Ah, the 90s; the Era of laser tag, grunge music, dail-up internet connections, Playstation the first, and Nintendo 64. 3D gaming was budding for the first time, and amongst the most talked about games on the Playstation was Final Fantasy 7, Mario 64, and Tomb Raider.
I always had mixed feelings about Tomb Raider. On one hand, a lot of people liked it, and it was drawing attention to the games I loved from the friends and family I loved more. On the other hand, that was usually due to the fact that it’s main protagonist, Lara Croft, had two huge guns that were only outweighed by her chest. In fact, the only time I saw the old-school game being played was by two guys I know. I won’t name them, only because most of the comments they made were that of young men with nothing better to do then ogle Lara Crofts figure and make jokes about it. You know, the kind of jokes that get most boys in trouble at school. The vulgar kind of comments that decorate dumpsters and bathroom stalls that have been vandalized. And yes; I do mean sex jokes. Lara Croft was a popular game that always seemed to be popular for all the wrong reasons.
I have nothing against showing off a beautiful woman’s body on television; be it game, movie, TV show, or porn flick. And the truth is, video games don’t get as much respect as most other mediums (with the possible exception of porn flicks). Too many people thinkthey are made by immature people, for immature people. They got even less respect back in Lara Croft’s hay-day, and the fact that she usually was portrayed primarily as a sex symbol made it hard for the game industry to break away from the classic “games are just for kids” stereotype that shackles them.
I’ll get off my soap box now before this becomes a nasty rant by saying this; apparently, the designers at Square Enix must have felt the same way, because since those days she had a major breast reduction, and they bend over backwards to prove how mature their game is. The game I am about to review is their latest game in the franchise. And let me tell you; it’s not kids stuff.
That is not even a cutscene, by the way.
This is live gameplay footage .
The main plot of the game’s story is that you are, of course, young archaeology graduate Lara Croft, who is on an expedition to find the lost tomb of Himiko; Legendary Japanese Warrior Queen and distant ancestor of her best friend Sam. To make a long story short, Sam gets captured by crazy cultists, no one can leave the island because of magical storms, and Lara Croft needs to us all of her skills and trust her instincts to unravel the mystery behind Queen Himiko, and the cultist that worship her.
Before we begin, allow me to bring any new readers up to speed by reiterating on the Seven Word Synopsis (7WS for short). In a nutshell, its a seven wood description of the game that is organized as follows; THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE SUMMARY. Once that’s divulged, the rest of the review explains what that means.
Okay; now that you are all in the know, lets get to the review. (*clears throat*), the Tomb Raider reboot by Sqaure Enix is a:
ADULT NARRATIVE RENTAL.
That’s the 7WS, here’s the review…
There is no denying why a game like this was made; the Tomb Raider franchise needed to break into the next generation. I remember seeing previews of this exact game at least half a decade ago, and apparently they want to take it back to the beginning. Thus the game is as much a prequel to the series as a whole as it is an origin story for the video game icon that is Lara Croft. It’s easy to see its roots when you start getting into the meat of the game itself. Though I speak as an experienced gamer who played the first Playstation console; the experience for newer players may vary. Nonetheless, those of you who knew Lara Croft back when she was your schoolmate’s favorite sex joke will see the past influence of the franchise with somewhat satisfying results. It’s almost like seeing a movie being made that has familiar elements of your favorite comic book.
You have everything that made the Tomb Raider series a game and not just a pin-up display; everything from secret tombs with mind bending puzzles to the classic slaying of wolves. Wolf slaying has become akin to Tomb Raider the same way jumping on turtles and mushrooms have become akin to Mario games and/or shooting zombies have become to pretty much any game where you use firearms. It’s a piece of the franchise, and something fans expect to be able to do in the game. Much the same, slaying wolves feels satisfying and surprising unlike animal cruelty, only because the wolves are obvious and believable antagonists. Like hunting dogs, they attack Lara when she’s caught in a bear trap. Immobile and helpless,you get a nice scene where you get to shoot them with a bow and arrow. The scene is complete with the realistic howling of wolves, the rustling of trees before the strike, the well timed thunder and lightning that makes the fangs shine on the expertly crafted and animated wolf models, and the chance to line up a shot with your bow and arrow while watching an amazing wolf pounce in in Matrix-movie-style slow motion (Or Max Payne style, for those who know your video games). This was a good way to make the game franchise’s staple mechanic stand out. You can’t even give the wolves the “They’re just hunting to survive” excuse either; they attack one of the main characters and steal his backpack with medical supplies, and turn out to be specially bred to be aggressive by the bad guys. More on them later.
If those of you who are wolf lovers like me get brushed the wrong way, keep in mind that one of the story’s main motifs is that of survival. And one of the main conflicts of the story is what one must do to survive. Don’t think of these creatures as wild wolves. Think of them as what they are supposed to be; vicious attack dogs that have been let loose on a hostile island, and a natural hazard with fangs. They are meant to be a recognizable threat to Lara and nothing more. I can say with good confidence that none of the guys and/or women who made this support the pouching of wolves. They just expect someone who is attacked by wolves to do what is natural. The only time Lara goes after the wolves is to recover a bag that a wolf dragged away (most likely by orders of its master) and that’s only to get a radio for help and morphine for her unconscious friend Roth. She even apologies to the wolf after offing the poor beast. Nothing personal.
Another thing that makes this both a CLASSIC and ADVENTUROUS is it’s little resurrection of another staple not just to Tomb Raider games, but many games from 1995 and beyond; i.e. collectible finds. For those of you who never played this kind of game, Tomb Raider sets up a sort of scavenger hunt that you can partake in, if you please. Its not a requirement of the game; I beat this game over the weekend without completing a single “hunt”, but it is something that adds some replay value and gives you a chance to earn some trophies and achievements. Games like Mario 64 and Spyro the Dragon had tons of these kinds of “scavenger hunts” for things like stars and magic orbs. For this game, the “collectibles” are usually things like journal entries, natural mushrooms, burnable effigies, and of course hidden treasures. This combined with an intuitive and user friendly upgrade system for Lara’s skills and tools gives the game a rather exploratory feel despite being almost completely linear.
That was some of the good, now for some of the bad.
Before I even start to comment on why I chose the word GRISLY, let me make a few points clear; I do not support the brutalization of women. By the same token that video games are no longer kids toys, I vouch against committing the violent acts presented in this game in real life to anyone, let alone a young girl. I assume this is the same for any sane person, and am hopefully stating this in vain. Public disclaimer; better to have and not need then to need and not have.
Alright, now that we have that piece of controversy settled, let me illustrate why this game is rated M for mature with one picture, and one sentance
That’s a metal spike she’s landing on. In case you were wondering.
I saw this happen after playing for 3 minutes, and she does not miss.
This is one thing that bothers me about this game; it seems to go out of it’s way to brutalize the main character. It seems that every time she dies and/or every time the bad guys get the upper hand with her, she get the bloody crap beaten out of her. I just showed this to my mom, and when she put her glasses on, her main concern was that it was desensitizing people to violating women. I had a hard time arguing with her about that. But she did relent that they treat her the same way most games would treat a male antagonist. After all, if you put your post-feminist notions of women’s rights aside, see if any of you game veterans can think of another action/adventure game where the main protagonist is lost in the wilderness and gets beaten half to death. This image should give you a hint.
Yep, the main protagonist from that “other” Indiana-Jones style game does the same thing Lara Croft does; hunts treasure, fights bad guys, and get the ever loving crap beaten out of him. Both games are only guilty of having half-decent writers who follow the old story tellers maxim; chase your hero up a tree and throw rocks at him. Creative writing 101. Course, Square Enix would have been well advised to be told the difference between tossing rocks at poor Lara, and dropping her on a metal spike. Keep that in mind before buying this game for your kids.
Also, if you are the kind of player who likes to wrack you fevered mind around complex platform puzzles, you might be disappointed. Like many “upgraded” games over the past few years, Tomb Raider has had it’s more challenging elements streamlined and simplified for public consumption. While there are “secret tombs” that do have puzzles for you to solve that are relatively more complex then the puzzles in the main story, you might find that they don’t challenge you the way previous Lara Croft adventures might. In fact, much of the game is less then challenging; from the enemies who seem to almost stand around waiting for you to line up a shot (without slow motion) to the all too linear and simplistic platforming challenges. It feels like all I have to do half the time is burn down the next barrier and climb over it. That’s what I mean by PREDICTABLE.
But what’s even more PREDICTABLE is most of the characterizations. The most developed character in the game’s story is by far the young Lara Croft; that’s a good thing. My only gripe there is that they went even further down that road, to the point where we can practically read her thoughts. This is her game. Second best character is the ship captain and her personal mentor Roth. He seems like what you would get if you crossed the traditional Lara Croft with Sean Connery. They did a good job of investing in his character and the family bond he has with Lara. There’s even a scene where you get his sniper support while evading bad guys; you feel and trust Roth, and trust is an important theme in the game.
But the rest of Lara’s friends? Cookie cutter stereotypes! The brave and stubborn Scottish galley cook, the lovable fat man who keeps the group together, the sassy black woman who isn’t afraid of a fight, the nerd with back luck but heart to spare, and Sam; the best girlfriend who basically plays damsel in distress. Even the Arch villain Lethyis (please don’t check my spelling), while set up for a good betrayal scene and having some good lines, becomes a carbon copy of just about every video game you have or have not played; you gain nothing from knowing him. Well, nothing except something to shoot at in the end. Spoilerz. Course, the worst character is the one who gets a cameo in the image on the left. I don’t know his real name, nor do I care. I call him Professor Douche, and that sums him up quite nicely. All you need to know about him is that he’s a greedy expert on anthropology and media flaunting whose two doctorates and supposed 30+ years of experience do nothing to prevent him from being a complete idiot. He basically ends up betraying the group to work with the island cultist, and to no surprise winds up being killed. How he does is the one thing I won’t spoil, but for some reason they censor it. Tell me, Square Enix; why is showing a young woman barely old enough to drink being impaled by metal less taboo then a grown man and annoying character getting the butchering we all seen coming? I would have paid sixty bucks just to see him croak! He’s that bad of a cliche, and is a more annoying character then Raiden and Navi combined. Google them each if you don’t know what I’m talking about; their a thing.
That’s the bad; now for the summary
ADULT NARRATIVE RENTAL;
This is not your daddy’s Tomb Raider. This is the kind of game that could give your child nightmares. Heck, if you don’t play long enough to see Lara Croft triumph over everything that brutalizes her, you might get nightmares. The only reason I can think of that even justifies some of the brutalities you see the main character go though is the motif of survival. She does survive, she does triumph, and the bad guys get theirs. Just don’t expect anyone in the game to go easy on her because she’s a woman; they don’t. At all. This is an ADULT game.
Course if your not the squeamish type and aren’t afraid of blood, there is a nice story that the NARRATIVE as a whole leans on, for better or for worse. You read the plot; almost sounds like something you would read on the back of a movie DVD doesn’t it? That’s definitely what this game is; a kind of popcorn movie that skipped Hollywood and made itself a video game. Seriously; a lot of plot elements seem to follow the Hollywood blockbuster tropes ten times better then anything conventional for a video game save for the damsel in distress (which kinda works for both mediums, if you think about it). This is a good thing; it means that the industry is starting to take its subject seriously. Perhaps too seriously.
Your probably wondering what the guys who made this game were thinking, putting a young woman like Lara Croft through such turmoil. Well, if you allow me to be the devil’s advocate for a second here, take this premonition into account. One, the guys who worked on this probably knew Lara Croft to be tough as nails and saw no reason not to prove her so. Two, they wanted their medium, their work, and the franchise to be taken seriously despite the fact that most of its demographic aged over ten years and mostly graduated college. All this violence and mayhem and horror is the medium’s equivalent to a fourteen year old boy smoking, drinking, and cursing non-stop to try and be “mature”. And like the strategies of that teenager, they fail miserably. Game designers need to remember amongst the fires of production and development that it is not just the offensiveness or the lewdness of the content that makes a game “mature”; its the meaning behind it, and how it is relevant to real adults. Tomb Raider almost reached that mark, but not in time for development, apparently.
I call this a RENTAL because I rented it-and beat it over the weekend. Even with its exploratory elements and customization, I wouldn’t recommend keeping this game for more then a week or two. And If your an experienced player like me, try it on hard first; its a really easy game to beat.
That just about wrap things up. Not a game for kids, but a fun game to play and a start to the next chapter of the Tomb Raider Franchise. Lets just hope that Square Enix gives Lara a bit more slack in the future.