TR5: Matters of Scale

When the art in the original Tomb Raider games works, it works really well. If you want a vast and irregular cavern, aglow in the sunlight from the cave mouth, it’s got you covered. At a sufficiently large scale, the fact that it’s chopped up into tiles isn’t a problem, it adds to the artistic feel. The tiles give it a look like a mosaic, like a faceted gem.

But when we’re dealing with things at a human scale, the tile grid can get a little ridiculous. The tiles are quite a bit larger than in something like Minecraft — it can be hard to judge by eyeball, but it looks to me like they’re a bit wider than Lara is tall, so let’s call them two meters. And so that’s the smallest any terrain feature can be. Every table, desk, and counter is two meters wide. The submarine level has a bathroom with a row of two-meter sinks.

But then, I don’t know how much we can really blame the grid. Even when the grid is broken, the artists don’t seem all that interested in keeping a consistent scale. The church scene, for example, has a bunch of pews placed at irregular angles, and they’re unreasonably enormous, as tall as Lara, as if a race of giants attended services there. Which seems to be the case, in fact: the skeleton of some forgotten king is laid out in a nearby crypt, occupying nearly two whole tiles from head to toe. The same model is used for those sword ghosts I mentioned before. They tower over Lara. You take it in stride, because they’re monsters.

I think back to the original Tomb Raider. There was a sequence there involving guardian mummies that come to life, and the gradual realization that, despite how they were posed, they weren’t mummies of humans. They were oddly-proportioned and their knees bent backwards and once they started moving, they moved in non-human ways, often running on all fours. But the first clue was simply how tall they were.

I guess what I’m getting at here is that scaling things weird can work, if we’re dealing with monsters, or monstrous things. It can create an uncomfortable sense of wrongness, and sometimes that’s what you’re going for. Heck, I can imagine something surrealist like Silent Hill using two-meter bathroom sinks and pulling it off. But sometimes it just comes off as ridiculous.

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