When I last wrote about Rise of the Tomb Raider, I worried that Lara Croft—transformed by her experiences on Yamatai from a meek graduate student to an unstoppable videogame badass—had lost purpose in her goals. This is reflected through her relationship with her father, who went through a similar transformation that estranged him from Lara just as Lara’s transformation has estranged her from Samantha, the emotional anchor of Tomb Raider (2013). I hoped that someone would arrive to “save” Lara from her fate as a motiveless killing machine, to act as Lara’s conscience, and I think that conscience arrives in the form of an elf.
The Lara I have followed in Rise of the Tomb Raider is not the Lara I knew in Crystal Dynamics’ 2013 series reboot.
This is not a criticism; it’s representative of the path Lara has followed after her transformation on the lost island Yamatai. The Tomb Raider reboot’s first act focuses on Lara’s struggles when she is marooned on Yamatai, piecing together tools to survive while fending off hostile wildlife and a cult of deranged men. Her first kill of a wild animal is hesitant, her pained “Sorry . . .” to the fallen deer, a soothing hand on its flank while it takes its last breath, makes it clear she is doing this only out of a necessity. Her first human kill, made in self defense, is mournful, Lara’s anguish captured in tear-bathed flames as she laments the price paid for her own life. The impact of these moments are compromised by the ensuing videogame: Dozens more deer and hundreds more men will be slaughtered in the name of “survival” (item crafting) and “self defense” (plot-moving set pieces), these videogame mechanics growing fat on the narrative’s gravitas like a parasite. By the climax, when Reboot Lara is dual-wielding bottomless pistols like Classic Lara of old, the naïve college student I observe in the first act is dead, reborn as a bloodthirsty videogame badass.