An essay on Lara Croft

I’m reminded of things I want to talk about all the time. I love many things and have much to say about most of them. A recent release has got me thinking about Lara Croft again, enough to inspire my next drawing even. So check out the drawing below, watch the Timelapse too if you want, and if you are curious you can keep reading to find out some of my thoughts on the hero of the Tomb Raider franchise, in particular her recent self.

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Lara Croft is one of my earliest gaming memories. A friend owned Tomb Raider II back when I was a kid, and we spent many hours playing it on their old Playstaion I. Frustrating as it was for me to get anything done in that game, Lara Croft became one of the first female gaming characters to shape my perception of women as a whole. I was introduced to her before the age when boys start to find girls attractive, but her gaming prominence extended well into my teenage years as well, so yeah, like many others I too was pulled in by the character’s sex appeal. She does have plenty. But unlike many others I don’t consider Lara’s beauty to be the secret to her success. It may have been what first caught many people’s attention, but that alone would not have been enough to fuel a series of twelve plus games. Something else kept us around.

Even from her early polygonal conception,

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when the most memorable things about her games were how impossible it was to grab onto a ledge, a few things were apparent about Lara’s character: She was an adventure seeking action hero on the trail of secrets from humanity’s past, akin to Indiana Jones; She had training and understanding in the use of firearms; She had a reputation, fame and resources to support her adventures; Above all else she was in it all for the thrill and the excitement. “I’m sorry, I only play for sport.” Throughout the following games players became more familiar with Lara’s attitude. She was a tough, athletic lady with an acrobatic fighting style and a quip or two when it mattered most.

We did, however, know little about her past, other than the fact her parents were not around, and they left her with a mansion and a butler.

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It was in the next trilogy of games, the Legend trilogy (named after the first game in this new series, Tomb Raider: Legend) that more light would be shed on this aspect of her story. After the death/disappearance of her mother, her father drove himself and his reputation to ruin in pursuit of finding her. These games focus on her getting to the bottom of the family mystery, putting her parents memories to rest along the way. Despite the dark tone of the plot, the games are made much more light-hearted, mostly to the credit of Lara herself. With a new plethora of side characters helping her, Lara goes through these adventures, and what I personally consider to be the height of the series, with a confident attitude and plenty of witty banter. Simply put, she made those games fun.

Then the reboot happened… Truth be told, I very much liked game one in this new trilogy. It was marketed as Lara’s new origin story. Gone was the confidence, gone was the wit and the humor and gone were her iconic dual pistols.

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The new Lara was an unsure, insecure and fearful young adolescent girl, with no experience and little to make her interesting as a person. But after all, that is what origin stories are for, right? Never mind the fact, that we got many glimpses into Lara’s past in earlier games, and saw that she was a fearless, cocky little girl in the face of dangers back then. In this version she is transformed into the woman we all know and love through this one experience, right? Well, kind of. There is a clear path Lara takes toward becoming the Tomb Raider here, her confidence, her skill, even her wit occasionally show signs of development.
“Seems anyone close to you has low survival odds.” Says Reyes, just after Lara witnessed another of her friends die.
“Better keep your distance then.” She replies, in probably the only Tomb Raider moment of the new trilogy.
By the very end of the game she finally has her guns back, she is standing triumphant over her captor as well as an ancient Japanese ghost, and her thirst for more adventure is awoken. Pretty awesome as far as origin stories go. Not the Lara of the past, for sure, but a satisfying tie-in to the old awesome action heroine we were waiting for. But sadly, there were more games to come.

I was baffled to learn that throughout the next game Lara NEVER held two pistols. Instead she got shoved into the new Hunger Games action heroine mold of “badass lady with a bow”. Everything that game one was building up to was gone. No wit, no humor, just the same stealth-action protagonist from the last game.

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I understand that much of this must have been game engine limitations, which is why the plot of the second game followed the first one’s formula so closely, but that was far from the only problem with new Lara. I did not recognize this girl. She was… boring. I wish there were a better way for me to say it, but that’s it. Never did she have anything but the most cookie-cuter, straight forward dialog.
“Forgive my daughter. She can be overcautious.” says Jacob, after his daughter just threatened to kill her.
“In her place, I would be the same way.” she replies, with no intonation, no expression of any kind. Old Lara would definitely have had something witty to say in that situation. Not even an attempt. And the game is just full of moments like these. Worst of all is the scene where Lara is standing over the defeated Trinity leader, Constantine, surrounded by fire and crumbling ruin. A situation practically served for a badass one-liner.
“It was not supposed to be like this.” he says, grasping his wound. “This was my destiny!”
“This was never your destiny.” She replies. Again absent any emotion what so ever.
I’d go on, but you get it at this point. Suffice it to say that I was hoping the latest game, Shadow of the Tomb Raider would at least try to bring some of the old Lara back, but no. Just more of the same. Boring dialog, no emotion save for constant self doubt and deprecation, no dual pistols.

Regardless of what the future brings for Lara, she will always be that same amazing influence on me that she has been. She was the first woman I remember for being in what was typically considered a male role, and she absolutely killed it. It makes me sad that new generations will see her as this female action hero stereotype they made her into, without any outstanding personality or traits of her own, but the games are receiving plenty of critical praise, and they’re all financial successes so… maybe it’s me. I hope to see the Tomb Raider truly return one day in all her former glory, in new settings and with new perspectives, but still remaining true to what made her into the icon she is. But if that Lara is truly gone, well, the old games aren’t going anywhere. Let the new fans have their hero. I already have mine.

DeviantArt link.

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