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Lara Croft’s Ice-Cold Killing Streak in Gamescom’s Rise of the Tomb Raider Footage

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This year’s Gamescom brought us some new footage of Rise of the Tomb Raider, an upcoming sequel to the 2013 reboot that promises even more grim-dark murders and more arrowed head-shots than ever before. I’ll try to resist the temptation to speculate about this game based solely on its marketing materials, but it’s worth noting that this trailer focuses a lot more on murderin’ than the E3 2015 trailer did.

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In the Gamescom footage, Lara sneaks up on what looks like a military encampment packed with dudes wearing tactical armor that wouldn’t look out of place in Call of Duty. She poisons a dude, blows up a couple other dudes, then head-shots more dudes with her arrows. This footage feels slightly different in tone from the E3 trailer, which featured Lara doing what I’d expect: escaping an avalanche, killing a deer, and fighting a bear. So, Rise looks like it’ll attempt to strike the same precarious balance as the 2013 Tomb Raider, which padded out its exploratory puzzle-solving sequences with lengthy mow-down-the-bad-men battlefields.

The original Tomb Raider games featured plenty of animal-killing, which I admit isn’t my favorite, but I can’t deny it’s part of the history of the franchise. That history also tends to include tomb exploration, puzzle-solving, and survival elements, such as the notoriously hard underwater mazes that Lara Croft must navigate without drowning. There’d be the occasional supernatural element in the originals, too, so I liked that the Tomb Raider reboot included ghostly enemies. What’s changed in the reboot is Lara’s personality: she’s less “sexy eyebrow-arching sass machine” and more in touch with her stressed-out feelings and tear ducts. She’s less Indiana Jones, more Batman. Except, uh, more crying. (I’ll get to that.)

I’m not sure what the new game’s justification is for all of Lara’s potential kill-shots. If you ask me, the first game also had a bit of trouble justifying its first-person shooter leanings. It seems as though these games feel as though they “need” to include a lot of enemies for Lara to kill so that they can compete with other shooters, but the game’s narrative isn’t so sure how Lara Croft herself should react.

When Lara had to kill off tons of matriarchy-worshipping cult members in the first reboot, I wondered if that narrative decision was intended to be a commentary on Lara Croft’s own fans and history. All of Lara’s enemies in the reboot are men, whether they’re the professor trying to steal her work and claim it as his own, or the inexplicably all-male cult that kidnaps Lara’s female friend and imbues her with an ancient queen’s ghost (against her will, of course). Whether intentional or not, the game’s themes were about rejecting institutional roots and choosing to a new path — something that the Tomb Raider reboot may have hoped to do.

I liked those ideas, but in practice, the Tomb Raider reboot felt like a retread of very familiar ground. Although including tons of soulless shooting sequences was new for a Lara Croft game, it wasn’t exactly new for a triple-A game. These sequences were, in my opinion, the most boring and least interesting parts of the new Tomb Raider, but I understood why they were there (marketability). I also understand why they’re going to return in the next game (marketability). The strangest part of these shooting sequences, though, has to be Lara’s reaction to them.

I don’t hate the idea of a female anti-heroine who enjoys killing a bit too much, but that’s not actually the personality that the new Lara Croft has displayed thus far. The Lara in the reboot seemed absolutely miserable, often to the point of tears. The Lara of Rise seems stressed out, too. Unlike the heroes of other shooters, Lara reacts to her circumstances with tons and tons of feelings … as opposed to, say, humorous one-liners.

Throughout the Gamescom footage reveal, my eye kept getting drawn to the YouTube chatroom’s repetition of two phrases: “BOOBS,” and “this is just like Uncharted.” The barrage of comments along these lines reminded me why this Rise trailer got marketed and edited in this fashion; the game’s PR team wants its target audience to see this game as “Uncharted with boobs”. In spite of the fact that Uncharted came out long after the original Tomb Raider, new Tomb Raider games will still be positioned as a copycat of Uncharted. Lara Croft is ultimately still seen as a “gender-swap” on a story concept that traditionally has a male lead (*cough* Indiana Jones).

Although Nathan Drake’s many murders have been mocked by Uncharted fans, the response to Lara Croft’s hyper-violence has taken a different tone of faux-concern, even within her own game. Presumably that’s because we don’t expect a woman to be cast in this role. Lara Croft’s character has been given plot-lines that Nathan Drake probably never will, such as moments where she cries, shows vulnerability, and sees a therapist for PTSD … unlike her male counterparts, who navigate their stories with a mixture of stoic determination and quippy humor.

I don’t want to write off the reactions to Lara Croft’s violence in this trailer as an attempt to infantilize her, because I think the truth is more complicated than that. I want to push back against the assumption that a female hero cannot also be hyper-violent; I like the idea of anti-heroines with dubious morals and questionable methods. I also want to push back against the idea that only a female heroine can show emotion, however. And? I want to push back against the idea that a female heroine doesn’t ever get to have a sense of humor. When Lara Croft commits murder after murder, we now don’t get to see her as an innocent quipster like Nathan Drake or Indiana Jones. We see her as cruel, unforgiving, tortured … even disturbed.

As simplistic as Lara’s original portrayal was, I have to admit I miss some aspects of Tomb Raider‘s campy aesthetic. I don’t miss the way the in-game camera used to leer at Lara, but I do miss the original games’ attempts to position her as a tough-as-nails action heroine, rather than as a troubled survivor. I’m not wild about the fact that the new games have put Lara into situations where she has to kill other humans, rather than just ghosts and bears, but I understand why it’s happening: it’s because this is what the game designers believe we want. But they also, apparently, think that in order to put someone like Lara Croft into these situations, we also need to see her break down. That will make her “stronger.” Why didn’t Nathan Drake need to break down in order to become stronger, though? Or did he do that and we just never saw it?

It’s pure fantasy to imagine anyone going through what Lara Croft has been through, then going home and having a cup of tea and a laugh over it. Anyone would need to heal from the events she has endured. Yet, the fantasy of a hero who recovers from everything—both battle scars and emotional scars—is a fantasy that I can understand, and I think it’s too bad that Lara won’t get to enact it. It’s not just that her game will be “Uncharted with boobs”—it’ll be Uncharted with boobs, and therefore also feelings. Maybe this would bug me less if I knew Nathan Drake, Marcus Fenix, and Master Chief had booked their own therapy appointments as well.

(via Polygon, image via Tumblr)

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Author

Maddy Myers
Maddy Myers, journalist and arts critic, has written for the Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and tons more. She is a host on a videogame podcast called Isometric (relay.fm/isometric), and she plays the keytar in a band called the Robot Knights (robotknights.com).

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