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Old 27-04-16, 03:06   #101
Hiroyuki
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A challenge to try when you reach the Deck (just for a bit of fun) is to cross the lake to the exit at the far side without going in the water. It's actually possible. As with the high dive on the Great Wall I'm sure Core intended it that way, as the sequence of jumps is just possible. (I also tried to completely circumnavigate the lakeshore but I wasn't able to manage that.)
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Old 27-04-16, 03:48   #102
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^ I didn't know that was possible... I'll have to check that out when I go to replay it, I'm very curious now.

THE MARIA DORIA
Level 8 - "Wreck of the Maria Doria"




Praise for Level Design

We're about midway through Tomb Raider II, and by now it has become pretty easy to make a lot of conclusions on how the designers altered their thought processes after making the original title. Wreck of the Maria Doria is actually a very good example of what's truly different about this game in comparison to Tomb Raider, and such differences are actually accentuated through both this level's positives and negatives.

The Maria Doria levels essentially revolve around an overturned ship that has somehow lodged its way into the sea floor, all whilst creating a massive air pocket so that explorers can find their way inside. (Either that, or the Fiamma Nera cultists pumped water out, which is also perfectly feasible.) In any case, the player is guided through a massive underwater tomb of sorts, complete with puzzles and hazards that come about as a result of the ship's condemnation. 40 Fathoms already presented us with some of this, but 40 Fathoms is relatively short compared to Wreck of the Maria Doria - and the latter level gives us a lot more to munch on in terms of design.

Wreck of the Maria Doria takes the concept of the overturned ship and allows it to come to life through a very intricate style of level design. In the screenshot above, we are standing in a ballroom of sorts, and our perception is totally thrown off since everything is upside down. Yet when you glance around and try to reorient yourself, you realize just how much work the TR2 designers went to in terms of creating a level like this. While we have already seen some flashes of greater design complexity compared to the first title, Wreck of the Maria Doria is perhaps the best example of improvement in this game so far. It challenges us with a strange orientation and then succeeds at making the initial premise seem believable through use of environmental details and texturing choices, such as the overturned chairs and tables in the bathroom area or the diving board that is attached to the ceiling in the first main chamber.


I guess she really needed to go.

Credibility is of huge importance when you're taking on an environment like an overturned Maria Doria ship. In Tomb Raider, it was relatively easy to take most of the game's environments and construct them with little concern for structural correctness; unless we were talking about something like the Colosseum, there was never usually any need for a pre-set design system since tombs, temples, and ruins can take on almost any form and make logical sense for their purposes. However, Tomb Raider II features a lot of contemporary or atleast man-made environments, and the need for correctness in these circumstances can only be met through the finer details - and Wreck of the Maria Doria passes this test with flying colors.

More Gunfire and Less Isolation

Wreck of the Maria Doria's atmosphere is technically as good as 40 Fathoms, but does contain issues that its predecessor did not. The ambient track was changed back to the classic "droning chamber" ambiance that we already got in The Opera House, and I do think it's fitting for the Wreck of the Maria Doria, which tends to have much larger rooms and environments than 40 Fathoms did; the heartbeat sound probably would not have worked as well here.


This is just un-barrelable.


Sorry, I'll stop making bad puns. I seem to have jumped the shark with my humor ability.

At the same time, less emphasis on isolation has brought us right back to The Human Problem. And boy does Wreck of the Maria Doria suffer from it. Not as badly as The Deck will, but the problem with WotMD's humans is that they are almost always contained in tight, suffocating hallways, which really narrows the possibilities for combat down to constantly rolling and shooting. Atleast in The Opera House (and later on in The Deck) we fight most of the enemies in big, open areas that encourage running and jumping; here, there are several instances where that is simply not possible, and there's even one particularly frustrating moment where Lara pulls up out of a hole of water and instantly gets ambushed by three guys in a hallway beyond. Escaping damage here is very tough, but that's mostly because of the cheapness of the situation rather than the enemies themselves.

That being said, the humans here are slightly redeemed by the creepy presence that they have in nearly every situation on board this desolate ship. It does ruin the atmosphere to a certain extent, but it creates an interesting new dynamic all the same.


Hmm, now where have I seen this before?

Random Thoughts That I Have No Other Category For

I really, really like Wreck of the Maria Doria's general gameplay style. Putting aside my issues with the human enemies, I do think that the depth and complexity of the gameplay here is much greater than that of 40 Fathoms. Of course, there was nothing wrong with the simplicity of the predecessor, but at the same time it's nice to see a much more indirect set of passages and areas in this level to treat the gamer to more chances for exploration.

I also appreciate how this level spends the first 80% or so focusing on dry land puzzles and battles before engaging in more underwater stuff. 40 Fathoms pretty much wallops you in the face with undersea exploration, so it was nice of the designers to take a step back for the majority of Wreck of the Maria Doria by offering up more classical styles of gameplay. In this case, that involved a lot of item-fetching, and yet the idea behind the Circuit Breakers to turn off the billowing flames was pretty good. We get a round tour of the ship in the process, and it ends up being a lot of fun.

When Wreck of the Maria Doria does finally give us some solid underwater gameplay, we're treated to more of the thrilling shark antics that we got a taste of in the beginning of this levelset. Unfortunately, the harpoon gun proves its complete and utter and incompetence in this part of the level; if the player even tries to start pecking away at one of the various underwater fauna here, they suddenly realize that the sheer difficulty of swimming and shooting becomes terribly problematic when so many creatures are approaching at once. Which is really too bad...


Uh... no lifeguard on duty...?

Before I start wrapping this up, I also want to take a brief moment to point out the somewhat-forgotten-but-totally-awesome level ending that we get here. The underwater cavern that connects this level to the Living Quarters is littered with big green moray eels, and they all just start popping up out of nowhere to completely **** with the careless raider that isn't expecting them. It's interesting, it's creepy, and it's a great way to end this very solid experience.

Conclusion

Wreck of the Maria Doria took a really ambitious idea and executed it near-perfectly in practice. That's a really awesome thing, and it's not hard to see why this level is ultimately lauded as one of the best in Tomb Raider II. At the same time, there are a few problems that are often ignored when thinking about this experience. While not mentioned in the regular review, this level stretches my patience in terms of block puzzles; while less frustrating than the Offshore Rig, there are still too many for my liking. The other big problem here lies in the existence of humans, but I've already beaten that dead horse so there is not much more to say about that.

Anyway, here's your definitive list of pros and cons:

Pros:
+ Fantastic level design
+ High emphasis on details and texture placement
+ Captures a very claustrophobic atmosphere
+ Solid gameplay in general
+ Great progression and non-linearity
+ Several cool underwater enemies, including moray eels

Cons:
- Human enemies become quite annoying
- Block pushing could have been cut down

Wreck of the Maria Doria is a gem, and it should always be viewed as one. However, I have a hard time putting this one above 40 Fathoms, even though I think the majority of the TR fanbase would think it deserves such placement. It probably does, actually, but I have a huge soft spot for 40 Fathoms that I quite simply do not have for this level. Take out half of the humans and get rid of those egregious block puzzles, and we can talk about considering this to be one of TR2's absolute best... but as it stands, Wreck of the Maria Doria is a wonderfully designed and executed level that ultimately gets knocked down a couple of pegs for committing those flaws mentioned above.

8.5/10

Current Rankings:
1. 40 Fathoms (9.5/10)
2. The Great Wall (9/10)
3. Wreck of the Maria Doria (8.5/10)
4. The Opera House (8.5/10)
5. Bartoli's Hideout (8/10)
6. Venice (7/10)
7. Diving Area (5/10)
8. Offshore Rig (3/10)
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Old 27-04-16, 19:23   #103
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Great review as always sheepman, I love reading them. Keep it up, really!

It's always nice to see what other people think about the game, especially the parts you really like. Wreck of the Maria Doria is one of my absolutely favourites, just because I love the whole idea of putting Lara in an upside down shipwreck (for some time at least), where you got literally drown in your surroundings. You described the feeling of the claustrophobia very well, I always thought that this place would do something to Lara psychologically (not much though, since she's very hardened), knowing that she barely survived to get in the wreck in time before suffocating, just to be met by dozens of deadly killers and traps deep in the ocean. Yeah I know Lara experienced things almost as worse and the adventure gets harder, as you progress the game, but this one place seems so harsh, the deadliest section in the whole game for me and definitely the most awesome. But then, the game really managed to maintain its quality while it continues.

I agree with you on the humans just partly, I thought there were too many enemies in the section, yes, but I always try to find explanations for that storywise. In this case I always just thought that Marco was paranoid of being interrupted or even killed in his quest of finding the Seraph, so he placed several men not just in the rig but also in the sunken vessel, to avoid interruptions and potential complications. Knowing that the ship was heavily bombed by monks (which descendants are still living in Tibet), resulting in his fathers death, surely just increased his paranoid train of thoughts.

For the blocks.... they are okay, if they aren't overused. In this level they were, so yeah, that's definitely a downer.
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Old 27-04-16, 20:38   #104
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I think Wreck of the Maria Doria is a solid level. It had the potential to be really monstrous and ugly, but I don't think it goes that far. It balances the dry sections and water sections quite well.

I totally get what you say about the humans having a creepy presence throughout the level. It always scares me when you're in a hallway, and you hear footsteps coming from behind you, or around the corner in front of you (case in point: Silver Dragon secret). It's just...panic sets in. Conversely, whenever I enter one of those massive dark halls, I feel really vulnerable, because I don't know whether I've spotted all the enemies yet, and whether they have spotted me yet. There's no scary music, or cutscene, or anything. You either see the enemies moving silently in the distance, or you get frightened by a shot coming at you from an unknown direction. It creates a brilliant atmosphere, one where you really don't know what to expect in front of you, and one where you can only be as cautious as you can...

I just wanted to mention...the placement of the music is great in this level. It's all the same track (the one with the low choir). The first time it plays, you enter a room which looks just like any other in the level, with dark and overturned furniture. This is kinda the opposite of what I've been describing above, because the player does get a cue that something is about to go down, but there's actually no immediate danger, so all that happens is that the player gets nervous. And they might get even more nervous if they see the bad guy watching you from behind the window! I mean, this is the sort of thing that, if I was 5 or 6 years old, I would be too afraid to continue further. This level just nails that unsettling, dangerous atmosphere so well.

The other time the track plays is when you enter the wooden portion of the ship. It works so well here because the environment is different, so you feel like you're progressing forward somewhere, but the scary music suggests that where you're going...is not necessarily where you want to be. And the fact that it's an older portion of the ship is also creepy in itself. But alas, there's no way back... Compare this situation to something like the end of Burial Chambers in TR4, where you literally see the light at the end of the tunnel, and you hear a rousing statement of the TR theme, to suggest to the player that they've finally reached the surface above the chambers, and away from danger. Well...that's the complete opposite to what we get in Maria Doria!

Of course, it goes without saying that the music track (by Nathan McCree) is very good itself. It starts off very low...like the groaning of a ship. Then it grows and intensifies, heightening the sense of anxiety, but without using cheap "scare tactics". It creates a serene atmosphere, but one that's filled with danger.

Anyway, this use of music is nothing new in the classics...but I think it's done especially effectively in this level. (I wonder; might TR2 be the creepiest TR game?)

As always, an awesome review sheepman23. Looking forward to the next one!
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Old 27-04-16, 20:50   #105
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I agree with everyone who says that wreck of maria doria is a solid level. It's better than the first 4 levels of the game IMO.
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Old 28-04-16, 00:22   #106
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I agree the level is well-designed with a lot of attention paid to the look and feel of the wreck, you certainly get a convincing feeling of being on the hulk of a luxury liner. But I also agree that the block puzzle in the changing room area was a pain, and I recall having a lot of difficulty solving the problems of the room with the burner and rotating bits that you have to cross.

TBH given the scale and difficulty of this level, by the end I was expecting to return to the surface and was somewhat dismayed to find yet another wreck level, and then another! (Fortunately the final one was a refreshing change to the claustrophobia of the preceding levels with its big caverns.)
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Old 28-04-16, 14:46   #107
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Wreck of the Maria Doria is one of my Top 3 levels in Tomb Raider II. To start off, I love the level design. It’s one of the most interesting locations in the Classic series IMO. Like someone mentioned earlier, while the level is not an actual tomb or ancient ruins, the setting and level design makes it feel like an actual tomb. A luxury ship that has been plundered for decades and lost in time is pretty identical to an actual tomb in my books. What made Wreck of the Maria Doria an intriguing level are the intricate details that were incorporated into the level. We get to see various rooms of the ship turned upside-down. It might not look obvious at first, but it was an amazing detail at the time to include. Not only that, but I love how much variation in the level there is. We get to see the recreation area, boiler room, dining room, ballroom, captain’s quarters, and many other interesting rooms. I personally find the “Chambers” track to be a perfect fit for this level. I think this track is perfect for all the ancient tombs/ruins level.

I also enjoy how the level is split between land and underwater exploration just like 40 Fathoms. Unlike 40 Fathoms though, the water parts are more about reaching new areas of the level. Unfortunately, I have to complain about the human enemies in this level though. Out of all the levels in the whole game, I think this level suffered the worst with the number of human enemies. The human enemy count was just as bad as the Venetian levels where every corner you turned and every switched you pull, a couple of them would ambush you. I would’ve been happy if they didn’t have any human enemies at all in this level. Instead, we would have more traps and underwater enemies. Speaking of traps, I also think they were pretty underwhelming in this level too. Especially considering how long the level was. The only traps we got were the glass shards (spikes) and the rolling barrels (boulder). It definitely could’ve incorporated more traps in this level and decrease the human enemy count. Just take the Great Pyramid level in TR1. There are only like 3 Atlantean enemies there, but the whole level consists of traps that create a fun challenge.

I would give Wreck of the Maria Doria a 9/10. To summarize my thoughts for this level:

Pros:
- One of the most intriguing level designs in the Classic series.
- The amount of variety and level of detail was top notch in this level.
- The ambiance and isolation feeling was captured perfectly, aside from the number of human enemies.
- Good contrast between underwater and land combat and exploration.
- The level design is non-linear where you can complete different objectives in different orders.

Cons:
- Number of human enemies should’ve been cut in half.
- The lack of traps were pretty underwhelming in a level of this length
- Having two different mandatory health loss locations was kind of cheap
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Old 28-04-16, 15:57   #108
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I only see one mandatory health loss in this level since you can use a bug to avoid one of them.
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Old 28-04-16, 23:23   #109
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It was pretty fun exploring part of the ship that was upside down, through yeah maybe the amount of block pushing was a bit too much heh. It probably my least favorite puzzle thing in the game, and it feels like a drag more and more when there quite a bunch. Being reminded of it, maybe WotMD is not quite a high as I placed it so (it was like #6 for me out of the TR2 levels), but it still a great level otherwise.

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Old 28-04-16, 23:47   #110
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The trouble with the blocks is they are totally artificial, there simply would not be any such things in the liner or most of the other levels where they occur. I can imagine having to shift the odd crate around but they wouldn't precisely fit square holes in the walls like that. And where the blocks are stone cubes, I did a calculation and concluded such a block would literally weigh 10 tonnes! I doubt even the strongest of people could shift such a block if it had no wheels or anything. (That is why in my Great Wall retexture I turned the block Lara has to move into a large crate.)

A more realistic puzzle which would achieve the same end would be secret doors such as occurred in the id games like Wolfenstein, Doom, etc. (Mind you, some of those were implemented as sliding blocks come to think of it! )
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