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Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider: “Lost Valley”

Lara Croft changed the game, one prehistoric lizard at a time.

By Ellie Gibson • May 31, 2012

Princess Peach or Ms. Pac-Man? Until the nineties, that was the choice for women seeking positive female role models in video games. Then along came the Tomb Raider series, the enduring appeal of which is often attributed to heroine Lara Croft. After all, she is the common denominator in a series which has survived several console generations and a change of development studio. She is just as courageous and skilled in combat as your average male gaming hero, yet she also possesses intelligence, nobility, acrobatic grace, and massive knockers.

But a great main character alone cannot sustain a series in the long term. (How else do you explain the fact there are only four Bubsy games?) Tomb Raider is not just about Lara; it’s about the scenarios she finds herself in, and the fact she faces them alone.

Before she turned up, the majority of platform games were set in brightly colored fantasy worlds, which were populated by hordes of wacky enemies and packed with meaningless stuff to collect. Every game had a silly level where you’d be stuck in an out-of-control mine cart, just like every amusement park has a roller coaster. Then things changed. There is no mine cart level in Tomb Raider.

The first half hour of the original game, released in 1996, is a tranquil trudge through a series of gray caverns and corridors. There are some doors to open and about two things to collect. The only enemies Lara encounters, indeed the only other living beings, are a few wolves, a couple of bears and some crap bats. There’s little in the way of incidental music. A few subtle touches, such as the soft padding of Lara’s feet and the sight of paw prints in the snow, establish an atmosphere of quiet isolation. There’s a real feeling of being on a solo adventure, with freedom to explore and space to think. The entire introduction to the game is permeated by a sense of eerie peace.

Which explains why the arrival of the T-rex is so terrifying. It happens right at the start of the third level. Lara emerges from the shadowy caves of Vilcabamba into the lush greenery and open skies of the Lost Valley. A velociraptor attacks, but it’s nothing she can’t handle, especially if the player has already worked out an advanced tactical defense strategy—such as my personal favorite, “Jumping Backwards While Shooting The Thing In The Face Over And Over Again.” With the raptor dispatched, Lara continues her peaceful stroll along the valley floor.

And then a gigantic Tyrannosaurus rex thunders out of the darkness. It comes at you with terrific speed and roars with the kind of rage you’d imagine it reserves for people who make jokes about its tiny arms. Just in case it wasn’t scary enough to be surprised by a furious razor-jawed enemy the size of a house, the soundtrack kicks in with frantic strings and pounding bass. It’s a heart-stopping moment.

Every Tomb Raider fan remembers where they were when they first saw the T-rex. For me, it was December 1997. I was home from university for the holidays. I spent them almost entirely in my parents’ kitchen, hunched in front of a 12-inch portable TV with the lights turned off, pressing buttons and swearing. When the T-rex appeared, I yelped so loud my Mum woke up and came downstairs to see if the neighbor’s dog had gotten its leg trapped in the fence again.

Part of the reason the T-rex incident is frightening—all right, part of the reason I was so frightened—is because the game doesn’t give you any clues that it’s about to happen. There’s no cutscene heralding the beast’s arrival, no super-powered weapon that you “coincidentally” find a few moments before. It’s hard to think of other games that are confident enough to introduce their bosses with so little ceremony. The lack of pomp, though, is fitting for a beast that is rather unassuming in its own way. The T-rex doesn’t throw fireballs or breathe lasers. It doesn’t have a flashing red weak spot on its underbelly, and it doesn’t turn around so you can aim at this weak spot every 90 seconds. It’s just a big, angry lizard. The natural, unpolished animalism makes the T-rex more real and fearsome, as if there are no layers of video game artifice to protect you from its rage.

What a shame, then, that the T-rex encountered was reimagined in such an unimaginative way for the Tomb Raider: Anniversary remake. In this 2007 update of the original, the majestic beast is replaced with a creature so dumb it can be persuaded to run head-first into giant spikes. Defeating the monster no longer requires graceful evasion and patient determination, for you’re now able to perform something called an “adrenaline dodge.” It’s like David squaring up to Goliath having swapped his sling for a semi-automatic and a can of Red Bull.

The T-rex’s arrival is announced by a brash, entirely unfrightening cutscene. The ensuing battle takes place in broad daylight instead of at night. (Okay, the original battle was probably set at night because the old PlayStation didn’t have the power to generate a dinosaur AND clouds, but still.) The minimalist strings have been replaced by a swelling operatic piece that John Williams would describe as overblown. It’s hard to experience that sense of perilous isolation when there’s a Welsh male voice choir hiding in the undergrowth.

To top it all off, the fight climaxes with a series of quick-time events—you know, those “press the down arrow to win!” flashcards that reduce a game to an exercise in stimulus-response. This is the equivalent of remaking Casablanca so that instead of beginning their beautiful friendship by walking off into the fog, Rick and Renault add each other on LinkedIn.

But let’s not get too riled up, fellow Tomb Raider fans. Let’s conserve our energies for the new game due out later this year. Judging by the footage released so far, rubbishy dinosaurs are the least of our worries. It looks as though this could be the end for brave, strong, capable Lara. She seems to have been replaced by a gasping, shivering, barely legal wreck, trapped in a scene from Fifty Shades Of Grey and pursued by growling men with grasping hands. If this is what we’ve come to, I’ll take Ms. Pac-Man.

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114 Responses to “Tomb Raider: “Lost Valley””

  1. Cloks says:

    I’ve only played the remake and I stopped right at this fight. I had never mastered the adrenaline dodge because it didn’t seem to me like the game was emphasizing it and I was doing just fine solving the puzzles and fighting off the occasional wolf without it. It looks like it might be worth it to pick up the original Tomb Raider because I really did enjoy the non-stuck in a nearly unbeatable boss fight bits. Is the PC version better than the Playstation one or is the better version the one I can get cheaper?

    • Destroy Him My Robots says:

      Playstation version on an emulator sounds like the ticket. The PC version of Tomb Raider was one of those early 3D accelerated games where you had to use a specific patch for Matrox/PowerVR/3Dfx if you wanted bilinear filtering, z-buffering, and other technological marvels. Getting one of these to work perfectly on a modern graphics card is probably more of a pain than emulating.

      • ToddG says:

        GoG just released Tomb Raider 1-3 for $9.99.  Not sure if they addressed the issues you mention in whatever conversion they run or if it will still require some tinkering, but generally I have been happy with their offerings.

        • Girard says:

           I haven’t played this particular port, but have never had a single problem with a GoG port, and could imagine this is probably the best way to play the game these days.

  2. lokimotive says:

    The first, and only, copy of Tomb Raider that I had was stolen, most likely from a painfully slow FTP server running through my parents’ painfully slow modem. Of course, all of the multimedia components were stripped from the pirated version to reduce file sizes.

    I’m pretty sure that swelling music when you approach the T-Rex was played directly from the Redbook audio on the CD… or it should’ve been. Instead, when I approached the T-Rex it was whatever CD was in the drive, which was probably Megadeth’s Youthanasia. I should also point out, that the audio for the cutscenes also appeared to be taken from the CD audio, so those plot points were completely obscured.

    Anyway, my experience was slightly different.

    • John Teti says:

      Whoa. That sounds awesome. I wish you could do that with present-day games.

      • lokimotive says:

        Quake also played its tracks directly from the CD, but my friend and I would use The Wall instead. This worked okay, except it would play one track per level on repeat. Since “Vera” is only a minute and a half, we got to hear that track a lot.

        • Zack Handlen says:

          Yeah, I didn’t realize that Quake worked that way until I had a Tori Amos CD in the drive. I still have nightmares of the “Mr. Zebra” level. 

      • ToddG says:

        Disclaimer: John in no way endorses stealing present-day games, nor using painfully slow technologies.

      • Effigy_Power says:

         Microsoft had the ambitious plan once to make every 360 game compatible with the music on your Zune, so you could just send music from it to the console and use it as the background music ingame.
        Not sure if it was the strangeness of the idea or the folly of the Zone that killed it.

        • Sarapen says:

          Yeah, you could also play stuff from an MP3 player plugged in. It was kind of fun riding around killing elves in Oblivion to Dial M for Motherfucker but the music didn’t always sync up to the action. I’d be tediously punching mud crabs to death to level up my Hand to Hand but there’d be incongruously exciting music going on in the background. I tried making up a playlist for specific moods but I was just too lazy and gave up.

      • Girard says:

         I’m pretty sure the original WipeOut on the PSX did this.

        And wasn’t there a rhythm game that did this on purpose? Rez, maybe? You were prompted at the load screen to put in a music CD, and it generated a level for you from a specific track?

        • root (1ltc) says:

          From what I remember, most early PS1 games until like 96 or 97 had Redbook audio. After a while, though, the audio was stored in the proprietary XA file format. Most Saturn games are Redbook audio.

          What’s even more interesting are the things you find on the discs which are only accessible with a PC, like the wallpaper BMP files on Saturn Dracula X, or the screensaver with Saturn Pocket Fighter.

    • ShitMcFuckensteinAVC says:

      In a semi-related note Windows Media Player used to (still does?) think that the Quake II cd was Van Morrison.

      • lokimotive says:

        Windows Media Player has some of the worst metadata detection ever. It astounds me how often it’s wrong. What’s even worse is that it makes it a complete pain to correct its mistakes. The covers are probably the worst, as they seem to be populated by a simple nearest neighbor album title search.

        WMP, however isn’t as bad as Zune, which, in addition to inheriting a lot of the problems that WMP has always had, also adds the additional problems of not consistently populating ID3 tags, storing the cover art in some mysterious hidden directory, and just being a general pain in the ass.

        Because of Microsoft’s general disregard for getting any of the information right for my CDs and MP3s, I always get nervous if I install any audio program that wants to populate an audio library. Audio programs seem to insist on barging in and permanently fucking up my carefully constructed metadata. I’m a librarian you, stupid program, don’t touch my metadata!

        • Effigy_Power says:

           WinAMP… never ever let me down. I’ve been using WinAMP ever since it released and it’s always been good to me.

        • lokimotive says:

          @Effigy_Power:disqus Oh yeah. Even now, however many years after its initial release, WinAmp continues to be my music player of choice (though I’ve recently discovered it only plays multichannel FLACs in stereo, at least with the plugins I have. You have to use VLC for those).

          Their library component is tremendously robust and scaleable and should be a standard model for every other music player. Unfortunately, most seem to build from a “the user is stupid and we must provide everything for them” approach.

  3. Staggering Stew Bum says:

    “It’s hard to think of other games that are confident enough to introduce their bosses with so little ceremony.”

    This is a really good point. Not just for bosses, but for any enemy, not having a clue that some thing nasty is about to turn up can be very effective. Was playing Dark Souls last night and was happily hacking away at those walking shrub things, and I suddenly noticed a massive Knight guy had appeared right behind me, it scared the crap out of me. No idea where he came from, he just was suddenly there. I ran away like a little girl.

    Dead Space comes straight to mind, it is one of those games that, if it had applied this tactic with the necromorphs some of the time, the scares would have been far more effective.

    • caspiancomic says:

       Yeah, when I read that line I started reeling for examples as well, and came up with a few. My first instinct was Nemesis from Resident Evil 3- a game which also features a purposelessly under dressed female lead. He gets introduced with a big showy cutscene, but after that he shows up all the time whenever he feels like it and just eats your ammo. The first time he burst through a wall in the police department I actually dropped the controller in sheer terror. If we’re talking standard enemies as well as bosses, the hallway where the dogs burst through the window in the original Resident Evil is a good example too. I was pretty young when I first played that game, and it scared the bejeezus out of me. Couldn’t play for ages after that.

      Another good example is Pyramid Head from Silent Hill 2. There are a couple of cutscenes featuring him, sure, but on at least two occasions he just saunters up to you from off camera like it ain’t no thang and starts carving you up. He doesn’t even get a musical cue- you just walk through the wrong door and before you know it he’s on you. He likes to do it in tight, confusing corridors as well, just to amplify the horror.

      • The_Misanthrope says:

        With their Alone in the Dark-style tank controls, it is easy to forget that both RE2 and RE3 weren’t merely sequel cash-ins, They both brought little innovations to the formula:  RE2 with the interacting storylines, RE3 with Nemesis and Live Selection.  I still remember the desperate, underarmed struggle through the zombie mob that kicks off RE2, as well as the Mr. X (Nemesis’ opening act, who never enjoyed the same celebrity) from the “B” plot. 

        I love RE4 so much it hurts, but I will admit that it started the trend away from the “survival horror” roots of its predecessors and more towards “horror action”.  (Still, small shocks were seeded throughout, like the seige in the house or the first reveal of las Plagas bursting from a villager)

        • caspiancomic says:

           Yeah RE4 is wicked, and probably the best in the series, but it jettisoned any pretense of horror the series had. In relation to the article, I think the biggest difference between RE4 style bosses and the “surprise! T-rex!” style mentioned above is that in RE4 you tended to know what was up ahead. Not specifically, and not for certain, but if you looked at your map and saw a huge open arena-style patch of emptiness, or if the game suddenly saw fit to leave a new weapon and 150 rounds of ammunition lying on top of a few barrels, you could probably guess that there was a boss fight in your future.

      • underscorex says:

        I remember playing the demo for RE2 in a mall game store.  The first time you meet a Licker, there’s no cutscene in the demo, it just drops down in front of you and starts attacking.

        It was fucking terrifying and my friend and I started screaming at each other in the middle of the mall.  FUCK DUDE KILL IT WHAT IS IT OH MAN KILL IT KILL IT KILL IT.

        the cutscene completely neutered the excitement.

        • caspiancomic says:

           Ahhhh, yeah, the Licker. The comments section here has mentioned that too much foreshadowing tends to kill the mood in videogames, but I think the Licker is a good example of foreshadowing done right. When you turn that first corner and see it scuttling around through the window for a fraction of a second, totally noiselessly, before vanishing from view, you knew that wasn’t the last you’d see of him, and your palms started sweating with the anticipation.

          (Although if memory serves, the payoff occurs like thirty seconds later or something, which kind of fizzles. They probably could have let that one ride for a few minutes, at least)

      • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser says:

        I just played SH2 for the first time, and Pyramid Head really does sneak up on you.  In fact, the lamest encounters – when you fight him – are the ones that are telegraphed.  But he’s fucking horrifying when you round a corner and he’s just standing there, ready to murder you to death.

        The closest he has to a musical cue is also terrifying – if it’s quiet enough, you can hear his sword dragging along the ground behind you.  The first time that happened to me, I was so scared I basically ran straight to my death.

      • TaumpyTearrs says:

        O the dogs in Resident Evil!

        IIRC, the hallway you walk down is lined with dozens of crows, so it puts you on edge thinking something is gonna happen, but then throws you a curveball when the dogs come flying through the window.

    • Xtracurlyfries says:

      This goes back to the discussion from last week about games trying too hard to be movies. In a movie, foreshadowing, and telegraphing what is about to happen, are both useful and important techniques that increase the viewing experience. In a game, however, these suck excitement and surprise from the experience, as pointed out above.

      This is why, even though I love the first two Max Payne games and have probably played each through 4 or 5 times, there’s no way in hell that I’m going to play Rockstar’s Max Payne III. I’m sick of them trying to make movies when they should be trying to make games. I’m still raw from that steaming pile that was LA Noire.

      • Effigy_Power says:

         My terrible hatred for quick-time events is the only thing overshadowing my hatred for cut-scenes where they don’t belong.
        Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently wrong with cut-scenes, some games probably benefit from them, but all in all they chop a fluent set of action into mini-chapters and really usually serve no other reason than to bring a great experience to several grinding halts.
        My gf used to play a lot of J-RPGs, some of which were reasonably fun (personally I loathe the entire genre, tho I had fun with FF12), until she came across a sudden slew of games, most prominently Xenosaga II, which flaunted game-play of taking three steps followed by 15-minute unskippable cutscenes, then 5 steps to talk to another NPC and another 15-minute cutscene. Xenosaga II came with a DVD of the cutscenes from the first game, which came up to an entire afternoon that we slept on the couch to save our brains.

        The more I think about it, the less I think games need cut-scenes. Plenty of games manage to create moments and narrative without taking control from the player. I would say that the Assassin’s Creed series probably has found a good measure. The cut-scenes are short and mostly introductory, never cut an action-sequence in half and are always short.

        • Xtracurlyfries says:

          Exactly. How good is the storytelling in the Half Life games and how many cutscenes are there?

          Answers: Very good indeed, and (almost) none.

        • ToddG says:

          Yeah, if devs feel they must include cutscenes, I feel like their goals regarding them should be twofold:

          1.) Make them skippable.  This should maybe not be a goal as much as an expectation.
          2.) Make me not want to skip them.

        • Merve says:

          @Xtracurlyfries:disqus: The Half-Life approach has its downsides, though. Instead of cutscenes, there are long sections where you’re trapped in a room while people talk at you. A lot of these sections are kind of boring. I spent most of them lobbing random objects at Alyx with the gravity gun.

          @BreakingRad:disqus: Recent games that got it right – Human Revolution and Arkham City. I don’t know why every game doesn’t do it that way. In fact, Human Revolution lets you pause cutscenes too. It’s perfect for when you get an important phone call (not that I often receive important phone calls).

          I’m playing L.A. Noire right now, and those unskippable cutscenes are driving me bonkers. I don’t mind watching them the first time through, but every time I screw up an action sequence (which happens often, because the controls on the PC version are muddy), I have to rewatch the damn cutscenes. At least cutscenes can be paused, but that’s a small consolation when you’re forced to watch one for a third or fourth time.

      • Girard says:

         Another point that has come up elsewhere on this site is that other solutions to incorporate overt narrative sequences into games aren’t much more uniformly successful.

        The “This isn’t a cut scene! Honest!” in-engine cutscenes in the Half Life games are extremely silly, for instance. While they aren’t aping movies, they do evoke cheesy “ride-the-movies” style attractions at Universal Studios, where scripted stuff happens all around you, and you are talked-at by actors to which you can make no reply.

        The fluid relationship between the author and audience in games is a tricky one to navigate, and different tools for doing so are useful in different situations, I guess. There’s a place for cut-scenes. (Though I think we could toss QTEs in the dustbin and no one would cry over it…)

      • hastapura says:

        I just finished LA Noire. Not going down as one of my fondest gaming memories.

        • Merve says:

          I finished L.A. Noire literally half an hour ago. The last three hours of the game are fantastic. It’s a shame that most of the rest of it isn’t. The homicide and vice desks are especially dull and repetitive.

          The most frustrating thing about L.A. Noire is that it could have so easily been better. Make the game 30% shorter and the map 30% smaller, and it would be a good game. On top of that, tweak the the driving, cover, shooting, and interrogation mechanics, and it would be a great game.

          I love the concept of the game, and I’d love to see a sequel where these problems are addressed. But with the implosion of Team Bondi, I don’t think that’ll happen for a while, if ever.

        • blue vodka lemonade says:

           @Merve2:disqus It must be L.A. Noire Day, because I finished it about twelve hours ago. It’s one of those things I was so close to really liking that all I can think about are all the things I wish were different about it.

    • Girard says:

      Yeah, I only rented TR once, and never played any of the games since then, but the Tyrannosaurus reveal is pretty much the one thing that has stuck in my mind from that game, largely because it was so understated, and consequently so scary.

      Because the game didn’t give it a stupid little life bar like the remake did, I didn’t even think it was possible to kill the thing – it was just this terrifying unstoppable force that I’m pretty sure I ran away from. Which isn’t even an option in the tightly scripted little scenario the remake turns the sequence into.

    • Effigy_Power says:

       There is a downside to the whole “BOO, MONSTER” approach also, best shown by Doom 3.
      In Doom 3, especially at the start, it was pants-crappingly scary to suddenly stare into the face of a bloated zombie illuminated only by gun-fire (since in the future, duct-taping your flashlight to a weapon is punishable by death). Aided by the then revolutionary graphics, that was genuinely frightening. The problem was that after about 20 minutes it became clear that every dark corner had a zombie in it. I changed my playstyle that way, firing a single bullet into a dark corner… well, 80% of those bullets were met with a low groan and a spurt of blood.
      Dead Space eventually also turns that way, even if the monsters can appear from more angles.
      Personally I am more frightened of the things that don’t appear. Dark corners, open air-shafts, jammed doors… If nothing jumps out at you for long enough, you let your guard down. That’s when encounters become really scary. The first “Alien vs Predator” game, in the human campaign, had such a sequence right at the start. Half-way through a dark corridor, a pipe bursts and it breaks out of the ceiling, accompanied by some black cables. I remember emptying an entire clip of my pulse-rifle into the damn HVAC before opening my eyes again.

      When it comes to bosses appearing out of nowhere, that is something that doesn’t happen very often, sadly. Cut-scenes, musical queues, distant roars and quick glimpses too often give stuff away. The only two examples of where I was genuinely surprised and shocked are from two very different games.
      (If these be SPOILERS for you, you aren’t gaming enough):

      In “Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth” (a very under-rated game that is hindered by it’s drab graphics and eventual devolving to a straight-up shooter), you eventually board a ship to head towards an island off the coast of New England. Halfway through the journey, after fending off fish-people, the ocean suddenly splits open and Dagon appears, one of Cthulhu’s main minions. Titanic and seemingly invincible, it’s a handful. The game-mechanics of CoC:DCotE (wow) also include death by fear, which makes looking at Dagon while aiming the ships cannon at it, adds to the terror of the scene.

      The second take is probably odd for some people, but when Flemeth turns into a dragon in Dragon Age: Origins, I did a bona fide spit-take (over my keyboard). I was expecting to fight a powerful sorcerer and had my party geared and selected for that… suddenly I am faced with a High Dragon (I hadn’t faced one at this point yet)…

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        Heck yeah, the Flemeth fight was a huge surprise.  It took me about 20 minutes of straight fighting to beat her, too. Far longer than the eventual end game boss dragon.

        • Colonel Mustard says:

          They laughed when I specced as an ice mage.  Who’s laughing now, old woman?!?

      • JokersNuts says:

        Doom 3 was under-rated, I loved it and played it multiple times. 
        Cthulhu Dark Corners of the Earth is, in my opinion, over-rated by most hardcore gamers.  I am a huge Lovecraft fan and tried so hard to get into this game but the difficulty was just unforgiving.  The sneaking elements were confusing to me, and ultimatley I gave up on it.  

        sorry if this seems trollish or i sound like too much of a n00b, i’m really not, i just wanted to like that game so much, and appreciated what they were going for. it just didn’t execute for me.   


          I loved Call of Cthulhu just for (1) being an FPS in which you have to play the first few levels without any weapons at all and (2) letting you know in the *very first cutscene* that the story ends with your character committing suicide in an asylum. You don’t get much more Lovecraftian than that.

          I didn’t even mind the difficulty that much—fighting eldritch horrors and half-human abominations SHOULD be hard. The real problem with the game was its bugginess, which artificially inflated the difficulty in places where it wasn’t warranted.

        • blue vodka lemonade says:

           @twitter-450378640:disqus I don’t remember exactly where I stopped playing Call of Cthulhu, though it was probably during one sequence where you have to shoot at people from a moving vehicle which eventually crashes. I’d suffered through the difficult, buggy game up to that point, and then just gave up.

          I seem to remember the cutscene mechanism being okay, and it managed to be tense and creepy without too much foreshadowing. So, some points in its favor.

      • JoshJ says:

         YES spawn predictability in Deadspace!

    • hastapura says:

      I think there was some kind of fish in the first Half Life that you could antagonize? Also, the sewer tentacle and subway ghost in Silent Hill 3 are nicely unannounced – even missable – shocks.

      Then again, the big fish in Mario 64 used to scare the shit out of me, so what do I know?

      • blue vodka lemonade says:

         The big fish in the water thing? And there’s a door under there?

        It always bothered me that there seems to be a weapon in a cage above the fish-room-place, but I never figured out how to get at it.

        I should probably play that game again.

    • JoshJ says:

       Ah jesus Deadspace. Three shootouts and I was able to detect when I was about to hit the “spawn on heartbeat” area that would trigger three zombies (whatever), one ahead and two behind.

      IMO Bioshock suffered from similar spawn behavior predictability. At least the setting was neat.

      • underscorex says:

        The worst spawning I’ve ever dealt with was Far Cry 2. If you got more than like, fifteen paces from a checkpoint full of dudes, the entire checkpoint respawned, even though you had literally murdered everyone in the building a minute ago.

        God, that sucked.

    • Drew Toal says:

      Jason from the NES Friday the 13th game scared the shit out of me with his all-too-sudden machete chopping. That game is just eerie anyhow, but you don’t know he’s there til the murder music starts up.

    • TaumpyTearrs says:

      Dark Souls is just filled with those “O shit!” moments.

    • GhaleonQ says:

      Role-playing games with random battles did this all of the time.   Final Fantasy, especially, loves decimating people with hidden bosses.

      • blue vodka lemonade says:

         Neopets, of all sites, had (has?) a couple of role-playing games which are the only vaguely Japanese-style RPGs I’ve ever completed. All fights are random encounters, except bosses which you can usually see and have to walk up to.

        For the final battle, though, you walk down this very long hall (it’s a top-down, gridded view) and can just see a large room at the end. Half-way down the hall, BAM there’s a giant-ass red dragon with six arms and about a bajillion health. I just stared at the screen for two minutes and called my mom to ask her to help me fight it. I think I was about ten.

  4. It’s worth persevering, @Cloks:disqus  – the remake of St Francis’ Folly is absolutely amazing, and I always bang on about it, but it’s really one of the greatest video game levels there is. The fact that you can actually see what’s going on in the Anniversary version just makes it even better.

    • Cloks says:

      In that case, I’ll start it over. Hopefully it’ll be more rewarding than mindlessly grinding for bigger numbers in D3.

  5. Merve says:

    Re: the second clip – Yeesh! Talk about excess! Whatever happened to shooting a boss, like, 800 times until it died?

  6. The_Misanthrope says:

    I did always enjoy the original Tomb Raider as a competent 3D variant on the 2D Prince of Persia games (ages before The Sands of Time).  The platforming did a pretty good job of balancing many of the concerns of jumping in a 3D environment while still maintaining a sense of fluid gameplay.  There were a few clever puzzles, but the vast majority were of the “throw switch, press button” variety.  And combat was pretty much just crap:  target, run around shooting until dead.  I will admit that, like Ellie, the T-Rex fight does loom large in my memory, but once you get past the oh-my-god-run-it’s-a-goddamn-TREX shock, it still boils down to another tedious shoot-and-move fight (although I seem to remember just running away, but my memory may be faulty).

    Having not played the remake, I can’t say that the Matrix-y combat flourishes improve on the original, but from looking at the footage, they could have made it truly a suspenseful and fearful moment with just a few changes.  They really missed an opportunity by dropping into a cinematic to introduce the T-Rex.  If they had just kept it all in gameplay, you would have been able to ramp up the tension by adding in foreshadowing elements:  the sudden charge of a herd of raptors, the earthshaking sound of its approach, etc. 

    I won’t address the bondage/submission issues that the upcoming TR remake has, because it may be legitimate within the context of a larger story.  Besides, the gameplay is far, far more troubling.  There probably is some merit in this cinematic-style gameplay, but the troubling aspect is how it takes away the player’s role as the author of their own experience.  While there will always be an upper limit to the choices the player can make, they are, by and large, meant to be aware of those choices:  this button will cause me to jump, this button to grab ledges, etc.  By turning it into context-sensitive bits punctuated by QTEs, the player is merely stumbling about waiting for the game to tell her what to do next, a monkey typing blindly at a typewriter.  Also, is that “Survival Instinct” mechanic just the “Hey, Lara, solve this puzzle for me, so I can continue the game” button.

    I do hope, however, I’m wrong about all this and it turns out to be a great game. 

    • Raging Bear says:

      I loved Tomb Raider for much the same reasons. All that, plus knockers you could entomb a pharaoh in!

      I think they started to go wrong as of the third game, which is where, at least for me, the “what the FUCK am I supposed to do now?!” syndrome started to overwhelm the rest of the gameplay. I hope it’s not just me, but I got stuck in those damn things so much I needed one eye on a walkthrough the entire time. I never finished 4 or 5.

      The new generation of them (not the first PS2 one, whose subtitle I forget, and which I never played, and which is reputed to be one of the worst games of all time) seemed to be on the right track, but were just ludicrously short, if nothing else.

      • ToddG says:

        Angel of Darkness.  It is the worst.

        • Raging Bear says:

          Ah, ok. I kept thinking “Dark Angel.” I think we’ve found the subject of Nathan Rabin’s next cross-posted MWOF.

        • ToddG says:

          @Raging_Bear:disqus Honestly, I doubt he’d have much to say, as it’s bad in the most uninteresting of ways.  A good 90% of it is just how imprecise and frustrating the camera and controls are.

        • ToddG says:

          Also, I am pretty sure I still have my copy of it.  If that alone doesn’t qualify me for Hoarders, I don’t know what will.

      • TaumpyTearrs says:

        Same here on TR3. I played the first two games as they came out and loved them, then i got 3 for Christmas and spent months wandering around randomly until i got the level skip cheat.

    • Girard says:

       That sequence in the linked video actually looks kind of interesting – at least moreso than the generic boss fight in the 2007 version of the game. The way it appears to put you in a very vulnerable place/situation rather than one you can shoot your way out of is kind of neat, and feels like a new direction that encourages some new kinds of gameplay (of course it almost immediately leans back on QTEs and totally nullifies any creativity points it has just earned).

      There is kind of a creepy problem with the thought of a largely male dev team making a AAA game primarily aimed at teenage boys that features a woman in such a vulnerable position. Even certified geniuses like Haneke and Von Trier end up in trouble when they try to navigate that territory with any degree of intelligence, so I don’t hold out much hope for a corporate team of game design bros to handle it in a non-cringe-inducing way.

      • While I’ll admit to some level of awkwardness there, I think as an intro level type thing it should get a pass. Technically, this is yet another Lara Croft reboot – and supposedly the story of how she became so badass. The game, in theory, has you stuck on the island and using your wits to survive while people are trying to kill you, turning you to the Lara Croft we know and love.

        So if there’s that story there, I’ll buy the beginning (although I do think people are being a bit harsh – she capsized and wakes up randomly bleeding damn near to death in the middle of nowhere? Even Nathan Drake wouldn’t wise-crack about that.) If it ends up being a sad Other M type situation by the end of the game, that’s another whole problem.

  7. The_Misanthrope says:

    Question regarding this feature:  have you considered more unconventional definitions of “level” when coming up with ideas for this?  Specifically, I think of games without traditional level structures (strategy games, traditional Western RPGs, etc.) or open-world games with quests/missions.  I’m tired, so I can only think of a few off the top of my head (others feel free to chime in):

    -your first terror mission or your first encounter with Chrysalids in X-COM: Enemy Unknown
    -“The Green Sabre” mission from GTA: San Andreas
    -“Antabolis Informant” from TES:  Morrowind
    -Entering the Industrial Age in any of the Civ games
    -any of the cities from Assassin’s Creed series
    -fighting M. Bison in SF II?

    • caspiancomic says:

       I suspect if the good people of Gameological want to include any game published after 1999, they’re going to cast a relatively wide net in terms of what counts as a ‘level’. Maps, missions, subquests, probably any discrete event in a game with a defined beginning middle and end. Some levels (and “levels”) that stick out most prominently in my own mind:

      Sky Chase and Air Fortress from Sonic 2 (the first representing a complete change of pace and tone for the game that represented either the calm before the storm or, for speedrunners, a nightmare of a timesink. The second was the first truly “story” driven level in the series, with the beginning of the stage following directly from the end of the last: a great device for building narrative momentum that would become SOP for the levels in Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles)
      Riovanes Castle from Final Fantasy Tactics (A three-map gauntlet that probably stops more than half of people playing for the first time dead in their tracks. You can save, but not exit the castle, between battles, so if you save over your only file and find you’ve hit a wall difficulty-wise, your only option is to restart the game. The first battle is relatively standard, the second begins as a punishingly difficult one on one and evolves into a punishingly difficult party on monstrous demon party battle, and the third features three of the game’s most powerful units trying to kill one NPC you need to save in order to win- and by the way, the NPC’s AI is famously suicidal.)
      Virtuous Mission from Metal Gear Solid 3 (Following the precedent set by MGS2, Snake Eater begins with a miniature prologue mission that allows the player to get accustomed to the tone, world, controls, mechanics, etc, in an environment with relatively low stakes. Basically anything you can do in the main game you can practice here, and it’ll do you good in the long run to experiment with Snake’s abilities since once Operation Snake Eater starts up properly, you’re required to put your skills to the test almost right out of the gate)

      • PugsMalone says:

        I actually didn’t have any trouble with the last Riovanes battle. It ends when you take any of the enemies down to low health, and the battle went like this for me.

        One of the assassins attacks my dual-wielding ninja. She counterattacks. The battle is over.

        I would never have gotten past the one-on-one battle without a guide, though.

        • caspiancomic says:

           I envy you: you have curried favour with the Gods of Random Number Generation. The Riovanes maps give me such trouble I literally spend the entire game preparing for them. Some people even recommend preparing for these battles before the game properly begins, by selecting a birthdate for Ramza that will give him a Zodiac sign advantageous against Wiegraf.

      • Howard Yu says:

        I’ve spent a truly ridiculous number of hours playing Final Fantasy Tactics and in the FFT community, and the Riovannes series gets more questions than pretty much everything else. There are a lot of ways to get around it, but many of them fall outside the way most people play the first time they go through (in my experience, Knight and Monk get a lot of play because they’re straightforward physical classes). Some of them fall under manipulating the AI – for example, the easiest way to get past the roof battle is to unequip everything from one of your party characters, ie the naked strategy. The assassins will go after characters with low HP, so once they’ve blown their turns killing/maiming your naked character, you can unload on one of them and end the battle.

        • caspiancomic says:

           Yeah, I’ve seen some strategies that involve cheesing the AI, and it’s pretty wild that a stunt like that is borderline mandatory in order to win. My preferred tactic for the one on one with Wiegraf (IMO, hardest boss battle in the game easily, one of the hardest of all time probably) involves a Squire Ramza using Yell and Accumulate to raise his speed and attack to superhuman levels, so that you’re getting like 8 turns for every 1 Wiegraf gets, and then trashing him in like one hit. Takes forever, but the results are dependable and reproducible

          My preferred tactic for Riovanes Roof? Run in panicking, hope to Christ everything goes well, save the game one million times after winning. And to think some people have the temerity to steal from Elmdor during this battle. I consider myself lucky if it only takes me half a dozen soft resets.

    • Electric Dragon says:

      “We don’t go to Ravenholm…” from Half-Life 2, which is the closest to survival horror that HL gets. I first played it as the demo – you start off only with the gravity gun and there are no other weapons in the level until Grigori gives you the shotgun, but fortunately somebody has left plenty of sawblades and gas canisters lying around. But to me the real star is the architecture design, the sense of place.

      • Effigy_Power says:

         It’s funny how much I dread the level on every playthrough. I know it’s coming, I know I’ll have to deal with traps and fire and tight spaces.
        It’s also funny how much I love it though, and how insanely beautiful it is to come out of that mine-tunnel and stare at the sun for a few moments, even if it’s followed by Combine snipers taking your head off.

      • blue vodka lemonade says:

         I’m a glutton for horror, so that’s one of the few HL2 levels I purposely replayed and can remember most of. It’s a nerve-wracking, shrieking, weird level. Poison headcrabs and those running horrible things that rattle the drainpipes as they climb…

    • John Teti says:

      Yes, our concept of “level” is pretty flexible.

    • A_N_K says:

      I’m not a huge fan of the game in general, but I really was blown away by the one-two punch of All Ghillied Up and One Shot, One Kill in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. For those who haven’t played it, All Ghillied Up is a stealth infiltration mission and where your objective is to reach a position so that you can snipe a Russian ultranationalist or something (honestly, who cares?) Then in One Shot, One Kill after the hit you are detected and must flee to the extraction point while carrying your wounded CO and holding off half the Soviet army. 

      What made these levels stand out was first of all, the stealth mission was actually good. It is almost always a given that when a game that was not built around stealth mechanics attempts to implement a stealth section, disaster will ensue. Avoiding the guards wasn’t much of a challenge–your CO pretty much tells you when to hide and where to move–but it is a nice break from the typical COD level.

      One Shot, One Kill can be a much more frustrating level, but the juxtiposition of a quiet level where you’re made to sneak around under trucks and pop off lone guards with your silenced sniper rifle with the insanity of having a thousand soldiers–and their dogs–rush you as you wait for that damn helicopter made for a truly memorable two levels. 

      I barely remember any other levels from that game, but I remember these two years after I last played them.

      This got away from the OP which was about sequences in games that aren’t strictly levels, but another that I recall is the long hallway of goons (who are completely optional to fight) before the final battle with the Joker in Arkham Asylum. Too bad that final Joker fight was such a letdown.

    • SlyDante says:

      If we can suggest potential future candidates for this column, I’d like to throw these into the race as well:

      – Tranquility Lane from Fallout 3
      – Black’s Fortress from Gunstar Heroes
      – Rubacava (AKA Year 2) from Grim Fandango
      – http:// deckers.die from Saints Row: The Third
      – Paris from Twisted Metal 2

      • caspiancomic says:

         I would just like to add that Paris from Twisted Metal 2 is basically amazing. The whole game is really great (according to my nostalgia-vision), but Paris is by a wide margin the best level in the game. It was great even before my friends and I discovered the whole Eiffel Tower thing, and after that, when you open up the rooftops and the stage essentially becomes a two-story arena… just damn.

    • Sarapen says:

      Yeah, I freaked the fuck out when I saw Reapers for the first time in my first Terror mission from X-Com. When my soldier ran out of Action Points I actually had him throw his rifle at the beast. Poor mofo didn’t have a chance.

      By the way, X-Com is probably the only game where I’ve actually felt guilty for making a stupid mistake that got a soldier killed.

    • GhaleonQ says:

      With due respect, any fighting game choice had better be S.N.K.  No company did fighting storytelling better, and they often did so with stage backgrounds.  I even think they pioneered the “storytelling” backdrop, scenes playing out behind the battle.  http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=424492

  8. Effigy_Power says:

    I have to admit, after seeing the video clip of the original Tomb Raider… games do not age well. Nostalgia is great, but it obscures a lot. I remember playing TR way back when on my old PS1 and thinking how great this looks. I also credit Lara Crofts bouncy “polygon-count” for accelerating my budding lesbianism back then.
    Still, looking at it now, with the black sky and the dinosaur made of segments… Baby, we’ve come a long way.

    • The_Misanthrope says:

      Heh…I will admit to making Lara do that handstand maneuver  more times than was healthy.

      I am starting to look back at much of the early-polygon days in the same way we regard the Atari 2600 games:  pretty ugly and embarassing.  Granted, Tomb Raider is on the trailing edge of that spectrum and would gradually improve over the series, but it still shows.

    • caspiancomic says:

       Yeah, the original Playstation (and anything from that era really) has aged pretty poorly, and even the best looking games from the 32 bit years looks pretty cruddy today. Which is funny, because plenty of 16-bit games look truly great, even today, and there are even 8-bit games that remain fetching after all these years (the Mega Man games come to mind). I guess it was just growing pains, and the industry trying to figure out what they could and couldn’t do with these newfangled three-dee models.

      Truly, it was gaming’s puberty.

      • Effigy_Power says:

         Gaming’s puberty. When John Romero tried to make me his bitch and the date ended in disappointment.
        Glad I am out of that phase.

  9. Swadian Knight says:

    Having played the original, I groaned all the way through the T-Rex battle in Anniversary. The old “trick the large enemy into bashing himself against a wall” is such a tired convention in gaming that I believe it merits an article of its own – god knows you can’t run out of examples.

    That being said, the Tomb Raider series has always been a hallmark of great level design – St. Francis’ Folly in TR, the amazing Venice levels in TR2, the Antarctica levels in TR3, Angkor Wat in TR4, Ireland and Russia in Chronicles, King Arthur’s Tomb and Kazakhstan in Legend, and I’ll refrain from mentioning Underworld and Angel of Darkness for obvious reasons. It’s the main reason I play these games, and the one quality I hope the next game will be able to maintain.

    • Merve says:

      The old “trick the large enemy into bashing himself against a wall” is such a tired convention in gaming that I believe it merits an article of its own – god knows you can’t run out of examples.

      So true. See, for example, every single damn boss fight in Arkham Asylum.

      • ToddG says:

        Hey, that’s not true!  You trick Croc and Joker into bashing themselves against the floor.

      • Effigy_Power says:

         It’s a bit like this idiotic maneuver they do in “wrestling”, where a guy jumps down from that corner-post-thingie flat onto an opponent aka fellow actor. If he hits him, he jumps right back up and goes to town, if he misses, he squirms around on the bouncy floor like an Italian soccer player.
        What I am saying is that people with the intent to kill you, who usually are well aware of their own body and their surroundings, only jump/run/bash into dangerous scenery when the script tells them to.

  10. “Princess Peach or Ms. Pac-Man? Until the nineties, that was the choice for women seeking positive female role models in video games”

    Um … I believe a certain six-foot-tall bounty hunter in space armor would like a word with you.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      True, mind you, she wasn’t known as a female role-model until the very end and the cynical bitch that rents a space in my head thinks that was just a last-minute goof to piss off the fan-boys.
      Regardless, you are right. Influence-wise, Samus is more woman than a yellow pizza with a bow-tie.

    • PugsMalone says:

      And she was a great positive female role model up until Other M.

      Ways that Other M could have been more misogynistic:

      Name the ship “The Kitchen”
      Have the plot being Samus fixing a sandwich for Adam
      Have Adam voiced by Andrew Dice Clay

      • Bluh, “Other M.” What a shit sandwich. I just pretend that one doesn’t exist, and I hope that Nintendo follows suit. Here’s hoping the next Metroid game finds a way to retcon “Other M” out of existence.

      • Effigy_Power says:

         Never played it. What made it so misogynistic… you know, I should just google it actually.

        • “Misogyny” is probably a little too strong, but it’s pretty sexist, especially considering that they’re taking Samus Aran—the epitome of strong, independent womanhood in videogames, IMO—and turning her into yet another trembling, psychologically damaged damsel. The only way they could have made it worse was by putting her in a bikini for the whole game. Imagine if somebody made an “Alien” movie that had Ripley constantly articulating her insecurities in voiceover, and you’ve pretty much got it.

          Plus, the gameplay sucked, which, all gender politics aside, is an unforgiveable sin.

        • Conatonc says:

          Team Ninja couldn’t come up with a practical reason for Samus to lose all her awesome suit powers this time around; unlike the other 8 games in the Metroid franchise. So they just tossed in a plotline about Samus running into a group of Space Marines who were commanded by Adam, a man who was her mentor and father figure back in her Space Marine days. Because Samus had so much respect for Adam, and because Adam was apparently a huge dumbass, she decided to follow his commands while on board the derelict space station. His commands mostly included, “Go here.” and “I now give you permission to use missiles.” and “I now give you permission to use bombs.”

          It’s really, really stupid.

        • fightergod says:

          Haven’t played it either, but definitely check out the Extra Credits episode entitled “Learning from ‘Other M’.” It’s an interesting view, mostly because they mostly avoid talking about the weird daddy issues/PTSD bit and talk about how it failed both as an attempt at fleshing out a beloved character and as a narrative in general. Good stuff.

        • Merve says:

          @twitter-516854581:disqus: Not having played the game either, I watched the Extra Credits episode (here) and the two Game Overthinker episodes about it (here and here). I’d have to say that the story would be problematic even if Samus were to be replaced by some other, new female character. But while I don’t agree with many of Game Overthinker’s overall conclusions, I think he makes an important point about projection and how it influenced how people thought about the game.

  11. “Every game had a silly level where you’d be stuck in an out-of-control mine cart, just like every amusement park has a roller coaster.”

    EVERY game?–I believe you mean just the one game (and its sequels).

    This is my first trip to the Gameological Society, and I am 100% unsurprised (but no less disappointed) that you’ve carried on the AV Club’s tradition of wild, inaccurate generalizations masquerading as intelligent commentary. Shame.

  12. You forgot Samus in the whole “positive female role models” part of your paragraph. Also, Bubsy was ALWAYS a terrible character, it’s just that the first game was good (well, good-ish in a “holy shit this is hard” kind of way).

    And then: “Before she turned up, the majority of platform games were set in
    brightly colored fantasy worlds, which were populated by hordes of wacky
    enemies and packed with meaningless stuff to collect.” I assume you mean 3D platformers. Contra? Castlevania? Metroid? I know I’m missing some.

    • Kevbo says:

      He may have left off Samus, and we could probably come up with a few more if we tried, but the fact remains that female game protagonists were rare almost to the point of nonexistence. Looking back now, Lara Croft looks like obvious pandering to male libidos that has been copied over and over by games. But at the time, I remember reading an article where the designers actually said the company had tried to make them change the main character to a man! It seems crazy now, especially since Lara was THE reason this game became a bestselling franchise. But male chauvanism was so ingrained into the game culture at the time that they couldn’t conceive of a female character even when she was blatantly designed to appeal to males.

  13. JoshJ says:

    First sentence: Metroid was 86. If you don’t know why that’s pertenent, than GTFO.

    I’ll… go read the rest now.

  14. Afghamistam says:

    There are FOUR Bubsy games?

    • The original, Bubsy 2, Bubsy 64 (for the short-lived Jaguar), and Bubsy 3D, a HORRENDOUS game that makes Superman 64 look like Game of the Year.

  15. Mike_From_Chicago says:

    The remake certainly highlights the aggravating tendency of video games to poorly ape movies (in this case by directly copying the “t-rex pulls a raptor off its back and throws it” scene in Jurassic Park) and to insert pointless and boring quicktime events (a tactic I enjoyed in RE4 but which has brought diminishing returns ever since). 

    With that said, the video above shows a player basically griefing the original t-rex by hopping around in circles and auto-aiming.  Like most people, I dedicated countless hours as a teenager to boss battles that some players (according to YouTube) can finish in a few seconds.  My point being, while the effect of the battle is diminished by a lame cutscene, the mechanics of it haven’t really changed: You can hop around and blast the t-rex or let the game assist you in hopping around and blasting the t-rex.  Now that I have a job, I appreciate not repeating the same boss battle over and over again. 

    Anyway, what the fuck was that new footage?  I understand doing different things with a character, but wimping Lara Croft down and sticking her into a horror game seems like a folly of Resident Evil 5 proportions.

    • The_Misanthrope says:

       Well, I think developers forget that QTEs were never meant as core gameplay mechanic, but rather as a way to spice up cinematics (as in RE4) or long boss battles (as in God of War).  Once you make QTEs a central part of gameplay, you end up with something akin to the Dragon’s Lair original arcade game:  the player merely reacting to prompts that allow the “movie” to continue playing.

      • caspiancomic says:

         Yeah, QTEs felt somehow tolerable in those two games because they were so lightly and purposefully sprinkled throughout, just to keep you from getting doughy and complacent, even during cutscenes. These days QTEs render a lot of games into Dance Dance Revolution on Very Very Very Very Easy.

  16. Rickard says:

    Nice. The T. Rex encounter in TR2 (triggered if you reach the bottom of the canyon in the first level) is one of the most frightening game experiences I’ve ever had.

    • K Brown says:

      No doubt.  I played TR2 first so I wasn’t even expecting a T.Rex and when it came running and roaring out of that dark cave I didn’t stand a chance!  Weren’t there two of them as well?  It took me forever to figure out how to get down into that canyon without falling to my death which then amped up the feeling of being trapped down there with both T. Rexes.  That was a real adrenaline rush that didn’t need to be artificially created like they did in Anniversary.

  17. TaumpyTearrs says:

    I was playing Tomb Raider with my friend and my little brother watching when the T-Rex popped up and we all yelled and went crazy. The sheer panic, running around unloading like a hundred bullets into his ass was great.

    You definitely hit on an iconic gaming memory, and you did a good job describing what made it work. The “reimagining” sounds awful, like Lara fell into a God of War game.

    • Effigy_Power says:

       Pretty much. God of War did to action games what Matrix and 300 did to action movies.
      Quicktime events are the slow-mo/turn-around/speed-up moments respectively.

  18. 3FistedHumdinger says:

    The T-Rex battle always took place during the day, at least on its native PC iteration.  I would know, my rig was fucking BEASTLY back in those days.

  19. Conatonc says:

    I had a similar experience with the original Tomb Raider. After playing and loving TR2 on my brother’s Playstation, I picked up the original for $20 for my Saturn. At the time, I was working the after hours check-in in my college dorms, and the dorms I lived in were build back in the 30’s. On the nights I worked my own building I brought my little 13″ tv and Saturn up to the big, creepy lobby and played games all night.

    Needless to say, one night around 2am I was playing and ran into the T-Rex. Holy hell was I not expecting that and it scared the shit out of me. One of my scariest gaming experiences ever.


    I remember playing Tomb Raider 2 as a kid and trying to make the camera zoom onto her butt 

    • slammin_sammy_sneed says:

       Yeah right fag you were probably stroking your joystick while watching Home Improvement.  More Power Ar Ar Ar

  21. The whole point of the new game is the story of her transformation from a normal young girl to a badass murder machine. God forbid they try to give a dated caricature from the 90’s some depth.

  22. hongbiu says: