Afterthoughts: Tomb Raider


Alright so obviously I’m a little behind the curve on this review, but I’m a fan of the “comprehensive” format (heretofore referred to as “Afterthoughts”) in which we look back at a release with a seasoned eye, after all of the fanfare and death-threats are through being volleyed across the message boards.

So: Tomb Raider (the reboot).

I’ll start by saying Taikos and I were both extremely excited about the prospect of this reboot when it was first announced in GI’s feature article. Neither of us had been fans of the Tomb Raider series in the past, but both are suckers for a poignant story with lifelike characters. And that is exactly what the preview promised.

We were dazzled by descriptions of a vulnerable Lara Croft (down, boy) attempting escape from perilous situations with a psychological bent. I was intrigued by examples involving coaxing strangers promising to help then suddenly turning homicidal, and the discernment players would need to exercise to distinguish friend from foe.

We even relished the new, more modest anatomy of the heroine (sorry, dudebros) and respectable attire that said “adventurer” without also screaming “freak in the sheets.”

But I couldn’t help but feel that the final package didn’t quite deliver the implied goods.

Now don’t get me wrong, when the credits rolled I was indeed impressed. But I felt similarly to the way I feel when movie credits roll and I realize that all the best parts had been revealed in the trailer.

Crystal Dynamics put its best foot forward with this reboot, and produced a mostly successful attempt at reinventing the heroine they had become well-acquainted with over the course of her PS2 run. But it feels like their first frightened steps onto the tightrope quickly devolved into the usual action-packed zipline-slide.

I don’t mean this in reference to the gameplay’s progression, however. Throughout the game Lara shifted back and forth between frightened-but-determined everywoman, and gun-slinging, head-shooting murderess.

Perhaps their intent was to indicate the development into her later manifestation as a dauntless ass-kicker, but it shines through too blazingly to be believable. And I think this is something that most players sensed.

I recall several reviews that make mention of her first slaying, and the subsequent tearful breakdown that it causes. This was a great, humanizing moment for Lara, and truly made you feel that she was just a young girl trying to survive, and coping with the consequences of what that might mean.

But the momentum of her humanization is ruined when the game then prompts you to get up and pop arrows through the eye sockets of the remaining castaway assailants. Lara doesn’t even break a sweat.

Sure it would be annoying to have her fumble through the remaining fight, but isn’t that the point? Things that are debilitating don’t simply become completely doable by necessity of needing doing. It’s like that part of Sleeping Dogs where Wei Shen is captured and tortured near to the point of death, and for a moment struggles to repel his assailants – only to stumble into a room with MORE assailants whom he is magically capable of kick-flipping into soda machines once more (sorry, involved analogy.)

I would have been perfectly content with Lara being too distraught to fire her bow once you attempted to draw the string back – you would have been forced to escape the area under gunfire and shouting, which might’ve been much more tense and poignant.

This is the issue I took with her character overall. She seemed to live on both sides of the badass fence throughout the entirety of the game. The writers continuously develop her dialogue to sound like that of a frightened victim, and the animators designed her movements to be cautious and apprehensive – but she is then thrust into impossible situations and beats the odds down like Lady King Kong wailing on a T-Rex.

In a twist of hilarious irony, she reminds me a lot of Nathan Drake, even though many said that his game was copy-pasted off of hers. A resourceful loner caught in the middle of a situation much larger than they realized, forced to kill their way through hordes of attackers, surviving literal impossibly close calls, only to ultimately face some sort of supernatural final antagonist and somehow win out through luck and brash perseverance.

One could argue that Drake came up in harsh environs and learned his skills by trial and error and through the teachings of men with checkered pasts, and that Lara received training from her mentor Roth that honed the adventurous edge she inherited from her explorer father. But a human rabbit’s-foot that does not make.

I was intrigued when I first read that Lara would fall onto a spike at the beginning of the game and that would kick off the realistic consequences of the perilous situations she would find herself in. But she completely forgets about the wound until later when she crashes through a forest at 80mph riding a parachute and lands hard enough to flamingo both her kneecaps.

She has her moments of pain, fear, vulnerability, and humanity, but the rest of the time she’s murdering roomfuls of hardened mountain men with machine guns she modified out of washers and animal bone…

I loved the animations, the scenery, the intrigue of the cursed island. I loved the development of the characters through logs, conversation, and actions. I especially loved the idea of giant, ancient samurai wandering an island wrecking dudes with huge katanas (inexplicable as it remained.)

But so much of my appreciation was detracted by the implausibility of the character we spend the most time with. Perhaps I’ve picked too many nits on this one. To rate the game I would probably give it a 7, for what that’s worth. But I am too jaded by action titles to let one slip by with a thin-but-lifelike mask of humanity and significance, and not remark on its uncanny appearance.

I’m sorry, Square Enix. I know you’ve been trying. Deus Ex and Arkham were rad! No hard feelings. Just don’t Bethesda us please. I can’t take another producer who only gives a %&$# about stuff *they* developed.

On that note I’m SUPER looking forward to The Last of Us. Shame on me if I make the same mistake twice, getting hyped about depth and poignancy in previews, but to be fair I didn’t see any videos for TR before playing. The demos of TLoU look *bomb*.

Stay classy, gamers.



2 responses to “Afterthoughts: Tomb Raider

  1. Pingback: Unearthed: 15th May 2013 « The Archaeology of Tomb Raider·

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