The 2013 Tomb Raider reboot trilogy by Crystal Dynamics was a statement of intent – a shot aimed squarely at Nathan Drake and the Uncharted series. While Lara Croft hibernated, Naughty Dog may have had a free hand to set a new standard for creating action-adventure cinematic narratives, but perhaps true legends like Lara will last forever?
The Crystal Dynamics reboot made the smart move to introduce us to a pre-iconic Lara Croft. She was a Lara without her dual pistols and rock-solid confidence. Lara began her journey in Tomb Raider 2013 as a young archeology student on an expedition to find the ancient kingdom of Yamatai and uncover evidence of its supposed immortal queen, Himiko.
Lara’s story arc was difficult and put her to the test, but as we traveled with her, we experienced her growth and understood the origins of her courage and determination to survive. We also see his selflessness in saving others. In the early Tomb Raiders, Lara has no qualms about dispatching henchmen, T.rexes, and even dragons. In the reboot, we see her kill for the first time and witness the trauma she inflicts. There are many layers to this trauma: first she had to watch her mentor Roth die, then she had to stop her friend Sam from becoming a sacrifice. Horrific as they were, these events were the catalyst that allowed Lara to blossom into the Tomb Raider we all know and love.
“If I don’t survive, none of us will.”
Tomb Raider 2013 ends with Lara reflecting on the number of unsolved mysteries in the world and thinking back to her father, Lord Richard Croft, who believed so strongly that many of those mysteries had a basis in truth and could be brought to light. Emboldened by this first adventure, as trying as it is, Lara decides to try to uncover the truth about her own life and the mysteries that consumed her father.
Tomb Raider. | Image credit: Crystal Dynamics/Square Enix
Rise of the Tomb Raider and Shadow of the Tomb Raider complete the reboot trilogy. They also dive deep into that personal mystery that has overshadowed Lara. In this series, Lara really tries to understand herself. The narrative continues to explore the power – the power to shape and influence – of family and inheritance.
Along the way, Lara discovers that the death of her mother Amelia Croft was the catalyst that led her father to become obsessed with immortality myths. This led him to build a secret crypt under Croft Manor to hold his body. Richard spent years looking for a way to resurrect her. He was clearly ready to do anything to bring her back.
Unfortunately, his quest to preserve the past made him a target for the secret organization Trinity, who also wanted the secret to immortality. The leader of Trinity, named Dominguez, sent an agent, Ana, to close in on Croft and eliminate him. It’s wonderfully soapy, and of course Ana ended up developing feelings for Richard and refused to kill him. Trinity then sent another assassin who completes the job. And so Lara found her father dead in his office from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound. Her research remained incomplete, but our picture of Lara herself is a bit clearer.
“In our darkest moments, when life passes before us, we find something that drives us forward. Something that pushes us.”
Tomb Raider. | Image credit: Crystal Dynamics/Square Enix
The problem with the pursuit of immortality, the Tomb Raider games suggest, is that you forget to live. You forget to live in the present moment and create a real future. This obsession consumes a person and leads to bad choices. So in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara’s actions triggered the Mayan apocalypse. Again, the stakes are artificially high and the narrative is extreme, but there’s character work all the same. The narrative uses this apocalyptic moment to personally challenge Lara. The game questions her morality and asks the question “Is Lara really the hero?”
During the climactic final battle between Lara and the Sun King Amaru, Lara gains the power of Kukulkan. In an ensuing vision, Lara finds herself in the courtyard of Croft Manor. The trilogy returns to its center. Lara sees herself as a child, with her mother and father, frozen in an instant as the happy family she never had. Satisfied with what she has seen, Lara bids her final goodbyes to her parents and walks out of the vision. Lara lies down on a platform to await her fate. However, she is spared and the world is saved. It’s a huge moment, but also a moment where we understand the personal charge of it all.
Lara’s quest for truth has come full circle, she has overcome the loss of her parents and is able to remember them happily. She lets the sun shine on her life and her future.
“Welcome to my humble abode. Please take a look.”
The power of the legacy by which the games are consumed is further evidenced by the Blood Ties DLC in Rise Of The Tomb Raider. This DLC was a real treat for old school Tomb Raider fans, as it gave us the chance to explore Croft Manor all over again. It’s a franchise staple for me, as I spent hours in Tomb Raider 2 exploring the house and, of course, locking the butler in the freezer.
Ah, the original Croft Manor. | Image credit: Core Design/Eidos
Blood Ties cleverly uses flashbacks and puzzles to unravel the location’s hidden treasures. We learn more about Lara’s parents and what the mansion must have been like for Lara growing up. I would have loved to revisit the mansion in its heyday, to be honest, especially to have the chance to test out the gym again. I’m sure the new trilogy will grant us that wish. Really, it’s about honoring what amounts to a gaming heritage site.
For me, the Tomb Raider reboot trilogy defies the standards set by the Uncharted series. Traversal has become more engaging and dangerous, instead of a process of mindlessly pressing X, because failure is always one misstep away. The tomb exploration aspect, particularly in Shadow Of The Tomb Raider, also beautifully honored the legacy of the original series, with the challenge requiring you to manipulate the physics of water, fire, and wind to find a path to reach each ancient artifact.
“From this moment on, every breath you take is a gift from me.”
The structure of the games also works, although it deviates from previous Tomb Raiders. Lara’s gear, consisting of a grappling hook, ice picks and a knife, is constantly used in exploration and traversal and also sells the promise of adventure in rugged places. The Metroidvania aspect of hub locations makes newly acquired gear an important visual expression of Lara’s adaptability and growing skill set. Lara embodies her heritage as Crystal Dynamics celebrates it.
The classic Core-era Lara favored twin guns. In the reboot trilogy, Lara Croft’s signature weapon has to be her bow. It is silent, deadly and versatile. It’s also a nice metaphor. The arc is Crystal Dynamics, creating a solid structure to tie to Lara’s narrative string, with each game slowly tightening that string, refining the gameplay experience, accessibility options, and storyline. All in preparation for the arrow called Lara Croft to fly into the future.
“The extraordinary is in what we do, not in who we are.”
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