playing this. Every wow moment in Tomb Raider is in a cutscene. The giant puzzles very quickly become tedious in tomb raider as each one revolves around putting shit in other shit with jumping in between. I can't express how great the puzzles in Uncharted 3 are. From spatial reasoning to fun with shadows, I felt invigorated while solving them. At some point, Tomb Raider just becomes a thankful to be done with it.

The Future

Uncharted 3's puzzles bring that game into a comparable place with the ingenious contraptions of Tomb Raider. The new Tomb Raider looks interesting, if a bit too perilous for its own good. I'm glad these series are forging their own paths. And, now that I know Lara better, it'll be nice to see a new origin for her. I'm happy to have played these games, despite the frustrations and the comparisons. I don't want Tomb Raider to become Uncharted. I want all games to learn from Uncharted's player-appreciation, believable locations and characters, and grandeur.

#2 Posted by MonkeyKing1969 (2666 posts) -

The best thing about Tomb Raider is also the worst. Lara Croft

The best adventure characters need to be likable and iconic. In one simple conception - you should want to be LIKE this person. They should do things you would WANT to do, they should do the brave thing when they can get away with it or do the smart/cleaver thing when things are going against them. However, the need to be faliable in their actions, and they cannot be 'supermen' because we as the player cannot empthize with supermen who we are not. The example would be the up & down Indian Jones experiences during his adventures sometimes he is 'bested' by the ememies he faces. Indiana Jones often has those "whoops, I screwed up" moments because we as the audicnes liek to feel our hero is like us...they best of us.

Lara does some of these things, sadly the people are Core and Crystal are really not experts at writing adventure characters. Lara is often speaks and acts rudely and this she is often unlikable. Often she is portrayed as cold or sarcastic. Secondly, a is too often portrayed as a super-woman which is nor fun for the audience. She is the best athlete, scholar, and soldier in her games and movies. It would be okay if she was ONE of those but being all three makes her not like us and it also removes all threat to her.

In order for Lara Croft to ever work as a character she need to be made over. She need to be made more likable, more faliable, and more of an underdog.

#3 Posted by Brodehouse (9790 posts) -
@MonkeyKing1969 If you've seen any of the trailers for the reboot, it seems like Crystal D agrees. I'm way more excited for that new Tomb Raider than it probably deserves.
#4 Posted by Kierkegaard (582 posts) -

@MonkeyKing1969: Her infallibility is questioned in Underworld to a point--the death of her friend is orchestrated by her doppelganger, which might be deep in some way....?

I do still find her surprisingly charming and intelligent for a character clearly written by mild chauvinists, but you are right that her utter perfection in all she does is problematic.

Now, @Brodehouse: The direction I've seen is worrisome. The torture-porn, woman in danger feel is troubling. Making Lara human is good. Making the game more adventurelike and treacherous is also good. Making the player watch her gored in different icky ways is messed up. We'll see how it goes. I am happy that C-D has chosen to make something new rather than continue to fail to copy Uncharted like Underworld did.

I didn't know Lara at all, and now I think I understand a bit of her games and her character. I'm interested to see where we go from here.

#5 Posted by Brodehouse (9790 posts) -

@Kierkegaard: The reaction to the brutal deaths that can happen to Lara is actually a pretty solid example of gender politics. When horrific death happens to a woman, we feel it's exploitative. But I feel like one of the features of Dead Space 2 were all the absolutely horrible ways that Isaac could take it rough (the javelin death, the needle death, the puker pouring acid across his face). And that is nearly an homage to all the gruesome deaths of Leon S. Kennedy (the thorn regenerator, the chainsaw ganado, novistadors melting his face). And Lara herself has really been no stranger to it, it's just this time she feels like an actual woman and not a superhero.

#6 Posted by Kierkegaard (582 posts) -

@Brodehouse: Don't have time to look back at the video right now--I will--but it felt a bit more complicated than merely "ew! This is happening to a girl!" I'll edit when I get the time, though. I'm always happy to consider gender politics in analysis of characters.

#7 Posted by MonkeyKing1969 (2666 posts) -

It is ironic we are upon this topic when Red letter Media just put up its Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review!I never really thought about how many people Indiana Joes kills, but I think Mike Stoklasa makes an argument for why Indy needs to kill people...and maybe even why Nathan Drake does it. Yet, for me I think i always found the times when Lara killed people the lest interestinmg bits of past games. I always dug the 'traversal gameplay' Tomb Rainder pretty much invented. What really was special to me about TR games was climbing the historical structures...that childlike joy of seeing some giant thing to climb up on...and then enjoy the view from the top.

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