I never owned any of the games, and I remember struggling to play one of the Tomb Raider games on the PS1. I wanted to play it, but I found the controls difficult (I hadn’t been gaming for a while and never made the time to sit down and finish the game). It was a series I was always meaning to get around to. I found the movies entertaining, but beyond that my familiarity with the series was limited to my few fumbly sessions playing it, and hearing about it from its LEGIONS of fans. The trailers and buzz, and the fact that it was written by Rhianna Pratchett all got me intensely excited.
So I budgeted some time and money, and on Tuesday the 5th I sat down in front of my 360 with my boyfriend, some snacks, and I went on an adventure.
It was AWESOME.
It’s everything the reviews are saying: gritty, exciting, challenging, fun, and very like Uncharted (haven’t played that, but I’m curious to now).
Overall, the game certainly had room for improvement: there is NO humor whatsoever, although considering the grim situation it’s understandable; there were fewer puzzles than I expected; there was a LOT more combat than I thought there would be. Even with those complaints, and really those were the only ones, the game is pretty awesome. I may have rushed through a lot of it just in my breathless excitement to get to the next level, and i fully intend to start a new game so I can go through at a more leisurely pace. I also suspect that now that the game is out and garnering such glowing praise and a lot of buzz, the sequel will be a little less… tense? Dutiful?
While I loved the game, I am hoping the next installment has the jaded, world-weary, somewhat arch and confident Lara that I’ve heard so much about. Since Rhianna Pratchett wrote it, and also wrote ANOTHER of my favorite games, the hilarious,and wonderfully warped Overlord series, I am pretty sure this will come to pass.
I was also hoping for more of a supernatural feel to the game; while the storyline incorporates a lot of supernatural elements, you are mostly fighting the Solarii, a cult established by shipwreck survivors and lead by Mathias. Any women who wash up on the island are sacrificed or killed outright, I guess. You fight so many Solarii I started thinking that the game’s subtitle could have easily been ‘Escape from Bro Island.’ However, you do encounter some supernatural stuff much later on in the game.
I enjoyed the game mostly because of Lara herself: homegirl gets MESSED. UP. in this game! I know that sounds weird, but as a woman myself, I identified with her character from the start, and seeing or hearing her hurt made me that much more cautious in my fighting style. It became personal, in other words, in a very different way than if the protagonist was male. Have I yelled and talked shit during the God of War series? LORD YES. After I died and respawned, I’d go after some of those mythological monsters like their asses were made out of candy.
But with TR, it was different. I learned lessons a LOT faster in Tomb Raider, because Lara’s gruesome death scenes bothered me so much. Add to that the Solarii’s smugness after they kill her, which you can hear, and I was NOT going to make the same mistake again. That’s not to say that I blew through the game with minimal deaths– half the time I was my own worst enemy and would wander off the edge of cliffs, jump over railings to my doom, or blow myself up by walking into a room full of flammable gas with a lit torch. But! I did beat it, and I did manage to get lots of headshots on bad guys, as well as some pretty badass kills. So I was very pleased with myself overall. I just hope to God there isn’t some kind of record that will tell me how many times I died– I’m pretty sure such a number would be expressed in scientific notation, and I’d be depressed.
What also drew me into the game was Lara’s attitude– at several points in the game when you’re doing something that looks impossible, she mutters self-encouragements. She’s justifiably frightened in a very frightening situation, but she’s just as frightened of letting her friends down, or letting them come to some of the harms that she’s already encountered. I found these little moments of vulnerability very emotionally engaging–people can only be brave when they’re frightened, after all.
Another interesting thing about the game was how much more emotionally involved my boyfriend was while spectating. He hated the death scenes and hearing the Solarii talking shit at Lara. He would flinch or gasp when something happened to her, much more so than he did when he watched me play Silent Hill: Downpour last year.
(Sidenote: The Solarii never say anything sexually threatening, just stuff about ‘kill the girl’ and ‘get the outsider’ and whatnot; I wondered about the reality of an island full of violent men who never see women at all NOT threatening to do terrible things to her ladyparts; I then reasoned that they are religious zealots; plus, I figured the writers’ reasoning was ‘if she was male, they wouldn’t be threatening to rape her, so we will not have that in there;’ plus plus, that would have made the game much darker, and would have been a massive turnoff, and made it damn near unplayable for me).
The Tomb Raider reboot is a great refresh to an old, established brand, and I definitely look forward to playing more from the series. If you can pick it up, you should!