Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tomb Raider (2013) - There but for the grace of men go I

The Tomb Raider reboot has a lot of problems and, in general, I think it's probably a game you like more for what it could have been and almost was than what it actually is.

In order to avoid a long sprawling post that lacks focus or coherence, I'm going to tackle things one topic at a time.  Maybe.  Whether or not I'll ever get to other topics remains to be seen.

The name is a bit of a problem.  You see, the reboot is an origin story which takes place entirely before Lara Croft is in the habit of raiding tombs.  There are two tombs in the game, which she doesn't loot.  To make up for that there are multiple "tombs" in the game which she has the option of looting.

They actually had a better name for the game, but decided to put it at the end, rather than at the title screen.  That was "A Survivor is Born".  If they'd called the game, "Lara Croft: A Survivor is Born" people would have had a better idea of what they were getting into.

Of course, that highlights an important question: how is this survivor born.

Lara starts off as someone fresh out of university who doesn't even have the clout to lead her own expedition.  Hell, she doesn't even have the courage to tell people that she thinks they're digging in the wrong place until their initial leads have all failed and they're two or three weeks into the trip with nothing to show for it.

It's not just a lack of confidence in the whole archaeology side of things, it's strongly implied that she's never hurt anything before.  By the end of the story she'll be killing people left and right.

So what turns her from naive innocent with confidence issues to force of nature that will cut through the bad guys like divine wrath and work out exactly what it will take to stop the undead soul sucking queen in spite of over a thousand years worth of people working on the same problem not figuring it out?  (Though she draws heavily on the work of others in her efforts.)

Well what gets her from ordinary person to capital letters written in blood SURVIVOR is ... a succession of men dying to save her.

The story of the game can be told almost entirely in the deaths of men.
  • Jonah Saves Lara
  • Unnamed Crew Member dies so Lara can escape
  • Unnamed Crew Member dies just before Lara reaches him, giving her the ammo she needs in order to survive
  • The pilot dies because of Lara
  • Lara tries and fails to prevent the copilot from dying
  • Grim dies so that Lara won't be captured
  • Roth dies while saving Lara
  • Alex kills himself in a kamikaze attack so that Lara can escape
  • Whitman dies for his sins
  • Lara saves Sam by killing Mathias and the evil undead soul-sucking queen that he serves.
We can prune that down a bit.

Calling the rescue plane was really a diversion from the main plot.  It's a red herring that distracts you from what's really going on.  The plot of the game is, "Lara saves her girlfriend Sam, ending the curse in the process."  The game designers probably intend us to take girlfriend as friend who is a girl, but unless compelling evidence surfaces to say otherwise, I'm assuming that they're lovers because: why not?

In addition to cutting out the distraction, we can ignore the unnamed crew member who dies so that Lara can get ammo.  I may be taking aim at annoyingly contrived things, but that was more annoyingly contrived than most.  There was absolutely no reason to give him a line of dialog before he drops dead just in time for Lara to be too late just so that her getting ammunition for the hand gun would be a significant moment.  It utterly failed to contribute to the plot or advance character.

Anyway, drop that and it becomes:
  • Jonah Saves Lara
  • Unnamed Crew Member dies so Lara can escape
  • Grim dies so that Lara won't be captured
  • Roth dies while saving Lara
  • Alex kills himself in a kamikaze attack so that Lara can escape
  • Whitman dies for his sins
  • Lara saves Sam by killing Mathias and the evil undead soul-sucking queen that he serves.
Even still it can be further whittled down.  Jonah saving Lara was given so little fanfare that a lot of people don't even realize that Jonah did it.  Whitman dying for his sins had very little impact on the plot.

Since I'm primarily considering people who died for Lara, not people Lara killed, we can drop the last point too.
  • Unnamed Crew Member dies so Lara can escape
  • Grim dies so that Lara won't be captured
  • Roth dies while saving Lara
  • Alex kills himself in a kamikaze attack so that Lara can escape
That is the whole of the game between the opening cutscene and the closing one in which Lara saves Sam.

Lara is captured (twice) and is only able to escape the second time because unnamed crew member dies specifically so that she can run away.  She ends up on a detour, but by the time she gets back to to the plot she's again going to lose so Grim goes out fighting (when Lara was ready to surrender) to save her.

Once she finishes with what Grim died to allow her to do it's Roth's turn to die.  Lara sulks on her own for a bit and rejoins the others just in time for Alex to die to save her, and that's what allows them to go save Sam.  Story over.

When I say that they died for her, I mean that very specifically.

Unnamed crew member had been captured.  He might not have been happy about that, but he was making no effort to escape.  We will later see where they put the crew members they captured and most of them lived.  If he'd stayed captured he probably would have lived alongside them.

The factor that made him decide to make a ruckus then rather than waiting and trying to escape later was Lara.  Lara looked to be in immediate danger and he broke free to create a distraction to allow her to escape.  It worked.  He just died for it.

Grim had escaped the bad guys stronghold and held his own against large numbers of them.  When he finally was captured a second time they tried to use him as leverage to make Lara surrender.  It worked.  He wasn't going to allow that and as a result fought a losing fight that saw him fall off of something really tall.

It isn't clear whether or not he would have been captured the second time if not for Lara (them trying to meet up forced him to stay in one place, which presumably made it harder to evade capture) but what is clear is that he died specifically so that she could remain free.  He died for her.

Roth wears a two gun rig.  He ran out of ammo in one of his guns.  He couldn't draw the other gun or reload the gun he had out because Lara was in the way.  He was holding on to her and that severely limited his arm movement.  It also slowed him down.

In that situation (out of ammo in the drawn gun, unable to draw the second gun) he was unable to stop an opponent from throwing a deadly weapon at himself and Lara.  With her weight he was unable to get out of the way of the weapon.  What he was able to do was spin so that he was hit instead of her.

He died from a thrown blade meant for Lara, and the only reason that the blade was thrown in the first place was because Lara was preventing him from simply shooting the guy.

Alex was just plain stupid.  He wanted to prove himself to Lara and got in over his head, but that isn't what killed him.  He was pinned to the ground and a large number of armed opponents made it difficult to unpin him, but that wasn't what killed him.

What killed him was the fact that if he didn't choose to die, the large number of armed opponents would have put Lara at significant risk.  So he held them back while she ran, and then blew up the entire area while he was still in it to prevent them from following her.

At that point Lara vows that no one else will die.

Whitman wouldn't die for Lara anyway, he's too self centered.  Jonah has already done the impossible: he saved Lara without dying from it.  The only two other survivors are female.  Only men die for Lara.

So no one else dies to save her.

But apparently a female survivor is born by having a string of men ready to die for her.

When I said that you could tell the story of the game through the deaths of the men, I wasn't kidding.

This is the story: Lara escapes from the evil people on the island (via unnamed crew member's death) then breaks into the place where she will find answers (via Grim's death) then makes it out alive (via Roth's death) then gets the equipment needed to reach the location of the final battle (via Alex's death) then fights the final battle (she kills the bad man and saves Sam.)

If you want more detail, just add the deaths of more men to the summary.


I don't really have a conclusion in mind.  There is something deeply fucked up about having the strong female lead only be able to do what she does because make supporting characters lay down their lives to save her at regular intervals, but I don't have a more detailed analysis than that.


  1. I suppose it's better than their saving her without dying, but not much. And from a computer game design point of view you want the protagonist solo most of the time.

    The character arc, I guess, is "I won't let anyone else die to save me so I'll look after myself"?

  2. Evil blogger ate my comment.

    Short version: Lara doesn't need people to be dead in order for her to be the lone protagonist. She stays behind, goes ahead, or just does her own thing off to the side so much that even when she's theoretically with a group, she's almost exclusively on her own.