April 8, 2010

Lara and the Four Shafts - review

Level info:

name: Lara and the Four Shafts
release date: April 2010
class: city, urban, house
number of levels: 5
author: Elke Schwarz
exe: patched, TRLE not needed
size: 68 MB
type: TR4

download link: http://www.trle-hosting.net/levels/2010/0310/Schwarzmama-LaraAndTheFourShafts.zip

This levelset definitely is not a master piece like Beyond the Scion, Himalayan Mysteries or Secrets of Nepal. This is more or less classic levelset, with classic animations for Lara and classic combo moves. Surroundings and architecture is basic and limited, mostly indoors and outside courtyards and gardens, with no grand vista we all enjoy very much. The game is linear and straightforward, with very little chance for exploring, very little enemies and action, very dark and gloomy, and generally without any reasonable goal. Lara is to find four shaft keys that will open a gate in the fifth level, that's about the storyline in this levelset.

What was most frustrating here was the enormous number of switches, doors, raising blocks and keys. This certainly killed the gameplay which would have been much better without half of the switches and trigger tiles. Also, the author should have added the animation of rolling out of the crawlspace for Lara, since she has to climb backwards out of so many crawlspaces. Or she could have used the crawlspaces in the floor level, and not raised; so the gameplay is also ruined with so many climbing and getting out of the crawlspace backwards; they certainly waste too much time.

The game seem to comprise about a hundred of smaller tasks, such as: open this door, raise/lower that block, shoot that pendulum or find that key. Once you open one gate, you can be sure that the next gate will be closed. Just one small task after another, with no clear purpose except to keep you away from the end of the level as long as possible.

Secrets were not so hard to find, except for certain cleverly hidden ones. There are 25 secrets in all the game, each awarding you with additional health, ammo or flare supplies. Also, Lara is driving the bike and the scooter in most levels, but these rides are short and mainly used to go up steep ramps and breaking walls and floors. Enemies are few and easy, and the most difficult enemy is the soldier with a grenade gun. There are a lot of pushable objects, usually well hidden, and many switches and openings camouflaged with trees, plants and hidden in dark corners.

However, there are a lot of really great moments in the game, aside from zillion of switches and raising blocks. Some puzzles are very well imagined, for example, color puzzle with flames and glass cases, or color puzzle with spheres, or pushing a block onto a trapdoor to get it down to the lower level etc.

Traps are also few and mostly easy, if you exclude two jump sequences over the breakable ledges, which are extremely hard and frustrating, especially the second sequence. But all other trapped areas are easy and you should find your way around easily.

One will spent most of his time finding another switch or triggering floor tile or a key. This can be very annoying sometimes, and I believe many players abandoned this game before completing it, because of this. Be sure to explore each room with binoculars when you try to find another switch.

As I said before, this game is not a master-piece. It is not intended to take your breath away. The architecture is simple and basic, the rooms are mostly with no decoration, and only outdoor gardens and squares are rich with trees and flora of all kinds. Everything is simple, basic and functional, set there for a reason mostly. There are a lot of concealed openings, hidden behind a cobweb or some ivy, not to mention switches hidden behind a tree or a plant. So even the decoration is mostly used to hide something, and not to decorate.

Technically, the game has a lot of flaws: stretched textures, cracks, badly placed doors, low ceiling in outdoor rooms, sound issues, but it is not too obvious for an inexperienced eye. More important than these technical issues is the fact that the game and its story seriously lack the essence, the point and the feeling on being on a special mission with Lara. But also, the game has its good sides, such as many puzzles to figure out and great shortcuts that bypass the whole level, when such a shortcut is most needed.

All in all, this is an average levelset, with couple of good moments and lot of pickups and interactive objects. It is not hard and it is perfect for a beginner, due to its lack of challenging jump sequences, pixel-precise jumps, timed runs etc. An expert raider will easily go through the entire game without a single health pack spent.

My rating: 6.6 of 10

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