Published on September 14th, 2013 | by Michaela Buckley0
Why Tomb Raider isn’t Game of the Year
When Tomb Raider’s new incarnation was released earlier this year it came amid much fanfare, the early teasers were good and promised a new “edgier” game with the tagline “A survivor is born” being filed, the game was a departure from the usual blind adventure of games past. The reviews came out and all were positive and some pundits were touting it Game of the Year, saying it was creating a bit of early competition for the honours.
Then Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us came out and the game was quietly pushed aside and the Game of the Year is now being argued out between the two behemoths and their respective fans.
Square Enix released some sales figures for Tomb Raider and a couple of other ganes, all of which were very impressive and then said that it wasn’t good enough.
Arguments were made about the games industry and the budgets and expectations for modern games, but in the end, what it means is that something like Tomb Raider isn’t recouping the costs and so we probably won’t be expecting games that are like this one, that is fairly ambitious but not absolutely life changing, to be made anymore. At least not by Square Enix.
As a consumer, the only thing I have to care about is the game itself. And for Tomb Raider, it still has its issues in remaining a relevant game.
For a start the game aimed at the darker, edgier Lara, being exposed to much more horror than before. The problem initially with this, is that bloody everything is darker and gorier nowadays. It’s simply not enough to give the game a lick of blood and have done with it, and on really simple terms, that’s pretty much all that they have done with the game.
Obviously I will give them some kudos for remembering that gameplay goes hand in hand with narrative content, so they changed the gameplay to reflect the story better by adding more stealth and survival elements in, but the thing that stops Tomb Raider from getting Game of the Year and what stops it from being a terrific title on its own feet without the comparative element is that they didn’t go the extra mile.
Everyone has already mentioned that Lara goes from weeping over a dead animal one minute to turning into Mrs. Fucking Cabela on a prize hunting day the next, but that’s not all. Once every cutscene ends, the game jumps straight back into game mode, where objectives pop up and she has special vision for no discernible reason and she can jump around with life-threatening wounds.
This is the extra mile that we’re missing here, and I don’t want to be the one that constantly points the finger at the better game but in The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite, the main characters feel like they are integral to the story and are fleshed out, with pointless information about themselves and stuff, but you pay attention, because the story is engaging and characters are well developed and express themselves in a more human fashion, instead of soliloquising like Lara in a very robotic fashion with only information concerning objectives and not thoughts or feelings that couldn’t be expressed without words.
The non-playable characters also have the same kind of treatment but to lesser extent, whereas the characters in Tomb Raider were just expediting tropes for stories and cliché character relationships with Lara. The conversations between Joel & Ellie and Booker & Elizabeth went beyond just 2 dimensional emotions and they knew when some things were better left unsaid.
In fact, one of the biggest problems I had with Tomb Raider is that it felt… sexist, despite it being the only one of the three whose main character is female, the whole game didn’t feel like it knew who or what Lara is. It felt like it knew what it wanted her to be seen as. Basically it felt like men making a woman character instead of Lara just being a person.
I’m not reminded about women in games when I play B: I or TLoU because I am too busy enjoying the seamless presentation of what feel like real people enduring a situation that I feel immersed in. Whereas Tomb Raider leaves too much room for these thoughts.
Also there are problems with “women handling” in Tomb Raider. The “rape” attempt. Now, I plan on going in depth with the subject of sexual assault in games, but the gist of it with this is that you can’t show this kind of thing without it being a big deal and the developers don’t seem to have understood that at all. It would have been better not to have it if they weren’t willing to explore the subject fully. In the same way they should have been doing with all of the emotional events in the game.
There’s a vein of sadism in Tomb Raider, it’s always been there with the suggestive noises she makes when undergoing tasks or getting hit, but this game is the worst for it. She spends most of the time getting battered and making awful noises that mean you have to turn your TV down at night in case anyone suspects you of watching porn or something. In a way, it kind of is.
Lara was unable to have a relationship with any men that wasn’t either, patriarchal or warding off sexual advances or being used. All of the men in the game still treat her as a lesser object in that regard, with the cool character being a man and all this just felt like they were still trying to make Lara less identifiable despite her being the one doing all the work, it was like the devs were afraid men wouldn’t relate so had to add in a hard dude.
The one thing I thought was odd right from the start is that the Queen of the island, Himiko, was only ever described as being beautiful and powerful, being said in conjunction with one another enough times for it to be clear that it was all there was to this person, how many times has a male general or been repeatedly described as handsome and powerful? None? I thought so. It doesn’t matter as they only made her rotting and ugly at the end, because good looking evil women have to attempt to seduce someone and being that there were only women about they decided they had to just make her ugly instead.
There were a couple of parts of the game that were vaguely redemptive but one had a strain of sexism, where Lara had to rescue a damselled man, the only problem being that a) he inevitably fancied her and b) she didn’t end up saving him and he died a martyr’s death, making her look like a failure and him a hero. However she was able to help her mentor when he was injured, there are a lot of times that it can be said that Lara is a developing character, so we might be able to see a more capable Croft in sequels if we see any.
The gameplay is imitating the imitator that is Uncharted. Like Bioshock Infinite it becomes over-streamlined, meaning that the game is somewhat easy and treats you like a fool, it takes the playing out of the game. Also like many hybrid games it doesn’t… scratch the genre itch that you get when you pick up a game like the original Tomb Raider or Soul Reaver. It’s hard to explain, but it basically comes down to me not getting the urge for playing it again, as it’s a jack of all trades and a king of none. Both The Last of Us and Bioshock suffer from this also.
There is also a considerable amount of clutter in the game. There are tonnes of useless collectables that show up when using that unexplained vision I mentioned earlier, then you have all of the tombs and stuff that take away from the progression of the game, the pacing is thrown off whenever I encountered these, I suppose they are optional, but it would have been better if they were encompassed in the story somehow.
Straight out of the gate, Tomb Raider had a lot of obstacles to being an impact on gamers. The competition was very strong this year, the entire genre of adventure action games have a hard time getting the title of Game of the Year, when there are such narrative laden, psychological experiences in modern games. But I think that if they’d played the right hand and put a bit more effort this game had a good chance of being something incredible.
But I guess it doesn’t even matter now…