TRMeatroom

Tomb Raider – Adventurous Psychological Torment

Played on PC (Steam)

Schindler’s List 2 – Starring Lara Coft

Tomb Raider (2013) is not a Tomb Raider game.  It’s The Last of Us with more human horror, if you can believe that.  The mechanics, tone and even Lara Croft herself have greatly departed from the series’ norm.

The use of the Tomb Raider IP seems grossly inappropriate given the shift in mechanics and the intimately close examination of human trauma experienced by the main character.  To me, Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider franchise were so misused that they disrespect the very subject matter they seem to be addressing.

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Events begin with Lara aboard a ship as part of a film crew who are searching for a lost Island.  They are caught in a violent storm and shipwrecked on its coast.  Your (Lara’s) overall goal from this moment is to rescue the crew from the Island’s murderous inhabitants and escape.

Lara is brutalized from start to finish.  Whether it be by other people, by nature or by general misfortune, something is always trying to kill her.

Soon after the shipwreck she has to escape a party of bandits who are kidnapping and killing survivors.  A raider catches her, restrains her and begins what is clearly a sexual assault.  Up pops the most inappropriately colorful button prompt for you to Q.T.E Lara out of being raped.

If you fail then Lara is strangled to death, which was absolutely not the implication (though there was also no way the creators were going to have a rape scene – so why even go that route?).

Successfully responding to the button prompts will cause her to escape and explode the assailant’s head with a pistol.  This isn’t the first person she has killed at this point, but it certainly appears to have the most effect.

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Lara is constantly victimised by the universe.  She falls and trips from uncomfortably dangerous heights and crashes through scenery almost constantly.  The weight of her body hitting the ground is felt with each horrifying bounce and would in reality, break every bone in her body.  You have limited control during these moments and if you fail to avoid an obstacle then Lara will be killed in a hideously creative way.  Usually by being impaled through the face, horribly crushed or splattered across the scenery.  

The raiders continue to try and murder Ms. Croft.  At one point she is apprehended by multiple men, restrained and punched repeatedly in the face.  This assault is effectively brutal.  The punches aren’t shaken off, but are visibly weighty, causing Lara to become slightly incoherent.

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Mental torment is also continuously doled out, as she is forced to traverse through prisons of raving mad captives and areas rich in human remains.  Not just skeletons, but fleshy rotting corpses and putrid pools of blood, in which she often finds herself submerged.

 

Barney is a Dinosaur from our Imagination

She gets to watch almost all her friends die, in front of her – for her,  in horribly violent ways, so extreme survivor’s guilt is another psychological brick that can be added the pile.

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Then there is a recurring abdominal injury that occasionally causes the heroine distress.  Early on she is impaled through the hip in a very painful manner and the wound occasionally bleeds, causing obvious pain.  There’s an analogy there which I’m not sure is appropriate given the age of Lara, she isn’t hitting her teens, she’s 21 according to lore.

The sheer horror of the world in which she is thrown is so incongruous to the series that it’s baffling.  The initial Schindler’s List analogy wasn’t lightly chosen as there are some moments in TR which evokes similar imagery.

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Mountains of bodies are often found piled or caged in positions of horror telling the story of their very unpleasant end.  Many of the ship’s survivors are overpowered and have almost no hope at escape.

Enemies are fanatic cult members who murder and kidnap in the desperate belief that it will result in freedom from the island; convinced by the Jim Jones type leader who also sees humans as tools or raw materials to achieve an end.

Internal conflict – for reals

Human misery in media isn’t inherently a negative thing – it can make us sympathize with a character, or in a grander scheme, make us more empathic to people we had no idea were suffering.  However, a major failure of TR at inspiring any sympathy is that Lara has no personality.

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She possess almost zero humor aside from occasional sarcasm, and no interesting personality traits.  Though she cries when sad or in pain, acts shocked when something shocking happens and displays all the usual emotions for a drama, it’s painfully scripted and carries little weight.  It’s the computer game equivalent of bad acting and fails to evoke any sympathy.

All the secondary characters are given at least some unique personality trait and I felt genuinely bad for them; but when all this horror is inflicted on Lara I just can’t connect or sympathize.  These secondary characters are very much one note, but that’s one note more than Lara gets.

She comments on artifacts that she finds and dictates the occasional diary entry when resting at a bonfire, but sounds so bored and neutral it may as well be computerized narration.  She genuinely sounds like she is going to fall asleep.  I suspect that the intention was for her to sound exhausted, but it just comes off as bored.

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If you are going to beat and torture your character and put them through hell, then it helps if they are in the slightest bit relatable.

I understand that Square Enix likely wanted to use an established IP, but I honestly believe that using a new character of whom we had no information would have been a wiser move.  A new IP and character could have allowed for experimentation with regards to personality and characterisation.  The audience would have no expectations and therefore could only be surprised.

Instead we have Lara, a character so well known that the writers likely had zero flexibility in regards to her characterisation.  I think that at a business level Square Enix were reluctant to stray too far from her popular image – which unfortunately, is painfully generic.

Lara Croft is very much the Hero, even if the game paints her as innocent, scared and vulnerable – she still almost always succeeds.  Every one else has it worse, which wouldn’t immediately remove all empathy,  but her expressions of self doubt and fear are immediately neutralized when spoken moments after she stealthily murders twelve psychopathic cult members.

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You’re a croft!

Quite possibly the most annoying aspect for me was the reveal that her father was a famous adventurer.  This is a further source of self doubt for young Croft as she isn’t confident she can achieve the same acts of bravery or achievements.

A secondary character reminds her that she is a Croft and that Crofts are special.

So if Lara manages to become strong enough to take on the odds, it’s not because of her struggles and maturation during the events of the game, but because one specific sperm hit another specific egg.

This ‘destinity’ angle killed any possible chance at me warming up to her. Her successes were not achieved by learning and growing through all the hardships endured, but as her birthright as a Croft.

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Such an implication almost made me outright dislike Lara – the implication that she is surviving while others are brutally killed because of her blood – further disconnected me from the one person to whom the game wanted me to connect with the most.

This ‘the one’ angle lead to another annoyance whereby many supporting characters would quite happily sacrifice themselves to allow Lara progress.  It’s the protagonist syndrome – where most other characters seem to know they are secondary and dismiss all desire for self preservation.

I was reminded of that moment in the first Harry Potter movie in which Ron sacrifices himself in a chess match so that Harry can progress because it’s ‘his story’.

I can’t imagine any reason (other than plot convenience) for a person to just assume they are second to another person’s adventure.

This is really just healing a paper cut on the way to the electric chair

Lara is as interesting and likeable as a brick.  I would not say I hated her but at no moment could I imagine any other character seeing Lara and thinking:

‘Yes, she’s the one.  The one who must continue, for whom I will gladly end my existence so she can survive this mess.  A mess of which I’m pretty such she’s responsible’

Conclusion

I fear that Square Enix’s plan is to put Lara through all this horror so that she can overcome her mental demons and develop into the strong wise cracking Lara Croft we all know today.  An origin story for future sequels.  To me this will be an enormous character development misstep.

The Lara in this reboot will not become the adventuring Lara that is famous.

The Lara that went through all this torment would likely, in reality, be an anxiety riddled agoraphobic.  One who I picture constantly shaving her head because she can’t convince herself that pieces of other people’s brain aren’t still stuck to her hair.  A person drenched in survivors guilt, needing constant suicide watch until an enormous amount of effort is provided to give reassurance that she won’t die at any moment anyway.

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If events unfold whereby she ‘steps up’ and overcomes the odds by facing her fears – i.e.  murdering the threats in a new adventure,  then that would probably result in a different (albeit equally intense) psychosis – likely the more aggressive kind.

I refuse to excuse the game because it is a ‘game’ – TR makes a point of being gritty, even among all the supernatural stuff.  I also refuse to compare it to other action adventure games either – whereby the main character can brush off all the violence they suffered and all the violence they were forced to inflict.  Tomb Raider deliberately references the mental torment experienced by its lead character.

Seeing loved ones killed, as well as having countless attempts on your life – plants a deep trauma, one that is not resolved by then murdering and brutalizing others.  The opposite is usually required; safety, understanding, respect and so on – essentially anything that distances a person from the horror that haunts them, to remove the risk of them being thrown back into the same situation.

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I fear the writers will ‘brute force’ Lara through her issues – that in another episode of her life she will be placed in similar conditions, but will overcome her fears and proceed to kill the bad guy and save her friends.  That this incident will allow her resolve her issues, where in reality it would likely amplify them.

It is a giant mess.  Since Tomb Raider is a video game, action will need to occur for the player (Lara) to overcome.

I would very much respect the developers/writers if Lara’s character arch ends with a realistic conclusion of what people go through to return to a normal life.

They probably won’t.  Lara will likely conquer her mental demons by battling actual fucking demons.