Thursday, 15 August 2013

Tomb Raider

I was never a huge fan of the original Tomb Raider games; I don't know why. Maybe I just missed the moment and by the time I had access to them, there were better games that did the same thing, but without the problems. I've contemplated picking up the various new versions as they've come out, but in later years I think the movies put me off. The first Tomb Raider was just dull, and so was Lara Croft. In attempting to make a tough female character, without having a clue how, they made her emotionless and unengaging. The sequel fixed a few of the problems, with Lara showing vulnerability and pain, and thereby being able to convey strength, but ultimately she remained a bit bland.

And then came the reboot, and I heard good things. I also heard bad things, but those turned out to be somewhat overblown. In the end, I was decided by a good bargain in the Steam Summer Sale and an interview with the writer (and not because Rhianna Pratchett is Terry's daughter, but because she made the story sound interesting).

And you know what? It is interesting. Moreover, while Lara is still shown to be strongly motivated by a broken relationship with her father, and a powerful bond with her father-figure, Roth, as the game progresses it is ultimately driven by the relationships between Lara and the other women in the game: Reyes, whose skepticism and distrust of Lara provides a much-needed counterpoint to the faith shown in her by others, and forces her to shape up; Himiko, the fabled Sun Queen whose power casts a shadow over the whole game, despite hardly every appearing; and Sam, Lara's close friend, whose peril is her strongest motivator.

I think this may, in fact, be one of the few computer games that passes the Bechdel Test.

It also appeals to the obsessive-compulsive nerd in me, by including scads of optional objectives and collectibles (including diary entries and other documents which flesh out the backstory, which is something that seldom fails to send me to Nerdvana).

Designwise, it is beautiful, and the new Lara is an amazing achievement, visually connected to her predecessors, but steadfastly human both in proportions and in character. Yes, the shocking violence when she is first forced to take a human life is undercut somewhat by the sheer number of people she kills almost immediately afterwards, but some above-average voice acting and the use of a number of levels where your mobility is limited by a wince-inducing limp until you can find medical supplies ground the character and, as noted above, allow her to demonstrate true strength, not by effortlessly overcoming adversity, but by struggling through it.

As a side note, it is also a game which shows a substantial awareness of its own iconography, from the climbing axe (a combination tool and weapon which is both its own thing and at the same time a nod to Gordon Freeman's crowbar) to the gradual evolution of Lara's pistol towards her own iconic dual-wield.