As my friends well know, I've always had a problem with female video game characters. I don't pick them in fighting games and I very rarely play games where a female is the protagonist. It's not that I'm against the idea, I just struggle to connect with them and can't put myself in their shoes, which I find pretty important. In fact the last time I completed a female led title might have been the original Tomb Raider back in 1996.
During a conversation with a friend it became apparent that my reluctance (and by extrapolation a large section of game players) to use female characters might be exactly why there aren't more of them. So you can blame me.
What I'm getting at is that a game would be pretty good if it got me interested and invested with a female character. I'm here to tell you that Tomb Raider does both in spades.
As with so many properties nowadays, the story of Lara Croft was deemed cumbersome and in need of a refresh. Time to hit the REBOOT button!
So we go back to the start, before Lara even had two pistols and any experience. She is a promising archaeology graduate whose theories on the lost kingdom of Yamatai have led to her being part of an expedition to the island. Things quickly go wrong, as their ship the Endurance is battered by a vicious storm, leaving the crew shipwrecked. Once on the island they discover that everything is not as it seems and that a cult have taken up residence. In the ensuing adventure Lara endeavours to survive and rescue her team, in the process becoming the adventurer we know.
I found the story itself interesting, and the pacing of the game is brilliant. I never felt a lull and was constantly looking for the next piece of the puzzle, like a true adventurer! The story clocks in at a healthy 10+ hours and didn't let up, with the acquisition of new skills and weapons well spread out too. You are given enough to offer some variety but not so much that there are things you'll never use. Lara doesn't wear a backpack this time, but her weapons still magically appear/vanish, when needed.
New consoles are on the horizon, and Tomb Raider brings out the best of the current generation. There is a huge amount of detail and some beautiful landscapes. It's impressive to be stood upon a mountain, look down and know that soon you'll be down there, with no obvious loading.
The controls are intuitive and, not to sound too derogatory, Lara handles well. You get a feeling of the effort made and whilst she displays the usual 'video game fitness', things are a struggle and she is learning as she goes.
To come back round to the story again, I'll bring up my biggest issue. Though the story does show growth in Lara's character and she is clearly transformed by the experience, it all happens very suddenly. At the start she struggles with enemies and the idea of killing. This quickly gives way to her becoming nothing short of a killing machine, gunning and stabbing all and sundry. I just wish there was a bit more lead up. It would have been very interesting to have worked through a longer period of coming to terms with morality on the island.
I only have one other gripe...multiplayer. WHY.
I do not understand the fascination with adding this feature to everything. Tomb Raider made for a great single player experience, so why spend time saddling it with a dull, seen-it-all-before on-line experience. Just seems a waste of time. I have chased a large portion of the achievements, and it's disappointing to find so many linked to this portion.
The voice cast is impressive, with Camilla Luddington providing a fresh take on Lara's English tones. I found myself willing her on as she faced each challenge and dealt with tragedy. Not sure I would have if Lara had come across stiff or stuck up. A very earnest and solid take. Each of the other characters is given background through documents found in game, and generally make for an interesting bunch, though some are clearly there to provide more diversity as they add little to the overall storyline.
The single biggest compliment I can give this game is that I would have happily paid full price for it. Since I borrowed it I know it's easy to say that. It impressed me greatly, and straight after I moved onto a bit of achievement chasing (they can wait another week before getting it back!). Not many games get that.
Tomb Raider is a great success and a brilliant start to this new Lara Croft's tomb raiding adventures. If only more games were not only willing to use female protagonists, but wrote them in such a convincing way. Shame on the industry, and shame on people like me.