This year, the Tomb Raider franchise turned 25, and it’s only by chance that I even found out about that. I’ve been a fan ever since I was a teen, but before this year, I hadn’t touched anything Tomb Raider in quite a while. About two months ago, I reluctantly decided to try out Legend for the third time, and I fully expected to put it down without completing it for the third time.
Little did I know that I would get so hooked up that, in addition to finishing the whole LAU trilogy, trying out (and hating the guts of) Optional Tomb Raider, and beginning a playthrough of all the classic games, I’d start following several related twitter accounts, YouTube channels, the /r/tombraider subreddit, and even join a forum. (That’s how I found out about the 25th anniversary.)
Attitude, young lady!
The first time I tried Legend was in 2012, when I bought LAU. I think I quit after a couple of levels at most. The second time was about five years later, when I pushed all the way to the first Kazakhstan level and then quit, not particularly pleased with the experience. There were very minor things irking me, but the real reason I quit both times was just one: Lara was too nonchalant about murdering people.
If you take a look at things like this or this, you’ll see that I’m not a great fan of death in general, let alone of murder. Yes, I know—it’s just a game, and telling that to myself enough times was how I managed to overcome my aversion and enjoy LAU. Besides, Lara never made a big deal out of killing people in the classic games either, and I played almost all of them, so why was this a problem now?
Well, in Legend, it was different.
I distinctly remember my first encounter with enemies in the very first level of Legend. They were both armed and didn’t exactly come across as very friendly people, but they were talking about their own business and hadn’t even seen me yet. At that point, Lara didn’t even know for a fact who they were. I knew that, had I tried to just sneak past them, they’d probably open fire, so I did what Lara does and killed them. While I did that, she and her friends back in London were amiably talking over the phone about Lara’s new quest and even cracking jokes. I found that off-putting enough that I quit playing.
As said, when I gave the game a second chance, I quit early in Kazakhstan, but I think what really hit me as bad taste was something Lara said in the Japan levels. The local Japanese mafia boss she was facing was understandably complaining about her killing his henchmen, to which Lara replied: “I’ve simplified your payroll.”
She’s a badass, I get it. I like her that way. However, there’s a difference between being a badass and trivialising murder, even that of criminals. I still love LAU and all the preceding titles (most definitely not the reboots, and not just because they take the concept of mass-murder to a whole new level), but I think I would like them and Lara more if she wasn’t so casual about killing people.
If I could do it…
Before anyone plays the sexism card: this doesn’t have anything to do with her being a woman. I don’t play FPSs or war games for the same reason (also I find them boring as hell), regardless of the genitals that their main characters were born with. I like Lara Croft as a character, and I think she could be a more positive character if she dropped the cavalier attitude in regards to gunning other living creatures down. Yes—when she kills animals, that too bugs me.
I’m not alone in this: Lara’s father himself, Toby Gard, said in a Gamasutra interview that he’s “not keen on just mindlessly killing humans in games.” That was one of the reasons why the first Tomb Raider had so few human enemies. (Their number went significantly up in subsequent installments, but Gard had already left the team shortly after Tomb Raider was released.)
Not that I count the survivor timeline as Tomb Raider, but even if I did, it certainly didn’t solve that problem. If anything, the survivor games exacerbated it, and the jarring dissonance between reboot Lara’s careless brutality in the gameplay and her relentless whimpering during the cutscenes made it even worse. Classic Lara may be too casual about murder, but at least she is consistent.
Currently, Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics seem to be a little too busy stuffing square pegs into round holes, so I don’t really hold my hopes up. However, on the off chance that any people from SE or CD looking for ideas might ever read this, here’s a couple about a nearly murder-free Tomb Raider game.
…I’d do it like this.
The first thing to keep in mind is that Tomb Raider was created with the exploration of ancient, lost tombs in mind, and typically, the people you might chance upon in such places are already dead. I also wouldn’t expect to find too many dangerous live animals in an ancient tomb where no one has set foot in ages—especially not in tiny, locked crypts with no food, water, or air. (Finding usable medikits or ammos for just the kind of guns you happen to have with you is also not very likely, but at least it’s not logically impossible. Maybe Lara is just lucky like that.)
Naturally, Lara Croft without her trademark dual pistols would be just as much of a heresy as Super Mario without his mustache would be (corollary: reboot Lara is not Lara), but no humans or animals to kill doesn’t mean nothing to kill.
This might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I’d be absolutely thrilled about a Tomb Raider game where I can lose myself in a mysterious, ancient temple or tomb to explore, knowing that supernatural creatures (like the thralls in Underworld, or the mummies in The Last Revelation) might be lurking behind every corner. Importantly, enemies like that are unrealistic enough that I would have no qualms about gunning them down, nor would I mind Lara’s witticisms about it (“This is a tomb: I’ll make them feel at home” just doesn’t sound that funny to me when it refers to people.)
In contrast, human enemies that fire guns at you are trite and banal. If I wanted that, I’d play Call of Duty or some other FPS. They also don’t fit very well in the kind of game I’m describing, and detract from the very same feeling of isolation that contributed to making the first game so enjoyable.
However, ruthless human enemies who wouldn’t hesitate to fire on Lara may still make sense in a number of plots—for example, one where they’re trying to find a relic before she does. Even in those cases, there is a way for Lara to take the high ground while pursuing her objectives and keeping the game entertaining: Batman’s way.
She doesn’t need to go around wearing a cape or do the Christian Bale voice (entertaining as that would be), but instead of shooting human enemies dead, she could use the same stealth combat techniques of the Caped Crusader, for the very same reason: she doesn’t have it in her to take a life. Besides, personally I find that sneaking behind enemies to knock them out, performing silent takedowns, and engaging in some good ol’ melee fights, would make the games more stimulating. (Yes, I know the reboots did that. No, I still don’t like them, and they still don’t count as Tomb Raider in my books.)
At the time of writing, I haven’t managed to play Angel of Darkness yet, but I understand that it featured stealth combat and that it sort of sucked. However, as far as I know the game was essentially a bunch of bugs strung together with a few lines of working code, and it’s hardly to be taken as proof that stealth combat can’t work in a Tomb Raider game.
To be fair, a change like what I’m proposing might be a departure from how Toby Gard had envisioned Lara—she was supposed to be a dangerous, austere character of aristocratic descent, very attractive and yet unattainable and hard to approach. One of Gard’s sources of inspiration for Lara was Tank Girl (probably not for the aristocratic-austere thing), and I guess my idea would push Lara further away from her. At the same time, it could be a way to evolve her character into a more mature one who did away with murder for the sake of achieving her goals.
As a side note, knocking people out for hours on end without causing them permanent injuries the way Batman does isn’t really a thing. If you beat someone unconscious, or do a blood choke on them, and they don’t wake up within seconds, they are brain-damaged at best and dead at worst. Nothing that a little suspension of disbelief can’t fix, though, and actually, making Lara drop her murdering habit might also add a little bit of realism in other ways.
I’m willing to believe that, if she had killed just one person in her entire life, she could be lucky enough not to get caught; but someone must well have stumbled upon at least some of the many bodies she’s left in her wake over the years, right? And none of those cases were ever traced back to her?
In Underworld, after her manor burned down, Lara said she would go search for Thor’s belt after dealing with the authorities about the arson. Yeah, right. I mean—hello, there are more notches on your gun than there are hairs on your head, and speaking of guns, you have an assault rifle on your back. I think the coppers might want to talk to you about more than just the fire.
And do we want to talk about Tomb Raider II? Just how did she get rid of the bodies of all the mobsters she killed in her own house without anyone ever noticing, for chrissake? And what about Angel of Darkness? In that game, she’s on the run, attempting to clear herself of being suspected of killing her former mentor. Given her impressive total body count and how she’s somehow always got away with it, I’m not sure why she should care if anyone mistakenly thinks she’s killed one more guy.
So, if I could ask Santa Croft for any present at all, what would I ask?
First and foremost, I would ask that Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics forget about unifying the timelines. Many fans like the survivor timeline, so by all means, continue it if you must, but keep it separate from the classic and LAU timelines. Make it a parallel universe or something, whatever you like, but please, consider picking up from Underworld and developing that timeline from there, without dragging all the survivor drama into it. You could make more fans happy that way, and you’d have more games to sell to fans who wouldn’t touch anything survivor with a ten-foot pole.
Any new game in the style of LAU would be great, but if I could choose, I’d ask for a game heavily focused on tomb exploration with supernatural enemies, with only stealth combat available whenever Lara is dealing with human enemies. I’d ask for a game with today’s realistic graphics, but without any full-body plastic surgery done on Lara. She looked just fine in LAU. (In the classic games—eh, I’m not sure. I might or might not have something about that going on behind the scenes.) Oh, and yes, Santa—do check if Keeley Hawes is available to voice Lara once again. If I hear Camilla Luddington go “Aaa you thaaa?” once more, I swear I myself might become too casual about murder…