The modern video game is plagued and homogenised by roughly five verbs. We generally only engage in a bare handful of things. We shoot. We jump. We punch. On rare occasions, we think.
And we climb.
In real life. I climb. The folks that tolerate my dribblings on social networks can testify to this fact. Roughly two years ago I walked into a local gym and decided I wanted to climb things. I’ve always wanted to climb things because it’s one of the most natural things to do in the world. We run. We jump.
Now here comes the boasty part. Over the past two years I’ve become increasingly obsessed with climbing: I train to climb, I eat to climb, I sort of just live to climb. I’ve gotten pretty good (read: average) and that gives me the goddamn right to be an old condescending bastard when it comes to how characters climb in video games.
Today, I am exercising that right.
Lara Croft, Nathan Drake, Ezio. Your climbing technique sucks in various different ways, to varying different degrees. You have little to no footwork. No effenciency of movement. You have no idea how to shift your weight. You have no idea of how to climb statically and you ‘thug’ your way through every single move on the wall.
In this article I am going to critically analyse the techniques used by video gaming’s most famous climbers. I am going to provide advice. If they listen, and implement said advice, I expect they will be able to climb at a far higher level — to climb harder, for longer. Listen to me you climbing nincompoops, this is for your own good!
Ezio Auditore da Firenze
Style: Dynamic, thuggy, brutal Weaknesses: Poor finger strength, clumsy footwork, can’t climb statically
Let’s start with Ezio Auditore da Firenze. In a video game world where terrible climbing technique is commonplace, Ezio is probably the best of a bad bunch. He climbs with a unique flashy style. He has some level of balance. Much like celebrated free solo climber Alex Honnold, he has the ability to push past fear and ascend to great heights without a rope. He’s also crazy enough to jump from these high heights into a small bale of hay. He is focused, he is accurate in his movements and, compared to other video game climbers, he has some level of efficiency.
Those are Ezio’s strengths. Let’s take a look at his weaknesses. There are many.
First: finger strength. Ezio, as a fit young man with hours of extensive climbing experience, has good climbing endurance. He can pull on average sized holds for a very long time and this has allowed him to make some seriously impressive first ascents — but Ezio’s raw finger strength? It’s brutally weak. Simply put, Ezio Auditore da Firenze lacks the finger strength to pull on small holds and this is holding his climbing back massively.
At the moment Ezio can only pull on holds that allow him to use two full finger pads. There is no way he could boulder at even a V4 level with this kind of finger strength. In order to rectify this I recommend a round of intense hangboard training.
Ezio: get your shit together.
Another major Ezio weakness is his refusal to climb statically at any time. Climbing statically is all about efficiency, about moving from hold to hold, using as little energy as possible in an attempt to conserve energy. The opposite of climbing statically is moving dynamically — jumping off holds in an attempt to reach another, usually far away hold, quickly.
True climbing efficiency requires a combination of both static and dynamic movements. Different situations require different types of climbing. Ezio, however, couldn’t climb statically if his life depended on it — he simply throws for every bloody hold even when he doesn’t need to! Relax bro, save your energy! Throw in a drop knee every once in a while!
I recommend some serious focus on fundamentals. ‘Shoulder tap’ training may be the best route to success for Ezio. Each time you reach for a hold, tap it. Then tap your shoulder before reaching for the hold to move forward. This will force you to position your body correctly and climb statically instead of throwing dynamically on every single move like a muscle bound idiot.
Ezio: you’re welcome.
Style: Non-existent Weaknesses: Poor grasp of the basics — keep your bloody arms straight!
In many sports women are treated as second class citizens, but climbing is a little like Tennis. Females have the potential to earn just as much as the men and top level females can compete at almost the same level as top males. Just look at Sasha Digulian, who just became the first US female to climb at the 9a grade when very few top male climbers can climb at 9b. By far the most famous young climber is a girl — the incredible Ashima Shiraishi. As Sasha herself once stated, “venga las chicas!”
Yet women usually have to climb differently from men. Physically, their bodies tend to suit a different style of climbing — they have a slightly different centre of gravity, their hands tend to be smaller, which means they’re better suited to difficult climbs that involve pulling on small, crimpy holds. Female climbers also tend to be lighter, and carry less muscle meaning that big powerful moves aren’t always achievable.
But in the latest reboot of Tomb Raider, the young Lara Croft can’t even climb a ladder correctly.
One of the first things you should learn when climbing is to keep your arms straight when possible. This encourages efficient movement and forces climbers to use their legs whenever possible. And this is especially applicable when climbing a bloody ladder like the one shown in the above video. Your leg muscles are much bigger and far more powerful than the muscles in your arms and back — use them!
And there are other issues — Lara Croft can’t lock off properly. She can’t pull in with one arm and reach with the other gracefully. That’s a massive weakness. Not only does Lara refuse to keep her arms straight when she isn’t pulling — major rookie error — she doesn’t pull up into a locked position properly when she is trying to move upwards. Come on Lara — get it together!
This is either a technique issue or a strength issue. I prescribe a serious campus board workout in order to build lock off strength.
Hop to it Lara!
Style: Campus junkie Weaknesses: Footwork Nathan! You have legs! Use them!
Nathan Drake is a thug. He is a thug who refuses to use footwork in any meaningful way and simply powers his way through difficult moves with zero climbing technique. He is the worst.
Thug. In climbing terms a thug is a climber who relies on brute strength over technique at every opportunity. These creatures can be found in every climbing gym across the globe — in the back, doing muscle ups on a chin-up bar, doing very little actual climbing, challenging everyone to campus competitions. In short: playing to their strengths constantly and learning nothing about the art of climbing.
Campusing. It’s a type of training where you climb without using your feet. Climbers often use campus training to improve their upper body strength — you may remember my recommendation that Lara Croft should try out some campus training to build up lock-off strength. Well, Nathan Drake is the polar opposite of Lara. He is already strong enough. Drake needs to start using his head. He needs to increase his climbing IQ and use his bloody feet once in a while.
Let’s compare the following two examples.
First we have arguably the greatest sports climber of our time, Chris Sharma, during his first ascent of Dreamcatcher (skip ahead to 3 minutes 24 seconds)…
And then we have arguably the greatest video game climber of our time, Nathan Drake, during his first ascent of some random broken down building in Uncharted 2 (skip ahead to 18 seconds).
The moves both climbers are making in these two examples are very similar but while Sharma intelligently uses heel hooks in order to make his traversal more efficient — saving his strength for the more difficult moves at the end of the climb — Drake just bloody thugs his way through, refusing to use his feet at any point.
Nathan Drake: I realise you are inside a video game and, therefore, do not have to worry about forearm strength, or getting pumped halfway through a difficult route, but have mercy! Learn some technique for goodness sake. You may not have to deal with lactic acid, but we do!
I recommend a course of traversal training. Go to your local climbing gym, find a flat wall or a slab and attempt to climb across it using only one hand. This will force you to think about foot placement. It will force you to think about how you shift your weight across the wall. Drake: stop relying on brute strength during your climbs. One day it will fail you and you will be… um, forced to respawn at an earlier checkpoint or something.
Oh, whatever. Do what you want you brutal thug. But know this. Nathan Drake: you’re an enemy of freedom. You’re a bad man and you should feel bad.