the artistry and psychology of gaming

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Tomb Raider (2013)

Tomb Raider (2013)

Girl, you’ll be a woman, soon!
Score: 6/10

Before everything let make it clear that I have never been a diehard fan of these series. Sure, I have played every game in the series and I have looked forward to every new installment, but that’s it. Therefore, I’m quite happy with the direction that this reboot is taking the series – now Lara Croft is much more than simply an Indiana Jones with glitchy boobs. She is now a real character with real human emotions and weaknesses. That’s a good thing. The rest of the game? That’s good too, but not great, or special. Ultimately, this game takes advantage of being a Tomb Raider. As a part of that series, this game is innovative for its redesign of the beloved heroine, but apart from that it has nothing else to offer. The game pretends to be more innovative than it really is. It is still an entertaining game I recommend to everyone, but it is not a great game, or a masterpiece.

The greatest strength of the game as I said before is the character of Lara. There has been a trend to give the beloved characters of the past a new gritty and dark reboot which shows their dark side. Christopher Nolan’s Batman (although Batman was already dark and gritty in the original source material, this was a great change for cinema audiences), Daniel Craig’s James Bond, Zack Snyder’s upcoming Superman, Sam Fisher in Conviction…. the list goes on. Now you can add Lara Croft to the list. This game takes us to the years before the original Tomb Raider, it shows us how Lara became Lara, how she grew from a normal girl to a heroine. The answer is, by going through lots of painful ordeals. Seriously, this game is brutal. Lara is stabbed, burnt, shot, hit more than you can imagine, and she falls on the ground so many times you wonder how she has any bones left in her body. Physical calamity befalls her in every turn of the events and they are more painful and horrifying than all the African tribes manhood quests rolled into one. Seriously, my face muscles worked as much as my fingers playing this game, so many times I cringed.

Violence in this game is used intelligently and effectively. Lara does not become the butt of sick jokes on the part of the gamers and creators, because her pain and calamities is conveyed in a way that we all feel and share the pain, and therefore we praise Lara because every time that she hits the ground she rises again and continues on her quest. This is true not only when it comes to violence done against her but also violence committed by her. The first instances of violence are shocking and painful. And they seem to leave Lara emotionally harmed. She reacts realistically to the events, she is scared, she is vulnerable, but she chooses to resist and push on. That makes her a real heroine, because she is no more the wise-cracking, invincible, and heartless woman of the previous games. She is a human character, a convincing one who evokes empathy. She is desexualized to a great degree, while she is still sexy. She is realistic. A real human. If this was the movie she would deserve the best actress Oscar or something.

In this regard this game can be compared to Far Cry 3. Both games shove an everyman character into an impossible situation in which s/he has to adapt to the hostile environment quickly or die, and both games deal with the emotional and psychological consequences of such a predicament. The main difference is that that Far Cry 3 is much subtle and complex, because the protagonist seems to lose his sanity and develop a taste for murder, but here Lara becomes Lara Croft, a heroine and a survivor.

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That’s how you become a real woman.

And the game, as I’ve said, does an excellent job of integrating the gamer into the experience and forcing him to share Lara’s feelings and situation. The game is brutal and gripping in its gameplay and plot, most of the times the sense of emergency and danger is ominously present at every turn. You can rarely feel safe. Combat is designed that way, stay a little bit in one place and they will flush you out with an explosive. Platformer levels are designed that way, and there are many instances in the game where everything begins to crumble and you have to get the hell out or get crushed. And Lara dies in quite creative ways to reward you for a little mistake. There are few levels that you feel relaxed, like the optional tombs which are the most like previous games in the series, and few levels you truly explore somewhere and you are free to wander around and loot stuff. But these relxed levels are only intermissions, and soon you are thrust into another whirlwind of trouble and press this frigging button on time or do this move the prefect way or die.

That is why the game was correct to shift the emphasis from puzzles and platformer levels to actions and speed. It does it well. It remains exciting throughout because the danger is always looming above, and it makes sense. In every other situation Lara might have not been pushed to do so many things. But she has to, and she delivers. This game is about the making of an action heroine and it delivers.

So if the games are supposed to be entertaining, this game is. If they are supposed to be something more, this game is not, and that’s why I won’t call it a great game or a masterpiece.

Lara with the most dangerous weapon in the history of war.

Lara with the most dangerous weapon in the history of war.

First of all, the gameplay has nothing new to offer. All the normal cliches are here, few weapons, few upgrades and experience points for giggles, (which are quite ineffective), cover and shoot gameplay or slowly walk behind them and kill them with stealth, jump and use ropes, solve centuries old puzzles, and collect meaningless Assassin Flags to reach 100% completion. There’s no need to explain the gameplay in full detail, because you already know everything there is to know about it, it’s pleasant, well-designed rehearsal of all the norms we are used to see in the video games. Its world pretends to be explorable but it’s not. It pretends to have RPG elements but it doesn’t. The gameplay is linear with a deception of non-linearity, which is not a bad thing, but it is a tried and true thing. It never gets boring or anything, but it never gets something exceptional.

There are a few problems. Pistols seem to be more powerful than rifles and shotguns, at least I was more comfortable with them. The bow is certainly more powerful than all of them. I killed a boar with two arrows and three shotgun bullets. This bow fetishism is a strange trend in video games these days, from Far Cry 3 to Crysis 3. Playing these games one wonders why humanity ever bothered to invent guns if it had such a death machine at its disposal. Also, sometimes the camera suddenly switches and leaves you confused for some time. But the most annoying aspect of gameplay by far was the automatic switch to bow in every major turn of the events. I WANT TO USE THE PISTOL, DAMMIT! STOP SWITCHING AUTOMATICALLY TO BOW! Really, I get it, you love bows, you want to marry bows, you want to have children with bows who look like real thin and curvy humans. I don’t. I don’t feel cool when I have a bow in hand. I love GUNS. Please don’t force me to change my weapon every ten minutes, OK?

I have to commend the game for its use of save/load points. Although you can’t save the game whenever you want (ARRG!) you really don’t need to, because the checkpoints are not far away, when you make a mistake, you don’t have to repeat everything and that’s good. As I’ve said, the whole game is designed in a way that it never becomes tedious.

The plot? Again, gripping and exciting, but nothing more. The supporting characters are bland, boring, and cliche. We never see them much. There’s the father figure, the damsel in distress, the greedy one, the exotic one, the cynic one, and the snarker who wants to be a hero. Yes, we find notes written by them which gives some sense of background and story, especially for Roth and Reyes. But ultimately they are noises in the background, and they never get any real characterization and depth. The same can be said about the antagonist. The crazy cult leader? Yes, we’ve had that before. Also, the supernatural explanation of the events is in contrast with the realistic tone. Also, the main plot is bereft of any real meaning, or any real conflict. It is all an excuse to plunge Lara into trouble, and Lara is the only one who stands out from this carnival of cliches and overused tropes.

The technicalities? The game was relatively bug-free, but then again, I rarely notice bugs, so don’t trust me on this. I loved the graphics, the characters look realistic and the environment is alive and picturesque, but then again, nothing groundbreaking here as well. Lara’s voice acting is superb and the others ordinary. Music can get irritating when it comes to combat scenes, because it keeps being played, but otherwise, fine. Again, nothing special or remarkable, but everything is acceptable.

I don’t think anyone would want to play this game more than once, and I doubt anyone would choose it as the game of the year (although it certainly deserves the character of the year award). It is a worthy prelude to the legend of Lara Croft, so play it. The real question is, how will be the next games in the series? Because here we’ve established that Lara becomes the flat Lara we all know (of course, not physically flat *wink* *wink*). Will the next games be the rehash of older Tomb Raider games and therefore lose all the advantages of this game? Or will they go the MGS and Splinter Cell route, and give us an old, grumpy Lara who’s too old and tired for this s***? Come to think about it, we’ve never had an old woman as a protagonist of a game… yes! It’s time to make one!

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