It is rather incredible to think it has been nearly 20 years since I had played the first Tomb Raider on my newly bought Playstation. Coming from Sega Genesis the game was an impossible dream come true.
HUGE three dimensional environments, an extremely cocky badass archaeologist armed with her signature dual-wielded pistols and a backpack.
She would venture into the very bowels of the earth to discover, and often ransack, remnants of the long lost ancient civilizations while braving deadliest assortment of booby traps, solving environmental and mechanical puzzles to gain entry into sealed tombs and locked atriums buried under the dust of time and long forgotten by the world.
It was the magic of that amazing heroin, her laconic but sarcastic interactions with the adversaries who would range from bears and tigers to human thugs to even extraterrestrials, and the fact that it made the player feel like a true explorer stranded in the middle of remote and strange uncharted regions of the earth yet ultimately smashed the cornucopia of mysteries wide open that made me hopelessly fall in love with the franchise and Lara Croft.
The franchise went through a lot of ups and downs. From a fan and pure gamer’s perspective, and not going into details of all kinds of financial troubles and developing studio being sold.
The series started going downhill for me when Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, the fourth game in the series, inexplicably replaced the perfectly working inventory system with the clunkiest crap possible, as well as confining my beloved ass kicking globetrotter to just Egypt.
Tomb Raider: Chronicles followed and then the infamous Angel of Darkness! To this day I have absolutely no clue why did they decide it was best for that amazingly nimble woman to move like a cement truck, why the whole game felt like a bug riddled beta version..so many unanswered questions.
However, be it Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, Tomb Raider: Legend, or Underworld – there was always one consolation for me, i.e Lara Croft more or less remained the same self assured cocky badass with a tinge of smug self confidence that she was when she first broke into the lost tomb of Qualopec in Peru, but luck finally ran out with the 2013 reboot of the franchise creatively named “Tomb Raider.”
The game was certainly an improvement. The world became bigger, quasi rpg elements such as Lara Hunting for resources to upgrade both her gear, weapons, tools and abilities added an extra depth to the game play mechanics and the story was indeed quite engaging which was penned by the Rhianna Pratchett, the writer of games such as Overlord and Mirror’s Edge.
However, the fact that this Lara had the personality which was more like a polar opposite to the one the character always had , was very annoying and frustrating to me.
Even when I got past the unforgivable absence of the classical soundtrack and her iconic shorts, every single time she flinched at her shadow, whimpered pitifully like a 3 legged kitten when she had to suffer a boo boo from a tree branch and hearing her perennially tear filled voice my heart screamed bloody murder.
I did try to rationalize constantly though, saying it’s a reboot. She is new to all this. She will grow into that kicking ass and naming names persona of her’s later but my inner thoughts always betrayed me flinging the memories of Tomb Raider: Chronicles at me where Lara was a teen in her pigtails yet every inch that same strong and empowering woman she turned out to be.
A number of elements in the Tomb Raider reboot made it evident that it was unmistakably inspired by Naughty Dog’s blockbuster series “Uncharted”, which was ironic since when Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune came out it was dubbed ‘Dude Raider’ by both fans and the critics alike owing to its obvious borrowing from the Tomb Raider franchise.
The problem was Uncharted boasts a phenomenal cast of actors and even when Drake is not monkeying around platforms and riddling hordes of bad guys with bullets, hearing the banter between characters itself is sheer enjoyment in its own right, something that the new Lara fell spectacularly short of.
Tomb Raider reboot was decidedly action heavy. It did have a few tombs for Lara to raid but very much like an afterthought , which would make one wonder why was the game named ‘Tomb’ Raider in first place.
Anyway the game ended. Lara solved the mystery of Yamatai and returned home victorious , while I eagerly started awaiting “Rise of the Tomb Raider” which promised a more confident and seasoned Lara who had passed the trial of fire which baked and hardened her into…My Lara! So I waited…
Rise of the Tomb Raider Spoilers Ahead!
Very first thing I noticed in Rise of the Tomb Raider was how beautiful it looked most of the time. It should not have come as a surprise though as I was playing it on an 8th generation console as opposed to the previous iteration on the 7th gen machine but it was still a pleasant surprise.
Every moment I was awaiting the return of Lara’s personality, assuring myself : any moment now she is going to arch an eyebrow and deliver a one-liner to the dastardly villains full of sweet corrosive BURN while summersaulting backwards or sideways blasting away at the enemies.
Or may be she’d utter that thoughtful ‘uh’huh’ as she’d stumble upon a centuries old fresco in a cave and absorbs ancient Sumerian vocabulary…and may be.
She was every annoying bit that miserable, wretched mewling and moaning waste of a carbon based life form defiling and defaming the goddess who is her namesake.
Aside from the fact that Rise of the Tomb Raider plays like one long gunfight from start to finish, and even more so than the past iteration, but this time around I found both the story and its execution to be the “weakest” in the series.
To be honest, I was not at all expecting a Dickensian masterpiece while playing the game but there were instances which boggled my mind..e.g the main evil protagonist Konstantin is not only an extremely sadistic and ruthless killer but also a religious zealot slash maniac who bears stigmata markings on his body which allegedly started appearing on him when he was a boy and thus cementing his belief he was destined to bring forth the glory of God in this world.
Throughout the gameplay the stigamata marking on one of Konstantin’s palms is shown again and again. A hole through his palm signifying the piercing of the hands of Jesus Christ with nails as he was crucified.
As we advance through the story we eventually find out that his stigmata was faked by his sister in his childhood when he was “asleep.”
ASLEEP? I mean a girl not even into her teens drilled holes through her young brother’s palms and possibly inflicted cuts and lacerations on his body and forehead while he was “Asleep.”? And when he woke up bloodied she convinced him it was a miraculous act of God, proving he was the chosen one?
And that is just one example of the ridiculousness that permeates the story. The motives of the characters and their intentions are very muddled and often confusing.
The story itself seems more like a high school student’s attempt at creative writing than something by a veteran writer who herself grew up under the influence of a legend. The ending as well does not offer a smidgeon or a hint of closure and comes up as a very very crude sequel bait.
As a video game Rise of the Tomb Raider is certainly an enjoyable experience. The Uncharted inspired set pieces and quite a few scripted events where Lara needs to dash through crumbling walls and falling debris and large chunks of plummeting floors are never the less exciting to play.
The nine additional tombs are bigger and offer somewhat variety in design too, not to mention that the rewards Lara gain after completing a tomb are quite beneficial to her. Yet the heart wants what the heart wants. I sorely miss the Lara Croft I fell in love with.
Her personality, her demeanor, the attitude, the outfit, that subtle chime while discovering a goodie, that muted but ubiquitous music playing in the background…and most of all that feeling of being truly alone in the midst of alien land and architecture breathing centuries old air and very occasional encounters with gun totting enemies.
You want to call that “Rise of the Tomb Raider?” it’s a free country. But for a two decades long fan of the franchise, such as myself, Rise of the Tomb Raider is just Fall of Lara Croft!