The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 13
"Courage is not the absence of fear. It is acting in spite of it." - Mark Twain
Lara pushed up against the brick wall. The long, narrow passage had lead to an open area with some cover, and multiple enemies. Spotlights and machine guns covering the area from above. She crouched behind some cover, taking out the first spotlight with a well placed arrow. With the nearest guard no longer illuminated, she performed a stealth takedown with her bow, moving to the nearest cover. A second spotlight swept the area, and Lara took note of the remaining guards and their movements.
One misstep from behind a crate betrayed her position, the nearest guard alerting the rest to her presence. An alarm sounded, and the second spotlight lit the area around her. Lara ran for safety, machine gun fire kicking up the ground at her feet, a half dozen armed men chasing her back to the tunnel.
I paused the game, the "load last checkpoint" text flashing temptingly. I've never been good at stealth when it comes to video games, and when I screw up badly, I tend to simply restore from a checkpoint and try again, until I get through a section perfectly. But there's something about the new Tomb Raider that made me reconsider taking the easy way out. I unpaused the game, and Lara continued the frantic escape from her pursuers.
She scrambled behind nearby cover, firing an arrow into the nearest enemy's knee, staggering him. A well placed arrow to the head stopped the next one, and she finished off the first wounded enemy. A molotov cocktail exploded at her feet, forcing her from cover as the other enemies sprayed gunfire in her direction.
She took cover behind some wreckage, using her bow and arrow to pick off the next two as they rounded the corner. The last enemy forced her from cover with gunfire; she scrambled as far back as she could go. A break in gunfire meant he was reloading; with nowhere left to run, Lara turned and let one last arrow fly, and the last pursuer fell dead.
Returning to the location with the searchlight, she once again came under fire. Scrambling from cover to cover between bursts, she made her way into the ruins underneath the gun emplacement. Hearing footsteps, she took cover and aimed, picking off the last enemy as he came running down the stairs.
Faced with impossible odds, Lara had somehow managed to push on and, once again, come out on top. It may have only been two minutes of gameplay, but it summarized Lara's latest adventure perfectly. I'm glad I didn't load that checkpoint when I had the chance, glad I didn't take the easy way out. In a way, I would have been robbing Lara - and myself - of her story, of overcoming that adversity.
It may sound overly serious and needlessly poetic, but it's hard not to get lost in the role of this newest rendition of Lara Croft. She is easily the best the series has seen; she's young, but wise, intelligent but not arrogant. She's capable without being invincible, attractive without being sexualized. Gone are the ridiculous figure and infinite ammo handguns, in their place a sympathetic young woman and her hunting bow.
There's a saying that God only gives you as much as you can handle; if that's true, then he has the utmost faith in Lara. That theme above, of overcoming adversity and defying the odds, is as rewarding a theme for this reboot as one could have hoped for, and it's ever present throughout the game. Not only does she have to contend with her own life being in constant danger, but the burden of knowing that she's the only one who can save her companions.
There's a genuine care and compassion behind her; time and again, she puts herself in harm's way, not for glory or because she's good at it, but because the lives of others hinge on her actions. Even when she's suffering through the worst of what the island and its inhabitants can do to her, it's obvious that her first concerns are her friends' safety, and not her own.
The game's tag line is "A Survivor Is Born," and Lara's survival is what shapes her into the woman she will one day become. But it's important to remember that this transformation is a matter of her choices and actions, rather than simply the result of everything that happens to her. At the onset of the game, she is timid and afraid, full of self-doubt. Her first radio transmission is a call for help, for someone to come get her. As time goes on, she starts to believe in herself, and she takes on greater and greater risk for the sake of coming to her friends' aid.
When she's afraid, she pushes on; when she's knocked down, she gets back up. The Lara that might have once given up gives way to the Lara that finds a way to keep going. The frightened girl asking to be rescued soon becomes the rescuer.
There's a scene, somewhat early in the game, that's already drawn a great deal of controversy. Theora Craft has already covered the topic with far more eloquence and understanding than I ever could. In the end, like all her ordeals, Lara comes out on top, albeit shaken and weeping. But the importance of that scene and its impact on Lara isn't simply about what could have happened to her, but what she was forced to do as a result. It's the first time she's taken a human life, and it weighs heavily on her.
This reluctance to kill eventually gives way, as gameplay often does, and by the end she's capable of dispatching countless enemies with ease. I realize a game with little action is a tough sell these days, but at the same time I felt it cheapened Lara's story. She's far more compelling when you can sense that regret in her voice, the fact that despite apparently being quite capable at it, she doesn't enjoy killing others, even if she knows she has to in order to save her friends.
A lot of that nuance comes through in Lara's words, as much as her facial expressions and actions. One of the best decisions Crystal Dynamics made in reinventing Lara was to give her a voice, and Camilla Luddington's voice acting brings the young woman to life brilliantly. In past games, Lara was a largely silent protagonist; here, Lara is a chatterbox, her frequent monologues adding another layer to her adventure, giving players a glimpse inside her thoughts as she both explores and endures the island of Yamatai.
That voice serves to reveal her emotional transformation, the wavering hint of fear early on giving way to angered shouts of "you bastards!" later in the game as she confronts those standing between her and her friends. But some of my favorite lines are heard as Lara discovers the island's many secrets, temporarily putting aside the many gunfights and set piece moments to quietly explore a cave by torchlight.
The change in her appearance and the tone of her voice as her ordeal goes on is a perfect complement to the innocent wonder in her voice as she uncovers relics from bygone eras. Exploring the island's tombs is the perfect opportunity for her inner scholar to rise to the surface, and the sense of excitement in her voice is positively infectious.
This duality extends to the gameplay. For some, the game may represent a linear pursuit of marked objectives, but I found myself constantly torn between the urgency of Lara rescuing her friends, and the tranquility of exploring the legacy of a lost civilization. I'm a completist by nature, but there was a genuine allure to the game's many side quests that made me want to explore the island fully. For most of the game, I found myself torn between wanting to advance the story, and put it off just a little longer to see what else was waiting off the beaten path.
Spending time with the new Lara Croft felt in many ways like catching up with an old college friend I hadn't seen in ages. I first played Tomb Raider sophomore year, along with a number of other games still around today. Resident Evil, Soulcalibur, Dead or Alive. At the time, I was that "target demographic" games aimed for. I wasn't popular in high school, hadn't had much success in relationships, and by the time college rolled around, I was that young adult male that, admittedly, enjoyed the eye candy of what the early Tomb Raider games offered.
It may have taken the better part of a decade and a half, but since then, I've grown up quite a bit. I got married, bought a house, the whole shebang. And while it may have taken this long, it was fantastic to see a game from that earlier part of my life finally grow up as well, replacing the "female Rambo" archetype with a protagonist who was surprisingly human, and easy to relate to.
In the meantime, Dead or Alive has recently announced a feature that allows you to control the movement of character's breasts.
The gaming industry still has a lot of growing up to do in many aspects, and that extends from the publishers and developers right now to the gaming community. But it's nice to know that it's a journey Lara will no doubt continue with us; with over 1 million players logged in the first 48 hours, it's likely that first week sales figures will at least meet, if not exceed, expectations, and a sequel is almost guaranteed if review scores and positive word of mouth are any indication. If the ending cinematic is to be analyzed, a single word briefly visible in her journal hints at an even greater adventure already on Lara's horizon, and I for one can't wait to go on that next journey with my old friend.