in Review

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider is the latest in a long line of series reboots that just couldn’t think of a clever title, so it just called itself the same name as the first game. Except, it’s not entirely clear if this is a new Lara Croft, or the untold origins of the same Lara from all the other games. It doesn’t really matter, I never played those games anyway… I always assumed her character design was compensating for something, possibly terrible gameplay, and shied away from the franchise. Well now’s a great time to jump on, right? Right.

Tomb Raider is a game about confidence. The story begins rather abruptly, with Lara on board a ship that is quickly destroyed in a storm, leaving her stranded on another of gaming’s maniac islands. She is scared, cold, injured, and desperate to survive. She has no faith in herself, constantly doubting her abilities. The Lara we see in the early cinematics has to constantly be encouraged, with the other survivors from the shipwreck often reminding her, “you can do this.”

Of course she can. As a gamer, you know your character is always a badass, and when you’re in control of Lara, she acts like one. She can kill dozens of armed goons like its nothing. She can summit sheer walls with nothing but a MFing axe, smashing it deep into rock as she jumps up. The disconnect between the gameplay and the story is profound, until you realize this story isn’t about Lara growing into a tougher self, but rather it’s about her discovering who she was, who everyone already knew she was, the whole time. It’s a solid character arc, but the rest of the story is hardly interesting. Most of it seems to be cribbed from Uncharted 2, complete with a final boss who asks, “Who’s the real villain? How many did you kill to get to me?” The other survivors are extremely one dimensional, nobody cares if they die.

The gameplay is pretty Uncharted, as well. Lots of climbing, shooting, and a bit of puzzle solving to round it all out. The island is pretty and the environments on it are varied enough that they kept me interested. You’re free to explore the island at your leisure, and, being a video game, there are plenty of collectibles to find, which give you XP and salvage, which you use to unlock new abilities and upgrade your weapons, respectively. It’s all very nice and modern and not particularly exciting but plenty fun. The only actual tombs in the game are all optional and too short, but fun enough instances of puzzle solving that I’d recommend seeking them out. Hey, I like games like these, and Tomb Raider is good at being this.

It also has a multiplayer mode, because that worked out for Uncharted 2, too. I guess some folks really like this, but when you suck away all the cinematic and story elements from the single player campaign, I’m not really interested. Multiplayer seems fine, from what I played of the game’s requisite deathmatch, team deathmatch, and attack-and-defend modes. There are unlocks and levels and all that jazz too, if you want to commit. I know that’s designed to keep people invested, but I really wish games would just let me choose the characters and weapons I want right off the bat – I guess that’s really a systemic problem with the whole industry right now, not just this game.

But really, what I was impressed with in Tomb Raider was the story. I came into this knowing how touchy the gaming community is about female protagonists, and how badly some aspects of the story had been advertised. While she’s not as snarky and fun as Nathan Drake, I certainly think Lara is in his company. I liked playing as one of gaming’s icons, in a series I had otherwise ignored. That makes Tomb Raider a pretty good game in my book… of games that either bad or good.