Last month Amazon had a $19.99 deal on Tomb Raider: The Definitive Edition for X-Box One, and I snapped it up eagerly. I’ve had my eye on this game since it came out two years ago. As you know from my Divergent posts, I have a habit of being late to most parties, which is funny since in real life I show up uncomfortably early to parties…
As a kid I never had one of the Tomb Raider console games, but I did have the Game Boy Color Tomb Raider game. I loved tumbling and rolling and shooting down bad guys while hunting for buried treasure. It was awesome! And clearly I’m not the only gamer that feels this way. Over at FemHype, Jillian reminisces about playing Tomb Raider II for the first time (and also writes very well about Tomb Raider III’s problematic themes).
Before and after the new version of Tomb Raider was released I closely followed discussion online regarding it. Controversy flared up over a rape scene hinted at in an early trailer, but thankfully the actual game turned out to be pretty cool. And I’m here to corroborate the evidence using the Her Story Arc Scale of Inclusivity.
Not offensive to women = 0 pts
While the scene originally thought to be a rape scene ends up with Lara shooting her assailant (or being shot if you fail to punch the buttons correctly) it still is a very uncomfortable moment to play through. The villain runs his hand across Lara’s lower thigh, and it did bother me. I have not finished playing the game yet, but based on this scene alone I unfortunately cannot award the game the point for this category.
Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2 pts
You play the entire game as Lara Croft. The story revolves around Lara’s search for traces of a maybe historical, maybe mythical kingdom of Yamatai which was ruled by the Sun Queen Himiko (who is a real historical mystery). Samantha “Sam” Nishimura is Lara’s friend, and we see her in video clips as well as hear her voice when she reads us her diary entries.
Passes the Bechdel test = 3 pts
The game passes the Bechdel test right in the beginning when Sam and Lara have a discussion about a couple subjects, including the trip.
Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4 pts
This game freaks me out. In a good way! But it still FREAKS ME OUT. The action can really sneak up on you, and if don’t have quick reflexes you’ll get crushed by rocks, potentially eaten by a cannibal, have your throat torn out by a wolf, shot, stabbed, etc. etc. etc. I jumped, gasped, and tensed up many many times while playing. The story is interesting, and I have gone out of my way to hunt down all the story documents in each area so that I know more about what is going on. I personally find the historical side of it fascinating, which is partially due to having studied Japanese language and culture in my undergrad years, but is mostly due to it being well written and plotted out. So it will not come as any surprise when I tell you that the game’s writer, Rhianna Pratchett, is on the MCV Brit List: Women in Games Top 100.
Outside of the main story line Lara has a lot of mini quests to find relics, search through tombs, and hunt animals for food. In the area by the first base camp I spent a lot of time feeling like Katniss Everdeen hunting deer in the woods. Especially when I changed Lara’s outfit to the “Aviatrix” one, which gives her a pretty sweet bomber jacket.
Overall the game play is fun (although not having any good melee in the beginning kind of sucks), the graphics are stunning, and the setting of the game ranges from lovely to eerie. Lara’s portrayal is also a HUGE step up from the huge pixelated bust of yore, and you have multiple options to choose from for practical, survival type clothing.
Above and Beyond General Media = 5 pts
I entitled this post “I can do this” because Lara says it a lot in the game. At first it kind of took me aback. Why is she doubting herself? But the further we got into the game, the more I appreciated her attitude. When she was scared, apprehensive, or just overwhelmed with the, well, overwhelming task at hand, she says out loud “I can do this” or something similar. In a world where women are all fluent in the language of self doubt, humility, and non-confrontation we see Lara openly fight that battle with herself. There are a few scenes where she is mentored by Conrad Roth, an older friend of her father’s, who pushes her to move beyond her comfort zone. Lara’s self doubt is also noticed by Dr. James Whitman (another character along for the adventure), who says in a private letter to his wife that he plans to take all the credit for unraveling the mystery of Yamatai and Queen Himiko.
In a very timely fashion a friend of mine posted a Pscyhology Today article on my Facebook feed this week entitled “The Trouble With Bright Girls”. The article discusses the findings that “bright girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice” and hypothesizes this is because of the differences in how we verbally praise boys and girls. Lara Croft is undoubtedly a bright girl, and given how she talks about her work and how she vocally helps boost her confidence throughout the game, I imagine she suffers from the same self image problem the article discusses.
So all in all, I award Tomb Raider Definitive Edition a 14/15.
And BTW did you know there is a Tomb Raider comic book? Me neither! But my fellow Her Story Arc writer Jen Stayrook included it on her top ten list.
One of benefits of playing these games two years late is that I end up playing them right before their sequel comes out, which means I only have to wait a couple of months compared to those suckers who bought it right away. Amiright? And what a sequel it will be! Entitled “Rise of the Tomb Raider”, it is set to come out later this year around the holidays.
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