I've extracted no small amount of enjoyment out of those Womb Raider games back in the day, but as my character did a sideways somersault onto a pile of historically priceless earthenware while gunning down endangered tigers, I asked myself, "I wonder what happened to this person to make her so incredibly jaded?" And then I would think, "OH, ACTUALLY I DON'T CARE!" and go back to making her stand with her back to a wall in that one particular way that makes the camera zoom in on her tits because I was fucking fifteen.
But for those of you who remained focused on the first question, Crystal Dynamics now has you covered with Tomb Raider; a prequel to explain how a young and starry-eyed Lara Croft learnt how to survive but doesn't get around to establishing when she learnt to put a fucking jumper on if she's cold. Actually, it kinda skips a bit because Lara starts the game already knowing how to jump and climb and shoot an arrow with laser precision, so I guess we're gonna need another prequel at some point to explain all that. (Maybe she was playing on the high school lacrosse team, when the ground cracked open and she fell into the subterranean lands of the mole people.)
But anyway, Tomb Raider is another goddamn fucking pissing-in-my-sandwich reboot with the same name as the cocking original, and it's particularly illogical here 'cos raiding tombs is a tertiary activity at best. They should have called it, "You Can Do This" after the most frequent line of dialogue, or alternatively,"Hohh hehh hahh mneh hahh."
Lara Croft manages to convince a small team of ethnically diverse archaeologists (who all seem to be wearing digital clocks on their heads counting down to the point where they are unwillingly made a part of someone else's character development) to investigate a mysterious island where they find a storm preventing them from leaving and a mad cult of bearded castaways who have for years been using inflated shopping bags tied to sticks as substitutes for female companionship. So all the pieces are in place for Lara Croft to get the absolute shit kicked out of her for ten hours.
Oh, I see. When Lara Croft gets beaten up we're supposed to admire her strength of character, but when the same thing happens to Nathan Drake we're supposed to point and laugh? WHY DO YOU HATE MEN SO MUCH GAMES INDUSTRY? Now obviously that was sarcasm because Nathan Drake has never been the subject of a controversial attempted rape scene. Although if you miss the quick-time event to fight off the attempted rapist — which I did 'cause the timing is really annoying on those things — then it turns out he only wanted to throttle her to death! PHEW! Maybe we shouldn't be so quick to misjudge these hairy cultist murderers.
Well, speaking of Nathan Drake, I like Tomb Raider when it's actually being Tomb Raider and I like it a lot less when it's being Uncharted. I like it when I can freely jump and climb around the areas exploring, finding treasures and murdering more animals than Bernard and Matthew combined. I don't like it when I find myself thinking, "What an exciting fast paced action sequence, I wish I'd been playing it". There are the quick-time events which only count as gameplay if licking the back of your teeth counts as a square meal, and then there are the things where you are technically in full control but if you do anything other than run in the indicated direction within two seconds, then we are going to beat you to death with a grave digger's spade. Basically a quick-time event in a big hat and baggy coat and nonchalantly whistling.
The problem with the rest of the game is that there doesn't seem to be a central mechanic; there's just a whole load of stuff that you do. For example, the first thing Lara has to do after acquiring a bow is make a few deer into instant spit roasts. And you'd be forgiven for thinking that this is setting up some kind of survival mechanic, ala Metal Gear Solid 3, where you have to eat food to not die from not eating food) stop me if that sounds a bit technical.) But no, this is just to satisfy a critical path objective and you never need to kill animals again. Assassin's Creed 3 did this too; gameplay elements introduced, tutorialised and then forgotten about like a desperate babysitter trying to hold our attention with a box full of shiny objects.
Half the game's mechanics have no connectivity; they don't unlock more challenge or make things more fun, it's just there if you feel like doing it, because in the ongoing quest to make games as homogenized as possible, many now lack even the balls to say, "put in some effort or you can't continue". Games now just drop challenges in like turds in a paddling pool and advise us to swim around them if they frighten us. Well I want those turds fired at my mouth from a tennis ball cannon so I can smack them out of the way and feel like I've achieved something, goddammit!
If there is an element around which all else could be said to revolve it might be collectables, which are more numerous than the droplets of spit on Bill O'Reilly's Autocue. The Easter Bunny has outsourced the island to his friends Document Bunny and Relic Bunny and one Flighty and Eccentric Bunny who couldn't be tied down by your labels, man, so left a unique set of collectables for each area like stealing ten eggs or desecrating five graves. But again, where's the context? How does it connect? It's not helping her survive, and if it's just spite that makes Lara want to kick seven cultist totems over, then one would have thought that sticking flaming arrows in all their jugular veins would have been enough.
Is the violence in this game a bit gratuitous, do we think? Is a climbing axe to the carotid artery a poor way to start a relaxing Sunday afternoon? The violence directed at Lara certainly gets fucking absurd. Again like Uncharted, it just loathes its protagonist, and Nathan Drake is a strapping young stud with a bulletproof haircut. In a sane world, Lara would be squirting liquidized organs out of her tear ducts and it just makes the game silly when it's trying to be dramatic.
This, Far Cry 3 and Spec Ops: The Line may represent a current trend for serious character building through gritty violence, which as a story hound I can dig like a shallow grave, but where I Spit On Your Tomb falls short is that I don't buy Lara's alleged arc. She has one freakout the first time she shoots a bloke, but once that's out of the way call her "Lara Croft, Brain-matter House Painter." Later on, when she's supposed to be yelling defiantly at her foes, the voice actress sounds more like the head girl giving the half-time pep talk at the county netball finals.
But the essence of the issue for me is that Lara is entirely reactionary. The universe just declares her chew toy of the day; she's either given no other option but to proceed or the ground simply collapses under her big fat arse. Captain Walker decides to use the white phosphorous. Jason Brody decides to stay on the island. That's what makes their characters develop. Lara just alternates between breathy whimpers and bland resignation. So you can kill a man and take a machete like a champ. A concrete block can do that, but you can't kick one out the back of a moving truck and call that a character arc.