After spending hours on the new Tomb Raider, dodge duck dip dive and dodging everything that the game threw at me, I came to appreciate a lot about the game. On the other hand, there were some gaming sins that I see constantly in these kind of adventure games that instantly pull me out because of the absurdity in it, this case begin quick-time events (QTEs).
Why my problem with QTEs you may ask? On the one hand, it seems lazy with a lack of vision in teaching the player a special mechanic. In Tomb Raider’s case a kill-mechanic from melee combat or “close-call about to fall” mechanic from climbing. I can understand that it’s better to have some engagement from the player in order to have them feel like they’re actually causing something to happen,keeping the sense of active agency instead of pressing a button 3 seconds ago and watching Lara playing golf with someone’s face or watching her about to lose her grip from the crumbling Cliffside but make a quick recovery while you patiently watch and just wish that she’d move it along so you can get to the next area for puzzles and combat galore. Even a game like Uncharted (oh damn another Tomb Raider/Uncharted comparison so sue me) had plenty of QTEs in the first iteration of the game but toned down tremendously from them because of gripes from the fan-base being annoyed rather than intrigued by the concept. In fact, I’ve yet to meet anyone actually comment on a game saying “You know, [so and so] was really fun, but it had too downtime. It could’ve definitely done with more QTEs,” in which case I would make the point of unfriending them before another sentence came out of their mouth and that would be the end of the conversation. But that doesn’t mean Uncharted 2 didn’t have QTEs, they were just hidden much better and didn’t litter the game to an obscene degree. Instead, they were hidden as moments of reactions in “close-call moments” and set-pieces. So yes, there are in fact too many similarities between Tomb Raider and Uncharted, but the differences in the implementation are staggering although very minute in detail.
The “close-call” moments when rock-climbing exist and persist throughout each game and does lead to a sense of tension and urgency much of the time since many times you’re climbing to get the upper-hand on an enemy or to escape from enemies or other environmental disaster that you caused prior. Usually from the house burning down or crumbling in, Lara and Nate have a bit of a fetish for causing buildings to collapse while they try to get out of them before it becomes a 40-ton gravesite.
You start scaling the walls, with a fire or collapse biting at your heels, this place is old, falling apart (aside from the added damage you’re doing to it, I mean) and isn’t that good at supporting you’re weight. You go from grip-space to grip-space and continue along, but suddenly you feel the grip give way feeling the weight of your whole left-side being pulled down. You try and grip as hard as you can with your right hand to make sure you don’t fall. A Triangle-symbol shows above your head, well shit alright I guess this is a game. You press the button, following the omnipresent Symbol Ferry and you gain strength to grip the wall correctly before gaining enough strength and stability to press onward (TR). REWIND! Your left hand-hold breaks apart, but you continue moving onward, pushing the forward direction, the jump button or some combination of both because these are the means that you know to get out of this situation (U). Nothing telling the player exactly what to do but letting the player’s instincts, the instincts that should’ve been tried and tested throughout the game, to get out of the predicament that they’re in.
This philosophy also applies for the major set-pieces of both games, something that Tomb Raider seemed very unsure about in how they wanted to go about. Again, you’re in a falling building but you’re running through it which the floors are collapsing all around you. As the floors start collapsing from the damage going on around it, clear paths open up that you run through in order to keep the bad guys just far enough behind you but the building start to lean and collapse on itself. You run through as many pathways as possible, but the building can’t take the stress from the damage to its supports and begins to topple over. The only thing you’re able to do at this point is follow the open paths in hopes of some opening for escape. Miracles occur and there’s a building that we’re about to topple into and I can GTFO into it, but with only a very small window of opportunity. You make your way towards the opening and Symbol Ferry pops-up again, press the “X” button. Well shit, I already knew that. “X”. You jump and make it safely into the next building (TR) (safely: a forever temporary term meaning safe from building damage as of now, not from a soon to collapse new building or bullets making it way to your magnetic chestpiece) . REWIND: You aren’t pulled out of the game by the Symbol Ferry but instead do what feels natural in the situation, like pressing “X” to jump because you’re trying to jump from one building to another, and this is the only action that makes sense. Or you die, learn from your mistake and jump the second time around because there’s only so many action to-do (U).
Seems similar in concept to the wall-climbing scenario right? Well, the other set-pieces are the “chase sequences.” In the case of Tomb Raider, I’m really going to talk to when you’re rushing down a river or mudslide, trying to avoid obstacles and debris. This happens a handful of times, but for some reason, no Symbol Ferry is present here. Nothing to tell you to move left or right in-order to avoid obstacles. Even when there’s something blocking your way, you go into a bullet-time slow-motion event, the game lets you pull out your shotgun and get a chance to break the debris apart with a well-placed blast opening up a hole for you to rush through. Again, no Symbol Ferry through all of it. Sure, there was some trial-and-error here, but I left these areas feeling more exhilarated because I actually had to pay attention to what was going on in the screen, letting the environment cue me into what I needed to do and which direction I needed to go, instead of sitting around waiting for the Symbol Ferry to tell me what to do and completely pull me out of the situation only to focus on what I was told to do. They could have taken the early philosophy of QTE approach and have you move the Analog at the right time in order to avoid obstacles, but instead opted for the (personally) better choice for tension and immersion. This does come at the cost of possible frustration if not done properly, such as easy cues to pick up on, easy to understand moments of “here’s danger, do what we taught you” but leads me to think that they didn’t understand how to convey this properly in other situations so opted for the “here’s danger, press Triangle” instead.
On the other hand, it brings a completely passive approach to the game [next post]