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Old 31-03-19, 21:28   #32
Relic Hunter
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Join Date: Feb 2011
Location: Iowa
Posts: 8,673

Surprise! Another review in the same weekend... shocking, I know. Enjoy, and I'll be back with the finale to India later this week.

Level 3 - The River Ganges

Tomb Raider II introduced an alternative form of traversing our environment through its implementation of vehicles. In that game, both the Venetian speedboat and the Tibetan snowmobile were actually completely optional for the player to utilize. This gave us a great choice of whether we preferred the traditional "on-foot" approach, or if we instead wanted to opt for something quirky and fun. While the answer for me is almost always the latter, I definitely don't think TR2's snowmobile was great control-wise, and it really suffered in areas with jagged geometry or narrow cliffs to drive across. Still, it felt like a part of the gameplay that we needed to use to get the full experience of Tibetan Foothills, but we always had the option of abandoning it and carrying on with the level.

In The River Ganges, we're introduced to the quad bike before the level even begins (Lara notices it right before she attempts to chase Tony down the river). After the interesting-yet-flawed inclusion of TR2's snowmobile, I would have hoped that TR3's attempt at a four-wheeled machine would have ironed out some of the (literal) bumps that the first version had.

Alas... it didn't, and in many ways is actually worse.

To start off with the positives: the quad bike doesn't make Lara take unnecessary damage when she crashes into walls, which is definitely nice. It was too easy to take many nicks here and there while riding the snowmobile, even if they weren't intentional. The River Ganges is also a comparatively short level, so there really isn't actually a whole lot of gameplay involving the quad bike here (especially if the player opts to take the right-hand side of the detour... but that's a whole different gripe I have with this stage, so more on that later ).

That second positive is a pretty backhanded positive for me, however, because a vehicle's implementation should really improve my opinion of an entire level, yet the quad bike doesn't. For one thing, the environment geometry here is, once again, not productive to accomplishing our goals of driving the quad bike safely. There are jutting rocks which can have a wonky affect on the direction the bike goes in. There is a descent down a cliff face (see the above screenshot) which can go horribly wrong if you're going even the slightest bit too fast. Finally, there's a very narrow ledge that the player needs to navigate around with the bike, and if you've ever played TR3, then you'll remember that the quad is... less than stellar at making moderate turns like that. The real stinker here is not that the quad bike is all that terrible; on the contrary, it's really fun to use it in Lara's Home on her racetrack. The problem is that the design of The River Ganges exemplifies its negatives. Had the designers chosen to focus on large jumps, wider paths, mowing down monkeys, or simply solving puzzles (kind of like Nevada Desert does later on, actually), I would have enjoyed its use much more.

But as it stands, taking that left-hand side of the detour is vastly less fun that the right-hand side because of the aforementioned negatives. If you instead choose the path through the ruins, however, you're not only treated to less of the annoying aspects of the quad bike, but you get a significantly better experience overall. (More on that later.)

Of course, you're forced to use the quad bike regardless of whether or not you take the right-hand route, and there's also a moment in the first several jumps where the player needs to rev the engine (using the sprint button) in order to clear a gap that's just a little too big for a normal acceleration. This also ends up being needlessly difficult because there is zero indication that this is even a possible function of the bike. I remember how frustrated I was as a kid with this; it's only used a couple of times throughout the journey, which makes it easy to forget on subsequent playthroughs. Sure enough, I struggled again to remember what the combination was on this run. I'm all for not holding the player's hand, but the combination needed to execute this vital move is lost on anyone who doesn't look it up. And that's not good design in my opinion.

As much as I would love to continue with my dislike for the quad bike, there's a lot more to talk about with The River Ganges, so I'll cut it short here. First of all, I appreciate how the designers once again give us a very clear objective - as long as we paid attention in the previous cutscene. We need to reach the end of the river with Tony. But swimming in the river would be way too convenient, right? Sure enough, our attempt at taking the current down leads us to a rock barrier and a school of piranha to eat our heroine alive. To the quad bike it is.

However, the curious player is going to take the time to explore the opening valley and discover a series of rock platforms leading to the river's first secret. I would argue that the trip to this secret room is one of the most properly challenging and satisfying secrets in the game, actually. What makes this one so good is that it relies on the predictable jumping mechanics, but also throws in some variables through the use of low-hanging rock faces and mixing up the types of necessary jumps. It can definitely be frustrating at first, however, but it's not frustrating in a Temple Ruins "you-thought-you-knew-what-you-were-doing-but-SURPRISE!-sudden-boulder!" manner. If you're falling in the river here, it's because you're not judging your jumps correctly, not because the game sprung a spike trap on you out of nowhere.

Other secrets in this level are just fine as well - a few of them even continue to utilize Lara's jumping mechanics - but this one is certainly the most satisfying.

One thing that is not satisfying about The River Ganges, however, is the use of the level's centerpiece detour. After navigating the quad through a series of jumps and dispatching a few cobras, we're presented with a literal fork in the road. Our options are to: A) go left through a bike-heavy section and pick up a secret that we can't get on the right side, or B) go right, use the bike less, and explore through a nice little ruins side area... but finish the level with only 4/5 secrets. Yes, I do know that it's possible to go left, reach the end, and then use some tricky-as-hell jumping to explore the right side and then get back on the main path, but I'm doubtful that the designers intended this in the first place; it's certainly not as smooth as the transition between paths in Coastal Village, for example.

For this playthrough, I did actually complete the above path since I'm a stickler for getting everything the level has to offer. But I don't care for the choice in the first place because all of the level's gameplay should be accessible without having to resort to a drastic hairpin-turn jump.

The other problem with this detour is that the right-hand side - the one without the secret - is, well, just way more fun that the other. The use of a quad bike as a puzzle item that we need to use to jump the river at the end is much better than trying to navigate it along the craggy riverside path. The ruins area itself is also fairly exploration-oriented and gives us a healthy amount of monkey combat, platforming, and key-searching.

The post-detour portion of this stage features a waterfall area where several vultures swoop in to ruin the day. One more secret can be found if the player chooses not to prematurely jump into the drink, and then the telltale sign of Tony's crashed raft shows us that we're in the right place. A quick look behind the waterfall brings us to a level end.

Before closing out the main body of this review (which has admittedly been a little more negative-Nelly than I anticipated at first... ), I do want to point out how vibrant and beautiful The River Ganges is. I think that this level's river-based theme was very appropriate after the dark and foreboding atmosphere of the Temple Ruins. The inclusion of more ruined buildings on the right-hand side of the detour is also a welcome addition to the environment, but overall its quite nice to be back outdoors again.


+ Pretty and vibrant scenery
+ Great secrets (once again)
+ Level design doesn't confuse the player
+ The right-hand side of the detour features a very solid puzzle

- Level geometry and wonky quad bike physics can make for some frustrating moments with the required vehicle
- The use of a strict detour is problematic for players who want to explore everywhere
- Left-hand path skips over the stage's only puzzle
- Level doesn't add much new content to the Indian adventure

The River Ganges is a mixed bag. At this point, Jungle and Temple Ruins were both solid levels. No, I didn't give either of them marks above an 8, but they certainly were enjoyable and had two entirely different themes (dense jungle exploration and a trap-filled dark temple romp, respectively). What's the theme of The River Ganges? It contains the same jungle-y environment of the opener with a few ruined buildings mixed in that resemble Temple Ruins. I enjoy the level's feel and appearance and traversing the river, but I think the fact that you can bypass the best puzzle here by taking the left-hand side of the detour is problematic. Furthermore, I'm not a fan of the quad bike, so it's difficult for me to point to that as the level's signature bit when it's arguably signature for the wrong reasons.

As much as I want to award The River Ganges a fairly high rating, it's difficult for me to examine it in context of the rest of TR3's higher quality adventures and place it on a similar tier. It's certainly not bad, and even improves upon Temple Ruins by not placing so many egregious traps that test my patience. But the quad bike manages to occasionally induce some of this frustration on its own, and that shouldn't have happened. At the very least, the bike should have been optional, yet the level is designed in a manner where certain gaps across the river can't be cleared without it.

The quad bike is only part of the problem however; my greater concern is with the level design. I don't like forced detours, and if the game is going to have a forced detour, then I especially don't appreciate the inability to explore one route after completing the other. As a result, I'm going to stick to my guns and probably disappoint some of you with this rating, but I really just feel as though TR3 has much more to offer than it shows here.

Rating - 6/10

Last edited by sheepman23; 06-04-19 at 02:54.
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