Once again we dip into the world of The Null, and it seems like we’ll get to the heart of the story which both excited me, and worried me. Excited because I’d really love to know what’s going on. Worried because I’m not sure any explanation can really live up to what’s been going on so far.
TR3 begins in the real world on a train, some time after the events of TR2. Our protagonist is still drawn to the Null, but doesn’t seem to have had much contact with it since TR2. This portion acts as a tutorial, teaching (or reminding) us how to influence the world in front of us. This is still (roughly – more on that later) the same interface used previously, that does its best to match in game actions to real world actions (for example, turning a key to open a lock, means you swirl your finger around the key on screen).
The train goes through a tunnel, and in the flickering darkness it seems a figure appears opposite, then is gone, but a box is left in front of us. We’re led to look at the box through the lenses that show us some of the Null world, and we’re transported to Grey Holm, a castle/mansion on a small island ‘somewhere’.
It’s here that most of the rest of the action takes place. Expanding on the way the world worked in TR2, you can move from one point of interest in a room to another, or even into the next room. Instead of the rooms being shrouded in darkness, apart from those points of interest, the entire place now has ‘room appropriate’ lighting.
This time, instead of following the lead of the mysterious “AS” from TR and TR2, you were apparently brought here by “The Craftsman”, whom you barely glimpse. He believes that you are connected to the Null, and can help him unlock its secrets. But just to make sure, he sets a series of tests; puzzles to you and I.
Once again we have a world that, on first inspection, looks normal. However, the Null allows things to happen that clearly couldn’t if the place were normal. You learn early on to slide into tiny holes that lead to new worlds inside other objects. You learn to teleport to other buildings on the grounds. Things morph and change when they shouldn’t be able to. Objects exist that simply take more space than they should.
So, this is normal The Room stuff.
There are also four separate endings. You get the first one simply by working your way through the puzzles. As you do this, however, you may find objects that you can play with, but which don’t seem to fit into the main flow of puzzles. If you manage to solve these, then you can gain new items to find the alternate endings.
An expanded, perfect sequel, right?
Except … something didn’t quite click for me. Oh, don’t get me wrong: I really enjoyed the game, and even played through a second time after I worked out the endings. But as a sequel to TR and TR2 it’s lacking … something.
I’ve been putting off writing this while trying to work out what didn’t work for me, and I’m afraid I don’t have a solid answer.
I guess one thing I should mention before diving deeper into this perhaps bottomless rabbit-hole is the controls. My first play-through caused me some anguish as the controls were sloppy compared to the first two games. Things felt clunky and laggy. The worst problem was with circular motions. When I was trying to use a dial, or turn a key, it would sometimes jitter back and forth as if not sure where my finger was; or it would spin in completely the opposite direction.
Now, I don’t know if they released an update to fix this, or if I worked out how to work the controls, but I had far less issues on my second play through.
It may be that I had unrealistic expectations for TR3. The atmosphere wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. It’s lost some of that creepy, otherworldly edge, and most of the game seems quite mundane compared to the feelings evoked in the latter parts of TR and much of TR2. I suppose I was hoping for more of that, or for it to be ramped up somehow. Though if you asked me how they’d do that, I’d be at a bit of a loss.
I’m not sure that ‘grounding’ the game in a series of connected rooms, in a mostly logically laid out mansion, helped. In TR2, most of the places were shrouded in shadow, leaving only small bits highlighted. The darkness allowed for hints of something being just out of sight, and gave the feeling that perhaps you weren’t in a proper room, but just bits of one. That helped the tension and atmosphere a great deal. Now, walking around a mansion, no matter how fantastical it is, seems far more prosaic.
I’m also wondering if Fireproof Games made the right decision in basing TR3 in such a properly connected set of rooms. It’s moving closer to what I’d call a ‘traditional’ adventure game. While I enjoy those, that’s not really what TR has been about.
I’m also beginning to suspect that one of the issues with these kinds of traditional adventure games is the Doorway Effect. The puzzles are spread too wide, over too much area, and it becomes less about solving puzzles, and more about remembering just where you saw that heart shaped lock.
The four endings also made something feel ‘off’ to me and here I perhaps have the clearest idea of the issues. For many games, alternate endings work well. They give you more playtime, with often a different way of playing, to get the alternate ending. These endings can be as simple as a different tone to the previous ones, or they can change the story completely.
Here, each ending changes the story, and I don’t think it works for TR as a series. If all four endings just tied up the story neatly, then I wouldn’t have an issue. But at least three of the endings have clear possibilities for sequels. If they were able to tie those endings back into one sequel then I’d be happy (or if they gave us three sequels!). However the implied sequel those three endings is so far apart that it breaks the flow of the story. Instead of leaving tendrils of one possible story for you to mull over, you have several conflicting possibilities, which is far less satisfying to me.
So, I guess I can sum up by saying that I enjoyed TR3 a lot, but it fell short of what I took from TR and TR2. The more grounded setting removed some of the uncertainty and feeling of ‘otherness’ that the first two gave us. The move towards a more traditional adventure game hurts TR3, possibly due to The Doorway Effect. The multiple endings don’t really work for a story like this.
I’d still recommend it though!