Hello fellow videogame and volcano friends. I wanted to share this with you sooner, but I have been super busy and recovering from passing my PhD viva, doing my corrections and teaching duties…I also have a load of new games.
Anyway, The Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Absolutely loved this game. In part due to loving the trilogy but also the ethical questions raised in being a coloniser and just taking stuff without understanding it (although Lara did turn it around in the end). Also because of the geohazards presented. Not only was there volcanic eruptions (and related hazards) but also tsunamis and earthquakes.
Like Spyro, Lego, BoW and others, areas of the game were revisited, and walked through the feasibility of the volcanism presented using the following criteria out of 10, 1 being unrealistic and 10 being realistic:
- Overall plausibility
Revisiting this game was tricky in places, as there are certain places you cannot return to because they have either been destroyed or I forgot where they were. So, I did as many as possible post-main storyline, where places were almost free of people/hungry animals wanting to kill Lara, but as this is a Tomb Raider game, the environment still had it out for her. For others, such as the tsunami/earthquake/volcanic eruption/lahar sequences, I did new game plus. So took a little longer than I would have hoped.
Before I go raiding however, I would like to introduce to you a feature I want seen in all future games: the photography mode.
Just by pausing the game, you can choose the photography mode option in the menu and you are given many options to get the perfect screenshot. Not only is there a field of view and depth perception options, there is saturation, contrast, brightness and filter options. I can hide these options with “Y” and then because these images are saved in game, I just used the Xbox’s screenshot function to get the best images. More like this please!
Results of my volcano raiding adventures: logical with a dash of “not possible”.
Because I love maps, almost the first thing I do when I start a new game, is look at the in-game map. When I saw this for a first time, my reaction was “ooohhh yes, when is the eruption?!” Turns out I had to wait a while.
During the prologue portion of the game, Lara and her friend Jonah are exploring in Mexico. The geohazards journey begins when Lara comes across a legend depicting a sequence of “cataclysms” in the form of a tsunami, storm, earthquake and a volcanic eruption.
I like this, as I have an interest in an area of research called “geomythology”. I touched upon in my From Dust review. After existing the tomb and getting into a scuffle with the main antagonist, the first geohazard occurs.
I cannot speak from experience, but tsunamis are a terrifying hazard. I think this sequence captures it well. There plenty of opportunities to kill Lara if not timing jumps right or you bump her into something you were not supposed to.
It is possible to survive them, but chances are not very high, mainly due to the force of the water and the many obstacles in the way. I talk more about them in my From Dust review.
Next part of the game, Lara and Jonah travel to Peru, but crash land in the jungle due to a storm that “came out of nowhere”. That was the second foreseen hazard. I shall skip onto a sidequest tomb I explored, I found the geology quite interesting. In this tomb, it was beneath(?) an old location where oil was extracted.
Oh and it also had wolves in it. It reminds me of the Darvaza Gas Crater in Turkmenistan. Which is related to methane gas deliberately set on fire since 1971 and is still ongoing. Not oil, but it just reminded me of it. This is certainly beyond my expertise, maybe oil does behave like this? Another location, part of the main quest, has pools which maybe oil or not, which are constantly on fire.
Another sidequest tomb had natural pockets of sulphur dioxide (as Lara remarks “uhh it smells like rotten eggs”), which can be set on fire and cause some explosions. Whilst I question how people managed to construct something to concentrate the gas, it is entirely realistic to have pockets of natural gas, as societies extract them for energy.
Next hazard was the earthquakes, first when I reach a main quest tomb:
I have to hand it to Lara, she somehow knew that it was a foreshock? There were 2 foreshocks, before the larger, final earthquake happened within this sequence:
I think my confusion here is the terminology used, as it conflicts with what the earthquakes were described as in the next area of San Juan’s Mission. In this area, right in the shadow of a volcano , people describe the earthquakes as volcanic tremors. Tectonic earthquakes and volcanic earthquakes are different.
They mainly differ because of their origins: whilst tectonic earthquakes are the result of tensions within the plate tectonics and fault lines, volcanic earthquakes are related to magma movement, the fractures they cause but also strong volcanic explosions. Of course, it can be hard to distinguish between the two without the proper instruments, the perceptions and life experiences people have had.
Approaching near the end of the game and emerging from a tomb, the volcano just is…erupting. With no other earthquakes or signs that its activity was increasing. It was confusing. From the following screenshots, you can see it is a kind of eruption that would not go unnoticed. Or it is maybe because Lara was underground in between the earthquakes and the eruption taking place. I do not know, I feel like something was missing in letting me know that a full on eruption was happening.
Critiquing the eruption itself, there are some good elements and some missing opportunities. Good thing: the eruptive column. It dominates the sky, it does appear to drift in the direction of behind the volcano, making that part of the sky dark. The lava fountaining is also realistic, but I do wonder if certain hazard processes are missing here. The shape of the volcano is similar to Mt. Mayon in the Philippines. This video has shows the features I think are missing. Namely a little bit more lava spatter but also pyroclastic density currents (PDCs). But, perhaps they could have occurred behind the volcano where we cannot see? PDCs can travel down a defined river valley path but also blanket the flanks of volcanoes.
One thing I neither fully agree with or disagree with is the depiction of ashfall. What is different compared to games reviewed so far (apart from Pokémon Emerald), is that ash actively represented. What I do question is all the little specks of embers. Volcanic ash is not as incandescent as what is shown here. On the same note, Lara and all others in the area, should have been wearing eye and breathing protection. Volcanic ash are tiny particles of rock and if inhaled, can cause serious respiratory problems and an irritant to your eyes. Nonetheless, it is the most realistic in what has been reviewed to date.
After fighting a bunch of people and losing the artefact to the antagonist of the game, something unexpected happened. Interestingly, this earthquake (and there was a distant sound of an explosion) happened first:
And then this:
A lahar! Lahars are volcanic mudflows: slurry mixtures of volcanic material, debris and water (or ice). Generally was surprised that this was put into the game but the rest of the sequence…I had questions. First is that this begins in a street. Has this place been built on an old river channel? If so, that is serious neglect of land-use planning. If not…I do not know, volcanologists should have mapped this area and produced a hazard map. The lahar does seem like the right consistency, then again, lahars have different categories depending on the ratio of water and sediment content. You may also see a volcanic bomb just before the camera pans around. I cannot tell what the distance from the volcano to Lara’s position is, but generally speaking, volcanic bombs do not travel beyond 5km from a volcanic centre – mainly because they are too heavy to travel any further.
Second issue I had are the huge gaps that appear in the ground? I honestly cannot explain if and how it is connected to the volcanic eruption and the lahar. Maybe loads of sinkholes just happened coincidentally?
Actually, this was the biggest issue I had with the lahar sequence. I cannot understand it at all.
Last issue was how the sequence ended. There just happened to be a coastal area nearby, some debris flowed out with the lahar and then it just…ends? It was quite a substantial lahar, I think it would carry on pouring into the coastal area for a lot longer than it did.
That was the last of hazards in the main game. But, there are two DLC (downloadable content) called “The Forge” and “The Grand Caiman”, where volcanism returns. The Forge started it off when you first arrive in an area where you fight off some wolves:
After a bit of navigating the environment, Lara reaches the main puzzle area:
Exploding sulphur dioxide pockets also feature, which are used to turn the central tower. I am intrigued how a wood, metal and brick could endure the lava and extreme heat for so long, however the base of the tower seems to be constructed into the local rock. I am also uncertain how far below ground we are, but is it possible to reach a cave system that has a lava lake area? I do not think we have real life examples to help us with that answer.
The second DLC was more interesting. We have a volcano in eruption, but the ashfall is more realistic. Moreover, Lara reacts to the ash but putting her hand over her mouth and coughing. In fact, it causes damage to her.
She is seriously under prepared in exploring in these areas.
However, further into the DLC quest tomb we hit familiar territory:
And with that, let us have the verdict on The Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s representation of volcanism (and other hazards).
- 9 – It is unmistakably a beautiful game in an environment made to be as believable as possible. Texture on the lava appears accurate with the darkened patches related to cooling.
- 8 – If the invisible boundaries are not there, then falling into the lava is possible. The tsunami and lahar sequences put you right into the action, so highly accessible on purpose. The earthquakes and volcanic eruption are mainly for driving the story forward and are background imagery.
- 6 – This was hard to determine, but as per usual in videogames, it appears too runny.
- 9 – If you know your Tomb Raider games, then the death sequences are sometimes too graphic. In all sequences apart from the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions can you be killed by the hazards. However, and I apologise that I did not record a clip to show, if you fall in lava, you simply just disappear. Lahar was a bit more realistic by sinking into it.
- Overall plausibility
- 8 – The game’s environment was made to be believable, so the hazards tried to be too. Whilst I have some issues with the earthquake and lahar sequences, overall, it does a pretty good job in my opinion.
There you have it, very long overdue. I hope it was enjoyable! I will not be reviewing for a while now, but hopefully will be back reviewing next year. There are plenty of volcano-videogame reviews if you have not already seen them:
- Spyro Trilogy
- Lego Marvel Superheroes 2 and Lego DC Supervillains
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
- Pokémon Silver
- From Dust
- Pokémon Emerald
- Monster Hunter: Generations
Happy gaming 🙂