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Late to the Game: A First-Timer (And Professional Archaeologist) Plays Through Tomb Raider

That's a lot of crying and impalement, there, Lara.


Welcome to new(ish) series Late to the Game, where Sarah Ingram of The Geekmates reviews games that she’s shamefully left unplayed up to this point. It’s like newbie recaps, but not. Scroll to the bottom for a few options as to what you can peer pressure Sarah into playing next.

It’s been a while friends, but I am back with another Late To The Game! However, I have delayed the winning vote from last time (Skyrim) for after Christmas because 1. I have been working 65 hours a week and 2. My graduate thesis was accepted (YAY) and I have to finish final edits and 3. Dragon Age: Inquisition came out. So instead I played second choice Tomb Raider! I was so excited to finally play this. As a woman and an archaeologist, I couldn’t wait to see what Crystal Dynamics had done to freshen up the old franchise. I had high hopes. I don’t think I’ve cringed so much during the beginning of a game in my life. Falling off the boat, getting cracked in the head, falling on a conveniently placed pipe thing and YANKING IT OUT (why would you do that I would never do that). If this is an indication of the graphic violence of the rest of the game, I may not be prepared for this.

The intro was pretty grabbing. I am of the minority of people who actually like QTE’s, and they were used really well to add the urgency of escape to the controls – I felt little pangs of panic to get out and to safety. It was fast, and confusing (in a good way), and introduced the mechanics in a manner that didn’t really feel too tutorial-ly. The game doesn’t hold your hand too much. So, holy shit, the death scenes. Some crazy dude who tried to grab me got his head seriously bashed in by a boulder, and it did not hold back. I feel like I’m in for some grim death things. Lara also trips a lot. Like so much. I feel a connection to her – last week at work I fell three times on frees, had a huge goose egg, and more bruised than not-bruised sections of leg. She gets me. So in the beginning she falls, slips, and cries a lot. And I hope – I really hope – that this goes away. Even as the main protagonist she seems weak and un hero-like, with blood on her face and cries for help. I’ve never seen Drake in situations like this. He doesn’t struggle to climb walls, or fall, or is scared to climb over a plane hanging from a cliff. I’m hoping she finds her place, and her agency – and quick.

Crystal Dynamics tried to add some archaeological collecting to the game, but it’s really just treasure collecting like any other game that does it. Maybe if we were digging 1m by 1m units with trowels to find treasures, and then bagging and writing call numbers on them… kidding! The little tidbits about the “artifacts” were cool though – I like those little additions, it makes me want to go collect all the things! There’s also an “archaeologist” trophy, which of course I need. I catch up to Sam and she’s talking to a stranger. WHY HAS NOBODY ASKED HIM HOW HE GOT THERE. Honestly, are you that dumb? I would freak out and threaten him and – oh yes of course they are missing when you wake up, Lara!

Found my first tomb while looking for salvage to help Whiny Whitman, and oh man do I love these parts. I really enjoy solving environment puzzles without being shot at, and figuring out the right chain of events to raid all the tombs. Also, treasure.

Like, why is everyone so trusting of strangers? Whitman puts his gun down!? “Give them whatever they want?” Ewwww, gross. And then this eerie face-touching, trigger bullshit at the camp before Lara kills the guy? Unnecessary. The groping and the face smelling is too far; it objectified the shit out of the supposedly strong female protagonist, and does literally nothing for the story. Not to mention I failed the QTE a couple times, and had to watch it more than once.

“I always find them,” he says. Fucking disgusting. Aaaaaand now I’m a well trained assassin. I get that it needs some quick progression to pick up the pace, but honestly if she’s going to be super whiny and upset about killing a guy that (for all intents and purposes) was going to do awful things to her, then why is she suddenly super cool and okay with killing waves and waves of nameless, faceless dudes?

Found Roth. Fought a giant scary puppy. Got all whiny again about “not being that type of Croft.” Girl, get it together, this is HAPPENING, so put on your big girl panties and suck it the fuck up. And now she flip flops between “oh god why” and then killing dudes and saying “you deserved it.” What the hell?

A plane crashed, so of course I needed to go save them, and oh yes he’s dead, and there’s an ambush and HOLY HELL WHAT ARE THESE GIANT OGRE THINGS and now I’m tied up again. There’s so much rope.

I escaped! Talked to Sam, but she is not sounding too good; found a tomb, declared I hated tombs, and then almost drowned; got impaled SEVERAL TIMES IN THE NECK; then fell out of a plane, put on a parachute, got impaled again thankyouverymuch; and then looked for bandaids in a helicopter. Is this graphic impalement really necessary? Image 1 Image 2I have tons of salvage and skill points at this point, so the next campsite was like Christmas. One thing I love is the way Crystal Dynamics approached the weapon upgrade system. Yes, I realize that taping two magazines together for a gun wouldn’t TECHNICALLY work, but I like the idea of the upgrades looking piecemeal and hastily put together. You’re not going to magically find all these upgrades in this type of situation (which is sooo realistic anyways, yes I know) so to have them look more crafty and panicked is really neat. Image 3Ugh. Shantytown. I really hate this place – there’s tons of enemies to fight, it’s a puzzle maze of confusing, and it’s super ugly – barbed wire, rusty metal roof things, garbage. Ewwwww. I get through and find the old guy (Grim?) and I almost got to him, until bad things happened, and then Roth saved my butt. Which is awesome, but then he coaches me through the whole crossing the bridge thing. Glad you found that sniper rifle though, kid. Across the bridge, I find Sam being SACRIFICED ALMOST and then get punched in the face a shitton. I am seriously curious about what’s going on with this whole Himiko priestess sun queen thing – there’s a lot of magic-y things happening on this island, although I’m kinda hoping there’s a Scooby Doo moment at the end where we find out it was science or some guy hiding behind a sheet pulling levers. Soon I made the easiest escape in a game ever and looked super cool hiding in a blood river (it’s like Descent but better, cause it’s me). Image 4Now I’m in a creepy ass place underground with gross gas that lights on fire and makes your eyes bleed and dudes running around like crazy in underwear. Horrifying. I HATE scary things, and these are scary things! I have finally found my friends and I amazingly rescue them because I am so awesome, and then make my way through the fiery explosions of their base because it’s falling apart for whatever reason.

WHITMAN! I have found you and I do. Not. Trust you. He offers to stand watch for me so I can save Sam and OH MY GOD I KNEW IT WHAT A STUPID MAN (okay so maybe he didn’t REALLY get caught on purpose but I’m gonna trust my gut on this one). So Mathias thinks everyone is trapped by the Sun Queen on the island and he needs Sam to get off by using her to control the weather. Got it.

Saved Sam and she got away (though I died like 12 damn times fighting those tough dudes) and I am now on the run again. I made it to the chopper (“get to da chopper” jokes were made), and now I’m running over the bridge and things.

CHOPPER EXPLOSION! MOUTH TO MOUTH WITH ROTH! BACK ON THE ISLAND! *eye twitch* Oh Roth. I was sad, but I kind of think he had to die. Up until this point, Lara has been doing things because of him, for him, or under his instruction, either with him there or over the walkie talkie. With him gone, she’s now forced to take control of her own agency and fight for everyone else – to be a Croft. I’m hoping that this is a move towards to cool badassness that I expect from one of my favourite pseudo archaeologists – someone who is tough and kicks ass and doesn’t cry and whine and does things because she chooses, not because she’s told. I can’t help but think about how early Nathan Drake (her comparable penis-toting lead) would react in these situations, and it is not the way Lara is – he does things for him, and there’s purpose behind it. After some running away and a crazy boat in the air that’s now falling and holy shit does Lara have some good grip scene, I made it to the beach and back to the Endurance. I have to go get a pulley from the ship, but before I do, I find the absolute worst dialogue so far I think.

I may have eyerolled my eyeballs right out of my head, and now they’re stuck like way back there forever now. Like, seriously? SERIOUSLY. How in the hell does this seem like an acceptable dialogue to add. WHO WOULD SAY THIS?! Nobody. It almost seems worse that you can miss it if you don’t bother to talk to everyone when the option pops up. Like, they know it’s not important to the story (because obviously duh) but still think, “Hey, you know what would add some great depth to this scene of them trying to escape? The two girls giving a shit about what their hair looks like and freshening up their makeup”. No. No no no no no. Way to take Lara right off the badass, leading protagonist path you had finally seemed to get back to by making her worry about what she looks like. Dudes are shooting at you. You’re trapped on a magical island. FOCUS. Ughhhhhhhhhhhhh. I take my ugly ass to get the pulley, find some dudes on an abandoned boat that somehow had no idea we were there talking about how not pretty/pretty we were, and make it back in time to find Whitman running towards us, shooting at nothing. I know he’s up to something, and even Lara calls him out on the fact he said he was “running for miles” but is barely even out of breath. He is not trustworthy so STOP LETTING HIM HANG AROUND. I head to the Endurance, fight the HUGEST GUY EVER (he totally had the best death eyes though like surprise!), found Alex, and his little note (awww) – but he’s stuck! No! 

It’s back to the beach, and I decide its time to make my way to the research base, and into Himiko’s tomb. Lara, in true archaeological fashion, desecrates the tomb and finds something inside a secret word compartment – a note! That makes “perfect sense!”

I decide to head back to the camp, get shot at, hear them getting shot at, and WHITMAN TOOK SAM I FUCKING TOLD YOU GOD what a butthole. Now it’s time to go after them. I must admit Lara has been getting progressively better – ever since Roth died she had to take charge, she makes the decisions, and she leads. I like her more and more. We find Whitman “greeting the archaic tribes” with Sam in her ceremonial white, and Whitman gets his comeuppance muahahahaha. DH gave me a weird sideways glance when I cheered on that one. Whatevs.

I FOUND HER! MOUNTAIN CHASE! FALLING BUILDINGS! WIND! FOUGHT A GIANT ASS DUDE! That was seriously a very intense boss fight, which I expected to be Mathias honestly, but it was AWESOME. When we finally get to Mathias, I loved the firing double handguns awesomeness, and I saved the girl! I WIN!

I had such a hard time with this game. I absolutely loved the gameplay. The fighting was satisfying, and the sneaking around and silently bow-and-arrowing people right in the face was so so good. I loved the upgrading system for weapons, and customizing what my skills were in the different skill trees to fit the way I played the game. I also really loved raiding tombs and looking for collectables while solving puzzles in the environment. All that stuff was so great. What was not great, and sometimes awful and cringe-worthy, was the way Lara was written. She has so much potential to be as equally as cool, daring, and badass as Nathan Drake, but the mark was missed on a lot of occasions. She whined, cried, and fell altogether too much – even for an origin story. She didn’t start making decisions for herself until almost ¾ of the way through the game – until then, she was either directly or indirectly just following Roth’s directions. That unnecessary groping capture scene was gross. That ridiculous mirror conversation was offensive. I really hope that in Rise of the Tomb Raider they have gotten all the victim-ness out of Lara’s system and get back to her ultra cool, ass-kicking roots. No more whining about tombs and killing dudes. Just 100% coolness, please. As always, the next game I play from my embarrassing backlog is up to you! Skyrim has been taken off only because I’m saving it for after the holiday season, but I need one to play while waiting for Santa! Vote in the comments!

  1. Uncharted 1
  2. Asura’s Wrath
  3. Deadpool
  4. Wolfenstien: The New Order
  5. Pikmin 3

Sarah Ingram is part archaeologist, part geek, and mostly runs on coffee and red wine. She is a historical archaeologist obsessed with seventeenth-century colonial taverns and social interaction; hosts a technology news and reviews show calledTech Up; and podcasts on The PVP Podcast. You can follow her on Twitter (@Cerajoy) if you enjoy a lot of Futurama quotes, wine musings, and Sony fangirling.

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