Rise of the Tomb Raider, or, History: Friend of Frenemy?


Brr, brrrrr y’all.

Throughout the course of Rise of the Tomb Raider, the latest entry in the Tomb Raider series, archaeological adventurer Lara Croft has to learn all kinds of badass things to survive the harsh, unforgiving Siberian tundra. By the end of the game playing as Croft had me feeling like an expert Katniss-AF marksman and an acrobat who flows through the environment like a force of nature. The games’ controls will have you moving through gorgeous environments like the wind at some points, and scrambling to beat the life out of an armed-to-the-teeth mercenary the next, keeping you invested in each moment whether Croft is in complete control of her surroundings or hanging on for dear life. The engrossing gameplay, coupled with returning actress Camilla Luddington’s performance, make stepping into the role of Lara Croft a delight, something I’d forgotten you could feel in a video game somewhere between Dark Souls III and No Man’s Sky.

Though it’s the bow and arrow shooting, shotgun reloading, mountain climbing lessons Lara learns that make the game so fun, the narrative of Rise of the Tomb Raider really only demands Lara and the other factions in her orbit learn one thing: be mindful of your interactions with history.

A band of mercenaries, Trinity, find themselves obsessed with history and its promises of undiscovered glory and power.

The tundra’s indigenous population and their leader, Jacob, find themselves at once afraid of history and responsible for the guardianship of it.

Croft herself is out to rewrite history. To correct it. To legitimize it for the sake of her late father, who history has warped and distorted into a raving lunatic for his insistence upon the existence of the same mysterious power Trinity now seeks.

It’s a particularly fitting focus for the Tomb Raider franchise. 2016 marks the franchises 20th anniversary. Rise of the Tomb Raider’s predecessor, the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot, did some heavy sifting and sorting of the franchise’s own antiquated, over-sexualized history. And of course, there’s the whole Lara Croft being an archaeologist/adventurer thing. It’s easy to forgive Lara for not understanding the detriments of clinging to the past when every other step offers up a collectible artifact for her to exam and assess. The juxtaposition between Lara’s archaeological pursuits and personal shortcomings adds a welcomed depth to a protagonist who, five years ago, was arguably defined by her appearance.

That juxtaposition is central to Rise of the Tomb Raider’s narrative, which makes a point of differentiating between healthy analysis and haunting obsession. On one hand, while titularly tomb raiding Lara might gleam a hint as to how to proceed from some old journal stuffed in a corner, on the other hand Lara might let herself be swallowed by oblivion in the pursuit of justifying her own personal history.

Rise of the Tomb Raider is fun as hell, and its examination of our relationships with history adds that certain Je ne sais quoi to lighting a bear on fire with a flaming arrow.