Press Start: Tomb Raider
posted on 06.26.13 at 09:02 PM EDT by (@admeady)
My beef with Lara Croft's latest outing.

Lara. Lara. What happened? You talked the talk. Gritty, you said. Realistic, you said. And yet you take bullets to the everything like Marcus Fenix wearing Master Chief’s armour. You talk with great heart, and yet you walk like a comic book super hero – a Super Woman moonlighting as a British archaeologist.

But you could’ve been so much more, Lara. You’re a believable, well-acted, appropriately proportioned character. You pulled me in. You prepared me for a journey of great emotional and physical pain, only to shatter it the moment Tomb Raider becomes Lara Croft Pinball – knocked, kicked and bounced, and nigh-on a scratch, fractured bone or broken nail.

In short, then, Tomb Raider can’t commit to its own premise. A vulnerable, untrained explorer lost in the depths of the wilderness, Lara is forced to overcome the impossible to stop the massively improbable. But this once-innocent civilian radically transforms into a merciless, unstoppable killer without as much as blinking an eye. For all its talk, Lara Croft is no different to her beefcake contemporaries. Quick to kill. Slow to be killed.

That would be fine, too, if it wasn’t trying to convince me otherwise. Lara is the underdog, apparently. Constantly being dragged, dropped, or pushed to impending doom – only to pull through fine and dandy. In a world where Lara is essentially Clarke Kent, peril fatigue is Tomb Raider‘s greatest foe. Lara needs her Kryptonite.

But not only does Tomb Raider miss this vital point on a narrative level, it almost entirely omits it on a mechanical level, too. No need to bandage flesh wounds or remove bullets – Lara’s regenerative health has you covered. Medical kits? No thanks. I’m Lara Croft. Bullets, bombs and narrative be damned. Tomb Raider is undoubtedly a video game.

Lara wants the credit for surviving a harrowing and emotional journey, but refuses to endure the hardship of that journey. A vulnerable, very human, very real protagonist in cut scenes is quickly reduced to a psychopathic gun-wielding bullet sponge in play. Tomb Raider becomes yet another action game. It’s another action game incredibly well-done, mind you. But just another action game nonetheless.

By tapping into action-shooter game vocabulary – regenerative health, exploding barrels, push-button-to-win – Lara is stripped of almost all humanity. She, like other protagonists in the genre, isn’t meant to be human, it would seem. Rarely can actual people achieve such feats, and perhaps this is the medium’s greatest problem – its protagonists need to be badass.

Lara is the fibber down at the local pub – she tells a cracking story, a tale of woe and strife, a tale which pits her against all the odds. Except that she’s Lara Croft – survival was never the issue. No, she was too interested in telling a story that enthralled, entertained and shocked.

And that, in and of it itself, is okay, too. It’s just a shame that the tale she begins to tell becomes a story that we’ve all heard before – the tale of the almighty hero: unstoppable, unbeatable, and grossly inhumane.

Press Start is a brief blog that talks about the games we’re playing and what we think about them. Share your thoughts about the game in question below.

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  • Shadow

    Tomb Raider needs to be a stealth game, I know the game has some kind of stealth mechanic but it doesn’t really work that well, say, compared to Eidos’ other game Deus Ex: Human Revolution, or Konami’s Metal Gear Solid.

    You shouldn’t need to kill hoards of people.

    • kuusou yume

      I think she should kill all the bad guys, but with more stealth & the odd fire fight

    • GremDude

      In all seriousness, you always kill a ton of people in Tomb Raider games. Have you played Underworld or Legends? Tomb Raider has never been and should never be a stealth game

  • xMCXx

    Yeah, the new Lara wasn’t a revolution.
    It was basically Uncharted + Gears of War.
    This is just the thing with games nowadays.
    3rd Person Shooters are the trend, just like Jump’n’Runs were in the 90’s.
    Though, it looked pretty good and it was, in my opinion, a good and enjoyable game.

    • MosquitoLemon

      It’s a genre that I like to call Prince of Persia with guns. It’s just come full circle now (the original Tomb Raider was an attempt to make a 3D Prince of Persia).

  • Kobracon

    Ouch harsh. I always thought how easy it was for her to resort to killing was kinda the point. That its surprisingly easy to kill ppl once you’ve killed your first guy. That we all think its super hard but once you’ve crossed that bridge, you’ve crossed that motherhumping bridge.

    • Sevyne

      Yeah pretty much this.

      The game itself was an excellent start for a reboot to the series. Would love to see more/longer tombs for the next one, but I think that was my only real issue with this one. The tombs were so tiny.

  • Budgiecat

    Tomb Raider going Call of Uncharted Gears wasnt really a good idea…

  • Zackasaur

    This Tomb Raider reboot is certainly insanely superior to all of its predecessors, and it deserves respect and a good playthrough from anyone here!

    I do think that her being able to kill with relative ease after her first kill is part of the narrative. That’s the point.

    However, yeah, I do think having a bit -more- of a stealth element would have been really good. I can also see your point about the regenerative health, though I do enjoy abusing it. :3

  • whiteferrero

    Hoh! I haven’t played the game, but this is my exact opinion on the Man of Steel Movie, where they tried to ‘humanize’ superman and failed.

  • karmacoma

    That was my major problem with the game as well. As a game, it’s excellent mechanically. Great controls, great animations, great graphics, great pacing. But as a Tomb Raider, it’s Uncharted starring Lara Croft, which is a little silly since Tomb Raider influenced Uncharted first. Tomb Raider is supposed to be a platformer with some guns thrown in. What we got was a linear third person shooter with cinematic “oh look, this ledge is going to break” moments. The emphasis should be on climbing mountains and exploring ruins, but instead you’re killing everything you see. It’s a fun game, but it isn’t what I wanted from a Tomb Raider.

  • Torbjorn Olsson

    Personally completely disagree — really enjoyed the game and thought they did an excellent job with the reboot. When it comes to damage, you can play on a higher difficulty and only take a couple of bullets to take you down. I enjoyed every aspect of the game.

  • UrkoMiguel

    What a nonsense. That is 100% realistic games? Really what we want? What fantasy movie is? This is a game, if you want to be repairing bones, the best thing to do is jump into the vacuum from a great height and break your legs.

    Tomb Raider is one of the best games of this 2013 with Bioshock Infinite and The Last Of Us. I do not understand these criticisms meaningless.

    • Adam Meadows

      At no point did I ever say that Tomb Raider was a bad game. Nor did I call out for “100% realistic” games. I was simply disappointed that Tomb Raider abandons its premise, and Lara’s humanity, very, very quickly.

    • McPoo

      Did you read the article? Or did you read the headline and first 3 or 4 words and decide you didn’t agree?

      If they’re such meaningless criticisms then why have they been echoed in most reviews and articles about the game?

      And Tomb Raider is not in the same league as those other games. It’s good. Very good in fact, but nowhere near approaching the levels of TLoU or Bioshock

  • LastBoss

    Loved this game, just felt that when, you found Tombs there, was next to no raiding at all. The puzzles didn’t have that sandbox, brain busting appeal. There was a little too much happening on this one island. It makes me wonder, what type of scenarios will be thrown at us in the future.

    Uncharted balanced it, because of the many set designs that lead you to the next location.

    Great game overall.

  • Aldridge517

    I like this blog and I believe I’ve encountered similar arguments in relation to Bioshock Infinite.

    If I recall correctly, the argument was something along the lines of “gameplay not matching narrative”. In cutscenes Bioshock Infinite tells a deep, emotionally rich story, but than you get into the gameplay and it’s just a typical shooter, where you’re killing waves of enemies.

    • Akimitsu

      Ah, ludonarrative dissonance is the phrase I believe is used. I know I’ve heard that phrase one too many times while watching MANvsGame on Twitch.

  • Akimitsu

    The game was superb in its mechanics, but I agree that seeing Lara go through all of this and come out pretty much unscathed is a bit hilarious. Seeing her hitting all of those branches when falling off a waterfall and then get up and walk as if nothing happened is humorous.

  • Elvick

    It’s still a game. Which it seems is often forgotten.

    It’s hard to balance realism with gameplay that doesn’t bore the player to tears or have you die in seconds because of “reality”. (face it, in reality she’d have drowned and then the credits would roll) And considering that if you’re seen, you pretty much have to kill everyone… what do you expect?

    Sure, they could have probably had more smaller skirmishes where it made sense. They could have taken a The Last of Us direction with scavenging to make it feel more like ‘survival’, but it’s not really the ‘end of days’. It’s just on an island with a bunch of people trying to kill you, who have plenty of guns themselves.

    I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. She’s not a superhuman, and the game never acts like she is. That’s why she moans and grunts and screams in agony and that’s why her death scenes are gruesome. It does though, act as a game.

    It’s survival. She kills to survive. After she takes her first life, there’s no turning back. So why be squeamish killing Guy 305? It’s a step she’s already taken to survive, so it’s not as hard to continue up those stairs.

    • Blackbelt_Jones

      the last of us did everything tomb raider tried to pull off,it can be done.

      • Elvick

        As I said, The Last of Us is an “end of days” type of thing. Humanity is screwed. Lara was just stranged on an island, there were still billions of people in the world and tons of guys with plenty of guns on the island. So limiting the ammo wouldn’t make sense. And considering how many ships went down, the amount of weapons isn’t really a big issue.

        • Blackbelt_Jones

          I was more referring to the weird diff. between the cut scenes being emotional and then the gameplay going into Lara Croft: God mode. Now joel had his share of crazy kill mode moments,it’s just that since it is established that Joel is of his rocker it’s not as jarring a difference.

        • JaiGuru

          Plot points are not synonymous with game mechanics.

  • Amaterasu

    I personally love the new Tomb Raider. It plays great and as far as the gameplay goes, I admit even on the normal difficulty I died a few times. But I guess I can understand the criticism. In their attempt to humanize her they could have done a slightly better job. But like was said already, trying to balance gameplay and reality is hard without ruining one or the other. I mean while playing an action game your character is SUPPOSED to be the victor and SUPPOSED to slaughter legions of enemies while usually being alone. But I don’t think they did too bad. They could have done a lot more to humanize Lara but then the gameplay would have suffered greatly and the game would not be anywhere near as good as it is.

  • Dalinkwent

    This guys basically complaining because Tomb Raider is another action games. Well, that’s sort of been the point since its inception.

  • Kevin Knowlton

    So I think, and I could be wrong here, that this article is a gripe more aimed at the state of games today than Tomb Raider specifically. Most gamers today aren’t looking for an insanely hard game – and to have a game truly keep it’s realism – well, you’d be looking at Demon’s Souls starring Lara Croft.

    I’m not sure how well that one would sell.

  • LiamT

    play the game on hard and its a lot tougher. 1 burst from one of the machine guns and you are dead, plus you have to fight off hundreds of enemies at times.

    the thing that annoyed me the most was the lack of puzzles and the simplicity of them. i cant remember any of them actually posing a challenge.

    i did enjoy the game on the whole tough.

  • Richard Haines

    It’s a good action game, it’s just not the adventure it used to be

  • Kai200X .

    I’m currently playing the game and so far I like it. I play on hard difficulty right off the bat, just like any other games that allow me to, such as TLoU on Hard before Survivor, and God of War, etc. My impression so far of this game is too much action and not enough tomb raiding. Like many others already stated, it would be nice to have “true” stealth element in the game. Sure, you can stealth kill enemies, but only because they haven’t discover you yet, once you are seen, it instantly turned into all out action game that force you to kill every single one of them. Anyway, I can’t wait to finish the game and maybe play the sequel whenever it will comes out.

    • Jeffrey Kuhl

      It’s stupid to start on hard when playing games like this…..gives you less times to run through it. Start from the bottom and work your way up. You get more playing time and earn more trophies.

  • E pluribus unum

    It’s always been an arcade… didn’t she have infinite bullets at first? don’t criticize cause you don’t like it… as long as it keeps some sort of consistency throughout the serie

  • rockman29

    Yea, I thought TR was more interesting when it was tanky and you could get killed by a bear if you weren’t careful no problem.

    It’s easy to criticize this article if it’s interpreted as that it can apply to many recent games, including Uncharted depending on your view of that game.

    But still it has merit, and the argument shouldn’t be minimized for the fact it can also be applied to other titles. That is more a strength in the message of the article.

    Good article, best one I’ve seen from you yet. A little too lyrical for my liking, but well done.

    P.S. We’ve played so many games, and I think it’s true for me as well that you know… I get tired of the sales pitch telling me a game is so different. I will know for a fact… how different your game is after I play it…

    If it’s not so different, don’t tell me otherwise. Just sell the game you’re making, not something you’re not.

  • P Smith

    I consider it the best tomb raider game I’ve played and I’ve played them all starting with the square headed lara’s with the lips that didn’t move when she talked.

  • Nevernooit

    Still more realistic than the older games where you would just murder your way through Venice, Paris and London, stock up on medkits and just spam those to survive anything except a spike trap or fall.

    This game strikes a perfect balance between the survival aspect without compromising the fun factor. Combat is actually fun, it would be horrible if there was barely anyone to shoot and the drama would go away if she wouldn’t get in all these ridiculous life threatening situations and it would lose the power she has inside if she didn’t walk away from all of those.

    I’d hate to have to scavenge for food to survive, it would feel too trivial and boring from a gameplay pov. I’d hate to have to limp everywhere if she broke her leg, and I’d just sit there sighing if she cried after every kill. The plot has to pick up and move on at some point, not dwell in her vulnerability.

  • GremDude

    It is a game. And a good one at that. Not real life. Nuff said.

  • blackMamba345

    The game is awesome. I wish it had some replay value to it. We spend at that time upgrading only to lose it all once we start it over. The multiplayer is a bit unbalanced

  • Jeffrey Kuhl

    The story sucked

  • Daniel Revas

    It’s a Game, not a Documentary.