How Lara rose like a Phoenix
Honestly, I was never a huge fan of the Tomb Raider franchise. Come to think of it, I never really liked the series in the first place. I didn’t feel it connect with me and I suppose as a kid, I wasn’t that big on puzzles and brunettes. So the fact that I even bothered to pick this one up is a miracle in and of itself. Mostly it was due to the game-drought I was experiencing at its release and felt that maybe this would have a somewhat similar ‘rising phoenix’ effect like the Arkham series did for Batman, because as we all know, Lara hadn’t been revving at full cylinders since the 90’s. I was right but the first time I played it, while a fun experience, it didn’t hit me so hard. I found it to be a decent game but something that shouldn’t be unexpected from a triple-A title. Still, a lot of people were praising it to high-heavens, especially considering many were skeptical prior to its release. It wasn’t until I played the PS3 version quite recently, which is somewhat of a downgrade from the DLC-bundled PC version I had undertaken 2 years earlier. The experience however felt much greater for some reason.
First of all, I played it quite differently. I am a big story-lover when it comes to video games. In many cases it’s a driving force for me. I’ll give mechanically crappy games a shot if it means the plot is above-average or even if it feels that is has some potential. When booting the game up for the first time on the PC on my initial playthrough, I was certain I would just end up playing a small bit and then uninstall the bloody thing, as was the case with many of the big titles coming out at the time and even to this day. To my amazement, I spent a good couple of days before the story was done…. and then I uninstalled it. I had played it mostly for the plot and in the process found out that it has superior gameplay compared to games of the same caliber that were released around the same period. This is funny, because the second time playing it through, I skipped most of the story completely and spent the majority of my time trying to 100% the darn thing, until I had reached the final showdown. At the last minutes of the game I sat down and listened to all the collected tapes and what-not’s to soak in the backstory. Ironic that I would apply the immersion-creating elements when the game was just about to end.
Modern feminism has most probably played a role in that Lara is more similar to a real live woman(proportionally) than her character has ever gotten a chance to be. Let’s not forget that even back in the early 00’s she was still portrayed as a crazy-hot sex bomb with giant guns and quite large pistols. Yet still the game got criticism for creating an ‘unrealistic’ female character. I believe this was pointed towards the fact that quite early on you become an unstoppable killing-machine, but this kind of trope in my eyes has little to do with feminism and just holds a flag for the classical American action hero archetype and lets face it: it’s a video game, so if you have a combat system, chances are your going to need a crowd of faceless foes in order to justify the mechanic being there in the first place. Plus it was a great combat system with excellent handling overall.
Now gameplay, the main reason why I grew so attached to this game, somewhat resembling my infatuation with BG&E. I know, I’ve excessively used the word ‘tight’ but again, this game deserves it, especially when it comes to the controls. Also, streamlined comes to mind, when you think about how fluid the movement is. I just love to stalk around like a predator and use the environment against my foes when entering combat. The crafting mechanic, which was basically just a masked upgrading system, also worked like a charm. I spent an unnatural amount of time just checking my weapons and carefully planning what piece of what weapon to upgrade next. For the most part, I found the handgun to be pretty useless. Ironic, considering Lara, the busty dual-wielder, is how most people still remember the character, while in her modern iterations she’s more of an amazon with an over-powered bow than anything else.
So I said in the beginning that on my first playthrough I was more concerned with the story and while pleasingly surprised with the excellent gameplay, I was still more interested in how the plot would end. Well, replaying it and already knowing that while cinematically epic, gameplay-wise the ending was relatively weak and to be perfectly honest, this time around the story wasn’t that enjoyable. I can’t say it’s terribly cheesy but I found myself just fading into my own thoughts whenever there was a unskippable cutscene. I’d say the plot is more on the line of a late summer blockbuster: superb visuals and voice acting but overall not a very strong narrative, with some characters just feeling like their only purpose in the game is to die…. huh, just like a lot of Hollywood movies. So yeah, not a necessarily bad thing but people will probably not have a strong urge to play it multiple times just for the story.
A new Definitive version for the PS4 and Xbox One were released, with all the DLC’s and much nicer visuals overall. Here’s a video showcasing the difference between the original and the upgraded version: