TR6: Narrative Blurring

After Paris, the action shifts to Prague, home to a mad-science complex where the Cabal is making monsters using Nephilim DNA. It’s the classic Tomb Raider design pattern: start mundane and gradually turn up the weirdness dial.

But before I do any more analysis, let me devote an entire post to complaining about one particular puzzle. Shortly after arriving in Prague, Lara finds herself in a room in a rich person’s house, and refuses to leave until she’s found a secret passage. The walls are lined with paintings and bookshelves, and the floor has a large circular mosaic showing four landscapes, ringed by twelve roman numerals. A little platforming lets you access a mechanism: the camera shifts to show the cover on a grandfather clock opening up, then focuses on the numbers around the mosaic.

“Aha!” think I. “The hands of the clock are now accessible, and it’s hinting that the numbers on the floor are a clue to their required setting!” And so I spend some time fiddling with the clock, and staring at the landscapes, and consulting Von Croy’s journal (which has provided useful information about mechanical puzzles in the past). But there is no solution to be found. Eventually I hit the walkthrough again, and find out the clue I missed was that when the clock opened and the camera shifted over to the mosaic, it was specifically focusing on the number III. The answer was to set the hands to 3 o’clock.

Now, the main irritating thing about this is that it’s making forward progress contingent on information that, if you fail to catch it the first time, you have no way of accessing again, short of reloading an older save. If you walked into the room and someone handed you the controller after the clock was already open, you’d have no way of solving the puzzle other than brute force. But even ignoring that, it bothers me because it’s a blurring of levels. The player has been given information that Lara Croft does not have, but which Lara Croft then acts on. I suppose there’s always been an element of that, whenever Lara pulls a lever and the player is shown a door opening that’s out of Lara’s view, but somehow this feels more egregious. Maybe because it’s more purely an information puzzle. Showing the door that opened is a convenience to the player that doesn’t affect the story of Lara’s adventures in any significant way, but how does Lara explain how she solved the clock puzzle to anyone else?

Tangentially, I wound up going back to that clock often enough to notice something strange about the UI. The clock face is presented as an overlay, right? The game has done similar overlays for the occasional keypad and other devices — I think is a new thing for the series. Well, at one point, I approached the clock from a weird angle, with the result that the cover was poking through the overlay. So these special UI overlays aren’t separate layers, the way you’d do it in most game engines. They’re in-world, and viewed through the same camera as everything else. When Lara fiddles with the clock, a physical giant clock face materializes behind her. I wonder if she knows?

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