When last we left our intrepid hero, Lara Croft, she was determined to, well, be a hero. Feeling responsible for the plight of the downed pilots whom she’d summoned to the island to rescue herself and her friends from the deadly island.
ENTRY #5: I Need A Hero
PLAY TIME: 2 hours
Lara leaves Roth (who’s handily found himself a sniper rifle, which I hope he will put to good use) and heads back down to the abandoned village below. Now armed with several new tools and abilities, such as flints and rope arrows, I gained access to a few other places to collect a few more trophies and participate in more challenges in the area. But mostly, since I hadn’t played for a while and have a horrible sense of direction, I spent a good chunk of time running around in circles and falling off of things, trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B.
Somewhere along the way, I discovered another tomb to raid, conveniently marked with everything short of neon signs.
I mused over the idea of someone taking the time to mark the tomb but not bothering to actually take any of its treasure, only to find that the treasure chest had already been raided. By me. Please see above regarding my horrible sense of direction, and take this as ample evidence against ever following my lead either in game, or in real life.
Sheepishly moving on, I actually did find the “Hall of Ascension” a short while later. With some clever puzzle work and impeccable timing, Lara discovered her second treasure-filled tomb, carefully tucking some loot into her pocket before returning to her rescue mission.
A few Solarii cultists blocked Lara’s path, requiring her to kill or be killed as she made her way toward the pilot’s signal flare. Again, I lamented the ease of the game, despite now playing on hard mode. That’s not to say I didn’t die multiple times, but there was no sense of challenge in the fights. It was just a matter of timing my shots and dodges better to take out the enemy. In most games, there is an element of luck as much as skill involved in doing just that, but there is also a sense that failure means going through the difficult process again and again, possibly throwing a few controllers and/or flipping a few tables along the way. Here, there is no sense of urgency to get it right. It feels more like the game has included these interludes for the sake of pretending to be an action game, but really, it’s just patiently waiting for you to kill the bad guys so it can move on with the story.
As far as interactive storytelling goes, I am a big fan of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead and A Wolf Among Us, and while I didn’t enjoy Quantic Dreams’s Heavy Rain, I loved the concept. These games don’t involve a lot of action, and when they do, it’s carefully spelled out for you with onscreen instruction (for example, MASH “E” REPEATEDLY SO YOU DON’T DIIIIIE!). The player involvement is more heavily focused on the dialogue options, allowing the player to make decisions that define the characters actions and attitude. And exploration of the environment is necessary for survival or to help you solve a mystery.
So here’s where my epiphany finally occurred. I really enjoy Tomb Raider’s story and watching the growth and development of Lara Croft as a character, but I’m disappointed in the action aspect of the game. The problem is that this isn’t an interactive story at all. I am not in control of Lara’s decisions, as with games like Bioware’s Mass Effect, and I’m certainly not in control of her personality. Her path is linear and since this is a prequel, we already know who Lara is to become. So we really are just watching a really long movie with occasional pauses to let us push buttons to kill things, figure out puzzles, loot tombs and collect meaningless objects to let us feel like we’re more than just a viewer. This isn’t a new concept in gaming, but there are definitely games that do this better, ensuring that the game aspect is more interesting and challenging. None of this deters me from playing. I’m still happy to learn about a well-written Lara Croft, and to fill in the blanks when I’m reading Gail Simone’s subsequent comics.
Anyway, Lara finally found her pilot, but he tried to warn her away because this was, unsurprisingly, a trap. In the subsequent cutscene, a very angry man (presumably Mathias, the deranged leader of the Solarii whom we met earlier), ordered Lara’s death. His men rushed her and she was knocked almost unconscious. Through blurred vision, she witnessed the death of her assailants at the hands of some sort of monstrous warriors. Oh ho. The mystery! It deepens!
Lara wakes later, once again strung up (for the third time) among a mass of dangling bodies. Swinging to her escape, she fell to the floor and stumbled through an even bigger mass of body parts (where are all these people coming from??).
Fortunately, no one thought to take Lara’s gear, so she’s able to continue on without trouble and came upon a tomb.
“I hate tombs,” said Lara.
I giggled appropriately at the irony.
Some quick poking around revealed this to be the tomb of Queen Himiko herself, final proof that Lara and her team had indeed landed on the island of Yamatai, as they had wanted. Murals on the wall depicted the sun queen, along with another woman and something something fire. Lara deduced that the images were not merely a depiction of succession, but of a passing of power from one woman to the other—an ascension. And someone’s going to get burned in the process.
Remember Lara’s friend Sam? The one who clearly never learned the “never talk to strangers or reveal that you are the descendent of a powerful witch queen” rule from her parents? Well, in case you hadn’t figured out by now that her kidnapping by Mathias was leading up to some sort of ritual sacrifice, here’s your proof. And just to nail it home, Sam contacts Lara via a walkie talkie she stole from one of the guards. We won’t bother to ask how she figured out the right frequency without alerting the guards, or how the guards haven’t figured out that Lara and her friends have been communicating all this time.
After finding a shotgun that served the added bonus of smashing debris in Lara’s way, I worked my way through the temple in search of an escape route, defeating both obstacles and Solarii along the way. Her final attackers end up being attacked by the monster samurai from earlier, and Lara had to hop, skip and jump to escape the crumbling building and gale force winds.