Games, at their worst, misinterpret player intent and turn it into an undesirable in-game action. While sometimes this can be rooted in the design philosophy of the game, more often than not, it’s the result of a lack of control, communication and clarity on the part of the designers of the game. It’s this issue which taints the majority of the experience of Tomb Raider: Anniversary.
Navigating freelance archeologist Lara Croft through the remains of long lost civilizations is an experience that awkwardly shuffles between naturalistic flow and infuriating miscommunication. Scaling high up the wall of a tomb only to have a wonky camera or odd change of controls cause the player to input an action that leads to them wildly leaping to their death is an experience that occurs on a regular basis.
This is rooted in the fundamental issue of an ever changing perspective. While the necessity of navigating through a 3-dimensional space demands a dynamic camera system, more often than not, it changes on a whim or construes the previous perspective one had of Laura moments ago, disorienting the player and removing their sense of bearing within the space.
Another core problem is that there is no constant in the controls. Depending on the context of the current action, the direction one presses to go may not necessarily be the one Lara heads to. In other words, forward is not always forward in relation to Laura, neither is it always forward in relation to the camera. In tight corners, it seems to be in relation to Laura, but in wider spaces, camera perspective dictates the relationship of movement.
However, when the player is able to overcome this barrier, the game becomes a satisfying series of navigations through a daunting amount of space. Often times, upon entering the room, a player will be overwhelming by the size and complexity of the room. However, as the player takes it step by step, level by level, it becomes a satisfying series of accomplishments leading to the great moment of mastering a room and moving on to the next one.
This sense of satisfaction is rewarded with the frustrating act of gun violence to break up the platforming sections. The game tries to blend acrobatics with the combat by forcing the player to dodge incoming attacks from wild animals, but the tight camera and wonky controls make it an infuriating endeavor. And it’s ultimately a pointless addition to the game as it lacks the same sense of accomplishment as the platforming.
And yet, it’s still somewhat necessary for Lara croft to wield guns. It’s an essential part of her character, a symbol of her exploitation of other living things to reach her own selfish drive for the artifacts she seeks. While some have described her as a female Indiana Jones, she’s more like a female Han Solo, a scoundrel out for her own interest with a hint of internal tension beneath her otherwise cold exterior.
This generation of Tomb Raider games has become somewhat infamous for their terrible camera and it’s certainly a warranted complaint that provides a game that becomes almost as challenging to input the desired actions as it is to actually complete the presented challenge. When the two align, the game is a compelling experience but it’s still a far cry from its maximum potential, brought down by the tedious and unnecessary violence.
© 2011 James Blake Ewing