Where the Hell Is Sam?: A Review of Rise of the Tomb Raider
I’ll say this about timed exclusives, they let a nobody like me give my friends who have different consoles a warning long before they can go out and buy a game.
If that sounds negative, that’s because it is. I’m really fucking angry at this game, and if you can believe it, more so than I was at Batman: Arkham Knight. But, I’m getting ahead of myself and my reasons for being upset won’t apply to everybody, and some of you won’t even care. So once we get to that point in the review you’ll know.
Setting & Plot
Some time has passed since the events of Yamatai and the previous game. Lara is now obsessed with finding proof of the immortal soul; it just so happens that her father had also expended a great effort on doing the same thing just before he died sacrificing his reputation in the archeological community. Following in the footsteps of her father and tracing his research, Lara begins a search for the lost city of an immortal prophet and the artifact it holds that grants “eternal life.”
Rise of the Tomb Raider brings us a plot that is enough to get the ball rolling and put Lara where she needs to be for her adventure. Its a bit melodramatic in the way it can be executed sometimes, and though its alright it lacks the heart that the 2013 installment seemed to have. The stakes don’t seem as high, the characters don’t seem as desperate, and Lara doesn’t feel connected to the other characters in a meaningful way.
Lara is our lead protagonist, obviously, and she’s been having some issues since what happened at Yamatai. Her journey to find proof of an immortal soul is supposedly a way to help her make sense of what she saw back on the island. It seems to be a personal mission to prove to herself and others that she is not crazy. Lara ends up spending most of the game pushing others away with her obsessive pursuit of legends.
Jonah from the previous game returns taking the role as Lara’s partner for the story. It’s stated that he is the only one of the other Yamatai survivors that Lara still talks to. Jonah’s more active roll doesn’t really give him much more characterization than the previous installment. While we do get the sense that he and Lara have become closer after what they went through on the island it’s not really explored further than him being willing to follow her to more remote corners of the world.
There are more characters in game but to delve into them would start to get into spoiler territory and that’s something I want to avoid even if I don’t particularly like this game.
Rise builds upon the foundation that the 2013 reboot laid down for its gameplay structure. Combat controls are pretty much identical with the return of the four weapons: Bow, Pistol, Rifle, and Shotgun. Weapons can be upgraded in much the same manner as the previous installment and parts are needed to forge the different versions within each class. What differs from TR(2013) is that forging a new weapon within that class does not necessarily mean that it is better than a previous version, but rather that it’s stats are concentrated in different areas. So your recurve bow might be better for traversal and puzzles but pales in combat which is where your compound bow shines.
Puzzles and collectibles return in the game offering rewards for players who take the time to search for them and the upgrades you’ll need to get to them really enforce the “metroidvania” structure of exploration. There are 9 secret tombs in the game each that will grant Lara a skill that can only be obtained from completing the puzzle within and finishing will grant Lara an alternate costume.
What is new to the game is crafting and resource gathering. In order to begin carrying more ammo or to get certain ammo in the first place players will have to craft several items for Lara’s use. Ammo pouches are simple one-off upgrades that have to be done at campsites from a menu tree of selections, but ammo crafting is something that is done on the go. While ammo can be obtained by scrounging around for it from bodies and small stashes, Lara’s special trick arrows are a lot more rare and if you want to use those with any regularity, you’ll need to craft them often, and each requires different resources for their makeup.
Why I’m Upset
Now, so far in this review you may have noticed that while I may be pissed off I haven’t really given a reason and, at worst, the game sounds just “alright.” Well that which I am upset about is something that is noticeably absent from the game and something that I have put into the title of this review.
Where the Hell is Sam?
I told my friend in a text that I had yelled the above phrase at my tv for several hours as I played the game. If you played the 2013 installment you may remember that Sam was a big part of the story. Everything Lara did in that game was for Sam. The two of them had the most significant relationship and that relationship had some not-so-subtle romantic undertones.
I’m a queer woman, and as a queer woman I loved the relationship that Lara and Sam had in the previous game and it is an extremely large part of what drew me to this continuity of the Tomb Raider franchise. So, I was generally confused and distressed when I had come to the end of the game and found that Sam was COMPLETELY absent from this game. She isn’t seen in any flashbacks, her voice isn’t heard in a call to Lara at anytime, hell the neither Lara nor Jonah even so much as MENTION her name even though she was at Yamatai with them.
It wasn’t until I went digging through the many audiologs in the game that I found a small one labeled “Sam” here is the transcript of that.
Therapist: Have you reached out to the other survivors since your return? Have you been in touch with your friend Sam?
Lara: You know I haven’t. Even if her doctors let me… She doesn’t want to see me.
T: You were very close to her, before the island.
L:…Don’t do this
T: That must be very difficult, to be separated from the people you need the most. When a trauma is shared, the healing process can be accelerated by talking to the people you shared it with.
L: Can we not do the whole patronizing sympathy thing? You know it hurts, I’ve told you it does. But it’s what Sam wants. I have to accept that.
T: I can listen to what you have to say. But you have to open up to someone, Lara. You’re not alone, no matter how much you think you are.
That’s it… that is all the mention of Sam in the entire game. Everything she had with Lara, all of the significance that the two had built up; all of it was just tossed out the window with no explanation or attention as though if they didn’t talk about it, it wouldn’t be noticed.
Frankly the whole thing feels pretty insulting because it’s done in such an offhanded way. Whatever falling out that Lara and Sam had, happened between games and we’re not told the reasons for it and it apparently didn’t effect Lara enough for Jonah (who was with both of them at Yamatai and who knows how close they were) to even ask Lara about it or mention it.
The way this was done really feels like a big “FUCK YOU” to everyone who enjoyed their relationship in the previous game and really its enough for me to just walk away from this series because if this is all the respect the developer has for a couple of women who may be queer then I think I’m done.
If you’re just some regular gamer and you don’t care about the whining of some “SJW” then whatever, buy the game and enjoy your metroidvania wilderness explorer game.
But if you’re a queer girl looking for a continuation of the story and relationship you grew attached to back in 2013, skip it and don’t give it a second thought. This game is not worth your time at all, just go replay the previous one it has just as much to offer this game and at least has the relationship of Lara and Sam still going.