Push to Smart Water Cooler: Rise of the Tomb Raider

This week we’re talking about Rise of the Tomb Raider! It’s one of Jaylee’s favorite games of 2015–with a few caveats. Stacey acknowledges that it is a game. What did you think?

Transcript under the jump!

Transcript

JAYLEE: This episode contains spoilers for Tomb Raider, and Rise of the Tomb Raider.

JAYLEE: Hello and welcome to the first Push to Smart episode of the year. Whoo!

STACEY: (Clapping) Whoo!

JAYLEE: This week we’re going to be having a little water cooler discussion on Rise of The Tomb Raider, sequel to one of my Game of the Year picks for 2013 which was the reboot of Tomb Raider. This game, a bit of a spoiler, is definitely going to be on my game of the year list but there are some caveats to that that I definitely wanted to talk about in the water cooler.

STACEY: Yeah.

JAYLEE: As with the original I know you weren’t as big a fan of it as I was.

STACEY: Correct.

JAYLEE: What is your main takeaway from this one?

STACEY: That’s the thing, ‘cause spoiler for my Game of the Year list, I’ll be upfront with this, I love the crap out of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate and as I was playing this game I was so mad at the story and how much it retreated from the last game. And the reason I bring up my Game of the Year is an Assassin’s Creed game is because I realize that is very hypocritical. So I just want to forefront with that. It’s hard to play this game without putting it in conversation with the Uncharted series.

JAYLEE: Especially this game.

STACEY: Yeah.

JAYLEE: It definitely felt like this game they were trying to make a female Nathan Drake, which is something that kept popping up which frustrates me because I feel like Lara is such a distinct character from Nathan. She was there before him!

STACEY: Yeah, it’s interesting. One of the things that struck me during the promotional campaign for this was that the main driving aesthetic difference between Uncharted and Tomb Raider at this point is that Tomb Raider has somehow emerged completely humorless.

JAYLEE: Mhmm.

STACEY: It is all about realism and this grit. Even though the game itself isn’t totally like that, whereas Uncharted is a lot more charming. It’s Indiana Jones via Joss Whedon, but there are a few beats in this game where I kept thinking of Uncharted 2. Especially when she comes up on the village.

JAYLEE: Mhmm.

STACEY: And I kept thinking “Okay, I like exploring in this game but why doesn’t this have the same emotional pull that coming across the village in Uncharted 2 did. What is different here?” I think it’s because the first game ended with Lara getting her two pistols and it seemed to be like “Okay, this is the Lara Croft origin story, now she’s going to go of and raid tombs.”

JAYLEE: Mhmm.

STACEY: This game is like a second origin story.

JAYLEE: Yeah.

STACEY: And it’s like they don’t have– Lara, she has the beginnings of a cool character and I love– I cannot stress enough how much I love that there is a system in place to track her proficiency in ancient Greek.

JAYLEE: Mhmm.

STACEY: They don’t have confidence in her, and they don’t have confidence that we’d believe that she’d want to go on this so they keep having to–

JAYLEE: Rationalize.

STACEY: Yeah, rationalize why she’s here, when it should just be because she’s a huge fucking nerd and she wants to be here and that should be enough. Instead we’re given these really dire, really silly stakes.

JAYLEE: And these ridiculous plot points.

STACEY: You know nothing about Anna but as soon as she comes up in a particular scene you’re like “Oh, she’s going to be evil by the end of this scene.”

JAYLEE: Oh, absolutely, yeah.

STACEY: I think that’s the core of it and why this game is so frustrating to me is it seems like it doesn’t have confidence in its hero and your ability to identify and want to be that hero in the world. It’s just… Ugh. (Laughs)

JAYLEE: I do think that it is a retread of the origin story, and I don’t think she needs two origin stories but I do think that this is a better origin story than the first Tomb Raider because it does start with her seeking out adventure instead of stumbling on disaster and becoming a survivor.

STACEY: Yeah.

JAYLEE: The marketing for this game is all over the place and it really bothers me because they made a deal out of learning languages and the archaeological aspect. I do really love the tombs, I think they really upped their game. They were very creative and fun to take part in. I also like that in this game she doesn’t have that father figure that she’s trying to save/saves her, and instead it’s very much about how the shadow of her father looms over her and stepping out and finding your own place in that. And I did like how they had Jacob and Sophia to kind of mirror that, because at the end of the game once Jacob is dead, Sophia’s like “Well, I’m the leader now.” I just– I liked parts of it but I still– there’s so much freaking combat and–

STACEY: And it’s the same combat, because there’s a point where I’m running and I’m in a snowy soviet era base again. Didn’t I just end the last game here? Like it’s the exact same environments, which is another thing thinking back to Uncharted 2 versus Uncharted 1, it led us to so many different environments and here it was the same ones that we’d seen before. To your point about Jacob and his daughter mirroring Lara’s story, I just don’t think any of that worked for me. Like at all.

JAYLEE: I liked the idea, I don’t think the execution was that good.

STACEY: No.

JAYLEE: Her father is literally immortal as opposed to the immortal memory of Mr. Croft. I liked the parallels but they didn’t really connect because, I don’t know, they were trying to think of too many enemies or something? I will say though, I do like that they diversified Lara’s arsenal so that combat could at least be faster. Like, poison clouds that take out multiple people, bombs, etc.

STACEY: But at the same time I found myself relying on the exact same thing every time. I used poison arrows throughout the entire game, almost exclusively. A lot of nitpicks (Laughs)

JAYLEE: But that is the thing, it’s a very important game and so the nitpicking is necessary, I think.

STACEY: This is the second in two games where it’s been a story of her getting out of the shadow of daddy and so it’s like if we’re just going to get stuck on this why don’t we just trash the story and make it about exploring tombs, or raiding tombs, one might even say.

JAYLEE: I don’t know, I had a lot of fun playing it but it is, still, at the end of the day, a frustrating overall package.

STACEY: Mhmm. I will say one of the other things when you were talking about the promotional campaign, one of the things– and this is not the developers fault, this is the marketing team gone rogue, I kept thinking about the whole E3 thing where they kept talking about how realism was so important and be realistic. It has all the same problems every post-Uncharted game has. Every character besides Lara looks really cartoony, there’s some hilariously bad hugging animations going on. There’s a lot of weird unnatural movements, and I don’t know if you encountered this, but it wasn’t consistent or very good at communicating distance. So there were some things that I thought she could make for sure and then I’d miss and then other things I thought there was no way she could make it and then it’d be the only place she’d be able to go.

JAYLEE: Yeah.

STACEY: So, again, that’s kind of par for the course, but because there was all that talk about realism, it just kind of shot themselves in the foot, I think. And again, not the developer’s fault.

JAYLEE: And another thing about the lead-up to this game. (Laughs)

STACEY: (Laughs)

JAYLEE: They did make a thing about how “Oh, you could be stealthy this time.” No. You. Can. Not. I tried, and it sucked.

STACEY: Well, part of it too is that she has her version of eagle vision and it doesn’t detect people, unless–

JAYLEE: I think you can if you upgrade a certain skill tree or something. There are parts that I really liked. Like that one scene where Jacob and Lara are in the prison cell and he’s like “You’re not going to get far without me” and she’s like, “You don’t know how far I’ve come.” I love that little small bit.

STACEY: I hated that. (Laughs)

JAYLEE: Really?

STACEY: It’s not so much that, it felt very–

JAYLEE: Strong Female Protagonist?

STACEY: Well, that, but then she’s like “I can’t trust anyone, I was just betrayed by this woman who, trust me, was super important. I know we didn’t communicate that to you but just trust me, it’s true.” Oh my god, this feels so contrived. We know you’re going to trust him. (Laughs) Stop.

JAYLEE: Yeah, you’re kind of on your own.

STACEY: Just stop, go raid tombs.

 

JAYLEE: (Laughs)

STACEY: Go study Greek.

JAYLEE: The cast in the first game was so much more interesting and the only one you see is Jonah.

STACEY: Who almost dies again.

JAYLEE: Yes.

STACEY: AGAIN.

JAYLEE: He’s a very lovable character but why didn’t we see Sam who was so huge in the first game?

STACEY: Her gal pal.

JAYLEE: Gal pal. Gal’s being pals. Raiding tombs.

STACEY: (Laughs) Why is any of this happening is what I’m wondering.

JAYLEE: (Laughs) “Why did you make this game?”

STACEY: I was so– I keep coming back to the Greek thing, I was so tickled when I got an alert saying “You don’t know enough Ancient Greek to read this.” I was like “Yes.” Taking it back to another Uncharted comparison, something Uncharted never got right was the journal. It acted as a way for Nathan Drake to take notes on his discoveries but you never had a reason to access it except for very specific periods where buttons pop up saying “access that journal you forgot about.” Later, it kind of serves as a funny character stuff and I feel like stuff like finding the treasure in this game kind of reconciles that a little bit. It informs Lara’s character more actively, I guess it’s more in your face, she gets so nerdy and excited about things she finds, and I love the observations she has. I don’t understand why that’s not what’s driving the game.

JAYLEE: Because it’s not gritty enough, it’s not real enough.

STACEY: (Whispers) It’s not real.

JAYLEE: That’s the thing. She has this character and when it comes out it’s fantastic.

STACEY: She’s so likeable!

JAYLEE & STACEY: Yeah.

JAYLEE: It’s not about Lara being likeable or being a fully realized character, it’s about “Look at her mowing down these guys, saving the day.”

STACEY: Strong Female Character.

JAYLEE: Yeah. Like I said, I had a lot of fun playing the game I just– there’s so much missed potential. And again, it’s  because there aren’t many games like this where you have a playable female character who’s headlining and has this big media campaign push. So it’s difficult when you have to put all those eggs in one basket.

STACEY: But is it, though?

JAYLEE & STACEY: (Laughs)

STACEY: It’s in the name, if they just focus on the fucking tombs it would be fine.

JAYLEE: Yeah.

STACEY: I don’t know who it is who’s like “No, we gotta shoot dudes, like that is central to the tomb raiding experience.”

JAYLEE: “She has to break her arm and set it.”

STACEY: Yeah.

JAYLEE: It’s just kind of a victim of trying to follow trends in a lot of way. Like they have to have this weird multiplayer aspect with cards and things.

STACEY: Oh my god, I did not understand that.

JAYLEE: Neither did I.

STACEY: (Laughs)

JAYLEE: Okay, we have to have shooting because games are all about shooting. You go to the first Tomb Raider, which was a huge success, had like ten enemies, maybe.

STACEY: But that’s okay, shooting is a big part of Lara Croft. She’s always with her two guns. Except for in this game. But instead of having her mow down random cult people, again, dinosaurs!

JAYLEE: I know! T-rexes. I’m ready.

STACEY: (Sigh) You have twenty years worth of stuff you could be mining here and instead we’re stuck on cults.

JAYLEE: Mhmm. We’re stuck on cults and I just want the next game to have everyone know she’s capable.

STACEY: Yeah, exactly.

JAYLEE: She’s smart, she can use two guns at once, and she’s the motherfucking Tomb Raider.

STACEY: That’s what I thought this game was going to be after the last game. The last game had that big hurrah moment at the end with her two pistols in slow-mo and I was like “This is it.”

JAYLEE: Then they’re like “Whoa-whoa, that never happened. Not yet.

STACEY: “That’s not believable. That’s not realistic.” (Laughs)

JAYLEE: But I feel like this always happens. I get so excited then I play it and it’s not terrible, but…

STACEY: Yeah, I’ve felt that way about a lot of games recently. (Laughs) It’s like “Oh…”

JAYLEE: That’s what makes my Game of the Year choices so difficult because I enjoyed playing a lot of games. I feel like this wasn’t the year of the story. (Laughs)

STACEY: At least not in AAA.

JAYLEE: Yeah.

STACEY: Have I ruined it for you? I hope not

JAYLEE: I don’t think so.

STACEY: Good.

JAYLEE: Because I still enjoy the time I had with it. I do think, and this is how I felt at the end of the last game, but I’m like “Next time!”

STACEY: I know, that’s what I felt, too. Again, the image of her with the two guns sticks out because that’s when you’re like “Okay, that’s what they’re doing, I just had to slog through this and now she’s be a tomb raider.” (Laughs)

JAYLEE: But if it does turn out that her father is alive and was the one who shot Anna at the end I’m going to be like: “A, I called it. B, that’s boring.”

STACEY: (Laughs)

JAYLEE: So that does it for our water cooler discussion on Rise of the Tomb Raider. Next time we’re going to be talking about our Game of the Year, so we want to know your top pick for Game of the Year and why. Let us know in the comments and of course don’t forget to subscribe to stay up to date on all our latest episodes and water cooler discussions.

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