Lara Croft: Most real hero of current-gen

How Tomb Raider's bloody brutality tells her story better than any cutscene could

After an opening couple of hours spent stealthing through the moonlit gloom of the island’s lower forests and caves, Lara finally – after a tense, metaphorical trial by wolf lair and the subsequent infiltration of a cultist-filled underground bunker – emerges into the daylight for the first time in the game. Vast blue vistas explode horizontally in front of her as a kind of battle-harndened rebirth occurs. She’s no longer the same scared, uncertain kid she was a few hours ago. She’s starting to change, and her horizons – both literally and figuratively – are too. But there’s still a long way to go. There’s another, bigger base ahead, and this time around she’s not going to be able to sneak in.

Newly armed with the just-discovered machine gun, Lara and the player now have an open, multi-tiered sandbox of improvisational shooting to play with. In order to survive, both will have to up their game and discover previously unknown skills and bravery. It’s a breathless, moment-to-moment onslaught demanding constant reappraisal and seat-of-the-pants adaptation, and it comes at exactly the right time in Lara’s journey to really mean something. And it’s tied up with a beautiful little flourish.

Having cleared out waves of better trained, better armed opponents by way of her own scampering wits, Lara is forced to face off against an armour-plated juggernaut of a man. Eventually scoring a David-and-Goliath style win by eking every last risky advantage out of their close-range nimbleness, Lara and the player take a second to breathe. Then two last mooks emerge from the doorway to the next building and the briefest of real-time dialogue exchanges summarise the whole journey up to that point.

The second mook exclaims with surprise and an unmistakable hint of shock that Lara is still alive.

“Yes! Still alive!”, she aggressively yells in return, in total contrast to her earlier in-fight attempts at negotiation. She’s forgetting the weak and downtrodden girl she previously perceived herself as and is, without realising it, taking the first step towards becoming the woman she was always capable of being. Skin is shedding and the safety is off. With both the player and Lara sharing a hair-trigger adrenaline-high born of mutual panic and relief, there’s every chance she’ll unload this line just as she paints the wall with said mooks via a couple of immediate, now-instinctive reaction shots. All things considered, it couldn’t be a more perfect resolution to the first step of her personal journey.

From there it’s a long, labourious, painfully intimidating climb up the crumbling radio mast in order to signal for help. As Lara ascends, the camera pulls back to engulf her in the brilliant blue sky she earlier witnessed from afar. But there’s no acknowledgement of the view from Ms. Croft. No air-punching victory or obvious, spoken moment of self-realisation. No sense that she’s even noticed what she’s achieved or what she’s becoming. Because real people don’t think like that. They don’t perceive their own development as it’s happening. Instead Lara and the player just keep quietly, stoically pushing on upward - by ladder and analogue stick - until they reach their next goal. Because in Tomb Raider, actions speak far louder than words.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Long-time GR+ writer Dave has been gaming with immense dedication ever since he failed dismally at some '80s arcade racer on a childhood day at the seaside (due to being too small to reach the controls without help). These days he's an enigmatic blend of beard-stroking narrative discussion and hard-hitting Psycho Crushers.
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