16 July 2013

Tomb Raider (2013)

I posted previously on the Tomb Raider reboot, when an executive producer for the game said all sorts of things which made the game sound less than enticing.  But when the game came out, there was a flurry of surprised "It's great!" reviews from various female gamers, so I eventually got around to playing it.

Way back when, I bought my sister a Playstation as a birthday present *cough* and one of the first games we played on it was the original Tomb Raider.  We took turns falling off cliffs, and figuring out where the heck the next handhold might be, and it was fun.  Yeah, Lara's primary outfit was some rather silly short shorts and a tank top (though she did have a lot more [skin-tight] warmer clothing throughout the games).  In one memorable cut scene in Tomb Raider 2, Lara is knocked down by an explosion, the screen goes black, and then the camera pans over these...jagged...teal...mountains.  My sister and I both burst out laughing - it was so gratuitous and ridiculous.

But while there were these occasional bits of fan service, Lara was assured, competent, and unhesitatingly destroyed countless ancient artefacts while mucking over the archaeological record.  Plus there were occasional fits of shooting faceless goons, and a T-Rex.

As a long-time Tomb Raider player, Tomb Raider 2013 mostly held up for me.  It kept me engaged.  I played it through over a few short days.  It wasn't perfect, or entirely unproblematic, but not so offensive as the controversial comments made out.


The beginning was off-putting.  There was a lot of quick play scenes where you had a dramatic cut scene with occasional buttons popping up on screen that you had to press at just the right moment.  And quite a lot of short sliding games which were kind of irritating.  But eventually it evened out to reasonably traditional jumping puzzles (the puzzle part undercut somewhat by a "where to go" display).  Overall the game play was very well done indeed.

Plot (minor spoilers)

The plot is similar to Andre Norton's Sargasso of Space.

Lara's part of an expedition (mostly made up of people who knew her father plus an extremely overdone skeevy professor) looking for a lost civilisation.  They find an island where vicious storms have destroyed countless boats and planes, trapping an entire small town's worth of people on the island.  They must break the power of the storms to get off the island, and deal with the people who have been trapped before them - who have formed a particularly nutty cult.  All the cultists are adult men.  That's because there are uses for girls.  [Presumably uses for women and children as well.  Not sexual uses, though.]  This plot point is fairly inconsistently played out, with the cultists only really showing interest in one of the females from the latest wreck, instead having a high tendency to hang bodies up by their feet (for decoration apparently - with the plethora of deer and chickens on the island there would be no reason to use them for food).

Portrayal of Lara

At the time of the story Lara seems to have just finished college (or is in the later years of college), so I guess would have to be around 22.  She looks sixteen.  Unlike the relatively imposing original Lara, she (and her classmate Sam) are diminutive (and while her bust size is smaller and the short shorts are gone, the tank top is actually a little more revealing than the original).

Lara's companions (other than the skeevy professor) all pipe up with variations on "You're so wonderful Lara", even at the beginning of the story when Lara is still "innocent Lara" (there's actually three character models of Lara - "Innocent Lara", "Lara Croft" and "Survivor Lara" - the difference between them being layers of grime and the stance).  A big deal is made out of her first kill, but then it's slaughter fest...with whimpering.

This is definitely a game attempting to be grimmer, grittier and "more real" than the previous games, which brought out a lot of dissonance between attempts at "game realism" and disbelief raised entirely by the attempts at realism.

Lara's injured from the outset.  A wholly unbelievable scene involving a stick injury to the abdomen, which she pulls out (sheesh!) and she later suffers what I presume to be broken ribs.  But then she gets some pain killers and is fine for the rest of the game.  During her more injured phases, Lara makes lots of little gaspy, whimpery noises (and occasionally shivers pitifully in the rain - but never bothers taking a jacket off any of her kills, even when she heads into the snow).

There are two moments of suggestive touching, both when Lara is captive and a bad guy is being dominant over her (and yet this also does seem to be an island of men entirely disinterested in doing sex things to captives).  Which, because the thought is raised because of that suggestive touching, sits at the front of the mind occasionally.  I think they would have done better directly addressing the question, not with an assault, but with a reason (eg. boss guy forbids it).

The thing which bothered me most, though, were the death scenes.  In original Tomb Raider Lara would fall into a pile of limbs, occasionally get shot (and there was that T-Rex), but the death was momentary and (perhaps thanks to poor graphics) not a big deal.  This Tomb Raider has lovingly detailed and painful looking death scenes, provided almost like a reward (Collect the Whole Set!).  See Lara impaled through the stomach!  The throat!  Watch the guy pull her head back and cut her throat!  See the lovingly detailed expression of horror on her face!

So, yeah, not a fan of the death scenes.

Overall, this is a slick, engrossing game.  But I prefer my Miss Croft without the whimpering.

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