Support Chris, click to buy via us...
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Standards: About to set out on her latest adventure, Lara is joined by an unexpected companion.
Lara Croft stepped down from her private jet onto the blistering runway. She noted a car approaching from the side of the small terminal building. Could be press, she thought. Quick as lightning she reached into her faithful back-pack and retrieved a shiny flat metal disc. The top bore etchings which she knew would be unfamiliar to a layman's eyes. It was written in ancient Mesopotamian script, bearing the message "they that gaze into this pool shall know their worth." The device was hinged on one side and sported a clasp on the other. Lara pressed the clasp and the disc flicked open. Inside was a compact mirror on the lid, above a sea of cosmetic powder and a handy cotton pad. She checked her appearance in the glass reflection, studying for any blemishes that could potentially ruin a photo opportunity. There was nothing amiss. Flawless, Lara smiled to herself, "fourteen years in this game and I don't look a day over twenty-five. Not bad, Miss Croft. Not bad at all." The car drew up and a small, unassuming figure stepped out. He wore a crisp grey suit - even in the baking South American sun - and held a clipboard. Lara was confused to note that he had no camera, notepad or any of the usual items she would associate with a journalist. "Miss Croft," the man asked in a small and colourless voice. "Yes?" she replied, a little unsure of what to expect. The man extended a hand toward her. "My name is Neil Jenkins. I'm a representative of the National Association of Professional Archaeologists: Standards Division." Lara raised a weary eyebrow, "oh, really?" "Yes," the man continued with bookish enthusiasm, "I've come to accompany you on your expedition to assess your skills and practices and to report to the Standards Committee my recommendations for your continued membership of the Association and the continued enjoyment of the support which it offers." Neil Jenkins looked up for a response from the glamorous adventurer but she had already begun walking toward the terminal, bag in hand. He set off after her. "Is there some sort of problem, Mr Jenkins?" Lara asked, once he had arrived at her heel. "Well," he replied, somewhat embarrassed, "I hate to be a source of conflict, Ms Croft, but I'm afraid we have received a number of complaints about your activities in the past and we have to follow these up. Also there is the matter of your unfortunate nickname. It does set alarm bells ringing among the purists in the historical community." She turned and looked at him, "Nickname?" she asked. "The Tomb Raider," Neil explained with an apologetic laugh. "You and I both know that this game is a bit more complicated that simply grave robbing, but you know how rumours get about." Lara simply stared at him for a moment. "Anyway," she shook her head, "I'm not using that name now. I'm taking a fresh approach on this trip - putting all those past efforts to one side for now." A thin smile broke out across Neil Jenkins' face. "And I am glad to hear it, Ms Croft, I truly am. I'm here just to assess your approach on this expedition and to report back. I'm sure there won't be any problems." The speed with which Lara whirled around to face Neil almost knocked him off his balance. "Mr Jenkins," Lara began, sternly, "While I may have a number of things to say about this," she sucked in a breath between her teeth, sharply, "I'm afraid the most pertinent in this case is that I work alone and I have no space for a passenger." Neil reached down and leafed through some of the pages on his clipboard. "According to the notes you filed in England, Ms Croft, while your usual journeys are undertaken solo, this is a particular expedition which is not only suitable for two people, but is actually remarked as being particularly enjoyable and rewarding for two adventurers side-by-side." Lara said nothing but looked at the paper sheet, helplessly. Reaching up to push his glasses further up the bridge of his nose, Neil chirped, cheerfully, "I'm sure we'll have a lovely time." It was not the kind of archaeological expedition Neil Jenkins had experienced before. Nevertheless it was perhaps what he had come to expect from Lara Croft's own field reports. He'd had to read between the lines of course. Ms Croft was not prone to filing completed paperwork. Upon arrival at their destination Neil was amazed by the site itself. It had been quite a trek through the rainforest. He had even wondered at times how he managed to keep up. Nevertheless the sight that met them when they arrived at the Temple of Light was worth any hardship. It was, as best as Neil could describe it, an almost perfectly preserved Aztec-era city. That such a thing could still exist in these modern times without having been picked up by satellite was truly remarkable. Unlike much of the archaeology which he had been involved in during his life, Neil was somewhat amazed when Lara found, within moments, the artefact for which she had been searching. It was placed on a pedestal in the first place they looked. "Well," Neil remarked, "I guess this expedition was pretty short, then!" Lara was clearly about to make a pithy, tart reply when several heavily armed men appeared from the tree-line. Neil wasn't sure what the relationship was between Lara and the local warlord, but there seemed to be some history. Neil tutted. Fraternising with guerrilla factions was strictly frowned upon by the National Association of Professional Archaeologists. He looked down and made a mark on his clipboard. He found the next few minutes honestly quite confusing. There was some argument over touching the mirror. It was apparent that both Lara and the warlord wanted it - although Lara seemed to be arguing that it shouldn't be moved. On this basis Neil wasn't quite sure why they had come all this way to Central America. In any case, the warlord barged through and grabbed the mirror. That was when all hell broke loose. Some sort of demonic creatures appeared from the plinth and began killing everybody. Lara explained to Neil that it was the previously incarcerated spirit of the dark lord Xolotl which had been released by the removal of the artefact. Neil found this very doubtful: it was more likely some sort of publicity stunt to increase her public image. He actually felt a bit sorry for Lara Croft. She had once been quite the darling of the popular press but recently she was considered something of a relic herself. Still, the way she set her chin steely against the objective of recovering the artefact? He couldn't fault her enthusiasm for winning back the historical item. He made another note about this on his report sheet. Before they moved on, Neil insisted that they undertake a proper assessment of the site. It was remarkably preserved. "Why," Neil noted, "even these priceless ancient jars are worthy of a few moments of our time, surely?" Lara came over to where he was standing. "Good idea, Mr Jenkins!" and with that she pulled out a pair of automatic pistols and began firing. Neil dived for cover as Lara stood illuminated by a barrage of gunfire and ancient clay pottery rained down upon their heads. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" Neil demanded, outraged. Lara reached down and picked up a bag from the shattered remains. "Ammunition," she said as if by way of explanation, "the jars around here are full of items. The only plausible explanation can be that the militia are using them to store supplies." She gave a gallic shrug, "I've found first aid kits in less plausible locations." This resulted in a furious display of scribbling on the clipboard from Neil. "This is exactly the sort of behaviour we have received complaints about," Neil said, "and is precisely why you are currently under investigation! You can't just charge about destroying items of historical significance!" "If you don't like me causing destruction," Lara replied, placing a ticking package at the base of a large mechanical apparatus which appeared to have some sort of blockage, "then you may wish to stand back." Second later dust and shrapnel filled the air and Neil had to dive for cover. Neil Jenkins' overall report to the Standards Committee read as follows. "Ms Croft displays a reckless disregard for the sanctity and preservation of the historical artefacts of the world. On occasions beyond count she has destroyed jars, urns, structural pillars, engraved walls and fragile floor sections. While the Association recognises that, at times, it is necessary to break through less valuable surrounding areas in order to reach evidence or items of a more rare quality, we cannot and do not advocate the use of Plastic Explosives in digging. "Her disregard extends to the sanctity and preservation of life, both in respect to the local fauna and the inhabitants of the region. We have previously received reports of Ms Croft firing on endangered Tigers, Great Apes and Bears on her other adventures (not to mention the unfortunate incident in the Tibetan Monastery) and I can confirm that I have personally witnessed her evisceration of local populations of rare salamanders and giant spiders as well as the apparent descendents of some sort of warrior tribe. Quite how Ms. Croft has evaded civil charges for this length of time is unclear. "As for the expedition itself: it represents quite a departure from Ms. Croft's usual approach. We can consider this a fresh perspective on an established formula. Certainly I found that approaching the challenges as a pair was extremely rewarding and entertaining. I will not trouble the committee with a breakdown of all that occurred, but suffice it to say that the traps and puzzles which this environment presented were some of the best in Ms. Croft's own - perhaps variable - history. "There is a great deal still to be explored on this particular expedition. It is an environment which encourages repeated visits as there seems to be a great deal to uncover and hidden treasures to find. I do not consider it a chore to retread this ground time and again. It is a most exhilarating place to visit. "As for Ms. Croft's own conduct: from her previous exploits I had expected a parade of flesh to draw my attention away from her other failings: Certainly that has been the case on previous expeditions. However, on this particular trip I found that the perspective had changed. Perhaps Lara found that, as I suffer from profound long-sightedness, that there was little to be gained from wiggling and posturing in her usual fashion. In this case her usually animated performance was kept restrained and to the point. "For long time we have received complaints over Ms. Croft's attitude and vocabulary and I am sad to report that she has not learned to address the colourful individuals she meets on her journeys with anything other than pert contempt. If she is ever to represent the National Association of Professional Archaeologists she would do well to consider that she is an ambassador for our industry and should behave as such. "On that matter, however, it is my duty to make a recommendation. Ms. Croft is an incredible character of whom we hope to see great things. At this time I can only highlight that: in spite of the tremendous enjoyment I personally derived from the trip and the huge satisfaction and enjoyment gained from taking part - her disregard for actual items of valuable history makes her a very poor archaeologist indeed. I cannot possibly recommend Lara Croft for any ongoing serious professional study in the field. However, this expedition has great things to offer and it is clear that Lara can still attract considerable interest and thrills, if managed by the right parties. We wish her all the best for the future."
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: