Sunday, February 14, 2016

Game Review: “Rise of the Tomb Raider”, Car Alarm Panic, Pillow Peccadillo

At last, my chickadees, with a three-day weekend looming before me, I had a long stretch of free time yesterday in which to take an uninhibited deep dive into “Rise of the Tomb Raider”. I was not disappointed. I have been a Tomb Raider fan ever since my first experience with it about 15 years ago. I had never so much as played Tetris before, when Mr. Typist inserted a disk into my computer, gave me a quick tutorial, and said, “You’ll love this.” All I remember is sitting there all nervous with headphones on, a very blocky Lara Croft standing at the maw of a dark, creaking cave, her brown, heavily-pixelated ponytail jerking in the wind, and then suddenly, wolf attack! And a subsequent panicked flurry of mouse-clicking and somersaulting and dual-pistol firing.  From that day on, I was hooked. But it wasn’t just the adrenaline rush that got me. Lara became my hero.

Rightly or wrongly, I’ve always harbored the belief that I am physically frail. I fear physical risks, I have always felt clumsy and ill-equipped to perform athletically in any way, and while I love walking, swimming, dancing and generally moving my body, I don’t feel that I do any of these things gracefully or well. I was a very skinny child—not skinny in a good way, but skinny in a way that was off-putting to people. I have had chronic injuries and illnesses that have kept me from feeling physically strong or capable throughout my life. I am now a slowly en-chubbening middle-aged woman, and while I have come to accept my limitations, I still long for that ever-elusive physical activity that I can excel at. When I play Lara Croft, I get a huge thrill from her physical prowess and risk-taking. To me, she embodies athletic precision, fearlessness, and ferocious curiosity. She inspires me to stay alive to possibilities and push myself just a little further than I normally would. And she’s not just a gifted athlete, she’s also a committed scholar with a huge body of knowledge about world history.

Over the last few years, the Tomb Raider developers seem to finally be getting wind of the fact that the game has a significant cadre of female fans. The last game they put out, “Tomb Raider”, included two other strong female characters, great storytelling, smart character development, and, God bless them, a realistic breast size for Lara. “Rise of the Tomb Raider” includes the same. But “Rise” takes Lara’s character development to a new level. In the last game, she was almost entirely in survivor mode, but in “Rise” Lara begins to show the signs of ruthlessness, fanaticism, and single-mindedness that ultimately did in her famous archaeologist father. She is coming into her own; making her own choices and charting her own risky path. I like that she’s showing character flaws; that the writers are not afraid to portray the dark side of her driven nature.

In “Rise”, Lara discovers her father’s failed search for an artifact known as the Divine Source, rumored to bring immortality to its owner. But she’s in competition with a shady, militaristic cult called Trinity, whose cutthroat leader Konstantine is after the same. The game opens with a heart-thumping jump sequence as Lara gets caught in a vicious avalanche, and it continues on at a break-neck pace for the whole, ultra-twtichy beginning. (Including the bear. The G-D, terrifying bear. Note to Eidos: As a slowly en-chubbening middle aged-woman, I cannot handle being chased by 600-pound rabid bear with super-human reflexes. Congrats--you damn near gave me a heart attack.) After finally reaching the first campsite, the frenetic pace slows down a little bit and the game offers a lot more in terms of exploration and puzzle-solving. One of my favorite parts so far was when Lara discovers an ancient Mongolian ship encased in centuries of ice. The video below showcases that sequence, and highlights what I love so much about Lara and her physical prowess. That was a really fun sequence to play.

The graphics are amazing. (My average graphics card is huffing along managing it okay, but it’s pushing its limits.) And so far, “Rise” offers a lot more than the last Tomb Raider—there are ample side quests, numerous opportunities to explore hidden tombs for extra goodies and skills, and lots of fun, skill-based mini-games. I love the exploration and story-telling aspect of games far more that I love the panic-inducing, precision-twitch action sequences, and “Rise” offers both in a good balance. I’m still at the relative beginning of the game, but so far, I’m thrilled with it.

Speaking of panic-inducing, yesterday I went out to the car to go grocery shopping as normal—just minding my own business, going about my day, when suddenly our ear-splitting car alarm went off, throwing me into a frenzy of panicked attempts to shut it off. I frantically pushed the button on the alarm dongle, which did nothing. I tried to start the engine, but that didn’t work. I tried re-locking the car, then finally, desperate, I actually detached the alarm dongle from its wire, which stopped it for about three seconds, at which time it started right back up again: WOONNNNK! WOOONNK!!! WOOONK!!! WOOOOOONK!!!  I tried kicking the tires and shushing it. Nothing. Our neighbors were beginning to gather at their windows. There’s nothing like the feeling of being panicked and mortified at the same time. I finally ran inside to rouse Mr. Typist, who was already getting dressed. “Push the button on the thing”, he said haughtily. “HA!” said, “I DID! I have proof! I even detached it from the wire.” “Great! You ruined our alarm!”, he shouted. We bounded back down the car, which was still bleating loud enough to wake the dead, and Mr. Typist started fiddling with the dongle. Just at that moment, our designated Jehovah’s Witnesses strolled up, bibles in hand, smiles in place. “Pop the trunk and detach the horn,” they said helpfully, while the WOONNNNK! WOOONNK!!! WOOONK!!! WOOOOOONK!!! continued at full volume and Mr. Typist was frantically trying to re-attach the alarm button. “This doesn’t seem like a good time. We’ll come back later,” the JW’s said. They turned heel and vanished, shortly after which the stupid alarm finally shut off. The bottom line is: If you’re my neighbor, I’m really sorry for yesterday morning.

I still have not begun the process of sewing my fox pillow, but plan to take another jaunt over to my local craft store soon and get that going. I can’t decide on the color of the backing or the ribbon. But I’m getting more confident in my crafty decision-making. Pics of the final product are pending, as soon I can get myself to sit down and do the actual sewing.

Now for some video!

Ice Ship:

Bear Chase: 

--Kristen McHenry

No comments: