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Old 29-09-18, 18:44   #191
HarleyCroft
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Woo-hoo!
And just when TRF has become a dark, joyless pit in the midst of a civil war does a light shine through..
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Old 29-09-18, 19:21   #192
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*ahem*... so I might have finally gotten this game installed on my new laptop and may or may not have already went back through Peru... and may or may not be continuing with this review that I left to dry a couple of years ago...

I'm doubtful any of the followers are still around, but don't be surprised if you see an update tomorrow or MAYBE even later today
Welcome back sheepman23.
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Old 29-09-18, 22:02   #193
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Well look who's back. It'd be awesome if this was revived.
Luigi!!! How goes it? I'm definitely planning on reviving it, just got to get back to where I was at in the review. I wouldn't want to reload a Sanctuary of the Scion save since it's been so long...

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Woo-hoo!
And just when TRF has become a dark, joyless pit in the midst of a civil war does a light shine through..
Lol. I admittedly wasn't around much for the past 4 years, but I miss this place and have more time on my hands now that I'm not swamped with college work.

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Welcome back sheepman23.
Hey Justin, nice to see you again!
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Old 30-09-18, 05:46   #194
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Nice to see you back! I'll look forward to the new review!
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Old 30-09-18, 07:59   #195
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Yassss welcome back

Looking forward to the next chapter of the review
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Old 30-09-18, 16:42   #196
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Okay, so I'm ready to write my review for Sanctuary of the Scion - however, before doing so, I'm going to give a quick update on any levels from the 2014 reviews that may have received altered ratings in my recent playthrough. Frankly, four years can change things, and while not too much has changed, I want to share any notes I had.


1. Caves - 6/10.
No changes from the previous review; it's the standard opening level, and on those merits it does a pretty good job.

2. City of Vilcabamba - 9/10
Again, no changes here.

3. The Lost Valley - 10/10
No changes here. I think there are about 15 TR levels that I would give a perfect score of 10, and this is one of them.

4. Tomb of Qualopec - 5/10 (Previously: 6/10)
I dropped this one to a 5 because I honestly believe it's worse than Caves, and probably the closest thing TR1 has to a "bad" level (it's not actually bad, just incredibly mediocre). None of the three challenges are very interesting and the color scheme is just... not good.

5. St. Francis Folly - 8/10
Sticking to my guns in giving this one an 8. For all of the "wow" factor that the tower room gives, the challenge rooms still miss the mark.

6. The Colosseum - 8/10
I was tempted to drop this one, but then remembered that this is the first level in the game to actually execute a couple of fun puzzles and contain one of the better secrets in the game. It's very solid.

7. Palace Midas - 10/10
To no one's surprise, this stayed the same.

8. Cistern - 8/10
No changes here.

9. Tomb of Tihocan - 7/10 (Previously: 8/10)
This playthrough made me realize that the final 5 minutes of ToT can't save the entire experience. The first 80% of the experience is a worse version of Cistern, and that's not a good thing for a level that has one of the most unique endings of any game in the series.

10. City of Khamoon - 9/10
Do I love the Egypt levels too much? Possibly, but there is a certain charm about City of Khamoon and its two subsequent levels that no other section of this game has.

11. Obelisk of Khamoon - 9/10 (Previously: 10/10)
This level isn't quite good enough to earn a 10. It's close, but I think the level could have used better side room challenges in order to really elevate it to the top spot. In terms of exploration and mystique, however, this is still the best level of the Egypt section. (Or, atleast prior to reviewing Sanctuary of the Scion...)


Review for SotS will be coming soon!
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Old 30-09-18, 18:27   #197
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EGYPT
Level 12 - Sanctuary of the Scion




Size Is (Sometimes) Everything

Often times, the best way to make Lara feel really humbled by the tombs she's raiding is to throw a whopping monument or cavern at her. We see this repeatedly throughout the TR franchise, to the point where the most praised levels of the most polarizing games (The Hall of Seasons in AoD is a good example) are popular because they manage to make the player feel small and isolated. Even if Sanctuary of the Scion did not contain other good features - mind you, it does contain some GREAT bits of gameplay - it would earn massive points in its own right for presenting us with a huge piece of ancient architecture that we can climb on to our hearts' desires.

The enormous sphinx forms this level's centerpiece - not only that, but it's probably safe to say that this room is one of the more recognizable areas of the franchise. If you say "big sphinx" to even the most moderate TR fan, they're likely going to recall this level. The fact that there is a memorable enough landmark is a huge drawing power to the experience on its own.

And yet, what's so special about this room? A subterranean sphinx is cool and all, but does it enhance the gameplay? For similar reasons to St. Francis Folly, Sanctuary of the Scion creates an experience around this room by allowing Lara to climb all over the walls, on top of the sphinx, and to fight battles both on the ground and in the skies with the Atlantean mutants. There is also a very real chance of death due to the heights that Lara must go to in order to achieve her goals in this chamber. Additionally, the combat in this level is unique, memorable, and challenging in its own right since you're not only dealing with the threats of winged beasts, but with a much larger beast: gravity.


Hello there, I'm definitely not a discount mummy with fleshier skin and a cool little dart gun.


Damn, this game REALLY wants Lara to use those Uzis she just picked up.

When I was growing up, I would probably fall to my death about 5-10 times in this room; not because I didn't know how to jump well, but I would either misjudge the distance of a leap or get pushed off the edge by a winged mutant. This is solid level design because it doesn't punish the player for thinking that a piece of the wall was climbable even when it isn't (*cough* LAU *cough*), or for slipping on a random rock that could send them tumbling. Instead, it challenges the player to consider their spatial awareness when fighting, or to carefully consider whether or not they can actually reach a ledge based on Lara's predetermined jumping mechanics. It's consistent, and as a result, the player doesn't feel cheated.

A Perfect Balance of Gameplay

One relatively unrecognized feature of TR1 is its fantastic difficulty progression. Egypt truly feels like a challenge in comparison to Greece, and Sanctuary of the Scion is a tough level... but still not as bad as what we'll get in Atlantis/The Great Pyramid. However, this level does begin to introduce some difficult firefights against groups of Atlantean mutants and/or scenarios where you're thrust into a battle with little chance to prepare.

I will admit that the overabundance of ammo makes it way too easy to use the Magnums and Shotgun for... pretty much the remainder of the game (in addition to the Uzis, which you acquire in this level). Games like TR3 do a far better job in making sure the player isn't unrestricted with ammo. This game also has a whopping amount of medipacks; I suppose I notice the amount more since I have a good memory on where all of the pickups are, and also don't use a whole lot of them, but I've got over 30 of each right now, which seems way too excessive.


HOW DARETH AWAKEN ME FROM MY SLUMBER

Of course, the great progression of difficulty isn't just present in the combat. As I already alluded to, Sanctuary of the Scion contains some of the best platforming the game has to offer inside of the main cavern. Depth perception, understanding of Lara's control mechanics, and a tad bit of risk are all necessary to be successful in here. Back in Peru, this would've been a tremendous amount to ask from the player... but now that we've went through several gauntlets and tests, it's time to start upping both the difficulty and the consequences of failing - and this chamber certainly accomplishes both things.

Finally, the level places a moderate emphasis on puzzles... or atleast "puzzles" in TR1's sense of the word. There's no fancy hieroglyphic decoding, block puzzles, or inventive switch-throwing to accomplish, but there are several moments where exploration is key to figuring out what the hell you need to do. Sanctuary of the Scion does all of this while maintaining a very "clean" approach to its design. Find two Ankhs in two separate side rooms to open up the sphinx door; find a way to drain that pool so you can throw the dry-ground switch; obtain the Scarab key and use it to access the Scion. It's all very simple in scope, yet contains challenge in the implementation of the side bits, and that's what's most important.

The Best Secret of the Game?

You know, the amazing thing about Sanctuary of the Scion's secret is that there's really nothing that secret about it! Everyone can see the Uzis floating in the middle of the air, and everyone must have thought there was a sort of glitch present here during their first run through... or maybe not, since we're already in a game that turned Lara to gold on Midas' hand.

In any case, this secret is another amazing example of why TR1 did such a brilliant job in 1996 of subverting player expectations. There's no reason why an action-adventure game should introduce long-lost dinosaurs, but it did. There's no reason why the designers should have taken the legend of Midas seriously and given us one of the best death scenes in the franchise, but it did. There's no reason why invisible platforms should be possible... but they are! Not only this, but there's a certain air of "daring" the player to try and make a run and jump into the middle of what looks like a bunch of air. And if the player takes that risk and catches the platform, they're treated to the best weapon in the game - the Uzis.

This is the best secret of TR1, and probably one of the best in the series. Off the top of my head, there are several from The Lost Artifact that have awesome payoff in terms of lore, while others are quite challenging to obtain and thus go down as some of the greatest (the timed run in Tinnos is a good example of this). But TR1's floating Uzis take the cake for subverting expectations and introducing the invisible platforms, which would go on to make a couple more appearances in the original trilogy.


For those keeping track, this is the second time the game has made it challenging to obtain a great weapon. That's good design, folks.

The Journey and the Destination

Before I wrap this thing up, I feel like I need to make note of the large elephant in the room regarding this level's objective: the Scion is literally a couple of hallways away from you when you begin this level. Fans have argued that, had Lara simply brought a hacksaw or anything to cut through metal bars, this level could have been over much more quickly.

Yes, that's entirely valid. There's nothing to suggest that this gateway was booby-trapped, or that Lara shouldn't have been able to bring some tools with her into these tombs. This is actually a recurring criticism of the original games, in all honesty. Lara's limited skillset means that there are certain scenarios where she creates more work for herself than necessary. As early as The Last Revelation, Lara can use her guns to break open boxes, or fire explosive weapons to knock down wooden barricades. These features expand in future generations, with Lara having all sorts of methods to get through various blockages.

While it's a little silly that the designers didn't even use a regular old door here to make the inaccessibility a little more plausible, I have always believed that Sanctuary of the Scion presents a much larger theme that overrides any concerns one can have about this feature - and that's the idea of the journey being more important than the destination. Lara goes through the trials of obtaining both Ankhs to open the sphinx, and then has to escape the statue room, all so she can obtain the key to accessing the Scion. The player can see the object we need at the very beginning of the level, but we can't access it.

This theme is exemplified across all of the Egypt levels - after all, the player has to go through the entirety of the Obelisk of Khamoon to find the four trinkets they need to open the doors way back in City of Khamoon. Ultimately, my love for Egypt is directly related to how much emphasis it places on the journey.


Does someone like, worship in this chamber? How do you that when the entire thing is underwater? I have so many questions.


I love how this game completely glosses over Larson and Pierre's Apparation abilities.


Conclusion

Honestly? I love this level more than I thought I would.

This is really the complete package of a Tomb Raider experience. It gives us exciting combat, solid platforming, clear level design, and several risk-and-reward scenarios. It caps off Egypt perfectly, and fits wonderfully behind the two Khamoon levels - which was already awesome - and adds its own spice with the introduction of Atlantean mutants, the secret, and distinctive puzzles.

It's so good that I'm going to do something I didn't expect to do... and give it a perfect score. After dropping a couple of the ratings in earlier levels of this game upon replay, Sanctuary of the Scion is the first case where the level is genuinely superior to what I remember it being. Is it too high? You tell me.

Rating - 10/10
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Old 01-10-18, 05:56   #198
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The use of necessary darkness in the Sphinx cavern really showed off the ancient, vast atmosphere.. and without getting overwhelming enough to cross from intriguing to daunting. Every shadow had to be explored, not feared! (Great pics, btw )

You're right about gravity being Lara's real enemy in this level!
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Old 02-10-18, 02:04   #199
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Originally Posted by HarleyCroft View Post
The use of necessary darkness in the Sphinx cavern really showed off the ancient, vast atmosphere.. and without getting overwhelming enough to cross from intriguing to daunting. Every shadow had to be explored, not feared! (Great pics, btw )

You're right about gravity being Lara's real enemy in this level!
Thanks! And great point on the darkness, that never really registered to me but I think the level would feel much different if it wasn't there...
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Old 10-10-18, 01:06   #200
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ATLANTIS
Level 13 - Natla's Mines




Out of the Tombs and Into the Mines

Natla's Mines is really the first level of the original game that swaps ancient caverns, ruins, and structures for a slightly more modernized feeling. I say "slightly" because this certainly isn't your High Security Compound or VCI Tech; rather, it's a desolate system of mines that has man-made objects scattered throughout with hardly a trace of ancient architecture (until the final moments, that is). The result is a level that stands in stark contrast to the rest of the game's ventures - and that's a really good thing in my opinion.

Interestingly, the first half of this level feels more desolate that many of the ruins in this game have. That's because there's absolutely no enemies until you run into the Cowboy near the lava river, and even past him you don't encounter anyone for quite a while. Without having a single tomb, temple, or catacomb, Natla's Mines manages to capture the true feeling of Tomb Raider in the same way that the rest of this game does. It doesn't overload us with shooting or bombastic theatrical gameplay - it's just Lara and the mines, and there's something really cool about that.


Wtf how did we wind up inside of the Windows maze screensaver

In fact, levels like Natla's Mines really beg the question: What is the Tomb Raider series all about? Yes, one could argue that it's about exploring lost civilizations, but I don't think that's honestly the core principle. I think it's more tied to the isolation, sense of discovery, and thrills of exploration... and it's the reason why the first four Tomb Raider titles are my favorites. While 2-4 have a tendency to overload on humans, there are still moments where the player feels absorbed into their environment and distant from the rest of the world. TR1 does this almost constantly, and it persists in Natla's Mines - the ONLY level of the game to include humans! That's largely because there's only three of them, and they turn into "mini boss battles" of sorts.

If I could honestly give Crystal Dynamics a piece of advice, it would be to bring back the isolation, discovery, and exploration that the series once held. Games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider seem to be going in the right direction, but when you take a closer look, they really aren't effectively capturing any one of these components... and that's really unfortunate since the series has so much more technical capability than it used to.

Cabin Fever

Natla's Mines starts off with one of my favorite segments of the game, and that's the process for retrieving Lara's pistols. This gives me another reason to knock TR2, by the way... in TR2's Offshore Rig, the player finds Lara's signature pistols very quickly, which completely erodes the sense of danger and nakedness that the player might have had upon losing them. In Natla's Mines, this is not the case. It takes a great deal of exploring (and even a quick brush with the Cowboy) before our heroine can get them back. It creates a really interesting dynamic that the rest of the game doesn't contain, and the only thing that could have made this better would have been more brushes with enemies... alas, that's not the direction this level chose to go in, and the idea wouldn't be truly explored until High Security Compound in TR3.

(As for TR2... I'm knocking it quite a bit in this review, but I honestly adore the game. This level just seems to point out a couple of large flaws that the game possessed - namely the overabundance of humans and Offshore Rig's pistol retrieval process. )


Pictured: College students looking for low-price rental houses


So glad to have the twins back! Wait...

But anyway, back to the fuses. It's a fine bout of gameplay that keeps us occupied while Lara is trying to avoid confrontation with any of Natla's goons. I'm not normally a huge fan of "find x identical items and insert them to move forward" puzzles, but the Tomb Raider series has a knack for doing them pretty well (The Lost Valley, St Francis Folly, Palace Midas, and Barkhang Monastery all use this concept very well), so I'll let it slide in this scenario. Plus, this little area feels really interactive with the moving mine cart, floating boat, running conveyor, and falling cabin! Oh, and there's that really random boulder cave in the middle of it, which is slightly out of place but adds some spice to the level.

However, the fun really starts once Lara obtains her pistols. Going back to defeat the Cowboy is quite satisfying, even if he takes a ridiculous amount of bullets to dispatch.

It's Not a Video Game if You're Not Jumping Over Lava

Ah, Tomb Raider - even you couldn't help yourself on avoiding the molten lava trope, could you? I must admit that the lava channel is a fun test of Lara's jumping skills, and another testament to the designers progressing the gameplay difficulty exceptionally well. These jumps aren't the trickiest stuff in the world, but they do feel a lot easier to complete now that we've been through quite a bit of leaps and bounds to get here. There's even a nice secret tucked away, and a TNT explosion puzzle in order to advance further in the mines.


I think the most hilarious part of the original Tomb Raider games is the physics of boulders. I mean these things don't give a flying **** about anything: they will start rolling whenever they want, their momentum will take them across any surface, and in this level, they TELEPORT if Lara tries to re-enter an area.


Speaking of unrealistic science, lava merely eight feet away is definitely not melting Lara's face off at this moment...

It's all good stuff, and it fits this level's theme of quirky gameplay that doesn't really fit with the rest of the game. Is this a bad thing? Not if you ask me, but it's possible to see why Natla's Mines is one of the less-loved levels of TR1 when you consider that it doesn't contain the striking sense of wonder that a massive sphinx, long-lost dinosaurs, or ancient Greek ruins might give the player.

This level trades the sense of wonder in discovering a lost tomb for the vengeance that Lara has to those who stole her weapons and Scion. Facing the Cowboy, then the Skateboard Kid, and finally the Bald Man just leaves me with a huge sense of accomplishment as I near the end and know that I knocked out each of Natla's rats.

Skateboard Parks and Pyramid Schemes

That being said, the final third of the level starts to feel pretty long. Battling it out with the Tony-Hawk-wannabe in the underground skateboard park (yes, that's a real thing that the designers decided was necessary...) is good fun, but the remaining stuff after this bit begins to feel really tiresome. There's more boulders, a vertical jumping challenge, and then a golden maze before you reach the final chamber with our shotgun friend. The first two portions rehash multiple other challenges throughout the level, while the maze bit is just straight up frustrating. It's not overly difficult, but the monotonous golden walls, tedious block-pushing, and a particularly teasing timed door combine to really just make the player wish they were at the Atlantean pyramid already.

Speaking of tedious block-pushing, Natla's Mines does lose some points for how much it relies on the cumbersome displacement of massive crates. It happens quite a bit over the course of the level, and because the mechanics make this process so slow, it's not really a winning point to constantly be utilizing that within one level.


Unbeknownst to many 90's gamers, the beta version of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater allowed you to murder civilians with Uzis in addition to skating. Hard to say why they removed it...


Is this shotgun proportional to the man's size? Why on earth is MY shotgun not the size of a damn fence post?

Conclusion

I honestly like this level a lot more than I was expecting to on replay. Natla's Mines has a tendency to forgo solid level design in favor of quirkier environments, and I'm actually totally okay with this. More than that, I love the story that's told in this level - and without any cutscenes or FMVs to tell it. Battling your way through 3 of Natla's flunkies to finally lay eyes upon the place Lara has been after this entire game is just fantastic, and feels way more meaningful than any of the human kills in the next three games do. The designers also handle Lara's loss of weaponry incredibly well, and while it doesn't resort to the cool-as-hell stealthiness of TR3's weaponless venture, it keeps the player isolated and on the defensive, which is more than enough for me.

I really enjoy Natla's Mines. It's not a stellar level of the series, or even one of the best of TR1, but this is a game that already has so many standouts; Natla's Mines is a good case of the designers letting their hair down a bit to create a slightly more whimsical adventure with less gunplay, lots of animated objects, and fun brushes with boulders, lava channels, and even an exploding TNT box for good measure. Even though the final portion slacks off a bit with a misplaced maze and some rehashed gameplay, the level as a whole is still really fun and a good precursor to the two Atlantean killers coming up...

Rating - 8/10


Level Rankings so Far:
1. Palace Midas (10)
2. Sanctuary of the Scion (10)
3. The Lost Valley (10)
4. Obelisk of Khamoon (9)
5. City of Vilcabamba (9)
6. City of Khamoon (9)
7. St. Francis Folly (8)
8. Cistern (8)
9. Natla's Mines (8)
10. Colosseum (7)
11. Tomb of Tihocan (7)
12. Caves (6)
13. Tomb of Qualopec (5)

Last edited by sheepman23; 10-10-18 at 01:08.
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