TR6: Strength

In the secret dig underneath the Louvre, things finally start feeling like a proper Tomb Raider. We’ve got mysterious ruins! We’ve got dart traps and spike traps! We’ve got undead guardians, tests and trials, and an unusual amount of free-flowing lava for the middle of Paris!

We also get a much-needed and possibly inadvertent clarification about the strength mechanic. This is a new element for the series, experimental and in my view not particularly successful. See, most levels have some opportunity to increase the strength of Lara’s arms and/or legs via exercise. Stronger arms help you break down doors and maintain your grip on ledges for longer. Stronger legs help you shift massive stone blocks and jump farther. When you try to open a door or move a block that you’re not strong enough for, Lara says “I’m not strong enough” to let you know. How do you increase your strength? By breaking down doors and shifting massive stone blocks, often ones that you have no other reason to mess with. And that feels a bit silly.

I found this whole system worrisome at first. What if I missed an opportunity to raise Lara’s strength, and locked myself out of content and/or upgrades down the line? The game seemed to be willing to let such things happen: you can easily miss out on the opportunity to obtain Von Croy’s notebook, which contains crucial information for puzzles later on. But after a while, I noticed a distinct pattern. I’d find a door blocking the way to some optional pickups, but Lara wouldn’t be strong enough. After exploring the level a bit, I’d find another door, break it open, and Lara’s strength would go up, enabling me to open the first door. In other words, it was acting less like the stat system I had assumed and more like a lock and key. And that made me wonder: Does strength carry over between levels at all, like your inventory and ammo does? Or is it purely a matter of “Open this door to open that door”?

Well, down in the ruins, there’s critical path exercise. A tunnel has a door you have to go through to progress, and you can’t open it until you’ve gone down a different tunnel branch and opened another door. And that seemed to settle it. Even if you think they would have been mad enough to make opening that door and continuing in the game contingent on having found enough optional strengthening actions in previous levels that you can’t get back to, it seems unlikely that I just happened to have found exactly enough strength to put Lara right on the edge of being able to get through, and pushed her over with exactly what was available.

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