FBT and the Last Crusade
After the TR reboot, I approached this sequel much the same way Lara behaved in the first one; I cried and blamed everyone else. I didn’t want to do this. Afterwards I cried because I should have just ignored the first and played this; this is how you reboot.
Lara’s late father had become obsessed with the supernatural and legends, eventually amassing a kind of archaeologist’s x-files. Discredited, he took his own life. Lara, totally not ripping off Indy and the Last Crusade, is determined to prove her father right and goes looking for ‘the source’, which grants immortality, and catches the attention of Trinity; once a religious sect committed to wiping out heresy, they’re now a paramilitary force looking to use artefacts to further their cause - not at all like the Nazis’ in Last Crusade; there’s even an icy double-crossing blonde. You call this Archaeology?
Following clues to Siberia, Lara discovers a hidden civilisation, the Remnant, who have been keeping the source a secret from the outside world for hundreds of years; unfortunately, Trinity followed her, so it’s a race to find the source before they do.
This time around, instead of dealing with her self-doubt we’re exploring Lara’s daddy issues. Besides constantly banging on about dad, there’s the leader of Remnant, Jacob, who seems to bring out the girlie in our little Tomb Raider; they grown up so fast. She’s constantly fangirling over him, looking up with big eyes and hanging on his every word. Whereas in the first game she was all woe is me, this time it’s ‘dear diary, Jacob said hello to me today, I literally died OMG’. Still, she’s as blameless as ever.
After Trinity decimate a Remnant camp she says “People are suffering because of my actions. It’s happening again. No, I can’t think like that.” Yes, yes you can. The Remnant were happily sealed off for decades before you came along. While she does occasionally squeeze out a few tears, Lara is surprisingly well-adjusted and up for the fight this time around, even though I think she’s just doing it to impress Jacob. And the game doesn’t hate her either, unlike TR.
There’s no rape-attack and few masochistic death scenes. This time if Lara mucks up she usually just dies rather than get mangled for us to enjoy like a Hostel movie. This is a solid adventure story not some grimy exploitation flick. If the first game's Lara was I Spit On Your Grave's Jennifer Hills, this is Ellen Ripley, Sarah Conner; strong and capable but human all the same. Now her yells and screams are of determination not panic or fear, she’s a lot more naturally intuitive and proactive; our behaviour is still a little at odds with the ‘what a terrible turn of events’ Dora the Explorer cut-scenes, but not as obvious as TR.
It could be argued RoTR a bit more generic too. It’s more obviously aping other typical open-world shooters; Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, even Arkham City. Lara is equal to the threats she faces, and often has the upper-hand; she’ll scoot around, hide in bushes, jury-rig Molotovs or smoke grenades, and a nice touch is using Trinity soldier’s CB radios to draw them in – which can be upgraded to a proximity mine; Lara is totally over feeling bad for killing and the game gives you lots of ways to do so. It doesn’t have quite the same level of bombastic moments or desperation, but it’s a more intense, up close game, relying on her honed skills not her ability to withstand being skewered.
There’s even a shop of sorts where you can trade coins you find to buy upgrades – which is actually a bit of an annoyance. She’ll ignore piles of gold but stumble around maps digging up old coins for trading. Why aren’t the Remnant giving her those upgrades, she’s helping. Sort of. And what are they going to spend them on? They’re cut off, not even Amazon Prime can get in here. It would be better to unlock those upgrades via side missions.
We do get some XP-worthy distractions like ‘cut down all those flags’ and actual side-quests like taking out Trinity drones or help sure-up defences for example, although they do occasionally grate; I ignore an impending Trinity invasion to help round up some chickens, and the fast-travel option often undermines the forward-push plot; at one point I’m to clear a path for some prisoners including a critically injured friend; but I pop off to finish burning down Soviet propaganda first - I’ll be back to save you later.
Still, a lot of the fun and exploration you derive from RotTR is because the narrative, while epic isn’t as life-or-death this time. Lara is dedicated to reclaiming her dad’s legacy, but while she and Trinity are equally matched they're also equally stuck here, so it’s a stalemate until you change things, and that lets you actually be a Tomb Raider.
The Tomb Raiding has been more carefully woven in this time. The puzzles are a lot more complex and satisfying, and they unlock abilities rather than being an XP grind. They’re varied, ranging from flooded waterworks to huge caves and abandoned mines, some with wolf packs marauding around. I’m finally enjoying raiding tombs and have time to look around rather than feel like I have to pat Lara on the shoulder telling her it’s going to be okay. And what a view.
The lush valleys, old Soviet blockades and factories, underground caves and mines, freezing tundra and old towns are stunning, while the lost city beneath a huge glacier is a great final location; the level of detail makes it one of those annoying games where you lose precious time poking around, while hunting at night is something special. Each area feels progressively tougher, more complex than the last, with its own play-style and there’s more emphasis on verticality this time, levels are cut into cliff-faces or buildings we make our way up, and swing between. And fall off.