First off, since this is my first post about a video game, let me start off by saying: I really love video games. Some people read books, some people make ships in a bottle, I play games. That little number in the title of this post is my current total number of Xbox Live points. To give you a point of comparison, none of my friends have yet to break 15,000…and they like games a lot too. So, it’s sort of an oddity that I’ve never really played a Tomb Raider game. Tomb Raider’s Laura Croft has been prancing around in exotic places and tiny shorts since 1996 but our paths have never really crossed for any meaningful amount of time. I tried playing “Tomb Raider: Legend” a few years ago but found it painfully bad, so when it came to attempting “Tomb Raider Anniversary” I didn’t have high hopes.
A Brief Synopsis of “Tomb Raider Anniversary”: Laura Croft, the archeologist/hot girl is whisked away in search of the thing that her dad had been trying to find but never could…blah blah blah exotic locations…blah blah blah…increasingly tiny outfits…blah blah blah…”witty dialogue.” Seriously, nobody cares about the plot of a Tomb Raider game. In fact, I’d bet dollars to donuts that they could copy the exact plot of “Romancing the Stone” but replace everything that Micheal Douglas says with a shot of Laura’s cleavage and everything Danny DeVito says with a shot of Laura’s ass and absolutely none of the hardcore Tomb Raider fans would complain. It’s the “What’s Happenin’” of video game writing.
Why is it a PCBS? Ever since Laura Croft sauntered onto the original PlayStation, she’s been synonymous with the video game culture. She was the poster child for the industry for years and was carted out by every religious nut job trying to prove that video games were rotting the brains of America’s youth. She’s all boobs and bravado and even made the always successful transition from game to movie not once but twice. But here’s the thing: I don’t get it. I mean, I do get the fact that she’s super popular because she’s a strong female lead character who’s not afraid to be sexy while kicking some ass and I’ve got no problem with that (see: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Samus Aran and Wonder Woman). I just don’t understand how this was the character that crossed over from gaming to the pop culture zeitgeist so easily.
How does it look in the rear view mirror? It’s not that I don’t see how the Tomb Raider has led us to some of the best games of the current console generation (most notably the “Uncharted” and “Assassin’s Creed” series) but what I don’t get is why Tomb Raider is held in such high esteem. From what I can tell, the Tomb Raider series commits the cardinal sin of games: it’s just not fun. There are only so many times I can enter a room in a video game to be shown a short cut-scene-esque video of the level/box/artifact/monkey’s paw that I’m supposed to get to using a series of platforms/pulleys/other levers/double-jumps. It’s derivative gameplay that only shines a light on just how mediocre the rest of the game is. At least in “Assassin’s Creed II” (which I recently completed), you’re rewarded for your efforts with increasingly diabolical ways to assassinate your foes for your trouble in these contrived puzzle rooms. But with Tomb Raider, the ridiculous puzzle room is the whole game. Yes, there are extras to be found and Indiana Jones-style traps to be avoided in the ancient ruins you’re exploring, but frankly, I just don’t care. In three hours of gameplay, I must have imagined 30 different hilarious scenarios that would have made the game more interesting (Laura pulls a lever and is instantly attacked by killer bees; Laura enters the next room only to find it full of monkeys with guns [Although that would also be derivative]; Laura unlocks the tomb to find her dad and Johnny Lee Miller there for a weird intervention; etc.) I can forgive applaud ridiculous amounts of boobage in games if the game is fun to play (“Dante’s Inferno”, “Bayonetta”, anything with “Dead of Alive” in the title, etc.). But I can’t forgive swapping in titillation for fun gameplay.
Final Thoughts: The Tomb Raider games just aren’t my cup of tea. They’re a great example of style over substance. I’m all for having a character who’s special moves include things usually reserved for a pole and high heels, but the fun of a game can’t be the fact that the main character seems to have daddy issues. Next time, I’ll just play more “Dante’s Inferno” instead, at least it’s fun even if it has boobs on the loading screens. A new low, EA. Way to drop that bar.