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Tomb Raider

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     Oh hi! Just let me introduce myself. My name is Sara and I’ll be you feminist, err… game reviewer for the evening. Well, I guess I can try to be both and respect the sanctity of the male dominated video game industry and, ya know, ignore the fact that I have girly bits and am not traditionally feminine… Or not. Let’s not. Sorry boys, but one of your new time favorite games got a thumbs down from the girly squad, and I think you will be surprised which one!

     So I had the pleasure (and I’m serious here. This game was a good time!) of playing the Tomb Raider reboot where we (the 90’s-era gamer kids) get to see a beloved character’s origin story. Or part of one, at least. I was super excited because I had played the first one when it came out and loved that there were badass women out there I could be like (Looking back, I was a little disillusioned). Being a wife and mother in a small northern New York town didn’t have large appeal to teen me. Go figure. So now that I am a wife and mother in a small northern New York town… I wanted to relive my glory days of being one of the first girl gamers in the world (yes the world… let me have my nostalgia). What I learned? I got old.

     Cynical too. But who cares about what women think of video games, right? Girls don’t game as much as boys, right? (see: http://www.cracked.com/article_18760_6-things-everyone-knows-about-women-that-arent-true.html )

      Maybe not, but we have some pretty high standards when we do. Before we get to my nit-picking, feminist rant, let’s talk about the good stuff! The overall composition of the game is great. It is visually striking and felt more open world than I had expected a linear plot line to allow. I think most of this came from the lack of a mini map overlay and points of interest popping up all uninvited. I found this much more immersive than other games I’ve played before. I know games like Drake’s Fortune beat this one to the punch but I still liked that they stayed with it instead of doing something revolutionary. This will be the only time I say that I liked how UN-revolutionary this game is, BTW.

       I also loved the details of the relics you can find in-game, even if they seemed to only be there for the nerd factor. The cinematic quality of the game is great and it defiantly felt more like a movie in some parts (in a good way). The first ten minutes were crazy! Laura drowns, gets punched in the face, lights herself on fire while predicting “This is gonna hurt,” only to fall into a pit where she gets shanked with a metal spike. After the first encounter with some of the Endurance’s surviving crew members she gets captured and has to escape with her hands bound by sneaking around. I had so much fun and nothing made my night more than shooting that first jerk in the face! Blood thirsty, I know, but girls have needs too 😉

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     Laura is the ultimate starter bad-ass. She is a nerdy scholar drawn to really messed up situations and she has the overwhelming need to, ya know, live. Best part is she is pre-op (implants anyone?) and clothed like an actual normal female who doesn’t work on a pole. The Rambo-esque cover made me all kinds of excited for tomb crawling and bears trying to eat my innards (Crystal Dynamics, why no bears!?). So when every Tomb Raider game known to man (and woman) went on a STEAM sale for less than $20 I begged the hubby for it. The deal: sell my soul to Guild Wars 2 until I hit level 80 and I could have it (I also negotiated in all the DLC’s for the reboot). That is the fastest I have maxed out a toon in an MMO, ever.

     Was it worth it? Not really. It appears that Laura didn’t just lose her boobs, she lost her balls (after the game’s introduction). It truly felt like after the first half hour or so Laura threw her hands up and said, “OK I’ve done all the cool survivor thingies I know how to do. Where are all the men who are supposed to protect me!?” The whole point of this game is to show how Laura Croft became a “survivor” (cue Destiny’s Child music) but several times (you know, at the key plot point where we would expect to make vital decisions about how the protagonist is going to survive) the plot becomes a living, breathing monster and eats up all of Laura’s options. There is a big flashing arrow with a sign that says “You Must Go Here.” This ties in well with the start of my feminist rant: if you are going to make a game with a badass female lead you have to let her, well, lead. When the main character cannot come in all their awesomeness and save the day the game starts to lack, um, awesomeness.

     Let’s do a little role play. We all like role play, right? Ahem… that is why we play video games. So let’s say Laura Croft wasn’t female, but a hot-blooded male. And not just any male, a testosterone-filled action hero male. Would Stallone or Willis let their grandfather figure commit suicide to save them? Yeah, probably, but only if it was the event that propelled them on a bloody path of vengeance. When Grim takes a suicidal swan dive to keep Laura from turning herself over to the Solarii we don’t get a ripple of homicidal anger from her. At that point I was like, “Man saves you from a very bad time and you don’t want revenge? You’re not human.” But OK, I’ll let this go. I know that whole trauma thing can crop up at strange times so I’m sure we’ll get back to how pissed off she is that the Solarii killed grandpa eventually. Or not.

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     Let’s not get me started on Sam… Anyone order a useless princess plot device? Here is a tip for anyone who wants to write one of these action-adventure stories: don’t put two extreme stereotypes next to each other and expect them to play nice. Laura = female put in the traditionally male slot of a standard “save the princess” plot, and Sam (regardless of the cutesie gender flopped name) acts like no real man or woman ever would. Laura finds her multiple times and Sam never goes, “Hey, you have all those nice shiny weapons! Can I haz one?” What’s worse is that Laura The Badass is besties with a mewling idiot. I don’t know about the rest of you but I like my friends to at least try fighting back (or at least not putting themselves in compromising positions). At least she is hot I guess, cause, ya know, that’s all that matters for a worthless plot device.

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     Yeah that smug look on his face is because he knows boys only want to have something attractive to look at while gaming…

     Enter the person who is the “real” action hero: Conrad Roth. He is the man. He is literally the guy every red blooded (British?) boy wants to be. And let’s not forget he is Laura’s mentor/babysitter. But he is also where Laura gets her “permission” to be badass. You see, Laura apparently wasn’t born a bad ass like the drowning scene in the opening cinematic suggests. Roth quickly becomes her cheerleader and repeatedly tells her, “You can do it!” (see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qztuEucrNBc ). So when he bit it I thought Laura would become the badass he once was (and her father was too, apparently). But noooo, stupid Alex has to go and take over the hero role. That little wanker is also a cheap plot device thrown in to make nerdy gamer boys feel more heroic. Yep, sorry but his only purpose is to once again sacrifice himself to get the tools and save the day so that little Laura won’t get hurt. Why in the world would you have a NPC do all the leg work in an action-adventure game!? “But Sara,” you say, “The mission was about a woman heroically saving a man!” Ah, no. The mission was for Laura to (finally) save the day! Did she? No. But I can’t say I felt bad when that little glory stealer got permanently removed from the picture. It should have ended with Laura sniping her way into the belly of the ship, finding the tools after a nasty mini-boss fight, and then finding that stupid twat on the way out so that Reyes can give him grief for acting like a little brat! Breathe Sara, breathe. The male gamers just needed someone to connect with so that they could feel like they had a hand in saving Laura. I’m sorry, but I thought Laura was supposed to be saving them.

     Now here is another interesting tidbit that further enhances my belief that this was a game targeted to boys. They cut the rape scene. Yep, that lurid act women are afraid of (and we actually talk about) is way too taboo to put in a game for boys. Why? Boys don’t want to talk about it. It’s tough to see someone like yourself (I.E. another man) doing something you know is wrong and (because it involves sex) risk getting aroused by it. To that I say watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=JLOaKknzWVU please! I know this video is about video game violence but the same principal applies to sex and violence. I am a big believer in the experience and if you think most people are going to see a “suggested” rape scene and be like “Aww yeah!” I think you have serious trust issues. 99.5% of the time these themes will make people uncomfortable. It sure as hell made me grimace. But it is never good to avoid talking about these issues! What better way to tackle the issue of rape than to experience the effects that being raped (or almost being raped) does to a woman than through the eyes of a woman? It would give teen boys more reason to keep their buddies from acting like rape is the trendy thing to do. And I hope that in the future, female video game heroes can stand up and give real world women the confidence to blow the brains out of anyone who tries to rape them. Girls play games too, and we need to start beating that into the industry’s thick skull so when we see games like this Tomb Raider reboot come out and it’s not the reboot we were hoping for, I want more women to call them on it. (Can I suggest hiring an actual feminist to fact check?)

     To step away from the cultural taboo, let’s talk about where these really dramatic moments are placed in regard to the plot. I thing the first half hour of game play should have been the last! I started the game with a “Hells yeah!” and ended with, “I have to save her again!?” The plot innovation just dissolved after Roth got killed and I was left with a mushy “damsel in distress” game that suggested Laura might be a lesbian? To which I again say “Hells yeah,” but they could have played it up a bit more.

      All in all, an A- for design. The visuals were awesome, there were no noticeable bugs when I played, and her equipment was innovative and fun to use. C+ for plot/story. This started so well but the experience soured over time. I can tell the main focus for the developers was how the game played. The crowning achievements are the fun shooting galleries. Not even the two pain in the ass bosses near the end were enough to keep it from being boring. Meh to killing Mathias in a cut scene. And I’m still mad I didn’t get to actually boss fight Himiko. What could have been a better way to end the game than fighting an all-powerful sun goddess zombie!? The developers dropped the ball on that one!

     Well, there is my list of gripes but I seriously hope you read these other extended reviews that I found very compelling as well, and thanks for your time!

     http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2013/02/tomb-raider-review-multi-platform.html

     http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/tomb-raider-why-lara-crofts-feminist-credentials-are-as-inflated-as-her-chest-used-to-be-8521099.html

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