I’ve beaten the reboot of Tomb Raider weeks ago and I’m still befuddled as to why I didn’t like it. On paper, everything is there: great voice acting, diverse looking cast, non-killing activities and beautiful locales. I even cringe as I say, “they even gave her sensible breasts!” I’m still parsing what that even means in my small hetero dude-brain. I’m also processing what Tomb Raider games have to be in order to be deemed successful. I’m still figuring out why this game is another brick in the wall of why, even the best big budget games, are equal parts off-putting in their over-reaching goals.
It’s not that Tomb Raider is a bad game. It’s that Tomb Raider is kinda, well, boring. Tomb Raider is boring in a variety of ways that still has me discovering [even as I write this] the many ways it is lackluster. I remember seeing interesting discussion in articles and social media about the feminist aspects of Tomb Raider. I remember a great deal of men commenting on how her breasts seem “logical.” Which, I mean, I get it guys original Lara Croft basically had missiles for polygonal breasts.
Lara Croft is a spelunkying, rock climbing, gun toting woman. Her body shape in this game matches her incredibly dangerous lifestyle. I applaud the care they took with the new look [still a familiar body type we’re all used to seeing though]. But looking back on the commentary, specifically from men, on Croft’s new “sensible design” -- gave me a lot of questions. This was the Tomb Raider game where it was cool to take the character Lara Croft seriously. Goodness, now that she has smaller breasts isn’t that easier? I mean, those triangular breasts back in the 90s were so distracting. Now that Lara Croft has sensible boobs it’s so much easier to take her seriously as a character, right?
I joke. I actually think in Croft’s case, her build looks totally in line with a lot of the recent outdoorsy friends I’ve made. Though some of those friends have varying body types even within that realm. The bigger point I’m hinting at is men have, for a long time, dictated when we can take women seriously. Whether women’s skirts are “just long enough,” or their manner of speaking is intimidating -- men have a history of branding women as types [some women too]. I fear this branding prevents a larger discussion of when is it okay to depict women, not just with curves but a body type that doesn’t ooze objectification. Who made these rules of when we can take a character like Lara Croft seriously? … probably dudes.
I’ve actually been an on-and-off fan of the Tomb Raider games. In that, I’ve sorta liked two of the games [Underworld and Angel of Darkness]. Even within my limited experience with the franchise, the games I like are flawed beyond belief. So, expectations were low when I played this rebooted version of the series.
Lara Croft appears to be the only character within the entire cast that always has perfectly pursed lips. Lips that are always moistened. Maybe this is the true power of my Playstation 3 and TresFX combining forces? I don’t know. If so, why are all the other characters in dire need of chapstick? It makes sense why the cast is shown with dry lips, they’re enduring a great hardship at sea. Not Lara, she apparently has a mouth that self-produces Burt’s Bees balm.
It’s not that this Tomb Raider has a disappointing supporting cast. The cast is great, though a bit stereotypical. While Lara is out massacring dudes and getting her body brutally mangled in the process, the cast is hard at work … being rescued by her? But when they aren’t they show their smarts as engineers and researchers.
This game is functioning as an origin story of how Lara Croft became the “strong female protagonist” we’ve grown to love -- well, some of us. It just comes at the expense of stereotyping people of color and damseling Lara’s Japanese best friend Samantha. When I managed to rescue and regroup with my team I was introduced to Jonah Maiava, an indigenous person of color. Jonah’s character seems to only be helpful to Lara Croft when she wants to know about the mysticism of the Yamatai -- a mysterious island within the Dragon’s Triangle. Yeah. This is followed by an introduction by the “sassy afro-latina” known as Joslin Reyes, who is a brilliant engineer but blames Lara for this mess they’ve gotten into. She’s right to do so.
So, okay, maybe the attempt to prop up a progressive white lady character in a popular videogame, fell flat on its face story-wise. You’ll be happy to know that mechanically, Tomb Raider turns into bland oatmeal immediately.
The tomb raiding aspects of this game are amazing. Unfortunately, tomb raiding in a videogame called Tomb Raider is mostly optional. There is a sick fascination the developers had in showing Lara being killed in a plethora of ways. Not even kidding, still feeling grossed out by the potential messages they were trying to convey when I played. Not only are the death animations for Lara gratuitous, but this game is also fixated on you being the best killer of dudes imaginable. Arrows, shotguns, pistols, I even took my climbing axe and put it into some dude’s skull -- just to hear the crunch. Well that and it was the only way to get to the next checkpoint.
By the end of Tomb Raider, I was well programmed to kill animals and Russian followers of whatever that forgettable boss character was. But when it came to actual puzzle-solving within raided tombs, I always felt out of sorts. “Does this game want me to kill profusely, or solve this crate and barrel puzzle?” The caveat of having interesting tombs to raid is to put a large portion of collectable items in wide open spaces. Not really puzzle solving, but I guess developers Crystal Dynamics thinks easter egg hunts count. So yeah, at least the level design is interesting.
Tomb Raider is such a great case study of how we see strong women in games. It’s also interesting the game was deemed a financial failure, considering the publishers and developers tried their damndest to give us an Uncharted game with Lara Croft in it. I hear there is a sequel coming out in the not-too-distant future. Here’s hoping Lara Croft isn’t depicted as a white savior whom her audience is obsessed with seeing her die, while killing in the cruelest ways possible.
Just give me more tombs to raid and keep that other crap to yourself Crystal Dynamics.