It's been about ten years
by now, and between Angel of Darkness and the second movie, nobody cares
about Tomb Raider anymore. Huzzah!
Now, I'm going to spare you
the extended overanalysis of whether or not "The Lara" is
empowering to women or just a slightly more adventurous Barbie doll.
That's already been done by people who sound smarter and even refer
to the screenshots used in their articles as 'Figure A.' I'm just going
to make occasional nods to the notion as I complain at length about
the game itself.
The adventure begins with
our heroine outliving her trained guide on the trip to the ruins. That
wouldn't be so unusual for an adventure story in itself- but Lara arrived
at the gates, in the middle of an icy hellstorm wearing SHORT SHORTS,
A SLEEVELESS T-SHIRT, AND A BLANKET. That must be one hell of a blanket.
The plot-like nudge to action is that the transparently diabolical Natla
with her self named business empire (hereafter Nambla and NAMBLA* respectively)
wants Lara to recover the magical Scion from the ruins. After an uninteresting
cash offer is made, the deal is made by Nambla's drooling redneck lackey
drawling at length about the icy hell she's going to get to run around
in. C'mon, I can buy that she's a thrill seeker, but
any time an Evil Corporation is involved, you know nothing good can
come of it. So, we begin by wandering around an ice cave for a while.
It becomes clear early on
that Lara isn't exactly the lithe and resilient character she's made
out to be as she jumps facefirst into ledges she's supposed to grab.
The first set of caves is pretty much just an orientation exercise,
to get you used to watching her smack into walls, get attacked by animals,
and of course, introduce her nemesis- the camera. TR was seemingly made
with the idea in mind that making the walls go transparent so you can
always see behind your character to say, line up a jump was just silly
and would take away from the Lara experience. What's even worse is that,
empowered woman that she is- utterly loathes being told to jump. There's
some rhythm you have to tap into somehow to make her jump when you say
so. Making a running leap on narrow ledges is a literal leap of faith
that basically is you holding 'forward' and 'jump' and hoping she'll
leap into the air and not jog into the void and fall to her neck snapping
death. And letting go of your tenacious hold on the button before landing
so she doesn't instantly leap again. To neck snapping... death.
The next level is chock full
of swimming action, which in spite of the sudden amount of exotic plants
still doesn't strike me as being too pleasant for a ruin in the middle
of the Tibetan Alps or whatever. Maybe that blue air meter is measuring
her frostbite resistance instead. The infinite ammo in those trusty
semi-automatic sidearms is sadly wasted on such a low occupancy level.
But it's made up for in the
third area, and if I were in charge of naming Tomb Raider levels, I'd
call it "HOLY CRAP, DINOSAURS." Though I guess the working
title of "Lost Valley" gives it away on its own. Yes, diving
into more frozen caverns, we find another subterranean temperate zone,
populated by Velociraptors and a TYRANNOSAURUS REX. Must say, didn't
see that coming. I'm pleased to say that if you can make it unharmed
to the safe niches in the walls, the T-Rex can be safely whittled down
by even your basic guns with enough patience. And trust me, endlessly
RAT-A-TAT-ing with a pair of guns is my kind of patience! Aside from
that, this level features an infuriating puzzle involving going spelunking
for cogs to power a gate that will divert the river so it won't simply
slingshot you back into the wolf-ridden sublayers. This entails getting
up to the machine to place the cogs, a feat involving a series of jumps
across the river itself. In tight spaces the camera dare not venture.
Yeah, really easy, timing your leaps with the camera at ground level
looking at Lara from the front.
An almost Asian looking palace
lies further underground, and I begin to get inklings that something's
screwy with the architecture. After a suprise Velociraptor or two, and
the first use of the classic Indiana Jones boulder, you can proudly
claim the Scion for your very own! And shoot the shit out of the statue
on the side of the room before it comes to life or something. Your final
obstacle in this mountain death trap is a shootout with Larson, the
redneck NAMBLA guy from the opening. Man, they don't take it easy on
you with the human enemies. Lara goes from being a trigger happy endangered-species
slaughtering hunter to a Matrix-leaping hunted. He's putting rounds
into you before you even leave the water.
A couple FMV's take place.
The first is blood-soaked Larson telling Lara of Nambla's schemes, the
second a cool but seemingly gratuitous scene where Lara infiltrates
the NAMBLA complex to rifle through the panty drawer of evil plans,
thus arriving at a conclusion as to where the next set of levels should
"St. Francis's Folly"
is a shootout in some sort of ancient castle where the builders just
seemed to say, "Toss that over there! And be sure it looks mythic!"
It's also probably about the longest level, setting a standard for annoyance
that will plague you the rest of the game. Pierre, the NAMBLA hitman
makes his first... few appearances here, exchanging gunfire until he
lives up to his heritage and runs away holding his wound. Ha ha, Frenchy.
The 'central puzzle' in this
one is also the one that finally tears it as far as any sort of accuracy
to ancient cultures may be concerned. You must gather a series of keys
from trap rooms themed after a pantheon of gods. And near gods. Hell,
I'll just list them so you see what I'm talking about- Neptune, Atlas,
Thor, and Damocles. Three of those at least sort of belong in the same
pantheon, even if Atlas isn't a god, and Damocles was as far as I know
just a guy. But THOR? Who invited the Nordic? I also have to say his
trap room sucks the worst, since it involves a massively destructive
electric disco-ball that fries Lara but good whenever she touches the
floor in its chamber. In the room of Atlas, you have to outrun another
boulder by diving into the floor and jumping back so it flies overhead.
Of course sometimes Lara doesn't do the second part so well, and you're
left flattened by the thing nicking her head. Your reward for fetching
all the keys is to be shot at by Pierre some more and fight a lion in
a pit. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention all the rooms are connected via
the mother of all jumping puzzles. Escher would probably cream himself
if he saw the triangular-chested female hopping around this towering
It still took me
less time to finish this stage than the river/dinosaur one.
Next is a battle through
a Coliseum. If you were waiting to indulge your kill happiness, this
is the place. This is also about the time that the budding hatred of
gorillas that began last level cements itself. Lions, wolves and even
Pierre seem trapped by their surroundings. Not so for the mighty gorilla.
Those things leap and scale walls like Spider-Man, and even have the
power to clip into solid objects to spring, ninja like on you. They're
just plain vicious. They corner you and utterly beat the crap out of
you, and the real clincher is that the way they flail and walk upright
almost constantly, I almost suspect they're NAMBLA goons in gorilla
costumes. The coup de gras of the whole level came when I spent twenty
minutes on jumping to the balcony of the coliseum, only to find that
1) an ape was already waiting there to kick my ass cross-eyed and 2)
This wasn't the end of the level, just a place for the next switch.
A gorilla just solved the puzzle faster than Lara, dammit. That's a
kick in the prides.
The Palace Midas comes next,
and that's about where I gave up. Being turned to gold by simply hopping
on a statue's hand was really the last straw as far as inventive deaths
went. Oh yeah, there's also an all out RIOT of gorillas around the temple
a switch lies in. This level's gimmick is playing 'switchboard' so you
can get at all of the lead bars you need to turn to gold to put in the
little slots to open the door that probably leads to a big room with
Pierre and a half dozen gorillas wearing berets.
I guess one might say the
best thing about Tomb Raider, and the aspect that needed to be developed
more than adding new outfits and moves, is that it is kind of fun for
all it's stupid problems. It's sort of a morbid Prince of Persia how-many-ways-can-I-get-killed
experience, and it's satisfying in a "Ha ha, eat this you stupid
bitch!" kind of way to clear a level or find the hidden ancient
Aztec ammo cache.
Too bad the whole franchise
turned into an egotistical campaign pushing the look, the 'attitude',
and uh, 'appeal' of the Lara. Personally all I can think of is that
if you took away the grrl power angle and put her in a 1950's jungle
film, she'd be the snotty self-aware Brit master safari man. And those
guys NEVER survive the film.
review is dedicated to Stanley and his little cool propeller pack. Rest
in peace, little guy.
*(In case the joke escapes you, NAMBLA is the North
American Man-Boy Love Association. A club for old guys who like little