he_ain't_heavy

One of the criticisms I’ve seen of the new Tomb Raider is that the supporting characters aren’t well developed. Which is a good point if you’re comparing it to, say, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, Robert Altman’s Gosford Park, or Mass Effects 1, 2, and 3. But if you’re comparing Tomb Raider to action/adventure videogames, and even most action/adventure movies, that’s only a good point if you didn’t watch any of the cutscenes or read any of the collectible text snippets.

After the jump, it takes a research ship’s crew

One of the great things Tomb Raider does is show how Lara is dependent on others. They’re certainly dependent on her, and there’s no shortage of saving people. But it’s a two-way street. This is not an adventure solely about one chick kicking ass for the heck of it. She does things for her friends, and they do things for her. And it’s not just the usual rescues. For instance, in one scene she has to cross a bridge. Roth, a character who she helped earlier in the game, helps her cross the bridge. What would have been a simple traversal scene — and that’s really all it is in terms of gameplay — is actually an exciting bit about characters looking out for each other.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but suffice to say that some characters fare better than others. Watch what Reyes, a character unfairly dismissed as the stereotypical feisty black woman, does at a funeral pyre. It’s a simple gesture. A throwaway bit of animation that will mean absolutely nothing to you unless you watched an earlier bit of found footage and then read some of the collectible text. The other characters may not get moments that poignant, but they get moments. Jonah, Dr. Whitman, Sam, Roth, Alex, Grimm. If you want a lack of character development, you can’t even really point to the villain unless you opt not to read the text backstory that emerges over the course of the game. And beyond that, there are plenty of ancillary characters in the island’s history.

Tomb Raider is not an exposition heavy game, which is what most videogames mistake for character development. For instance, the six hours it takes to get into a Persona game. There. Characters developed. No such hours happen in Tomb Raider, which begins with various people washed ashore and sputtering. You don’t need to know who they are yet. Enjoy some of this awesome action game first. We’ll get to the introductions later, and the character development later than that.

Not to say Tomb Raider is an ensemble game. It’s not. It’s very much about Lara Croft. But, like any character worth following, she doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Her relationships, and the relationships among those people, are a significant and well written enough part of the game that Crystal Dynamics deserves credit for succeeding where Bungie, Epic, Ubisoft, Rockstar, Capcom and so many others have failed.

Click here for the previous Tomb Raider entry.