Monday, April 22, 2013

A Hero(ine) Worth Cheering For: my Tomb Raider review

Even when the original was released when I was a preteen starting to experience hormones, Tomb Raider didn't get me very interested. Besides her bust line looking to fake (do video game characters get plastic surgery?), the series itself suffered (for me) from tank controls (keeping her from moving in a lifelike manner, no matter the gen system), awkward encounters with unbelievable creatures, not-very-believable storylines, etc. Even when the last one before the reboot came out, I could not even fake interest. Even with the improvements done to her face for the Anniversary Edition, she still looked like a "dollface," not a human being. Then news about the reboot came out, and I immediately took ne about Lara's newly-designed face and model and was thankful they went for realism, not idealism.
Now we get the real deal of a woman.
This, quite honestly, was an exhilarating experience, watching a naïve young woman who lost both parents before the game's events become a force to be feared and reckoned with.
It starts off when Lara's boat goes into a bizarre storm system in the Dragon Triangle (an actual geographic area, go ahead and look it up) to search for a mythical island that she is positive really exists (and prove big-headed scientists wrong about the location). But there is a problem, in going into the storm system, the ship gets BADLY wrecked and the crew gets separated from Lara. Before Lara can get their attention, she gets knocked out by... someone.
From there, all sense gets lost, and nightmares get realized.
Upon waking up, Lara shows she's not just some other video game character that either stays silent nor immediately "knows" what's going on, but is frightened by what she sees. And to get out of what she's in, she realizes she will have to hurt herself ("Oh God... this is going to hurt!") and hurt she gets. Gets ablaze, falls in midair, then lands with a spike on the ground protruding through her side. But no time to fix it and let it heal, she needs to escape where she's from, which is a cave that proves to be truly bizarre, with imagery reminiscent of the religiously creepy atmosphere of Bioshock 2. Only a couple notches crazier.
And as if the hurt she'll go through throughout the entire game will not be bad enough, she has to endure psychological pain as well- the first person she shoots a gun at. In this gaming generation, we're so focused on "kill-target-to-advance-story" that this comes as a realistic stunner. A person looking for her, finds her, makes a disturbing sexual advance on her, yet doesn't rape her, instead, he simply tries to kill her (by choking), through 2 QTE's, she gets the enemy's gun and fires (first shot she gets made me cringe) then one last shot. And it's her response that drives the realism home effectively. She doesn't take a breather like it will be fine, doesn't shrug it off and call it a day. She does what many war veterans describe as their first kill or killing many then do: she vomits from adrenaline overload and the thought that she's killed a person, sure, a game character, but, in the gaming world, a person that won't regenerate nor spawn back to attacker with a vengeance. She keeps in contact with a mentor through a walkie-talkie and, when she describes killing the adversary, she says "I killed him... I had no choice." He doesn't soften the tone, doesn't cheer her up, but drives the realism even farther, "That could not have been easy, Lara."
Then it gets more intense after that. And not only in the torment, but the mystery of the island itself. The scriptwriting shows itself to be thought-out very well, having many complex themes intertwined into the story, with people sacrificing their selves to keep Lara going forward to her ultimate goal, even when she does not want to because of their sacrifices.
With all the stuff that Lara was going through, I ended up thinking an uncanny thought, a very candid one, Come on Lara, you can do what I probably couldn't do myself! Talk about being honest with one's self.
Now comes one of the biggest surprises in the game- the trophies (I have a PS3 copy, ok?). With the exception of two (one of them only kinda), the trophies don't deal with the story. The only ones that do deal with getting every bit of dialogue from all the characters during the story, the other being when you beat the game. The rest deal with killing/looting animals of different sorts, collecting GPS caches, artifacts, journals, environment-related tasks (like burning zealot flags in the mountain village), and completing the optional tombs (and there's plenty). This game is a first for me. You don't gauge how far you are in the story from the trophies gained, so you have room to wonder what's going on and have extra room to explore around, collecting XP to upgrade your weapons and improve your hunting expertise (and more).
Good move, Square Enix!
Now, I got this game for more than one reason. One was because the designers decided to go for realism over idealism (can't state that detail enough). Another was, a Christian-based review site that's not so much Biblically-based as it as solely focused on family-friendly content. In other words, on their review for this game, they moved the overall message of the game itself. The reviewer claimed they'd suffered a "misogynistic guilt trip," missing the core of the game- that a young naive archaeologist will have to overcome extreme odds to survive a lethal, brutalizing world, and won't come out unscathed, let alone clean.
What this video game does (through all the death-defying set pieces, crumbling worldscapes, QTE's, first-time experiences, becoming a fearful sight to a male-only cult, and so much more intense things) is create a relatable, enjoyable, likable heroine.
With how the ending went, I do hope Lara will have an equally intense and interesting adventure, welcome, Survivor!
My review: 5/5

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