TR5: Von Croy Tower

Here at the fifth episode, Tomb Raider has just acquired some continuity of story, and I have to admit that I’m a little confused about it. Back in Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, we saw the 16-year-old Lara Croft delve into a hidden compound under Angkor Watt with her mentor Von Croy, looking for an artifact called the Iris. Things went badly. Lara escaped; Von Croy did not. Years later, Von Croy shows up again, alive but possessed by an evil god, filling the role of main antagonist for the rest of the game.

And now, in the final chapter of Chronicles, Von Croy shows up once more, as head of Von Croy Industries, experimenting with the powers of the Iris in a technological setting. But it’s still a flashback. I had thought that Von Croy turning was supposed to have been presumed dead until his reappearance in TLR, but this new encounter must have taken place beforehand. Was I simply reading too much into it? What was I supposed to have concluded from the scene of Von Croy caught in a deathtrap as Lara flees?

Maybe I’m expecting too much consistency. There’s certainly a lack of consistency in the world between chapters. For example, the sinks. I mentioned before that the Russian submarine had bathroom sinks made of entire map tiles. The Von Croy tower has bathrooms with custom-modeled sinks that could have been used in the submarine too. Or take the fire extinguishers: in the current chapter, shooting a fire extinguisher causes it to explode with enough force to break through walls, something I might conceivably have guessed if I hadn’t shot at fire extinguishers to no effect in a previous chapter. It all smacks of poor communication between the people responsible for making the different parts. It’s less a single cohesive game than four short games in the same engine packaged together.

One thing chapter 4 does that we’ve seen already: it makes you go weaponless for an extended period. At the beginning of the chapter’s second level, you have to leave your gun behind to pass a security checkpoint, and only get it back very close to the level’s end. This marks the franchise’s foray into stealth mechanics, which it frankly isn’t very good at. There’s a lack of clarity about what makes a guard notice you — did he turn around because I got too close, or because I was making too much noise, or was he just scripted to turn around at that moment as part of his patrol cycle? Chloroform can be found in certain supply closets, but in all but two cases, I found it basically impossible to administer. Fortunately, it’s usually pretty easy to just outrun the guards, or shoot them once you get your gun back.

I sometimes feel like the game overestimates the difficulty of its combat. I guess it’s probably harder on the Playstation, where you can’t save the game at will and thus might have to face several enemies in a row between checkpoints. But there’s one particular sort of enemy, a guard in bulletproof battle armor, that the cutscenes try to set up as an Extremely Difficult Foe, but who can be downed with a single headshot. Headshots aren’t trivial — they require you to aim manually in first-person mode, which is fiddly without any sort of analog input — but it’s still anticlimactic to defeat them so quickly after they’ve been built up as such a threat.

One last thing I’d like to note before signing off for the night. At one point, Lara’s guy-in-a-chair (a new character, appearing only in this chapter, occasionally bantering with Lara over her headset) warns her not to kill a certain technician, because they need to insert keycards simultaneously to open a door. Just approaching him without shooting causes Lara to force him to cooperate at gunpoint, and clock him unconscious afterward. But if you want all the level’s secrets, you have to shoot him instead, forcing your remote helper to open an alternate route with more guards. Without Sinjin, I don’t think I would have ever tried this. If all it did was force you to take a more difficult path, I think I’d regard it as a punishment for the player, indicating that not shooting the technician was the correct approach. But since the difficult path is needed for 100% secrets, it feels more like this is the approach that the game wants me to take, and that seems like it’s saying something about Lara’s character. That she isn’t just callously indifferent about the lives she takes. That she prefers to kill, even when she doesn’t need to, even when it makes things more difficult for her. I think I like her a little less now.

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