Monday, April 22, 2013

Flaming Arrows and Ancient Sun Queens: My Tomb Raider Review!

Okay, so I’m a slacker loser. I was exhausted with preparations for a large event coming up this week, and while I did dawdle around this weekend trying to attack some writing and bathroom cleaning and such, my heart was in naught but reconnecting with the new Tomb Raider game, which has languished in my system tray barely touched until Friday night, at which point I went on a total bender. I’ve now played enough of the game to feel qualified to review it, so here it is! It’s my hope that even those of you who have never in your life touched the WASD keys to maneuver a pixelated ‘toon can still enjoy this review. Lara Croft has been my hero for many years, so, gamer or not, hopefully you can extrapolate enough entertainment from this to have fun reading it.

Plot Synopsis:

During an exploratory mission aboard the vessel “The Endurance” to find the ancient Japanese island of Yamatai in the Dragon’s Triangle, Lara and her shipmates encounter a storm and end up violently shipwrecked on Yamatai. The island turns out to be overrun with hostile and well-armed male cultists who worship an ancient deity named Himiko, also known as the Sun Queen, who is rumored to be able to control the weather and create storms. Despite numerous attempts to escape the island, a mystical force seems to be trapping the team there. 

The Breast Question:

Over the last few Tomb Raider games, Laura’s breasts and butt have grown exponentially pornographic in their proportions, which I merely found eye-rolling at first, but got seriously  annoyed by in Tomb Raider: Anniversary, in which Lara’s prodigious rack looked like a major impairment to her agility, not to mention her ability to wield a crossbow. Or walk upright. 

In Tomb Raider 2013, the young Lara Croft reverts to a skinny, ass-less slip of a thing with barely a chest. Which is a nice respite from the previous Lara’s, but distracting in its own way, as she carries a bow, a rifle, a shotgun, a pistol, a climbing pick, and numerous handy and heavy accessories, and she could not possibly weigh as much of the sum total of all of the weapons, ammo and equipment that hang from her thin waist. In spite of the fact that she’s a badass with a bow, she has some serious spaghetti arms—there is nary a bicep visible. It would be nice if the character designers had beefed her up a little, but then again, her hipless frame does work well when she’s slithering in and out of tiny crevices that I personally would get stuck and die of gangrene in. And it makes it all the more gratifying when some steroid-addled behemoth picks her up and shakes her around like a ragdoll, and she still manages to off him by utilizing speed and wit.

Control Issues:

One if the most disconcerting aspects of this game is when you think you have control of Lara, only to realize that you’ve been futilely pressing the forward key for almost minute, and having no effect whatsoever. Then you think, excellent!--the game has taken over and I can just chill, man. But then you hear screams, and see Lara plunging to a brutal death over a craggy cliff because suddenly and with no warning, it was your turn and you weren’t paying attention. It’s very disorienting at first, but after a while you become in tune with it, seamlessly interacting with the AI and knowing instinctively when you’re supposed to take control of the reins and when the game is working on your behalf. There is definitely a learning curve as the game advances and the more complex sequences require some tricky key combos, but fortunately they’re fairly easily learned by repetition. There are some also incredibly annoying rock-scrambling/rope grab sequences that I have yet to  fully master, resulting in more than one rage quit on my part. But, ‘tis a small matter. I just drink a spot of tea, have a biscuit or two, and bravely begin again. 

Smart Girl at the Party:

One the things that I love about this game is that it reconnects fans with the archeology scholar in Lara, which is something that is present in the other games, but not emphasized as much as it is in this incarnation. There is a lot of opportunity on the island to discover artifacts, but unlike in the previous games, these artifacts can be explored in a bit more depth. Rotating a found artifact in the viewing screen will often bring out more information about it, so you actually get some real historical context for them. Lara’s excitement about her discoveries is infectious, and it’s fun to get a little education about say, ancient Portuguese tin currency, and the kind of inscription you would find on ink boxes belonging to Japanese royalty. It serves as a nice a reminder that Lara is not just a stunt artist; that she is primarily a scholar driven by a sharp, curious, and hungry intellect.

Tomb Raider Gives Good Character:

The characters are well-fleshed out and written with depth and sensitivity. The voice acting is top-notch. The writers weren’t afraid to let their core characters be deeply flawed as well as heroic. The friendship and conflict between Lara and her ill-fated shipmates is realistically portrayed; they are in turn each other’s saviors, but they also fight, argue, and blame each other for their predicament. It’s gratifying to watch young Lara earn their respect and eventually emerge as a leader. The storyline is original and has just the right dose of mystical, creepy flair. The rich history of the island unfolds slowly through the discovery of journals and writings of former inhabitants, and paints a fascinating picture of Yamatai’s strange and turbulent past.

Thug Life:

It’s also really fun throughout the game to hear the dumb-lug cultists talk with awe among themselves about how “some girl” destroyed an entire cadre of armed men and single-handedly took down high-ranking cult officials. They speak of tiny Lara with increasing terror as her reputation spreads and her kill count increases. Cries of “get the girl!” ring throughout the game, but as tough and as well-armed as these men are, they’re inevitably slower and dumber than Lara, and they always make arrogant, fatal mistakes. 

Great Graphics:

I have no complaints about the graphics, which are gorgeous and gruesome by turn, although I find myself on occasion slightly demoralized by how disgustingly filthy and run-down everything on the island is, and anxiety-stricken by the increasingly shocking physical risks Lara takes to meet her goals. (See, “Entering the Research Compound”)

The Rape Scene that Wasn’t:

Before the game was released, much was a made of a near-rape scene that occurs early on in the game. Most of the flap seems attributable to a dumb statement by the game’s executive producer Ron Rosenburg, who ran his mouth all about how a sexual assault of Lara would incite a “protective” instinct in male players, an idea I find incredibly insipid. At any rate, it wasn’t nearly as problematic as I expected it to be from all of hubbub that surrounded it pre-release. As I referenced in an earlier post, it was actually a very empowering scene for me.

I was new to the game, and after repeated failures trying to fight this guy off, I started to get really emotional and irrationally angry.  Mr. Typist, video game veteran, saw me getting freaked out and scooted his chair next to me and coached me through it. And when Lara finally destroyed that guy, I actually did cry. It felt right; it felt ridiculously real, and there was something very healing about it. So whether the genesis of that scene started out steeped in some absurd notion or not doesn’t really matter to me at this point. I found that scene to be very powerful, and the game itself to be refreshingly lacking in sexist tropes. 

So, in summary, I feel that I can with full confidence, reclaim my Question To Live By: WWLCD?

Bonus Awesome: 

Flaming arrows, which are exactly as cool as they sound, especially when used in conjunction with barrels of flammable fluid. And damn, there are a lot of flammable barrels on Yamatai! In other words, you get to blow up a lot of shit in Tomb Raider. And that, my friends, after a long and tiring week, is definitely most excellent. 

--Kristen McHenry

1 comment:

Mahesh said...

Nice review