Be Warned: Spoilers ahoy!
Writing about Playing Rise of the Tomb Raider pt. 2
Playing about in the Snow
This morning, I picked up RotTR where I left off last week and joined Lara Croft as she stumbled through a cold Siberian forest in search of the lost city of Kitezh (pron. Kitesh).
Well, kind of. As in, I joined Lara Croft as she stumbled through a cold Siberian forest simply trying to avoid being killed by Trinity soldiers.
If truth be told it wasn’t actually that difficult. Either because I am playing the game on a relatively easy difficulty setting (I’m on ‘Tomb Raider’) or because I am still near the start of the game and Crystal Dynamics have made the bad guys easier to kill then. Whatever the reason, the soldiers succumbed to Lara’s arrows very quickly. A couple needed more than one to fell them but down they still went.
Bearing Up Well
All this changed when I came upon a cave and a grumpy old bear who was not content to let Lara past. Or live, in fact, and I’m afraid to say that before I perfected the art of running away (no, it really isn’t easy when you have a bear chasing you!) he got his way. And his meal.
In order to defeat the growly monster, I had to go on a poisoned mushroom collecting expedition so that I could upgrade Lara’s arrows. When that was done, I returned to the beast’s cave, drew him out, forgot to use any of the poisoned arrows and spent the next ten minutes running around, firing wildly and occasionally hitting him with normal arrows before finally killing the poor dear (as in bear).
Panic, Run, Attack, Flee, Repeat pretty much sums up how I am when it comes to First Person Shooter type situations in games. Mixed up in there is an abject failure to read the screen text properly (to be sure, it is often too small) and so not work out how to use new weapons.
A Funny Business
With the bear dead and butchered, Lara proceeded into a waterlogged cave in which she happily swam in freezing cold water without catching hypothermia. She didn’t even bother changing her clothes afterwards.
Once that was done, her next stop was a Byzantine galley, trapped in ice in a cavern or gorge or I don’t know what. Apart from the experience of working out how to climb the galley to reach the treasure objective at the top I found that visiting it was most notable for hearing Lara pronounce Byzantine.
She says ‘Biz-an-teen’. As I pronounce it ‘Bye-zan-tyne’ this really grated on my ears. I have to admit it felt rather like when British people in films refer to their mobile phones as cell phones. Many Americanisms have made their way into day-to-day speech in the UK but cell phone is not one of them. When a character says it one’s suspension of disbelief is broken and one sees the story for what it is: an artifice. And that’s never good.
Anyway, this is something I need to get over. I have been informed by someone who knows more about language than me that there is no settled pronunciation of the word. If Lara wants to get bizzy, then get bizzy she may.
Girl vs Girl Action
After climbing the galley, I kept playing long enough to bring Lara to a former Soviet military (?) installation. There, she was confronted by a woman armed with, as it happens, a bow and arrow. This was her second appearance after bursting into the story during a cut scene earlier on as she and a friend tried to evade Trinity soldiers. Sadly, her friend didn’t make it.
Who is she? What is her purpose? At the moment she is the Woman With No Name, but as she has red hair and we are wont to define women by their physical attributes I’ll call her the red head for now. As for her purpose. It looks like she is a native and is an enemy of Trinity. For what reason, though, I don’t know.
The first, second and third thing that I thought when I saw the red head is ‘Hullo, here’s another Lara Croft: She’s a woman. On a mission. With a bow. And arrow. She’s tough. And ruthless.
On the one hand, I was delighted to have met her – I’ll come to the reason why below – but on the other I was not so impressed. Introducing another Lara Croft – or a variant of her – is very unimaginative of the game’s writer(s). I won’t say anything more than that for now; it would be unfair to do so as we have only just met the woman. It may turn out – and I certainly hope it does – that she is a very different woman to Lara and will bring much to the story.
Not So Splendid Isolation
The reason I was happy that the red head turned up is that all through this morning’s playing session I had been thinking that as visually rich and layered RotTR is, it is also – at the moment – emotionally empty; I’m not feeling any of the drama of Lara’s search for the lost city and the ‘divine source’.
The flashbacks to Lara’s childhood should have helped with this but in fact they only got in the way. Lara sounded irritating and the appearance of her father looked like an artistic indulgence. We already knew from the appearance of his lover in an earlier flashback that his search for the secret to immortality ruined him; we don’t really need to see it.
That’s the past; what about the present? What was wrong there? I’m not sure but I am wondering if the absence of Lara’s friends is at least part of the problem. In Tomb Raider 2013, Lara’s adventure on Yamatai was as much about her rescuing her friends as it was her about finding out the truth behind what strange occurrences on the island.
The story, in other words, had a strong human element to it. Rise of the Tomb Raider really doesn’t. It has Lara Croft hunting by numbers in search of a lost city and secret the exact nature of which we don’t know. As yet, there is nothing – no one – to invest our emotions in. The story is only really satisfactory if you like hunting, upgrading and killing bad guys. I enjoy all that but it isn’t enough to make the story good.
That’s why I was happy to see the red head – another human! Someone Lara can help/care about/fight with/engage with in order to make her adventure more meaningful. Unfortunately, she looks like a clone. Time will tell as to whether that is an accurate view or not.