This is something rampant and widespread in level-based games, don’t get me wrong. I’m picking on Tomb Raider specifically because I know exactly why it has to be this way, it still bothers the player’s subconscious. It happens a lot in Dues Ex: Human Revolution too, but that at least could be explained by, say, defense turrets and other devices unseen but dangerous until you deactivate them from the inside when you’re ready to leave. That’s plausible.
So the levels are generally something like this:
You start at the bottom there and grapple up some mountain or have your butler in a helicopter or yacht drop you off, then you figure out the puzzle to open the door and proceed through this gauntlet of traps and trials, killing the animals that have been sealed in the tomb for countless years waiting just for you to come. Maybe that’s why they’re so ferocious: they haven’t eaten in a long time. After dispatching all danger and overcoming all ridiculous odds, you finally come to the main room containing the crystal or amulet or key or whatever and proceed to grab it – here there’s two options: one, a secret door in the back opens up and you just run out happily. Two: the temple starts to shake and crumble and you go back through all of those traps again until you get back to the front door where some bad guy with a terrible fake accent thanks you for retrieving the goods for them, proceeds to knock you out and takes it.
Now, I’m entirely happy with this. The games are still entertaining and I quite like them. The puzzle rooms are often clever and that side of the level design is actually fantastic. If you can ignore the very obvious and conveniently placed ledges and gaps that are perfectly sized for Lara, the environments are actually very cool. The way some of the rooms fit together to allow you to do some things while certain areas are activated / switch when not are nothing short of brilliant on the designer’s part – commendable.
But then there’s the bit that bothers me.
All of these tombs, save for some of the darker corridors, are naturally lit by huge chasms in the ceiling. Looks cool, sure, sunlight streaming in. Makes for a workable game, since it isn’t completely sealed and black, which is, you know, nice. But it raises the question: if you have the helicopter there, why don’t you just drop in, grab the crystal amulet of cosmic power and activate the winch to pull you back out. It’d be so much easier!
The better question is why the bad guys don’t do that. They thank Lara for retrieving it because they know the traps would kill them, so they just wait for her to come back out – I would too – but they have helicopters and winches – go for the huge skylights.
Now, it’s a petty nit to be picked but I’d argue that it’s this sort of subconscious disconnect that hurts video games’ realism without you even ever fully knowing it.
Image sources via clickthrough.
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