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This Is What Happens When I Don’t Play A Game For A While

Last night I decided to finish Rise of the Tomb Raider on PC. I’m not really sure why: maybe because we’d been discussing finally adding it to our list of the best Xbox One games? Mostly because it was sitting in my Steam library and I was bored and remembered I was near the end. I’d already finished the game on Xbox One, but I figured what the hell. Let’s finish it again.

Lara had only to make it past a couple of puzzles in the lost city of Kitezh before she’d have to fight the final boss fight and the credits would roll. Almost immediately after I started, I was thrown into an Uncharted-style “Oh shit, everything’s exploding, better run forward and jump!” sequence.

I ran forward. I jumped. The bridge beneath and ahead of me collapsed in a perfectly scripted fashion. I reached the end of the bridge, where Lara was supposed to just barely make the leap to safety, and… died.

Hmm. That seemed weird. The jump seemed too far. What was going on? I tried again. I fell again.

I’d beaten this section already, but that was back in November. I hadn’t played the PC version in a couple of months. I didn’t get it. Why was the jump so far?

I tried standing still on the last column; maybe I was supposed to make like Aragorn and Frodo and “ride” the last column until it got closer to the wall? The game did make a “you shall not pass” joke...

Nope. Okay, I thought, what if I aimed for the ledges below the big top ledge? Maybe she was supposed to gab those and then climb up?

No dice. I tried again, and again, and again. (I’ve watched the video I captured of this. It’s so depressing I’m not even posting it.) I started to despair. The bombastic music became goofy and ridiculous; Lara’s grunts and cries of effort repeated and repeated until they lost all urgency. I took off my headphones.

There was no way to go back into the level behind me; my save was stuck right at this sequence. I had no idea what I was doing wrong. I tried to google “Rise of the Tomb Raider bridge jumping lost city” but had no luck. Why would I? This wasn’t some known puzzle. This was a throwaway cinematic sequence that most players are supposed to pass without thinking twice.

Again, again, again. My god, I thought. What is wrong? Is this going to be another Chase at the End of Assassin’s Creed III situation? I beat this once already! This should not be happening!

After ten minutes that felt more like two hours, I remembered. Lara has a grappling hook! You use it on hanging metal braces to swing across some wide gaps. I think it maybe also works on some ledges, right?

I tried it. It worked.

This is not the first time this kind of thing has happened to me. I suspect it has happened to some of you, too. I’ll abandon a game partway through, go play a bunch of other things. When I come back to it weeks or months later, some essential aspect of the carefully scaffolded rules and systems has vanished from my mind.

I remember how to do most everything, but a couple of moves didn’t survive the break. Sometimes one of those things winds up being the lynchpin in a puzzle or challenge I happen to have to immediately solve. If I’d come upon the sequence in the middle of a sustained playthrough, it probably wouldn’t have been a problem. But after a break, I’m lost.

It’s a little like returning to school after summer break only to find that you’ve forgotten which numbers go on which side of the long division sign. It’s not the game’s fault or anything, just a reminder that our brains can only hold so much information. When you remove yourself from a game’s context for long enough, some of that information evaporates.

Video games are fantastic teaching devices, but they’re only as good as the brain they’re teaching. A guy can only retain so many grappling hook techniques. Sorry again, Lara.

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