I was late coming to Tomb Raider (of course) because I had to wait for it to come out on the Mac. I’m talking about the first game, in which the protagonist (one of few videogame protagonists to be as or more famous than the franchise they come from) was the archetypal Lara Croft, with enormous tits and tiny shorts. The game’s narrative recipe was basically Indiana Jones as a hot chick, which gives you an idea exactly who was developing videogames in the first half of the 90s, and who they thought they were selling them to. In fact a lot of women enjoyed playing Tomb Raider because it was one of extremely few games that offered the chance to play as a female protagonist at all, even if she was a 13 year-old gaming nerd’s fantasy. However, the game was actually pretty groundbreaking, as one of the very first 3D third-person action adventures, or at least one of the first that looked more or less as we would expect such a game to look today. Seventeen years after the game’s release the series was rebooted with an origin story that brought the game itself up to the state of the art technologically, and updated its protagonist to a somewhat less exploitative figure (although still clearly intended to be ‘hot’). NIne years after its release (despite its early availability on Mac), I’ve had a go at playing it.
This version of Lara Croft does not have a good time. She’s a young archaeologist on one of her first excursions, and everything goes horribly tits up—not in the original Tomb Raider sense, but in a shooty, shipwreck, falling off cliffs, running from murderous religious fanatics and supernatural terrors sort of a way. The whole thing is extremely silly in narrative terms, but its overall vibe is not Indiana Jones light-heartedness, so much as it is ‘gritty’ and melodramatic. Lara takes a lot of knocks, so many that you eventually get to see a bit of the thighs that were a core element of her marketing back in the day, as her jeans start to disintegrate—other than that however, she stays pretty well covered up. A great deal is made out of the first life she takes, which is an extremely upsetting experience in which she probably saves herself from being raped. Unfortunately (from a narrative perspective), she then goes on to kill hundreds of baddies, without seeming to give it much of a second thought. This works very well from a gameplay point-of-view however, a nice balance being struck between shooting things, climbing things, and the kind of puzzle-platforming that was the heart of the original game. Tombs as such are optional diversions (‘I hate tombs,’ Lara says at one point), and are much less complicated than, say, the vaults in an Assassin’s Creed game, but they contribute to character and equipment progression. The progression elements are nicely integrated into the game, and don’t have to take over if you don’t want them to (I play everything on easy these days…), and the overall balance is finely tuned. Obviously, by the time this game came out, developers like Naughty Dog had turned 3D third-person action-adventure games into a well-established formula, both technologically and creatively, so there’s nothing of the original Tomb Raider’s ground-breaking qualities here, but it is a very well-made game, with an engaging story that is perfectly integrated into its action sequences. I was hooked early, and played through the whole thing in very short order. After a huge open-world like Horizon: Forbidden West it was refreshing to play something so concise, and although the graphics are starting to show their age, I had a huge amount of fun.