I am the first to admit I was initially apprehensive about the Tomb Raider reboot. The feminist nerd rage I experienced watching the E3 2012 trailer had dug deep neuronal trenches of judgment that were not easily bridged. The trailer featured a bound Lara, struggling, moaning, panting, and crying out in voice that sounded more 50 Shades than Tomb Raider. After that trailer, I wrote this game off.
Upon it's release, I made a few comments via Twitter about how I thought the slogan, “A Survivor is Born,” was one of the worst taglines I had ever heard. Would Nathan Drake ever be tagged a survivor? What about Jason Brody? Indiana Jones? Survivors are acted upon, enduring their situation rather than conquering it.
There were the usual responses of “ZOMG, guys are objectified too!1!!1” and “Here let me point out all the exceptions to the rule and miss your point entirely,” but there was one that stood out to me:
For those who may not remember, I interviewed Kate Cox last year on how she broke into the gaming industry and about her job as a writer at Kotaku. If she said the game was solid, I was willing to give it a shot.
And I am so glad I did.
There is so much this reboot of Tomb Raider does right. First off, it is absolutely gorgeous. No matter the location, there is something visually stunning to behold. Waterfalls, waves, weather, and one particularly stunning scene where you feel that you’re Queen of the world. Even on the smallest scale, this game delivers with dozens of items scattered throughout the environment, ornate artwork carved into stone and wood, and the amount of garbage and debris littering the buildings and shoreline.
Tomb Raider absolutely nails gameplay control. When danger is near, Lara ducks automatically. She’ll also crouch on her own when you move to cover. Even with the different terrain, tools, and actions Lara is capable of, I never felt frustrated by having to micromanage her movements. Lara is not always about busting in guns blazing, either, and stealth attacks flow seamlessly from standard gameplay adding a sense of tactical depth. There is no ‘tutorial’ session, and that's to the game's credit. You, like Lara, are thrust head first into an unknown situation and you increase your skills as you advance.
Don’t get me wrong, though -- Lara is definitely a BAMF. However, unlike many of her male counterparts, Lara’s ascension to bad-assery is gradual and believable. She starts the game as a young woman full of doubts about her own abilities, trying to live up to unattainable self-expectations. As the story progresses and Lara gains more abilities, her character evolves into a woman who is confident and courageous but also compassionate. Lara’s interpersonal relationships model several archetypes that are rarely seen in video games or media in general -- a positive female to female relationship, female assertiveness that does not come across as bitchy, and healthy relationships with the opposite gender that are not based on physical attraction or dependency.
Tomb Raider offers a great deal of diversity. The characters are gender-balanced, there is a diverse range of ethnicities, ages, and abilities presented. There is also a wide swatch of emotions evoked during the game, from disgust to fear to pissed off. It was fantastic to play as a character I could identify with. Not just because she was a woman wearing practical clothing, but because I could identify with her emotional state. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome playing Halo and feeling like an invincible man-tank, but that’s a pretty common trope. Having a lead character express remorse, doubt, frustration, and empathy was refreshing and helped ground some of the more outrageous things Lara accomplishes.
While I enjoyed my Tomb Raider experience, there are a few spots that were not quite perfection. There are several occasions of male gaze framing that I felt were problematic and, to be perfectly honest, I nearly turned off my Xbox during the opening cinematic -- which just happened to be the part that was featured during most of Tomb Raider’s demos and trailers. Coincidence? Not likely. However, if you push through that first action cinematic, a gem of a game lies beyond.
Overall, Tomb Raider was a joy to play. The storytelling is classic adventure paired with gorgeous scenes, daring missions, and a lead character that actually feels human. It features diversity in gender, ethnicity, setting, tasks, achievements, and obstacles. Even more importantly, it demonstrates that you can create a game with a female lead character who is fully clothed and heroic. In fact, one could argue that one of Tomb Raider’s greatest strengths, its emotion, would not have been as successful or accepted with a male lead.
Written by PMS Goosechecka. Goosechecka is a member of the PMS|H2O Editorial Team and the Content and Community Manager at GrifballHub.com. You can follow her on Twitter!