Tomb Raider is the best Uncharted game I’ve played since the time I played Uncharted 2, back when I still played the PlayStation 3. I began neglecting the Sony-made machine once I purchased an Xbox 360 and realized that dreadfully slow network features and a clumsy interface were not problems with all modern consoles — just the one I’d bought out of the gate. So Tomb Raider: Uncharted Adventures is probably even better because I don’t have to turn on a PS3 to play it at all.
Another thing I don’t have to do is play as Nathan Drake, a second boon for the game. I don’t have to listen to him, see him, make him jump on things, or even throw him from great heights down gaping chasms because I find him insufferable. Young Lara Croft is a fantastic stand-in for Nathan Drake because she isn’t anything like him. He’s a constant annoyance and she, well, is just a little timid and bland.
I did used to like Nathan, though, back before he careened around the world every couple of hours because he has no attention span whatsoever. There was a time when he was happy to run around an island for hours on end, climbing up the same kinds of walls and playing in streams — back when he was fun to be around and not simply a self-obsessed narcissist. But he became a celebrity, and now I can’t stand him and his incessant attention seeking.
Look at his games’ cover artwork, for instance. The first time around, he was perfectly happy to look like a male model vaulting over a rock — all understated athleticism with a hint of brooding purpose. In the second go around, he changes completely, evidently not satisfied with looking anywhere near the everyman he purports to be. This time, Nathan Drake wants you to look at him and his daring — his foolhardy greatness and unfazed cool — or anything, really, as long as everyone is looking right at him and nothing else.
Yes, he is hanging precariously from a train over one of my favorite chasms, but he is merely using the train, the snow, the dropped gun, and that long, long fall that could await him to focus our eye on him. Try looking at one of these things for a second, and your gaze is inexorably drawn back toward Drake — your every thought focusing on his predicament. How will he climb back into the train? What will he do without his weapon? Why has he removed it from its holster and dropped it in the first place? Is he at all cold in the snow, wearing only a stylish V-neck for protection? Every part of this image’s mise-en-scène is cynically positioned to make us think entirely about Nathan Drake and his pitiful, attention-seeking ways.
The worst part of this sordid aspect of his person is that he never actually posed for this photograph in the first place. He mocked the whole thing up on a green screen. If you look at the original image, you can clearly see he is not grabbing the train at all — he’s barely touching it. He wasn’t holding anything but simply standing on one leg and sticking his arm in the air for the photographer. The rest, as they say, was done in post. Nathan Drake isn’t your friend. He is a fame- and money-hungry liar who will stoop to any level of deceit to feed his addiction for gawping applause.
For as much as this is a touching story about Lara Croft and her difficult journey into adulthood, the game itself does nothing to help this young woman to blossom on her own. Neglect the controller for a second, and you will likely condemn Lara to a terrible fate. The game is fervently against giving her any means of sustaining her own life without the guiding hand of the player and is far too protective of her child-like innocence. That isn’t to say that Tomb Raider is Lara’s tearful mother, unwilling to let her fly the nest and forget all about her. Rather, it’s her aged neighbor who splits his time between fantasizing about all the ways he would “teach that girl a lesson.”
At almost any point throughout her adventure, Lara can die. If she isn’t climbing, jumping, or shooting, she is most likely careening down a hill or through the air right toward a sharp protrusion, and damn you, player, if you aren’t concentrating while she does this because she will happily, happily, let herself be poked full of holes.
There are a couple of instances throughout the game where Lara is covered from head to toe in blood after concluding a particularly gruesome bout of woman-on-man sparring. Considering the leering nature and rabid frequency of her instant impalements, I have to assume that the developers would have much rather she were covered in a different though no less nauseating bodily fluid.
Which brings us to the unavoidable conclusion; Nathan Drake makes all the games. Not necessarily singlehandedly, but he oversees the entire operation to be sure. When not starring in them himself he is creating others that are just different enough to keep people interested, though not too unfamiliar as to have people forgetting about him altogether. Drake is very similar to Ben Affleck before he started starring in his directorial efforts; a suit I’m sure Drake will be more than happy to follow when the time is right. Possibly with an Assassin’s Creed style expansion game that incorporates ideas from a similar, though less fruitful or satisfying project. Like thus:
Just like Ben, some of the projects Nathan works on behind the scenes far surpass those he has seen his face plastered across, others, like The Town and Nathan Drake presents: Tomb Raider are very enjoyable yet serviceable continuations of a well-worn groove. That is all well and good for Sir Affleck who has currently directed only three films since Gone Baby Gone in 2007. Sir Nathaniel Drake on the other hand makes hundreds of games a year and it is he we can thank for homogenising videogames to the point of self-parody.Tomb Raider is essentially Uncharted in disguise. Lara Croft’s touching journey from adolescence to womanhood through the valley of the personal strife is, pause, adolescent male power fantasy torture-porny nonsense in disguise. Telling this origin story because ‘it needs to be heard’ is attempting to justify making a video game in the first instance and nothing more, again pause, in disguise.
After all that bile I must admit that I liked Tomb Raider quite a lot. And therein lies the problem. Nathan Drake has convinced the world, and vicariously me, that for them to be fun, all games must play like his. Just as I didn’t play Uncharted Three, I can’t see myself jumping on Lara any time soon for fear of not enjoying it as much as the first time. I am therefore going to lock myself away from the evil Nathan Drake and Sons Co. and their vile videogames, all the videogames remember, and sweat it out until something changes or we all destroy the World. Not quite sure which one will, or even should, happen first.
*As a side note, Nathan Drake did not have anything to do with the development of Flower. That is why it is the best game ever made.