In spite of saying I wouldn’t play Tomb Raider, I purchased it and played it. In predictable form, it was much of what I thought it would be.
Lazy, abuse-driven “storytelling”
Now that I’ve played Tomb Raider, I can say that my comments on using trauma as a proxy for “strength” were accurate. The very first scene in Tomb Raider is Lara being dropped onto a rebar spike, suffering (what looks like) a very serious abdominal wound. This wound is left untreated for over half the game, presumably because it makes her strong.
Lara is visibly sad (but only once) for having to kill a deer.
Lara is visibly traumatized (BUT ONLY ONCE) for having to take a human life.
Lara’s death sequences are almost universally quite disturbing. River rapid sequences end with a spike up the jaw and through her skull, a sequence that caused me significant distress the first time I saw it.
The sexual assault scene was quite obviously meant to convey more, with Lara bound and obviously terrified. I suspect only the Internet backlash caused this from being far worse.
The Story Makes No Goddamn Sense
The mediocrity of writing gets worse, with a story that is entertaining in only how nonsensical it is. Instead of archaeology or reason behind the events of the game, the Grand Reveal is that IT WAS MAGIC. I had remained utterly convinced that the cause behind the destructive weather was a machine left on during a failed succession, a machine controlled by the Queen and the source of her power and authority.
It would have made sense! Built on an active volcano, this group of Japanese settlers figured out how to use the geothermal vents to manipulate local weather systems. Power doesn’t get transferred when the new Queen kills herself before old Queen dies, and the machine is inadvertently left running.
Because it’s the Queen’s source of power, no one else knows how to turn it off or use it. The colony can’t receive new supplies, no one can leave, and new Queens can’t work the machine. Slowly everything falls apart, leaving ruins and a huge trap we have to solve. This would have been fine. Good, even! A story that would have fit cleanly with the archaeology aspect Tomb Raider is supposed to carry.
Nope. It’s all magic. The Queen’s soul didn’t transfer and she’s still being all angry and stuff. Laziest ending ever.
Aforementioned wound remains unresolved for over half the game.
Apparently no one has had radios, in spite of having a radio tower. And shipwrecks.
Additionally, somehow the Japanese army had made it here, with supply ships, during WW2. And built a bunch of infrastructure. And had obviously staffed the place for some time, before they were murdered off.
Of course no one noticed, or sent further teams to investigate. No one on the island radioed WITH THEIR RADIOS to inform anyone about these ruins and lost Japanese cultures, an opportunity that would have been a wonderful propaganda piece back home. Lost Japanese Atlantis. Weather-controlling machine based on geothermal power. This story literally writes itself into great places.
Archaeology or Anthropology? No. Murderology and destructology.
Lara is supposed to want to be an archaeologist. She’s been on digs, wants to study ancient cultures. The entire trip to this place was on the idea of Finding Ancient Ruins.
So some effort is taken to preserve as much as possible for further research, right? These intact ruins, these wonderful examples of a lost colony?
No, that might’ve made sense.
Instead, literally every single building gets lit on fire, destroyed, or both. Not by actions outside of player control, either - we are expected to wield our agency in destroying things, without a single comment on our rampage of chaos through priceless artifacts.
Later in the game we learn that the colony didn’t die out, and the people are still inhabiting the island. And then we kill all of them, ending any hope of anthropological or archaeological study.
After that first tragic murder to save herself, Lara goes on to murder somewhere north of 500 people through fire and bullets and arrows with fire on. Without commentary, I must add.
Lack of Tombs
Finally, for a game called Tomb Raider there certainly weren’t many tombs that could be raided.
At least at the end we could say A SURVIVOR IS BORN, if by “survivor” we mean “someone forced into the masculine role of emotionless murder machine.”