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Old 26-09-20, 13:26   #11
Smog
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The final Peru level begins in a tunnel which opens up into an area unlike any weíve yet seen. Itís orange! Or the walls are, anyway. The floor and ceiling are a tasteful shade of salmon, and Iíve always assumed Lara was running around on an ancient Incan shag carpet for some reason. In retrospect, this is just a nicer, more ornate, better-preserved version of what we saw in Vilcabamba earlier. After all, this is some big time hotshotís tomb, not the living quarters of the local riffraff.

Iím presented with three corridors that shoot off from this main room, each entryway flanked by two towering statues. Stepping into this tomb, it really feels like Iíve come a long way and am finally getting somewhere. After all the bats, bears, dinosaurs, caverns and crevices, Iím finally closing in on the prize.

Arriving here the first time round was a real head-scratcher. The left-hand corridor is blocked by three gates, the right-hand one is simply closed off by a standard door, and the central one leads to a deadly boulder that you can play chicken with. Once itís out of the way, you can run to the end of the corridor to catch a tantilising glimpse of the Scion on the other side of another locked gate. Once again, Tomb Raider is ****ing with me. ďOh, you want this? Itís right here. Come get it if you can!Ē But it ainít that simple.

The real way to progress is by pulling a well-hidden switch on the wall which opens the right-hand corridor, releasing a couple of hungry raptors. I thought we were done with these guys? Have they been locked up in there for aeons or is there another entrance that Lara didnít spot? Iím beginning to think this is a common Tomb Raider trope and I should probably stop thinking too much about it. Anyway, it turns out fighting raptors in an enclosed space is harder than out in the open. Makes me want someone to use the level editor to dump the T-Rex in a dinky room like this and see what happens. Is that a thing thatís possible?



Heading through the door, weíre given another choice of three corridors to pick from, each with a different symbol over its entryway that corresponds to one of the locked gates from earlier. See where this is going? Because this is supposed to be an ancient tomb built by people (or maybe mutant cat slaves), the designers (or I guess maybe Ďdesigner,í singular) were able to insert telegraphed, deliberate logic into the puzzles, rather than just having some cogs scattered around or a switch that opens a door somewhere, and have that fit in with the fiction. This tomb is a puzzle that was designed to be solved, at least a little bit, if it doesnít murder you first.

I opt for the corridor with the big bird symbol first and find myself in a room with a switch, which is so suspiciously easy to access that I decide not to use it. That, of course, is the correct course of action, at least for now. This level is all about teaching you restraint, and the designers ****ing with you in a way that they previously only hinted at. If you pull that switch right away, youíre only going to confuse yourself for the rest of the puzzle.

Next door, I find myself in a big room with a couple of big blocks and some deadly, blood-covered spikes. After some platforming, I find a way to open a door that returns me to the first room. Now I can pull that switch which moves a block that allows me to access another switch that moves the other block so I can eventually create a path over the spikes to the objective, which isÖ another switch. But this one opens the bird gate back at the start. Hurray! I remember running round in confused circles when I first attempted this puzzle back in the old days. It takes a bit of thought and forward thinking, and itís a nice little ramp up in difficulty from what weíve encountered so far.



After taking down the very last raptor in Peru, I head through the doorway beneath the next symbol, the one that looks like aÖ sunrise? An eye? I dunno. Remember that trap door in Vilcabamba? The one that dropped us into a pool of water? Remember how I said that was the designers preparing us for more savage ****ery in the same vein? Well, here it is. A fake switch over some crumbling tiles that drops me into a literally wolf pit. Gee, thanks. Itís like youíre being punished for making a mistake, but no. This is where youíre meant to go. Touche, Tomb Raider.

To the gameís credit, it does make you feel like a badass here, gunning down the wolves amongst the skeletons of long-dead adventurers who werenít so skilled or ruthless. It begs the question though: who keeps replacing the floor tiles overhead whenever someone falls to their death? The dinosaurs? A little bit of block-pushing leads us to the next switch, which opens gate two of three. Almost there now.



The last corridor is the one marked with the symbol that looks a bit like a cool Roman helmet or something. Sadly, itís the lamest of the three challenges. So far weíve had a puzzle and a deathtrap. Now weíre presented with a weird, unfulfilling mix of the two. You have to push a couple of blocks and dodge a spike pit under some crumbling floor tiles. It takes place in a cramped area, so requires you to be on it with the controls, but thereís not much challenge beyond that. It leads to the final switch, opening the way to the Scion.

This level is really pretty simple, but the way it chops up its challenges into clearly-signposted chunks and lets you tackle them in any order you like provides a real sense of freedom and accomplishment once you figure it all out. It was a firm favourite of mine as a kid, despite it being shorter and simpler than I remember. The next level takes this concept to crazy new heights, but this is a great dry run for whatís to follow.

So onwards, through the open gates. Following the corridor brings me to a big, wide staircase flanked by more statues. Set-dressing like this really sells the grandeur of this location. There are darts to dodge and two nefarious secrets behind a hidden door on the left. I have no idea how I found this as a kid. Lucky chance, I guess? Even once youíre through the door, nabbing both the item on the other side of the crumbling tiles and the one down amongst the spikes was a challenge I just wasnít up for. Even now, dropping down to the ground in the exact spot where I (theoretically) wonít be impaled is a nerve-wracking experience, and can only really be achieved through trial and error.



Up the stairs, I finally find myself in the throne room, with whom I presume to be Qualopec, still just hanging out in what looks like a very uncomfortable chair. No sarcophagus for this fella. Heís flanked by a couple of weird-looking mummies with elongated heads, one of which intently follows Lara around the room with his bandaged eyes. Creepy. Maybe heís the one replacing the floor tiles and feeding the wolves and raptors? Lara can gun him down, but it takes a fair number of bullets and he doesnít react at all, so not sure what the deal is there. Maybe heís wrapped so tightly that he canít move or heís just really committed to standing at his post, like the Queenís Guard at Buckingham Palace. Either way, the fact that Lara points her guns at him is unsettling to say the least.

Anyway, the Scion. Itís sitting on a plinth in the middle of the room, the ultimate reward for all of your trials and tribulations so far. Finally! Iíll just grab that and be on my wayÖ



Of course itís not that simple. The roof begins to collapse, Nathan McCreeís stress-inducing soundtrack kicks in and I bolt for the exit. If you didnít trigger that boulder earlier, youíve got that to worry about as well as the debris falling from the ceiling. A quick dash back through the room from earlier brings me out at the waterfall pool from the last level, reinforcing the interconnectedness of these levels. They lead directly on from one another, rather than being self-contained stages, making you feel like youíre in a real location rather than a PlayStation game from the 90s.

As if there wasnít enough excitement, Lara suddenly finds herself under fire. From a dude. A human enemy with a gun. What witchcraft is this? I climb out of the water as Lara eats lead, but once Iíve found my footing, itís a simple matter of literally running circles around him while spamming the pistols until he goes down, as strawberry jam bursts from his body. Thatís a lot of unexpected stuff happening in a very short period of time, especially for a game that usually moves at such a slow and considered pace. Itís an unprecedented blockbuster finale to this section of the game, and was a real thrill for young me.

Now we get our first in-game cutscene. Turns out itís Larson, the guy from earlier, come to collect the artifact on behalf of Natla who apparently wasnít convinced that Lara wouldnít just do a runner. A valid concern. Maybe next time donít say you ďonly play for sport.Ē This isnít an unpaid internship. Presumably Larson was tailing Lara every step of the way, waiting for her to complete all the puzzles and kill all the dinosaurs before popping up at the last second to yoink the artifact, the swine.



Now we establish that Lara doesnít know anything about what sheís just nicked from this deadly tomb. Larson tells her itís the ďScionĒ and is just one piece of several, and some French guy is hunting down the rest of it. Huh, interesting.

I do like how preposterous Larsonís dialogue is here. Jackrabbit frog legs? Do people actually speak like this? Iím only now learning (thanks to answers.com) what it means to ďheel and hide you to a barn door,Ē and itís not what I expected.

Larson goes for his gun, Lara kicks him in the face and delivers her closing one-liner to an empty cave. Whatever makes you feel cool, Lara. And thatís Peru done! The unfound Tomb of Qualopec is unfound no more. Where will my little jackrabbit frog legs run me to next?
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Old 27-09-20, 09:42   #12
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Excellent read, really enjoying. Screenshots nice as well, keep going please.
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Old 27-09-20, 16:22   #13
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That was a fun read! Looking forward to the next update.
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Old 05-10-20, 01:17   #14
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Looking forward to more!
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Old 10-10-20, 14:27   #15
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Thanks a lot for your responses to this so far! I intend to keep going with it as long as people are reading.

So after watching Larson get Laraís dirty boot in his face - and not in a fun way - weíre treated to a pre-rendered cutscene. There are two types of cutscene in Tomb Raider; in-engine and pre-rendered. While the former provide a seamless continuation of gameplay into cinematic, the latter are a little bit jarring in retrospect. Of course, I didnít care about clashing visual aesthetics back in 1996. These expensive-looking movies were an awesome reward for overcoming a significant chunk of the game. The idea of cutscenes as an incentive for completing levels is laughable now, but they were genuinely an exciting treat back then. It probably helped that they were so infrequent, and real effort was put into writing, framing and animating them too. Each one provides an opportunity to watch Lara being badass without constantly stumbling to her death thanks to my lack of hand-eye coordination.



Here, Lara infiltrates Natlaís offices by vandalising her lift, which seems like an overly-elaborate - not to mention incredibly loud - method of breaking and entering. Apparently nobody called the cops though, because itís not long before sheís rummaging through Natlaís files in comfort and solitude, learning all about the ancient city of Atlantis from an old monkís diary. So she heads off toÖ somewhere, and climbs up to a big stone ruin atop a topographically questionable mountain peak, where she finds a discarded can of definitely-not-Heinz baked beans. Turns out Pierre is one step ahead of her and operating on a full stomach.

Obviously this cutscene has aged a bit, but the moody lighting and pleasing cinematography do a lot to preserve its quality. It still looks great, especially when Laraís chilling in Natlaís chair, lit only by a harsh lamp and the soft glow of the setting sun outside. Glorious.



So here we are then, another big door. Letís see what's on the other side of this one.



So here we are in what Iíve come to believe is most likely Greece, but possibly Rome. Straight away we have to deal with a pair of lions (or lionesses, I guess), but theyíre easily dispatched from the safety of the slightly raised platforms on the sides of the corridor. Are there wild lions in Greece? Or Rome? Not as far as Iím aware, but I guess they had to give you something to shoot at. These guys can take some damage, and can really dish it out if you get stuck in a tight spot.

Core had to be quite creative with how they designed their levels from an aesthetic standpoint when all they had to work with were a few angular blocks covered with copy-pasted textures. Sometimes it works quite convincingly, like with the trees, shrubs and crumbling ruins of Lost Valley. Sometimes, itís a bit more of a stretch. Case in point, this room. Itís supposed to be the main hall of a monastery, with a big, arched ceiling and a little mini-temple entrance in the back. But what are these weird, square towers? In the Anniversary remake, theyíre reimagined as circular columns, but Iím not sure thatís what they were going for because there are smaller, rounded columns elsewhere in this very room. Theyíre even painted on the walls, which I guess is supposed to be a frieze? Or maybe the equivalent of a backdrop in a childrenís play, convincing us thereís more to this room when itís really just a flat wall?

When you first explore this room, youíd be forgiven for thinking that a large chunk of the level probably takes place in here, but not so. I push a block onto a pressure pad which opens the door at the back, beyond which I encounter some more questionable wildlife in the form of a troupe of gorillas. A quick Google search reveals that gorillas do not live in Greece. They do not live in Rome. Except maybe at the zoo, which is not a reasonable explanation for what theyíre doing in this ancient monastery on top of a very pointy hill. Maybe they escaped from the circus, as an extra bonus gorilla appears out of nowhere - as if by magic - when I pull a nearby switch.



That opens an exit back in the main chamber, where we have our first run in with Pierre. Apparently heís a bit more confident in his treasure-hunting abilities than Larson was, as heís not waiting for Lara to bring home the bacon so he can snatch it away at the last second. Rather, he takes a more active approach to his work by choosing to gun down his rival at the first opportunity and do all the hard work himself. Gotta respect that.

Happily, Pierre has the turning circle of a double-decker bus and is even more of a bullet-sponge than Larson, allowing Lara to run circles around him, guns ablaze, until he takes off in a heroic display of cowardice. Heís probably in cahoots with that gorilla, because as soon as he runs behind a pillar, he vanishes into thin air, leaving Lara to work her way up to the exit in peace.

After clambering around on those pillars - and uncovering a secret at the top of a very finicky slidey-jumpy puzzle - I find myself at the exit. Beyond the door is a long shaft to slide down, and if youíre going after the next secret then you need to go down backwards, which seems like an insane course of action for Lara to premeditate. Thereís a pool of water at the bottom, home to our first aquatic enemy - a crocodile. Draining the water reveals that the croc is also fully functional on land, which is actually a much cooler feature than I ever really gave it credit for. They could have avoided the challenge of amphibious enemies by simply not putting them in bodies of water that can be drained, but they took on the challenge and the game is better for it, especially in the later levels where water puzzles feature heavily.

When weíre done with the sewers, we emerge in a room that challenges the Lost Valley as the most impressive location in the game so far. A massive chamber, deeper than it is wide, stretches out below Laraís feet. Thereís a hollow, broken central structure to climb down and locked doors and switches dotted around the place. As I walk out of the corridor, a majestic, nostalgic musical theme starts playing. Bats flutter around Laraís head. Looking down gives a clue to the enormity of the chamber. This is another of my most memorable Tomb Raider moments, right next to wandering into the Lost Valley and facing off with the T-Rex. This is brilliant, classic Tomb Raider.



I must have spent hours exploring this place as a kid, trying to open all the doors, taking on the various challenges, falling to my untimely death over and over and over again. There arenít really any safe areas here; you have to watch your step constantly, because any minor slip up could result in Lara plummeting to the ground with an ear-splitting scream. And even when you reach the ground safely, there are lions and Pierre waiting to tear you a new one, maybe even at the same time depending on how much youíve already explored. I never understood why the wildlife never attacked him, but was more than happy to take a bite out of Lara. Maybe because Pierre hasnít been mowing down every animal in sight for as long as weíve known him? Hmmm.

The structure of this level is that there are four side rooms that need to be opened with switches found dotted around the main room. Each side room is themed after a god (or other mythical figure, donít @ me), and the challenge inside each one reflects the nature of the deity above the door. Complete the challenge and youíre rewarded with a key. Get all four keys and you can open the exit door on the ground floor. Simple, but oh so mind-boggling to me as a young kid.

First up is Thor who, as we know, is neither in the Greek nor Roman pantheons. The reason that the Norse god of thunder is named in this (probably) Greek ruin is because Core Design were dummies who didnít bother to ask Jeeves or whatever it was you did to search the internet in the mid-nineties. The Thor area is broken into two rooms. Firstly, you have to dodge lightning bolts erupting from a disco ball on the ceiling. The floor is broken up into metal and stone tiles, but as far as I can tell, it doesnít make much difference where you step. The odds of not being struck by lightning here are about the same as the odds of actually being struck by lightning in real life. Fortunately it doesnít set you on fire or instantly kill you, but the combination of McCreeís action theme and the violent lightning sound effect (and flashing light) will haunt me to my dying day.



After subjecting herself to unavoidable electrocution, Lara has to play chicken with a giant mallet. All in a dayís work, I suppose. You step on a pressure plate and the hammer - which is absolutely massive - swings down to crush you. You need to step off before that happens, and the force of it slamming into the ground knocks loose a pushable block that you need to use to progress. Stay on the plate too long and youíll be crushed, not long enough and the hammer wonít be coaxed into a swing. Then itís a simple matter of moving the block so that you can clamber your way over to the first key. Bingo. Then itís back the way we came. Cruelly, the disco ball of death is still active, just to give you a little extra pain on your way out.

Next up is Damocles, whoís known for having a big sword hanging over his head. So walking into the room and looking up, itís clear where this is going. Even though Iíve played this a million times, I was somehow still tricked into walking incredibly slowly and carefully as I entered, before realising that Lara is perfectly safe while the key remains undisturbed. This was a great little ploy to **** with the player, and I was amazed and embarrassed to get caught out by it again in 2020. Well played, Core Design.



Obviously, once you do grab the key, itís a much more delicate matter to escape. The room is full of annoying pillars and bits of rumble with awkward geometry that Lara can get trapped on very easily, all while the massive swords drop from the ceiling and home in on her position like very pointy sidewinder missiles. Itís actually pretty easy to navigate this room without taking damage so long as youíre a little bit cautious, as the swords are about as accurate as a stormtrooper with cataracts. Still, watching two of them land inches from Laraís feet simultaneously without so much as grazing her boots is a pretty badass feeling.

The next room to tackle is Atlas, whoís known for carrying the world on his shoulders, and they may have run a little low on ideas for this one. Thereís a gorilla to fight, and then a boulder to dodge. Obviously the boulder is meant to represent the world, but thatís just about it really. Nothing terribly creative here. Iím not saying I couldíve come up with something better within the constraints of the game, but, yíknow. Thereís just not much to report. Neeeeext.



The final door is right back at the top. You would have noted it when you entered the chamber, wondered how you would get in there and then gone exploring, so itís nice that the game eventually takes you all the way back to where you started. Neptuneís the guy this time, the Roman god of water or the sea or something. This room has been made to look like an ancient bathhouse (I think), with a frieze of naked dudes all lining up for a dip or something. Thereís not much social distancing going on, so either theyíre very comfortable in each otherís company or floorspace was at a premium.



The task here is to swim down a long shaft, grab the key from the bottom, pull a level to reverse the current thatís holding you down there and then return to the surface without getting the bends. Simple if you know what youíre doing, but a little startling when you realise you canít simply swim back up by yourself if not. And thatís all the keys!

St Francisí Folly takes the Ďfreedom to do things in any order you choose,í philosophy of Tomb of Qualopec and expands it into a larger, more convoluted environment. There are puzzles within puzzles, from figuring out how to open each door, to solving the tasks behind them, to finding a route to your next destination without falling to your death. It all begins in a simple, linear manner and then opens up into a complex, multi-layered mega-puzzle. Finding each key is an achievement by itself, and they all combine into a crescendo of accomplishment when you use them all at once to open the exit. The final door is blocked by four barricades, and each key removes at a time. Just the size and look of the door - and the satisfying animation of each barricade sliding aside - heightens your sense of achievement when you finally bring everything into place. Itís awesome.



When I finally completed this level as a kid, it felt like Iíd completed the entire game. It ramps up the difficulty and packs in so much stuff that youíre given this retrospective sense that Peru was just a warm up, and things have only just gotten serious. What could possible be beyond this door? Guess weíll find out.
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Old 11-10-20, 07:19   #16
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Hey there, Smog!

What a wonderful diary. I love it to bits. The way you're writing this is such a great read. And it brings back so many fun memories of my own first playthrough. Keep them coming
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Old 11-10-20, 10:57   #17
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The levels are set in Greece. They just messed* up with the names. I even remember reading an interview by Toby Gard admitting it. Same as they messed* up with the Colosseum. That's why they renamed it Coliseum in Anniversary, which simply translates to large theatre, cinema, or stadium.

St. Francis' Folly itself was inspired by the Meteora monastery in central Greece.

[edit] * Please do not bypass our censor.

Last edited by tlr online; 11-10-20 at 13:36. Reason: Image removed. See FAQ on posting images.
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