TR5: Puzzles

What exactly the word “puzzle” means varies with context. Abstract grid-based games like Tetris and Candy Crush are often categorized as “puzzle games”, despite not having solutions. In the context of adventure games specifically, I once defined “puzzle” as “anything where it’s possible to get stuck”. That doesn’t quite work for a game with action elements, because it’s possible to be stuck on execution. Trying and failing to shoot the boss enough times to kill it before it kills you isn’t a puzzle, unless there’s a trick that makes it easy that you haven’t figured out yet.

For a game like Tomb Raider, I’d define a puzzle as anything where it’s possible to not know what to do.

Sometimes this means not knowing where to go. I’ve mentioned before the bit in the Rome section where you get locked in a courtyard and can’t get out until you notice a variant texture on one of the walls indicating that it’s climbable. It’s not the only part like that. Wait, is every climbable wall texture variant a puzzle? I wouldn’t say so; there are plenty of places in the Russian submarine where a corridor ends in a ladder and it’s completely obvious there’s a ladder there. The borders of puzzledom are fuzzy, reliant on the imagined play of a hypothetical Reasonable Person, but most things can be pretty firmly identified as belonging on one side or the other.

Sometimes it means knowing where to go, but not knowing how to get there. This is generally what I’ve referred to as “jumping puzzles”. There’s a plot token visible atop a rough hill, its sides too steep to run up. How to you get to it? Can you backflip over the steep bit? Can you climb onto something else nearby and jump onto it from there? The last level I completed had the first use in quite some time of the monkey-swing action, dangling from the ivy that it took me a few minutes to notice on the underside of a bridge. That’s one way to make puzzles difficult: let the player forget the full extent of their abilities.

Sometimes it means failing to notice an object you can pick up. Some key items are basically on display, daring you to pilfer them, but others are just lying on the floor in obscure places. Escaping the brig on the submarine required noticing a loose rail on a wall that you could pull off and use as a crowbar.

There’s one obvious sort of puzzle that the mechanics don’t allow, though, and it’s one of the dominant types seen in graphic adventures: Not knowing what to do with your inventory. If you have the key to a door, and you press the action button in front of the door, the game will automatically choose the correct key. An enviable superpower! In this one regard, Lara knows what she’s doing even if you don’t.

I wouldn’t exactly call the Tomb Raider series “adventure games”, but Chronicles, at least, has a lot more adventure-game-style puzzlery than I remember.

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