Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
08 April 2006
TR:L demo details, good & bad
I enjoyed the Tomb Raider: Legend PlayStation 2 demo, and I plan to get the full game. Here are the high and low points of what I've seen:

  • Movement is smooth. Not quite as good as Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, but good enough. In one or two places, like the scaling several ledges and speeding through rhythm, it is in fact better.
  • Environments are convincing. The environmental kills are dumb, but otherwise I like the world and how it's constructed.
  • Puzzles show real promise. The two-part puzzle at the end of the demo is quite satisfying, using the environment seamlessly and convincingly.
  • Appears to limit you to one gun at a time. Finally, Lara isn't trying to be the DooM guy.
  • Start button during cut scene does not end the scene! (Sounds bad, I know.) Instead you get a menu asking if you want to keep watching the scene or skip it. This effectively gives me the paused cut scenes I've always wanted.
  • Three health packs maximum at any time. Excellent for adding a bit of challenge.
  • There are some buggy parts of the environment. I got stuck on an incline where Lara alternates sliding and falling upward in a loop.
  • Gunplay is awkward and I don't much enjoy it. Still haven't seen the Matrix-style kills, which may be a benefit. I should look into how you knock a foe out instead of killing him, if this is possible.
  • Enemies fire on you automatically, but there is no narrative explanation for the hostilities.
  • Shadows are often a distraction. The realism gained when Lara casts a beautiful shadow is lost when the huge ledge she's clinging to doesn't.
  • Dialogue captions are not automatically turned on. Listen people: captioned dialogue should be the default in all games. Alternatively, start supporting closed captioning.
  • The yapping dino buddies talking to Lara over the radio are ok, but I preferred Lara the loner. This appears to be an influence from the two Tomb Raider movies. Perhaps they can be turned off? If they are critical to the story at some point, I'll consider changing my mind.
I'm going to read up some on the demo, through the newsgroup and perhaps some FAQs, but I didn't find any secrets in the level I played. That's disappointing, since seeing a remote ledge and figuring out how to reach it was an essential part of my enjoyment of Tomb Raider. If the demo has secrets and I missed them, I'll be pleased to see how sneaky they are.

Update: Areas for secrets are in the demo version, but they're not active. Same areas in the final game are counted as secrets. See here.

While hunting around I ran across a message asking "IS THERE A NUDE CODE?!" I haven't seen that kind of request for a Tomb Raider game since the 1990s. I guess that's just one more indicator that Lara's back in fashion.
--Matt Matthews at 23:08
Comment [ 9 ]

Comments on this post:

Closed Captioning? Is that even possible with videogames?

Though, I agree on the subtitles thing. I have a hard time hearing my TV from where I play, and not being able to figure out what the hell they're saying is really annoying. Games like Xenogears (I think) and Lunar had this problem.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 09 April, 2006 03:28  

Many games have closed captioning, to various degrees of thoroughness. Half-Life 2, for example, has the best closed captioning I've ever read.

By Anonymous zachary, at 09 April, 2006 03:55  

Anon, yes it's possible. It's just some extra data sent to the TV set when the electron gun isn't drawing the screen. There was talk a few years back of using this as a way to get text on the screen for an Atari 2600 game. It was possible, in theory, but I don't think it ever happened. If the Atari 2600 is capable, I'd hope the newer consoles could do it. Ideally, such a feature would be built into the console itself.

zakk, do you mean HL2 on Xbox 360? Otherwise, I don't see how it does traditional closed captioning that the average TV understands...

By Blogger jvm, at 09 April, 2006 08:07  

No, I meant HL2 on the PC, which still has closed captioning.

By Anonymous zachary, at 09 April, 2006 13:26  

jvm, remember the Atari had a much lower level of hardware control than we typically see these days. It was a system where changing color and position registers in the middle of a scan line was just how you did graphics! Even on my old Commodore (which had its share of games that used raster effects), I would have no idea how to do something like that.

Anyway, the thing I liked about what I played of the original Tomb Raider was how Metroidish it seemed. You explored a mysterious place, how you got around it was up to you, and there was the sense that you weren't exploring a world that was designed for the purpose of a game, that it was just "there," and like if you were actually standing in an ancient tomb, or on an alien planet, you had to deal with it as best you could.

By Blogger JohnH, at 09 April, 2006 13:45  

zakk, that's typically called subtitles. Closed captioning, at least in my experience, refers to the signal sent to the TV to generate text on the screen.

Same effect, different name.

By Blogger jvm, at 09 April, 2006 15:13  

jvm: except this also has stuff like [boom], but it is instead very good.

By Anonymous zachary, at 09 April, 2006 18:15  

jvm, remember the Atari had a much lower level of hardware control than we typically see these days. ... Even on my old Commodore (which had its share of games that used raster effects), I would have no idea how to do something like that.

That's interesting -- I'm betting there's some way on the C=64 to get the 0s and 1s to talk to the parts that talk to the "electron gun". I'm always impressed when programmers talk directly to the hardware, like NASCAR Racing apparently did on the x86 (might be misremembering that) and some of the games on the PS1 that don't work on PS2 seem to have done. I wonder if some Jag games don't take advantage of its plethora o' chips in relatively low-level ways.

Abstraction layers might help people program more quickly, but it really is a shame how quickly programmers trade speed of execution for speed of getting something up and running. There seems to be a certain art to programming that's been lost (perhaps traded for a new sort of art, but lost nevertheless) by OO langs running in virtual machines. The lack of the potential for bloat (the new batari lang ignored for now) in the 2600 seems to have had the fringe benefit of some real creativity and longevity.

By Blogger rufbo, at 11 April, 2006 01:17  

I think the BattleSphere people said they were using 90% or more of the Jag's power, which strongly suggests that technical prowess doesn't get you a good game.

By Blogger jvm, at 11 April, 2006 07:42  

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