This isn’t a review. This is me talking a little bit about why I love Tomb Raider, the first modern video game that I’ve successfully completed (on normal!). This game single-handedly got me hooked on gaming, and has me drooling in anticipation over when the sequel to the 2013 reboot, Rise of the Tomb Raider, will be available on PlayStation 4 (the console I use). The game wasn’t a perfect one, as I did have one or two gripes about the story development along the way, but all in all, I think I’ll have a hard time finding another game that sucks me in quite as much as Tomb Raider. Which kind of sucks, seeing as how it’s the first game I ever completed.
But anyways, let me explain to you why I am officially Lara Croft trash.
I began gaming the day after my 22nd birthday in September, just days before the start of my fall quarter. I started with a game that my boyfriend said would be good for a beginner, The Last of Us. I started playing it on easy, and after a shaky start, got the hang of things. After playing for a few weeks on visits to my boyfriend’s apartment, I began to avert my gaze to future games. While visiting a GameStop to browse, Tomb Raider was the first game to catch my eye. I always knew it to be a game with a strong female protagonist (because let’s face it, there aren’t many in gaming), so instantly I vowed to buy it and play it one day. I looked up playthroughs on YouTube and binged them in the meantime. Lo and behold, a couple weeks later, my boyfriend surprised me with it. It was on and poppin’ from there.
I decided to play the game on normal to challenge myself. The game starts theatrically, with Lara’s narration epically bringing you into the events that led to the beginning of the game. Lara begins the game shell-shocked for sure — timid, acting purely out of survival instinct. Something else struck me about Lara, something that has been a topic of much debate and disdain among female nerds — her outfit. Female characters in video games and comics are typically animated/dressed in sexual ways so as to appease the “typical” gamer, who is (straight and) male. Indeed, in searching for playthroughs on YouTube of the game, it was hard for me to find one wherein the guy doing the playthrough didn’t comment on either Lara’s sexiness or appearance within the first five minutes of the video.
But what I liked about Lara’s outfit in this game was that it was realistic. Layered tank tops, pants, and boots. Nothing overtly sexual about it, unless of course you’re a guy that feels the need to sexualize women no matter what they’re wearing (throwing shade at those YouTubers who did). Even if her outfit wasn’t the most functional considering all of the physical activity she partakes in for the entirety of the game, it wasn’t designed to be sexy, and I appreciated that.
The gameplay itself is insane. So many times throughout I was yelling at my screen in disbelief of the action sequences I was going through. Tomb Raider brilliantly combines cut scenes with action sequences you actually have to maneuver Lara through with your controller. The game flows so well that you don’t even notice the sheer magnitude of enemies you encounter (in almost every scene, no joke). If you’re looking for a game to improve your shooting or sneak attack skills, look no further. One of the most compelling parts of Lara’s character development is seen through her demeanor when encountering enemies or hardship. As the game progresses, you can hear Lara getting more brazen with her attacks, announcing her presence to the men she knows are after her. To see that kind of fearlessness and determination from a female protagonist as a woman playing the game was hella cool.
I also enjoyed that Lara’s crew was made up of mostly marginalized or “othered” identities. Besides Lara who is a woman, the crew included Reyes, a black (possibly Afro-Latina) woman, Sam, an Asian woman, and Jonah, a man who’s race is pretty ambiguous, but he definitely isn’t white. (Judging from the way his hair grew out in the second game, I would venture to say he’s black in some way.) The other three members of the crew, Roth, Alex and Whitman, are white men. I appreciated this diversity from the start, but appreciated it even more in the end when (SPOILER) Lara, Sam, Reyes, and Jonah are the four that survive the game. All of the white men that are introduced to us by name in the game (including the antagonist, Mathias) die by the end. That’s super symbolic and rare for a white male to not be the hero at the end of a game, book, television show, what have you. Or even a male in general. The ones that survived in Tomb Raider are the people that are most often the villains in games, killed off without a second thought. But in this game, they are survivors. They are heroes. And that is applause-worthy.
To be critical, though, I did not like the portrayal of Reyes in a later portion of the game. After Lara begins to speculate and attempt to get to the bottom of what is keeping the crew on the island, Reyes becomes antagonistic of Lara. She becomes the naysayer, the stern black woman that we see so commonly in television and movies, even saying at one point that she was going to leave Lara behind if she hadn’t returned by the time the crew had fixed their boat. Even though Reyes comes around to Lara’s crazy hunches in the end, it still left a bitter taste in my mouth that the hater of the group had to be the black woman, especially since I’m a black woman myself. This goes to show that it’s not simply about adding diversity to games and increasing representation of groups other than straight white men, but what the representation is of those groups once we add them. And Reyes is an example of representation falling back on stereotypes. I guess in the end though, I preferred Reyes’ presence, even if it was problematic for a portion of the game.
Having finished the game, I am left with a simple thought: that was a good fucking game. I have to catch myself saying that it wasn’t just good “for a girl game.” I really, honestly hope people see Tomb Raider as a great game all around and a raucous good time. The gameplay, the plot development, the action sequences, and Lara’s distinctive presence make this game a must-play.
I hope to find more games with female protagonists, or games that allow me to change my gender to female for the lead character. But I think Lara Croft will always hold a special place in my heart, and will be always hard to top in my mind.
So when you ask me what my favorite game is, I will answer Tomb Raider. When you ask me who my favorite video game protagonist is, I will answer Lara Croft. Not (just) because she’s a woman, but because she’s a boss.