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Pushing Buttons: How Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft was let down by generic games | Games

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There’s been an interesting development in the games business this week: Square Enix, the Japanese company behind Final Fantasy, has sold off basically its entire North American business for $300m. Swedish entrepreneur collective Embracer Group, a relative newcomer in gaming, is now the proud owner of studios in Montreal the US, and properties like Deus Ex, Thief and, of course, Tomb Raider.

Not too long ago, this would have felt like big news purely because of the money involved. But given the eyebrow-raising sums that have been flying around in the games industry lately – Sony paid $3.5bn for Bungie, a studio that currently has only one game (Destiny), and of course Microsoft is set to pay nearly $70bn for Activision-Blizzard and its suite of games – $300m seems quite the bargain. You’d think Tomb Raider alone might at one point have been worth that much or more. But not any more.

Tomb Raider is a game series that’s never really been what it should have been, if you ask me. In the 1990s the series broke through because its star, Lara Croft, became a polygonal sex symbol, gracing the pages of lads’ mags and the cover of The Face. But I’ve always felt that Tomb Raider’s popularity is despite, rather than because of, the overt and deeply embarrassing sexualisation of Lara Croft. A lot of women and girls – hi! – loved Lara Croft because she was a badass action hero, and in the absolute diversity desert of late 1990s and early 00s pop culture, she was pretty much all we had (her, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer); it’s not like we had a bunch of non-sexualised female characters to choose from instead. The games, meanwhile – the best of them – were actually kinda quiet and cerebral (and frustrating, to be honest). Lara had two pistols, but she rarely used them. Mostly she was alone in tombs, trying to disarm ancient booby-traps and make tricky leaps of faith.

I believe that only a few of the various people who have been in charge of Tomb Raider and Lara Croft over the years – from movie-makers to developers – have actually understood why it is that people love it. Scriptwriters make Lara Croft one-dimensional, a posh heroine with a suite of one-liners and impractically skimpy clothing, when actually she’s kind of a big nerd at heart; she loves archaeology and ancient civilisations, she pores over artefacts, she’s bright and aristocratic, self-sufficient and tough and brave. 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot attempted to humanise Lara Croft by turning her into a young shipwrecked survivor on a dangerous island where horrible things kept happening to her and her friends; it was good to play a Tomb Raider game in which Lara Croft actually felt like a person and had human relationships, but at times that game veered too close to the old trope of making female characters ‘relatable’ by making them vulnerable. The Croft we played in the 2015 sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, was more self-assured and capable, following a character arc that would have been quite satisfying if 2018’s Shadow of the Tomb Raider hadn’t absolutely fluffed it with a tonally disastrous pivot to Lara Croft as indiscriminate murderer of bad guys.

And what all these games did was turn Tomb Raider into a bit of a shooting gallery, an Uncharted-esque series of explosions and choke-holds and huge set-piece moments, all zip-lining towards a burning oil rig while aiming a rifle at mercenaries. I could take or leave all of that. What I loved – what I wanted – were the moments where Lara emerged from some narrow cavern and into an unbelievable vista, some waterfall with a tomb concealed beneath; an icy cave with an ancient wreck stuck improbably in the ice. I loved the (tellingly, optional) tombs, with their intricate puzzles and eureka moments. In these moments Lara Croft isn’t just good with a pistol – she’s clever, and daring, and curious.

There’s a Tomb Raider Live Experience on in London at the moment, an hour-long escape room thing where you scramble under nets and crawl through dark passages and collect relics, following in Croft’s footsteps while actors pretend that you’re her students. I had a go last week and though it was vaguely entertaining in a Crystal Maze kind of way, it was honestly nothing to do with Tomb Raider. The loose plot made little sense; none of the set-dressing had anything to do with Lara or the games; when one of our team made a joke about skipping cut-scenes in front of one of the actors, they looked genuinely perplexed. There wasn’t even a freezer in Croft Manor, to the immense disappointment of anyone who wasted an hour of their youth trying to trap her butler inside it in Tomb Raider 2. It was ultimately a generic set of team-building exercises with a Tomb Raider label slapped on it, and it made me quite sad. Once again it appeared to have been built by people who didn’t really understand what’s cool and interesting about the Tomb Raider. A zipline can’t compensate for that.

For me, Tomb Raider’s about exploring, really, about making discoveries and thinking laterally and pushing your limits. The recent games have had some of these moments, and I suspect that these were the parts of the games that the developers themselves loved most, rather than the more predictable action-movie stuff. Would people actually buy a more sedate Tomb Raider game, with less blowing stuff up and more actual raiding of tombs? The bosses at Square Enix clearly thought not, but I’m hoping that the series’ future custodians might be more optimistic. That, or we’ll end up with some dismal failed attempt at a live service multiplayer game like Fortnite. I know which I’d prefer.

What to play

This week’s must-play game is indie hit Citizen Sleeper
This week’s must-play game is indie hit Citizen Sleeper Photograph: Fellow Traveller

If you’ve ever longed for a cerebral and thought-provoking video-game interpretation of Blade Runner – quite a specific yearning, but still – then this week’s indie darling Citizen Sleeper is for you. You play a dying runaway android on a space station that’s falling apart. Most of what you learn about your surrounding, you read through text descriptions, occasionally embellished with detailed illustrations of places and characters, and with its dice roles and sedate pace it feels more like a board game than a video game at times. What elevates it is the atmosphere, conjured mostly from words.

Available on: PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox
Approximate playtime: 5 hours

What to read

  • The New Yorker imagines Mario as a washed-up 40-something in this surreal and mildly disturbing pastiche. Credit where credit’s due, the writer really committed to the bit, and it pays off. (Thanks to Daniel for sending this in last week!)

  • I grew up with Nintendo, as regular readers will have surmised, and though I had a total infatuation with the Dreamcast as a teen, for the most part the appeal of Sega (particularly Sonic the Hedgehog) remains a mystery to me. So I always enjoy reading Keith Stuart on his enduring love for these games, and how happy they make him. Even now he remains convinced that Sega’s due a comeback. Again, you gotta admire the commitment.

What to click

Nintendo Switch Sports review – the return of slapstick fun

I’m trying to educate my son in sport using video games. He’s having none of it

Pokémon goes to the Proms: 2022 season to feature first video game music concert

Question Block

Today’s question comes from reader Liam:

“I just got a PS5 and realised I don’t know what to play. I haven’t had an empty library in years. What do you look for in picking out your first game, from someone who hasn’t done it since 2014?”

Firstly, Liam, congratulations on actually obtaining a PS5, a console which is still absurdly difficult to buy even though it’s been 18 months since it launched. If you subscribe to PlayStation Plus you’ll get a solid-gold collection of the best PS4 games for free – if there are any there that you haven’t played, that’s worth checking out. For actual PS5-native games though, my first recommendation would be Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart. It’s so beautiful that I regularly had to stop and gape when I arrived on a new planet. It goes down very easily, always showing you a good time without beating you over the head with too much challenge. And it really shows off what your new console can do technically.

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Culture

European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.


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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.


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Aviation and Telecom Industries Reach Compromise on 5G Deployment

The Voice Of EU | In a significant development, AT&T and Verizon, the two largest mobile network operators in the United States, have agreed to delay the deployment of 5G services following requests from the aviation industry and the Biden administration. This decision marks a crucial compromise in the long-standing dispute between the two industries, which had raised concerns over the potential interference of 5G with flight signals.
The aviation industry, led by United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, had been vocal about the risks of 5G deployment, citing concerns over the safety of flight operations. Kirby had urged AT&T and Verizon to delay their plans, warning that proceeding with the deployment would be a “catastrophic failure of government.” The US Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the issue further highlighted the need for a solution.
In response, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) head Steve Dickson sent a letter to the mobile networks, requesting a two-week delay to reassess the potential risks. Initially, AT&T and Verizon were hesitant, citing the aviation industry’s two-year preparation window. However, they eventually agreed to the short delay, pushing the deployment to January 19.
The crux of the issue lies in the potential interference between 5G signals and flight equipment, particularly radar altimeters. The C-Band spectrum used by 5G networks is close to the frequencies employed by these critical safety devices. The FAA requires accurate and reliable radar altimeters to ensure safe flight operations.

Airlines in the US have been at loggerheads with mobile networks over the deployment of 5G and its potential impact on flight safety.

Despite the concerns, both the FAA and the telecoms industry agree that 5G mobile networks and airline travel can coexist safely. In fact, they already do in nearly 40 countries where US airlines operate regularly. The key lies in reducing power levels around airports and fostering cross-industry collaboration prior to deployment.
The FAA has been working to find a solution in the United States, and the additional two-week delay will allow for further assessment and preparation. AT&T and Verizon have also agreed to not operate 5G base stations along runways for six months, similar to restrictions imposed in France.
President Joe Biden hailed the decision to delay as “a significant step in the right direction.” The European Union Aviation Safety Agency and South Korea have also reported no unsafe interference with radio waves since the deployment of 5G in their regions.
As the aviation and telecom industries continue to work together, it is clear that safe coexistence is possible. The delay in 5G deployment is a crucial step towards finding a solution that prioritizes both safety and innovation. With ongoing collaboration and technical assessments, the United States can join the growing list of countries where 5G and airlines coexist without issue.

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