TR5: The Mill

By now, I’m well into the fourth and final chapter of Tomb Raider: Chronicles, where Lara puts on a shiny black castsuit and an electronic headset and visor, as depicted in the box art, and creeps around a high-tech office building filled with lasers. But before describing that in detail, I’d like to complain about the puzzles in chapter 3 a little more.

Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever needed hints so much in a Tomb Raider before. One of the puzzles was to get through an underwater passage in a mill pond, guarded by an aquatic monster, sort of like an ugly mermaid based on a sea horse. It swims around in a sort of patrol pattern, which led me to believe that I could sneak past it while its back was turned, but repeated attempts at this failed. Finally turning to Sinjin, I found that the key to the whole thing was something I hadn’t noticed at all: a coin lying on the pond bed, where it blended in far too well. I might have noticed it even so, were it not right in the creature’s patrol route, where there’s limited opportunity to poke around experimentally.

Shortly afterward, inside the mill, there’s a crank that opens a door that immediately starts closing, making you rush over to it within a time limit. The problem is that you can’t see the door opening from where you turn the crank, and if you don’t book it over immediately, it will most likely be fully closed by the time it comes into view. I suppose the player is just supposed to intuit what’s going on from the room’s design. I personally got as far as turning the crank and then checking the door, but not fast enough to see it closing. “I guess the crank doesn’t open that door”, I thought to myself. “I wonder what it does? I suppose it’ll be obvious when I find out.” Earlier games in the series had a solution for this: whenever you opened a door remotely, the camera would cut to show the door opening.

I have no real basis for this but my own thoughts, but I kind of suspect that the intention behind these sorts of puzzles was that, at this point the series, the target audience is die-hard Tomb Raider experts, who want a challenging experience. But (A) there’s a big difference between “challenging” and “obtuse”, and (B) difficulty was never really part of the appeal of Tomb Raider in the first place. A modicum of challenge is just a spice on the exploration.

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