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Old 12-03-19, 20:57   #241
GRaider
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Okay Temple of the Cat

For me, this is a very special level und you say the reason in you first headline:
Quote:
Temple of the Long, Long, Cat
This level is long, very long and what is most important it feels long. This is one of the few levels in Tomb Raider history where I think at the end where I actually begin the level "What? I started there? How is that possible? It feels ages ago."
This is also the reason why I love this level. It is totally different feeling with Tomb Raider 1, a complex, long-winding and very challenging level in Egypt-style. The Khamoon levels and Sanctuary are very different from this level and so it is truly unique.
And this level has so many great moments: the first mummy fight. Enemies are triggered via pickup. Again something new. The outdoor area with the boulders is interesting change. The secret you only get, when you doesn't pull a switch to lighten a pitch-black corridor. But the most beauty of this level are the running cat murals. I was mesmerized when I first saw this and there is even a random spot in a side room, where it shows a vision of these cats. Then there are the intense fights against the mummies and the first time Lara can die, where the brightness of the game signals danger.
And then there is this:
Quote:
This is one of the few times in the Tomb Raider games where examining the textures is actually quite vital in helping you live.
This is also a highlight and in many senses. You are supposed to die there, but if you somehow survive, the rest of the level will be much more easy. Two mummies do not spawn and the cat tongue is already protruded. And the levers of this room opens again the secret with the movable blocks. This is also an interesting choice, because the most tedious thing in Tomb Raider is block-pushing, but putting this as a secret and not as actual necessary to beat the level, is a funny little choice by the developers.

For me Temple of the Cat is the best level of Unfinished Business and a 10/10.
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Old 13-03-19, 02:13   #242
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Love your analysis, GRaider! While I quite enjoyed Temple of the Cat, I must say that the length was actually more of a flaw to me. Don't get me wrong - I do appreciate the stage's variation and intensity, but I think that I appreciated the final section less than I should have because I was kind of just... ready for it to be over? That's hard for me to admit but I think the level overstays its welcome a bit too much.

That being said, I love your points about how Temple of the Cat is a much different feel from the Khamoon levels, and I think that entirely comes down to how Phil Campbell portrays Egypt in this version. Whereas Return to Egypt was more of an ode to TR1, Temple of the Cat is more of a "grueling tomb" vibe, which doesn't really describe any of TR1 Egypt. They were more focused on exploration and huge landmarks; TotC instead hones in on a series of enemies and traps to put the player through trials.

I also love the running cat murals. And I'll never forget that close-up on the murals from a different room... little camera shots like make the temple feel truly alive, which is really cool.
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Old 15-03-19, 00:31   #243
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ATLANTIS
UB Level 4 - The Hive



This piñata party is NOT what I was expecting.

The inherent disadvantage that Unfinished Business has in comparison to other TR entries is that it almost completely reuses the textures, objects, enemies, and even locations from its predecessor. This makes it especially difficult for the game to establish itself as a separate entity, which it actually does a surprisingly good job of most of the time. However, even Atlantean Stronghold can't truly set itself apart from the main TR1 Atlantis levels; the enemies, which I previously identified as the primary focus of the stage, are all over TR1's final section, so it still feels like a bit of rehashing - albeit a very good one.

In the case of The Hive, we have a very similar situation, only this time the feeling of repetition punctures the level a little bit more. The Hive does choose to implement an almost Natla's Mines-ish feel for the middle portion, where we see several stretches of caverns and gameplay that resort to the cool igneous rock textures and scorching hot lava. That's a great choice, by the way, but it still is the fifth Atlantean level that we've experienced, and there's certainly an air of "been there, done that" in this level's core gameplay mechanics.


Why animate falling in lava when you can just slap on 10 "on fire" objects and call it good?

The Hive once again features a strong focus on the Atlantean mutants, only this time it's a little clearer that we're attacking the main hatchery. In fact, someone correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't several of the eggs near the end empty because they literally couldn't fit any more mutant enemies into the level? Like heap space must have been a really finite thing back in 1998 with TR1's engine, and the developers already push it to the limits with almost 40 enemies in the level!

But anyway, back to the mutants: yes, it's the second level in a row to focus almost purely on them. The difference this time around is that I'm a little exhausted with it. Atlantean Stronghold is such a combat overload, but in such a great way, that it kind of cheapens the less-interesting encounters of The Hive. The only great mutant encounter of this level, in my opinion, is that poolroom midway through where we have to find a safe spot to climb out of the water, all whilst having fiery flesh sacs and pellets being aimed at us from the enemies above. I find that being forced to get out of water and into immediate conflict is one of the best ways to get my blood pumping in this series (end of 40 Fathoms, anyone? ), so that's always great. Outside of that, no encounters really stick with me.

(Well, there is the room with 8 sleeping mutants much later on, but I'll get to that... and not for a good reason... )


Yeah that's pretty much how I feel after this stage...

Fun vs. Frustrating: Where's The Line?

Before it sounds like I'm really railing on the level, let it be known that I do appreciate a lot of what's done here. I like the level's focus on larger chambers that promote exploration and discovery. Even though I find myself exhausted with the combat here, mowing stuff over with the Uzis will rarely get old for me, and this level certainly provides a BOATLOAD of ammo for us!

However, I think that the execution of some of these areas is just off. I'm going to start with the level's opener chamber: "The Boulder Room." To be honest, if there's any section of any TR game that deserves this title, it's this one. The Boulder Room is a surprisingly quirky and interesting choice in an Atlantean hub that focuses so heavily on mutants, and... it's a welcome change of pace? Kind of. To be honest, I don't think that the trial-and-error nature of the boulder room is very good. I'm not into that type of gameplay at all, which is largely why I despise mazes as well. A cheap one-off "gotcha!" moment every once in a while? Fine. However, the Boulder Room tests my patience a little bit. I died MANY times here just because I triggered a boulder only to realize that another boulder was coming at me from the place I was going to retreat to. It feels excessively cheap, and excessively tedious to have to slog my way through this room while also reloading many times.

That being said, I can't exactly say I hated the chamber because it was refreshing to have a deadly trap room thrown into the center of a combat-packed set piece. So yeah, I'm torn on that decision, but as a principle? I don't like trial-and-error challenges, and this certainly feels like one.




Lara vs. The Shotgun Shell Hoarders

I've already brought up how exhausting this level's combat can be, and that's my other large frustration with The Hive. In other levels of Unfinished Business, enemy confrontations or encounters felt meaningful and spaced-apart enough to the point where it wasn't as noticeable if there was an excessive amount of it. I also feel like the player had more control over their battles in the prior stages than they do in this one.

The second half of The Hive is a far cry from that notion. In many ways, it's great that the final level of TR1 Gold is throwing us to the dogs, and I'm certainly not here to harp on a good challenge. However, I'd like to address the room detailed in the above screenshot. Both Temple of the Cat and Atlantean Stronghold have already implemented very similar scenarios of "walk past these still-as-a-statue mutants, and wait in deadly anticipation for when they'll come alive ". I'm fine with The Hive doing it again, but to be honest, that above room was beyond tedious to try and complete with minimal damage. Fighting Atlanteans requires a high amount of movement and diversion, and that's nearly impossible when you're also trying not to trigger the other ones! It's really, really hard, and not in a way that invokes challenge or logic to succeed. I didn't like that room at all.


If I play any more Atlantis levels I'm probably going to start seeing these eye-glazed frozen mutants in my nightmares.

So again... where is that line between fun and frustrating? The Hive certainly isn't a bad level, but I think that the design team overshot what they were trying to accomplish here. I also would have preferred a heavier focus on traps/puzzles for the level's first three quarters and then, if they were going to go with the "big and extravagant" ending with some of these masses of mutants, they could have built tension for that much more effectively.

Some stray observations before I end this:

- The little touch of having the centaur that we could see at the beginning of Atlantean Stronghold (behind the glass) reappear here at the end of The Hive was great stuff, and is totally in line with what I've come to expect from the Gold design team.

- There are a few treasure-troves of ammo and goodies throughout the level, which I suppose makes the excessive amount of combat a little better.

- It would have been super freaking epic if that final HUGE egg at the level's end burst open to reveal another giant legless mutant... only for him to fall directly into the water and get stuck down there.


Speaking of bad piñata parties...

Conclusion

Despite my general tone for most of this review, I liked The Hive. However, I feel a need to be a little more critical when the Gold levels normally put up such a high level of quality and understanding of player wants and needs. It's interesting, because the only times I ever really struggle to shower praise on the Gold games is when they overstep the "fun" and venture into the territory of "frustrating" - this happens a few times with TR2 Gold as well, particularly in a level where the designers throw several snowmobile gunmen encounters into the mix, which goes from challenging to damn tedious in a hurry.

The Hive is a similar scenario, but I think the level is still lifted up a lot by how utterly cool and creepy the Atlantis levelset has been and will always be. Yes, it's tiresome on our fifth time around, but when judging the level on its own merits, that's a tough point to truly consider. Regardless of its shortcomings, I feel this stage is a fine final entry into TR1 Gold - it just doesn't have quite the lasting impact or memorability of the other three entries, I'm afraid.

Rating - 7/10




...

Well, that's it folks! A quick rundown of what my final rankings are for both Tomb Raider and Unfinished Business:

1. Palace Midas (10)
2. Sanctuary of the Scion (10)
3. The Lost Valley (10)

4. Obelisk of Khamoon (9)
5. Atlantean Stronghold (9)
6. City of Vilcabamba (9)
7. City of Khamoon (9)
8. Atlantis (9)

9. Cistern (8)
10. Return to Egypt (8)
11. Natla's Mines (8)
12. St. Francis Folly (8)
13. Temple of the Cat (8)
14. Colosseum (8)

15. The Great Pyramid (7)
16. Tomb of Tihocan (7)
17. The Hive (7)

18. Caves (6)

19. Tomb of Qualopec (5)

Tbh, I feel like my rating system is slightly off, since some of the 9's to me are far superior to some of the 8's... but they're only one score apart. Hopefully the ranking is a more accurate depiction of where my favorites and lesser-thans sit.

Anyway, it's been a lot of fun guys! I'll keep checking back to this thread in case anyone has more thoughts or opinions to share - I love hearing from you all. However, I feel that this may be my last review thread - I just don't feel like I can generate interest in the way that I used to be able to on the forums, and that's totally fine.

Regardless of whether or not I decide to do more, it's been simply awesome getting to finish this one out, so thanks again everyone!

Last edited by sheepman23; 15-03-19 at 00:41.
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Old 16-03-19, 02:49   #244
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Thank you sheepman23.
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Old 16-03-19, 15:06   #245
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Analyses like this are why I come to TRF
You've done a wonderful job with each one you've written and they are highly appreciated. Thank you so much for adding new and interesting content to the classic sections
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Old 16-03-19, 17:18   #246
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I would love a review like this for the rest of the CORE era games. Great job
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Old 17-03-19, 03:31   #247
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tlr online View Post
Thank you sheepman23.
As always, appreciate the comments Justin.

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Originally Posted by HarleyCroft View Post
Analyses like this are why I come to TRF
You've done a wonderful job with each one you've written and they are highly appreciated. Thank you so much for adding new and interesting content to the classic sections
Glad to hear it! Thanks for reading.

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Originally Posted by Brendanlovesu1 View Post
I would love a review like this for the rest of the CORE era games. Great job
Thanks! And who knows... it has been a while since I've tackled TR3 or AoD.
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Old 17-03-19, 21:56   #248
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Brilliant as always! I’d love to see a review on TR III
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Old 18-03-19, 18:52   #249
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I will say something to Atlantean Stronghold:
I can see why you enjoy this level. It is the kind of chaotic and strange level, that only a Gold Level could be. Like ending a long level in under three minutes without much problems. Interesting that Campbell stated it was intentional that the player could end this level so quickly. Or activating a centaur via lever and many demons that are triggered through pickups. I also like the chaotic structure of this level. From the valley with the tower in the honeycomb structure back to the valley and in another area and from there to the top of the valley. The most insane thing of this level, is it to end it with a dive from probably the highest point of the level.
There are also some interesting parts like the underwater area, where you can see I think it was four atlanteans behind a wall and then they activated when you pull the wrong lever.
But I have one big problem with this and the next level. For me this levels don't have much context and I don't feel I reached something grand when finish this levels. For the Egypt levels you have the cat statue, that Lara examines. These levels should a continuation of the original game. Problem is, the pyramid was minutes before collapsing and exploding and now the gold levels tell you, you have another two hours to get out of it and even kill much more atlanteans that were in the original pyramid? This is to hard to believe for me.
Also another big mistake is, that these two levels focus too much on combat. It seems like the only goal is to kill as many atlanteans as possible. Tomb Raider should never be combat-focus, the very few exceptions (Home Sweet Home and Crash Site) only work, because of the special location (defending your own house) or the possibility to bypass it (Crash Site). Enemies in Tomb Raider are like the traps, they are a hindrance and an obstacle for Lara to reach her goal. For example: She is not in Vilcabamba to kill wolves and bears, she is there, because she want the scion and the wolves and bears are in her way. The atlanteans in the Atlantis level are also in her way to get to the scion.
But not in this level: It feels more like, that Lara is in the stronghold to kill as much atlanteans as possible and this disconnects me a little from an otherwise great level.

The last part I said is much worse with The Hive: Except for the great boulder room, where you have to think your step twice, this level is nearly puzzle-free and is overflooding with combat. Yes, some of these fights are fun and I will never forget the shotgun clips room with the eight atlanteans that will awake one by one.
But like you said, the ending rooms are a little bit disappointing. I expected a huge fight, but it is only Lara's bum and I think also, that the chance was wasted to let hatch more atlanteans at the end (not only a Torso, a few flying ones and normals, that all will shoot at Lara moments, before she is at the end). Maybe the memory space of the level was exhausted. So it is a rather underwhelming ending to a great expansion.

And I would like to see more of your reviews, sheepman. I see, that your analytical writing has improved over the years. I would like to see how you would rate Tomb Raider 2 and 3 today. You totally have my interest in these.
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Old Yesterday, 22:18   #250
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Originally Posted by Fantasy View Post
Brilliant as always! I’d love to see a review on TR III
Thanks Fantasy!

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IBut I have one big problem with this and the next level. For me this levels don't have much context and I don't feel I reached something grand when finish this levels. For the Egypt levels you have the cat statue, that Lara examines. These levels should a continuation of the original game. Problem is, the pyramid was minutes before collapsing and exploding and now the gold levels tell you, you have another two hours to get out of it and even kill much more atlanteans that were in the original pyramid? This is to hard to believe for me.
That's a pretty fair point - the continuity between the end of TR1 and the Atlantean Stronghold is strikingly jagged. If the Gold designers wanted to have two separate reprisals of areas from TR1, I would have honestly preferred them to go with Greece instead of Atlantis for the second one. Atlantis is fun but I don't think there's quite as much capacity for isolation due to the combat-oriented nature of the levelset. And while I think they knocked it out of the park with Atlantean Stronghold, the high focus on the mutants overstayed its welcome in The Hive. There wasn't a grand design complexity or other truly striking feature of the second stage to really sell it for me.

Quote:
And I would like to see more of your reviews, sheepman. I see, that your analytical writing has improved over the years. I would like to see how you would rate Tomb Raider 2 and 3 today. You totally have my interest in these.
Thanks GRaider! I love your thoughtful input on these levels. TR3 you say, eh? Well, that's the one I'm leaning towards, and it seems like others might be as well... so who knows, I may just sneak it in pretty soon.
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