By Matt Carey
It’s been a long time since Lara Croft graced our television screen with her first bout of tomb raiding antics. Back in 1996 she tore down boundaries, and was the first icon of the Playstation era. Never before had a woman been presented in the video game arena in such a strong and positive manner, and not only did she turn the industry on its head, she was also the focus of many teenage male fantasies.
Fast forward to 2009, and the 13 years since Miss Croft’s debut have been strangely void of any similar role models. This may have been a deliberate decision. After all, presenting more female characters in a similar vein would encourage claims of “copycat” and “jumping on the bandwagon”. Whilst we have seen strong independent women presented, they have never successfully taken centre stage. But now, Bethesda Software have finally taken the plunge.
It’s very easy to see the stylistic influences running riot through the game; at one point or another, I was reminded of Ocean’s Eleven, assorted John Woo titles, Lock Stock, Kill Bill, and just about every other Tarantino flick, whose own movies pay homage to a great many other films and directors. I loved it. Add the Mexican-punk-rockabilly score to the mix and the game presents itself with a cock-sure swagger and an air of cool.
Graphically, it isn’t the most impressive looking title in the world. The animation is very “last-gen” on occasion too. However, it does what it needs to. It is a shame in this day and age, from a graphical point of view, that style has been put on a much higher pedestal than substance. Guy Ritchie films were much the same. They would never win awards for cinematography, but they sure as hell would for editing. And it is what we find here. So much care and attention has gone into the styling that I was totally overlooking the graphical failings.
The game-play finds itself lacking on occasion too. We have seen this kind of storytelling before in video games, with the most recent example and obvious comparison being John Woo’s Stranglehold, although there are strong traces of Tomb Raider and Assassins Creed dotted around too. Indeed, where Woo infuses his movies – and game – with a powerful narrative throughout, giving meaning to the carefully crafted set pieces and over-the-top action, Wet seems to miss the target, offering many generic encounters for you to jump, shoot and slide through in slow-mo. Generic they may be, but at least they are fun, if not overly imaginative. Yet again, though, the presentation of the unoriginality is glorious, and you do find yourself grinning as you pump more bullets into a gunman than have been fired in Iraq over the past year. It is also hindered by a plot with more holes than an old pair of tights.
Once in a while the “run from beginning to end shooting people” is broken up. For example, the second level sees a high speed freeway chase, similar in feel on occasion to the Matrix freeway battle. You shoot the villains that hang out of the cars and hummers, all the while jumping over flipping sudans and jack-knifing big-rigs. The level isn’t long, or hard, but it is a fun addition and a nice break of pace. And a massive thumbs up for the sub levels where, upon getting a face full of blood, everything goes bonkers. I’m saying no more than that. Bit of a shame then, that the level that involves you sky diving is dull as dishwater.
I started this review focusing on the star of the piece, the anti-heroine by the name of Rubi. She misses the mark completely. Whereas Croft oozes confidence and sexuality, and Thurman in Kill Bill displays bags of sex appeal, cool, and vulnerability, Rubi doesn’t look or sit right. There is no real motive to her. No attention to detail in the way the character looks or feels, which is true of most of the cast here too. In short, the primary goal of the developers was to create a character that looks sexy and, whilst she is doing the whole jump / slide / shoot thing, looks damn hot too. Except that she doesn’t look remotely sexy. Eliza Dushku was drafted in to voice Rubi, but to me she seems have been very under-utilised. For all the dialogue she utters forth, I would imagine that she was in the studio for an hour, tops. And it isn’t the most convincing vocal performance I have ever heard either. I’m upset. I love Dushku. I have done ever since Buffy The Vampire Slayer when she played the kick ass “is she good or bad” Faith. I loved her in the recent Dollhouse too. But here, there is little to convince me that she gave a toss about what she was doing in that sound booth. The devs would have been better suited to putting her visually into the lead role. She certainly would have been a lot sexier than the character model currently in use.
Malcolm McDowell adds some credibility to proceedings – although I cannot for the life of me think why he chose to do this – and Alan Cummings? Well, can someone out there tell me who he voiced, because I don’t have a clue.
It sounds like I am hating on this game quite a lot, and, well, I am. There is much to be annoyed about. I hate that the graphics are outdated. I hate that it is a blatant rip-off of so many movies. I hate that it is so easy (and it is). I hate that it is so short. I hate that there are game-play elements that I got bored of by 1998. I hate that Eliza Dushku sounds like she recorded her vocals with as much enthusiasm as having a dump. But more than all of this, I hate that I really quite like it. See, for all its plagiarism, and for all the unoriginality, it is fun. It’s like watching your average summer blockbuster movie. You know the story is going to be crap, and anything above wooden in the acting stakes is a bonus, but if there is fighting, guns, explosions, jumping around, cool music, and slow motion, and it is presented in a way that makes you want to go and buy replica guns and samurai swords and frighten grannies in Tesco’s car-park, then you’re happy. It doesn’t involve using your brain and your thumbs can go into automatic pilot. Sure, it may not last you more than a week, but for cheap thrills it does exactly what it says on the tin.