Tomb Raider: 3 Narrative Hiccups That Work Against Establishing Lara Croft as a Female Icon

July 5, 2013 5:08 pm

Tomb Raider is a wonderful game, blending a fairly interesting story with some really cool gameplay and even though it doesn’t reinvent the action-adventure genre, it does manage to reinvent Lara Croft as a character. If in the first games she was a busty adventurer looking for ancient relics and fighting dinosaurs, in this reboot she’s a young girl that embarks on her first adventure and is shipwrecked on a mysterious island where she has to learn to survive and fend for herself. It’s a harrowing experience for the protagonist and Crystal Dynamics have done a great job rebooting Lara and the Tomb Raider series, but the game does suffer from some nagging issues. The developers said that they wanted to reinvent the character in a grittier setting and establish her as a strong female icon, not just a busty relic hunter. Sadly, there are some narrative hiccups that work against this endeavor. Be warned: there are a few spoilers ahead.

1. Narrative dissonance

Tomb RaiderThe game puts such an emphasis on Lara’s first kill, carefully building to it for emotional impact. She even weeps over the body of the guy she killed and who just a couple of scenes before was lewdly caressing her cheek. But in the following minutes this feeling quickly goes away and she becomes a one-woman slaughter house, dispatching countless enemies with ease and zero remorse. I understand that it’s a game and you have to kill people, but at one point 15 or more enemies get killed during every skirmish which is full-on mass-murder. The transition seems all too sudden, as if all those people are incapable of penance and deserve to die.

2. There seem to a LOT of survivors on that island

Based on my kill-count, I think there were around 500 survivors with all kinds of powerful weapons on that island, which  yeah, Lara kills. So she’s up there with Stallone and Schwarzenegger in this department. But the thing that really caught my eye were the countless piles of dead bodies that you encounter along the way. If you added these figures to the ones that you so swiftly dispatched,  you’d probably get a number somewhere in the thousands. These numbers contradict some of the early dialogue in the game when some henchmen said that they needed Lara’s crew to boost their ranks. It seems a bit weird that you’d need 5 people when you have a whole army behind you. With the risk of providing spoilers, I can say that with that kind of army they could have also conquered the stronghold and defeated the 20 samurais and the one pathetic Oni inside.

3. All the enemies seem to be men

Except the spirit of Himiko, which doesn’t make an actual appearance in the game, all the enemies are male. If the developers somehow wanted to make Lara a female icon by having her fight the oppressive forces of men, they have failed badly at it and I’m surprised that none of the feminist reviews of Tomb Raider out there have caught on to this. By featuring only male enemies, it is implied that: A. there weren’t any women survivors, B. There were some women survivors and the men killed them. I don’t know which one is more ludicrous than the other, but I do know that it’s darn near impossible that no woman survived and it works against the game’s desire to be more real and gritty than previous installments.

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