Backlog Redux 2014 #21 – Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider

Flying In the Face of Artificial Outrage

Let me just go ahead and get this out there: I liked the Tomb Raider series reboot.

Right about now somebody should be calling bullshit on me, if you read my write-up of what I thought of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light.  To save you the trouble of going back to read it now (though you’re more than welcome to!), I praised the game for being a fun game in its own right, just not a fun “Tomb Raider” game – it just felt too far away from the series formula for me to take it seriously as one. And yet – somehow – with all the controversy and hoopla surrounding the alleged “rape” scene in the game and all the violence inflicted on a female character (a bit more on these topics later), I absolutely adored the hell outta this game!

How to write this without making it into a diatribe about the ridiculous “controversy” I heard so much whining about prior to and during this game’s release? I suppose the smartest thing is to just address it briefly right off the bat, so I can move on to better things; at some point, my thoughts surrounding the larger issue behind this controversy will be shared, but this is neither the time nor the place.

Basically, the trouble started around an erroneous comment made by one of the game’s developer’s when he was speaking about an early pre-release trailer, where he mentioned that there would be some sexual assault on Lara by the bad guys at one point during the game. Though it was quickly refuted by others working on the game, we all know the press cares about views and numbers more than doing a thorough job of reporting facts, so trolls and bloggers everywhere had a field day decrying Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics for their support of rape culture. One thing led to another, and soon everything spiraled into a shitstorm; once the game released, naysayers who couldn’t play the rape card anymore found another scapegoat to pin their complaints on. (‘Cos, you know, it’s easier to keep whining than to admit you were in the wrong.) The new culprit this time was the level of violence present in Tomb Raider, and how it hurt the emotional character development of one Lara Croft.

Tomb Raider

Poor Lara gets put through the wringer pretty much the entire game.

Yes, there is violence and killing in the game. Yes, Lara kills scores of people who are after her. And yes, the developers have really tried to express Lara’s emotions throughout the game, both via the goddamn amazing visuals and facial animation, and putting her in a some dramatic situations. And, for my money, they’ve done a bang-up job of it!

But the truth is that no Tomb Raider game has been without this type of violence. Lara does take quite a lot of abuse in the series reboot, but I think the only reason people are up in arms about it now (apart from just needing to have a pet cause to be outraged about), is that it looks so much realer. Lara has been chomped on by sharks, alligators, velociraptors and T-Rexes, and I feel more than confident that these beasties would have mangled her up a hell of a lot more than what happens in this game. But because it’s represented better visually, suddenly everyone’s got a problem with it.

Tomb Raider

Wondrous locales? Check.

As you can clearly tell, I’m not in the ‘Camp of the Outraged’. But what are some of the things I really liked about this game? Well, it’s a Tomb Raider game, so let’s talk about the tomb raiding. In essence, the game isn’t too far off the mark of what the series’ roots have established. A large part of the game sees Lara conquering her environment and exploring some pretty wondrous places to boot. Island villages, shantytowns, abandoned research bases built right into the mountainside, dank caves, ceremonial temples – this game has it all. The gameplay is very similar to what we’ve seen in the Uncharted series, and that’s not something to thumb your nose at.

Obviously, the grid-based graphics and movement of Lara’s early outings is gone, replaced with a smoothly flowing experience with Lara possessing an endless amount of stamina and upper body strength as she flips, leaps, and parkours around the island she and her boat’s crew have been shipwrecked on in search of an ancient archaeological treasure trove. Buffeted by paranormal weather that keeps them as prisoners and soon assailed by the island’s less-than-hospitable inhabitants, Lara begins to uncover disturbing pieces of the island’s past, including human sacrifice and a cult looking to bring back the evil force behind it all. It’s quite a story, and a departure from a simple hunt for some artifact.

Tomb Raider

Camilla Luddington’s performance really portrays the physicality behind Lara’s moves.

One of the things that really stood out to me about the newest Tomb Raider was the performance by the new Lara Croft, Camilla Luddington. Having performed both the motion-capture and voiceover work for the intrepid treasure hunter, Camilla is an integral part to what really gets me into the experience with this version of Lara. Equally as important as the lines she delivers during cinematics and such are the small vocalizations – grunts, sighs, gasps – that bring to the forefront the physicality behind the movement. I’d be hard-pressed to think of another game that bridged the gap between the simple press of a controller button and a character leaping across a gaping chasm, only to ram her knees into the opposing wall and scrabble for a handhold, as well as this game’s voice work did.

But beyond the dramatic story and bone-jarring impacts, Tomb Raider also features plenty of collectibles to search for and items to upgrade with discovered salvage, for those that want to put in the time to find them all.  I did my best throughout the game to pick up what I could, and went back post-credits to grab what I still needed in the various areas. But I fell into what I found, after some online research, to be a pretty common trap: Having replayed each area and maxed out my entire arsenal, I’m still short ONE last hidden relic. I know where it is, I know how to get there. Trouble is, to get at it I’d have to knock down a wall concealing it – a wall that requires a grenade to destroy…and I happen to be fresh out of grenades. Sadly – and here’s the real kicker – grenades are a finite resource, as enemies that drop them or caches where they can be found no longer respawn post-game. And it seems I’ve exhausted them all. So I’m truly up shit creek on this last relic, which bugs the hell out of my completionist personality. Guess I’m stuck with a damn 99% completion rating…

But starting over? Well, though the game was a lot of fun, I don’t see that as a viable option. Sorry, got too many other games in my backlog that need playing. Despite that little bit of unfinished business, Tomb Raider was, without a doubt, a more-than excellent experience, and, for my part, I can’t wait to see where Lara’s road leads in the future!

Tomb Raider

Enemies that walk through flames and survive point-blank shotgun blasts to the face? Check.

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