Contrast that with original developer Core Design’s classic portrayal of Lara Croft: she was an explorer who proudly displayed her accomplishments and victories in an elaborate training facility within her sprawling mansion. She reveled in her trophies. While her father was still a famous explorer, it was a legacy she was not only proud to carry on, but it was a legacy she had eagerly built on. And she loved every minute of it.
This portrayal of Croft was so successful that it resulted in one of gaming’s first mainstream crossover hits. Angelina Jolie as an all-around star in Hollywood with a string of hit feature films. In 1998, British politicians named her an ambassador for scientific excellence.
Meet the women who brought Lara Croft to life
The modern iteration of Lara Croft didn’t seem to want any of that. Even after three games, she insisted she had little agency in her adventures. At the end of the third game, she still seemed completely pissed off, not knowing why she was doing what she was doing.
It was disappointing, especially considering the growth she was supposed to have undergone by the end of the first adventure in 2013. In this game, as an endangered teenager, she is traumatized when she kills someone. one in self-defense. It’s a beautifully raw moment of vulnerability; she collapses to vomit once she begins to process what she has done. This vulnerability has become an exciting and challenging arc in this game. Hours later, as Lara piles up the bodies and the mercenaries she comes up against begin to recognize her as a threat, they are screaming in fear, “This isn’t is just a woman!”
Grenade launcher in hand, Lara Croft yelled, “That’s right. Run, bastards! I come for you all!
What a stimulating moment. The player would still control Lara as she shouted that line, and the natural gameplay instinct would be to start throwing grenades in the direction of her enemies. It was the perfect fusion of narrative and player intent, a rare feat in game storytelling.
Important context might be helpful. The modern portrayal of Lara Croft was not only influenced by the tendency to make fantasy action heroes “realistic”. It also came amid a period when video game storytellers felt compelled to respond to criticism of ludo-narrative dissonance in video games. This line of criticism highlighted the gap between gameplay and storytelling, pointing out that the heroism of the video game protagonists hardly matched the player’s experience of murdering hundreds of digital puppets. This created a dissonance between the player’s aggressive actions and the narrative protagonist’s otherwise normal interactions with people – despite ending more lives than most serial killers.
Video games keep getting longer. It’s a matter of time and money.
Unfortunately, games from this era often failed to achieve anything at all. Instead, they spawned a slew of tasteless, mealy-mouthed, hypocritical protagonists who would voice their concerns about the murder but keep doing it anyway. The fact that Lara Croft seemed to enjoy murder at the end of 2013’s “Tomb Raider” felt like a brave step forward from Crystal Dynamics.
Unfortunately, in the sequel, “Rise of the Tomb Raider,” Lara Croft almost immediately reverts to her status at the start of the trilogy: she doesn’t really want to raid tombs. She is described as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Yet, predictably, she embarks on yet another grave-robbing adventure. This cycle repeats itself in the final game of the trilogy, “Shadow of the Tomb Raider”, where she doesn’t raid tombs because she likes it, but because she feels compelled to stop the paramilitary organization that discredited his father and now threatens an apocalypse. By the end of that game, series publisher Square Enix had told the same origin story three times.
There are, of course, valid and important points to be made about the legacies of British and American archeology and colonization, and the exploitation of culture for personal gain and glory. But here’s my counterpoint: video games, especially big budget games, are bad at tackling these themes. Even Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’, which half-heartedly tackled this via its villainous character Killmonger, couldn’t be bothered by this narrative thread for too long. Lara Croft is a pop icon, and it would take a miracle (or exceptionally talented and committed writing and storytelling) to portray a Lara Croft capable of grasping and fighting colonialism. If such a topic needs to be addressed, it’s probably best left to a non-Tomb Raider story series.
At the end of the final trilogy, Croft finally tells a friend that she “can’t wait” to encounter the adventures that await her. It’s a note of hope, not just for Lara, but for players exhausted by her breathless exasperation. So yeah, it’s good news that Lara Croft is back. Hopefully this time she makes it wants return.