Christmas 1996. I received a Sony Playstation as a gift, along with several games, including the climbing simulator Tomb Raider. It was the first game I tried. I remember being blown away by the tutorial in her mansion. To explain the game mechanics, Lara herself spoke to you. This was the first game I played that spoke to you (clearly). It was a few years before I played another Tomb Raider. I’ve heard that the series got progressively worse. It wasn’t until the developer changed from Core Design to Crystal Dynamics that the series was rebooted (the first time) with Tomb Raider Legend. The game was surprisingly good, bringing Lara into the modern era. The gameplay was tight and the shoot mechanics had finally improved. Two more games in this vein were produced (one was a remake of the original) before the series was rebooted again.
Now, 17 years after her debut, we have arguably the best version of Lara yet. Somewhat abandoning everything that came before, the new Tomb Raider is a gritty realistic take of the character. Tomb Raider was originally inspired by Indian Jones, then went on to inspire the Uncharted series for Playstation 3, which in turn inspired this new take.
We’re immediately thrown into the action. Lara’s ship is searching for a mythical island when a storm hits, shipping wrecking the crew. Washed ashore, she’s kidnapped and hung upside down in a cave by a madman. Swinging, she breaks free, falling a good 40 feet onto a spike, stabbing through her back kidney exiting her abdomen. This sets the tone for the game. This girl gets the crap beat out of her, whether it’s by the environment or hostiles. By the end she’s dirty, scratched, and bruised with her trademark blue tanktop in tatters.
Please watch this trailer. You can see the opening scene I described, as well as something else, the infamous ‘rape’ scene. When this trailer was released 9 months ago it caused a lot of controversy. Even though it’s a trailer, I can attest that this is exactly how the scene played out (minus the flicker effects). He paws at her a little bit and they fight. It wasn’t in bad taste at all, and very well done. Some people are just looking for a crusade.
Back to the game. As we continue, Lara gets more equipment in a very Zelda/Castlevania esque manor, allowing you to access more areas previous inaccessible. Most of her equipment stays visible on her person, which I found to be a nice touch. Not only that, her climbing mechanics are a little more realistic (no handstand flips up every ledge). You can narrowly miss jumps, making it necessary to press a button to catch yourself. Most climbing simulators have strangely strategically placed ledges for ascending. While there is some, most is replaced with jagged rock walls you need to use your climbing axe on (and I mean use, miss the button and fall). Food is also a concern. Once you find your first bow, you must hunt to eat at a campsite; another nice touch.
Three points I want to mention. When the game first premiered two years ago, the voice/motion actress (the gorgeous Camilla Luddington) panted a lot as she ran around. A few thought it sounded a little sexual. Considering the context, and the feeling you get every time she gets hurt, it doesn’t seem sexual at all. Another point, in the trailer above, she kills that man. It’s her first murder, and they make a point to show how it affects her. Afterwards, she proceeds to murder hundreds more. I can see how this is an odd juxtaposition, but I didn’t have a problem with it. She’s doing it to survive and rescue her friends. In one battle she screams “That’s right, run you bastards! I’m coming for you all!” To me, this acknowledges her transformation, and how she’s adapted to survive. Finally, hidden throughout the island is actual tombs for you to investigate. I like how they added this element, though they were little more than simple one room puzzles. Lara says at one point “I hate tombs!”
Tomb Raider was exactly what I want from modern games. A tightly scripted, high production value, 10 hour adventure. I would rather have a good 10 hour experience then a meandering 25 hour one. The story was well written with on minor squabble; when Lara ‘figures it out’ before the final conflict, I was slightly annoyed. It wasn’t obvious in the first hour?
Interested in the new Tomb Raider? Played any of the previous ones? What did you think of this one? Comment or tweet!
Also, Lara finally has pants.