This past week I purchased the Tomb Raider reboot. Reboots are all the rage now: Batman, Superman, Ninja Turtles, Star Trek, James Bond; half the stuff I grew up liking as a kid is being modernized. Lara Croft was one character who desperately needed an overhaul. The campy, one dimensional heroine of 1996’s original Tomb Raider left much to be desired. Originally, Lara was a stoic, crack shot, capable of outrageous gymnastic maneuvers despite her cartoonishly plump mammaries. She was shallow and uninteresting; more an object of male fantasy than of female empowerment. But her adventures were fun. And even while the past three games (Legend, Underworld, and Anniversary) have taken steps to add breadth and depth to her being, it still felt as though pieces were missing. Enter the reboot.
Here is the gist: Recent college grad Lara Croft is a part of a team of archaeologists searching for a long lost island off the coast of Japan. When a debilitating storm leaves them shipwrecked on the mysterious island, Lara, unknown to adventure, is thrust into countless scenarios where she must fight to survive. As far as I know, this is the first game that specifically references Lara’s formal training in archaeology. While the game focuses more on combat and survival, a key aspect involves the search for relics modeled after actual historical treasures. These artifacts include Noh masks, WWII dog tags, various jade creations, and enough coins to make a numismatist’s mouth water. With each artifact discovered, players are rewarded with a quick blurb on the form and function as well as the ability to explore it from 360 degrees.
I was pleased to find Lara embodies positive qualities which any archaeologist would find flattering: resourcefulness, determination, and a continuously burgeoning sense of confidence in herself and her abilities. Meanwhile, her male counterpart, Dr. James Whitman, personifies the haughty snobbishness a dual PhD holder obsessed with success may exude. We’ve all met a James Whitman before; someone who believes knowledge is an entitlement to leadership. A know it all with an axe to grind. CRM firms are rife with them. As archaeologists, he and Lara are opposite sides of the same drachma. Whitman’s motivations are geared towards personal reward; fame and gain. On the other hand, Lara sees knowledge as a tool for understanding her situation. Lara's awareness of history, culture, and ancient languages helps propel the heroine through the game and for the player, helps weave a fascinating narrative.
Tomb Raider incorporates more archaeology than other archaeo-themed adventure games, including the previous Tomb Raider games, the Uncharted series, and whatever digital incarnation of Indiana Jones has graced platforms recently. And honestly, the new Lara Croft is a far more likable character than either Indiana Jones or Nathan Drake. In fact I despise Drake who is driven solely by the pursuit of treasure and wealth in his series as much as those nitwits with metal detectors over on Spike TV.
Overall, Tomb Raider is gritty, brutal romp through fiction. It is not so much a story of archaeology as with archaeology. There are a half dozen job titles Croft could hold that wouldn’t change the narrative, but it is good the game’s creators crowned Lara as a shovel bum. If I had to choose a representative for the field of archaeology in interactive entertainment, I'd vote Lara all the way.
Tomb Raider is available now for PC, XBOX 360, and Playstation 3.