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Journal Entry Two: Base Camp Mongolian Passage
Completion: 10% Total Time Played: 6 hrs. 41 mins. Times I Killed Lara: This level (2) Total (5)
Playthrough (Part 2): Let’s play. We are at Base Camp One: Wilderness Refuge. Before we can exit the camp, Lara crafts a bow and arrow from the tree limbs and deer innards collected earlier. As soon as that’s done (and I spend my single skill point), we are off and exploring. First, we go to the left, down a small embankment and right away the game is suddenly Assassin’s Creed III as I find a stump and a jump and Lara is up into the trees, skipping from branch to branch just like 18th Century Conner (There are no Redcoats, however). With some acrobatics, I find a cubby off the beaten path that holds the first of the Region Summary items mentioned in Journal 1, one of many in this small section. There’s also a bird’s nest way up in the top of one tree. When I aim my arrow at, as one would in this sort of game, the reticle turns red, meaning, in game terms, it is a shootable target, and in Lara’s world, one less bird’s nest in a tree. Sorry birds. Actually, there’s a lot of nests around and they all have feathers inside for making arrows. This is bad news for the birds.
Moving along the the rock wall, keeping to the left and hugging it closely, I come upon a small cave entrance and immediately stop. If I’ve learned anything about gaming over the years, it’s that running into a cave is generally followed by terrible things. Bears, wolves, demons, ill-tempered vermin, whatever, caves are haven for body mauling, spear-stabbing, viper-biting, soul-stealing, monster-hiding, game-ending death traps. None of which stops me. I venture in. Hey! No bears. No anything, actually. Just some rocks called ma, which are useful. It’s at this point, after two parts of the cave are blocked by bushes, I realize this won’t be the last time I will come to this cave and that perhaps Rise of the Tomb Raider will have some backtracking in store for gameplay ahead, much like its predecessor. From the the looks of the bushes, I’m guessing once I have fire arrows, I’ll be doing some burning.
My suspicions about backtracking are confirmed not a few minutes later when, back outside, I come across planks of wood wrapped in thick rope that seem to be covering a hole in a rock wall and a pop-up message informs I don’t have the required gear. Part of me doesn’t like this trend in gaming, as I want to move on and never look back from previous levels, but there’s not much I can do. If they are going to make me grind, I hope at least it’s as fun as it currently is. Anyway, the mission marker wants we to move in one direction up the map, so I do what any sensible gamer should: go entirely in the opposite direction and do whatever and go wherever I’m probably not meant to. There’s a lot of little nooks in the rocks and after about a half an hour or so, I have everything I can get here and finally head for the marker, which is just up and over a small, sleep incline. The nice thing about this area is how peaceful it is as there hasn’t been a single enemy or anim–OH HOLY MOTHER OF 8-BIT GAMING! . . . I get eaten by a bear. Er, well, Lara gets eaten by a bear. Me, I didn’t push the right button. No time for the blame game, but sure, I feel partially responsible. More so when I try again and the bear has it’s second course.
Once I finally time the dodge properly and smack it in the snout with my ice axe a few times, the ursine beast retreats and Lara is left at the bottom of a small cliff, bleeding like, well, she’s been mauled by a bear. A short cutscene later and Lara is in serious trouble and needs prompt medical attention, but since this is a video game, it only takes a few red leaves from a nearby bush and she’s back to her old self. And here I was worried the makers would sacrifice realism for fun. Moving a bit more down the path, she comes to a lookout point and sees a massive abandoned military compound that might not be so abandoned but is accessible only by going back the way she came . . . through the bear cave. If this post had audio, you’d hear the dun, dun, duuun suspense chord that is playing in my head.
Lara has a plan though. And it sort of makes sense. Poison. Not the first thing I would have come up with, but it’s her show. In the area, there are a number of poisonous mushrooms that can be used to drug the tip of an arrow. Unfortunately, it takes more than that though, as Lara needs to get some cloth to make these arrows and that means finding the crates hidden in the level that have the items. I collected a few before getting to this point so it didn’t take long, plus, there is a waypoint marker that can be triggered as well, making some of the exploration elements a bit too easy. Meanwhile, prancing about the evening woods are a host of rabbits and deer that can provide lots of resources for upgrades, so I take some time to hunt a few down, though actually nabbing one with an arrow is not so easy. That’s where the tree climbing mechanic mentioned above comes in handy. It’s just a matter of patience but soon enough, I bagged some hides. Or rather Lara did. Like I said, I push the buttons. Fair warning, killing a deer is kind of traumatic if you have any human decency in you. As these early-crafted arrows and bow don’t have much power, it takes more than one shot to take an animal down and the makers of this game felt it important to make the first shot cause just enough damage to send the wounded creature into a pathetic run for survival. And when I say run, I mean a limping, ghastly, bloody shamble through the tress, with a chorus of echoing agony. You want to shoot it again, just to put it out of its misery.
Back at the camp, we (I feel comfortable saying that now) craft the poison arrows and then Lara goes to sleep. Her choice, not mine. That triggers another short cutscene where her father, in a flashback, has his reputation on the line and there’s some yelling, and a little Lara and I honestly wasn’t paying attention but it’s over in a blink and we’re back to the action, though it isn’t fighting a bear. Yet. Instead, there’s some ruckus in the woods nearby where a man and a woman are being chased by armed thugs. They tackle and kill the man while the woman gets away. The soldiers begin a search and Lara gets a visit from some mercenaries who spot her camp fire. Too bad for them.
Now comes some stealth, something that the Tomb Raider series is steadily making one of the better aspects of their franchise. The trees are where to go, and from high atop, Lara easily has the drop (intended!) on her foes. That’s not to say there isn’t some fun in hiding in the bushes and waiting as an unsuspecting soldier saunters by. That happens as well, and Lara pounces on them with ferocity, throttling them with her hand-carved bow. In the last game, Tomb Raider (2013), young Lara was trapped in a hostile place and her first kill comes in self-defense in a traumatic scene when a very bad man attacks and nearly molests her before she fights back. It’s a short but harrowing scene and became a turning point for the character, though is was affecting for the player as well as she dealt with the emotions and consequences of actually ending a life. By the end of that game, she was laying out enemies with the skill of a trained assassin. That’s where we pick up from here, and her brutal murder of the first soldier is vicious, violent and jarring. Death is the only option, as it’s always been in the series, but somehow, it feels more weighted. Still, it is necessary and the outstanding motion-capture and voice work of the character by Camilla Luddington really feels impactful. The second kill is easier and soon, it’s fun again. That’s probably a sentence I shouldn’t use in any other context.
Hey, speaking of murder. Let’s go kill a bear. That, it turns out, is surprisingly easy. The bear is no match for poison arrows. With only two of them, the bear is utterly incapacitated and allows time for a volley of regular arrows to have their way on its his face. Lara skins the animal and we’re off to explore the enormous glacial cave system connected to the bear den. Before we go though, there’s a crate off to the side with one part of a 4-part semi-automatic pistol nearby and lots of other items scattered about. After breaking through a small wall, it’s into some freezing water where Lara dives and emerges a bit later into a cavern where a campfire awaits: Base Camp Two: Mongolian Passage.
Impressions: Silky smooth seems to be what the developers have aimed for and while the map is still primarily a tutorial, it has a lot of excitement and solid gameplay. The hunt for so many Region Summary items is both a good and bad thing as it’s fun to go exploring but detracts a bit as there are “shiny” things constantly pulling you away from the story, though that’s not really a criticism more than an observation. The stealth mechanics are really finely tuned and Lara has retained much of her bow skills from the previous game. The crafting is similar to many other games in this generation and serves as carrots to keep me going in order to build the superior weapon. I liked the level design and the ambient audio that really helped build the atmosphere.
Best Moment: The Bear.