SPOILER WARNING! This article discusses the character of Lara Croft as it changes throughout Rise of the Tomb Raider. In order to do that, we need to talk about major plot points. So if you're at all concerned about spoiling the story for yourself, probably best if you come back after you've finished it. It'll still be here.
By the end of Rise of the Tomb Raider, Lara Croft comes across as some kind of superhero. No normal person, however brilliant, could feasibly survive so many hostile encounters. Now, I have no problem with suspending disbelief because a) it's a video game and b) it's fiction (not to mention utterly brilliant). But this 'superhero' just happens to get everyone around her killed instead of saved. That's… unfortunate. In fact, I'd go so far as to say the 'Tomb Raider' that 'rises' from the naïve girl that started this reboot is a crazed and reckless individual. Worst of all (well, short of all that casual murder), she has lost the ability to truly trust anyone. Alliances are formed, certainly, but actual trust? Gone – and I don't think it will ever come back. This isn't the foundation for a well-balanced adult. But arguably it is a foundation for 'the Tomb Raider'.
But who - and it's interesting I also feel like asking 'what' - is a 'tomb raider' anyway? It's someone who willingly steals artifacts from archaeological sites. Someone who desecrates graves. Fundamentally, I don't believe it's possible to be a nice person if you steal things from dead people, especially after expressing awe at how many hundreds, nay thousands, of years have passed with everything lying undisturbed. It's the problem with the old style of archaeology. In order to look at things, you need to disturb them.
Lara clearly has a passion for archaeology, and began in 'student' mode. Let's be honest, the Lara Croft on the boat at the start of the last game is little more than a child. She's done her studies, is starting out on field work and hasn't truly found herself yet. That's a great place to start the journey from the audience's point of view because she is effectively a blank slate. Things will happen to her to shape her character, and we'll be there with her to see them, every step of the way.
But with that said, the first step of that journey was far more severe than most people could cope with. That traumatic implied assault scene, subsequent first kill in self defence and ensuing, harrowing struggle for survival would change anyone. But it all happened so quickly in the last game, it was too fast. Suddenly, this girl was a cold-blooded killer. All that's been dissected before (by me, here in fact (opens in new tab)), but it needed to be reigned in for Rise of the Tomb Raider.
Lara does change over the course of the game. There's a big difference between the hesitant trigger finger of the Lara in the home scene and the one that screams "damn right I am!" when an assault squad enters a room and says 'she's here'. There's a huge shift in her self-belief, which is well-realised. She does become The Tomb Raider in that respect.
But I am concerned about that moment of defiance. There's a crazed tone to her voice. Her actions grow increasingly reckless, her thought processes over-simplified as she does everything and anything to pursue her single goal. Make no mistake, this is all down to the fact Rise of the Tomb Raider is a game and not a movie. It's the same problem that GTA4 suffers from: Niko is a balanced and reluctant character in the story scenes, but put him in players' hands and give him access to a ridiculous arsenal of weaponry and he becomes a totally different person.
And Lara is a different person to the one at the start of the last game. The key difference being her actions on the island were born of necessity. Here, while you could argue she feels some obligation to keep the Divine Source out of the hands of Bad People (yes, the kind with Capital Letters), there's also the fact that she is doing all of this because she chooses to. She is choosing to finish her father's work. And the fact that she will have to commit mass murder along the way doesn't stop her. I'm pretty sure that would stop me.
The other thing that would stop most people is that realisation that people are dying because of her. And let's be blunt: How many people have actually survived knowing Lara since we met her? The villagers accept her and most end up dead, Jacob ends up dead (but happily so)... even Jonah dies for a bit. She is a talisman of death and suffering. And yet she pushes onwards, telling herself it would all have happened anyway, just later on. Again, without that thinking, we wouldn't have a game, so I can't really complain. But perhaps the stakes didn't need to be quite so high right from the get-go.
The betrayal by Ana is one of the best revelations in the game, but again, Lara's reaction is worrying. She basically admits she can't trust anyone any more. If movies have taught me anything, it's that a fundamental, deep-seeded mistrust of everyone can only be undone by a love interest. And since it's absolutely obvious that Jonah loves Lara, but Lara is oblivious to that fact, I'd say that's not going to change any time soon. Lara's going to be a loner. She said herself “I work better alone”.
So maybe a reckless, crazed loner with little value for human life is a perfectly adequate person to fill those Tomb Raider shoes. I've been wondering whether new Lara is anything like old Lara, especially as she kills so many people. But is everything else really so different? Even if Lara very rarely shot at people in the 1996 original, she still turned up 'packing heat'. She damaged property to break into Natla Industries, and yes - everyone she meets in that game, from Natla and Larson to Pierre and even the sherpa at the start all end up dead because they met Lara Croft.
Perhaps we don't have to like Lara. Perhaps her character flaws make her a more interesting heroine than someone who always does the right thing, or the sensible thing. I said in my review that 'Lara in bitch mode is awesome', and she is. The Tomb Raider has risen... but nobody said she was supposed to be a hero.