04 Sep The Shadow of Colonialism – A Tomb Raider Review
“Take up the White Man’s burden—
Send forth the best ye breed—
Go send your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need”
Rudyard Kipling, The White Man’s Burden
The British have a well-known history of colonisation, even going so far as to oppress their neighbour Ireland for 800 long years. It was the ‘duty’ of the white man to enlighten those on foreign shores, to civilise the ‘savages’. They do not know the worth of what they have and so need to be taught by their ‘betters’. Rudyard Kipling famously referred to this as ‘the white man’s burden’ in his poem of the same name. This unfortunately seems the case with the rebooted Tomb Raider Trilogy as well. In this entry in particular, Lara is there as an invader. Though friendly and ostensibly there to help, she is really just the same as the others. The fact she never speaks the local language makes this glaringly obvious. When she speaks to villagers often you’ll find their facial animations are off or out of sync, which made me want to avoid them rather than stop for a chat. Even when Lara is undercover as a guard she elects to speak in perfect English. Anyone with ears would be alerted. She could just grunt and nod but instead her posh accent is all we can hear, though no one else reacts. It’s disconcerting.
In Shadow sometimes Lara acts so entitled she’s hard to stand, which is why Jonah’s soothing presence is key to this game. In fact, I wish they had brought Sam from the first game back as well. I’ve read the comic spin off from the original reboot that explains her absence (sort of) but many have not so it doesn’t feel quite canon to the games. Sam would have been a nice callback, a surprise for the fans.
As the game progresses we are given glimpses of Lara’s controlling father. In one letter he forbids Wilton, their refrigerator-bound butler, to talk about her mother to Lara after her death. She has inherited neurosis from her father’s obsessive psyche, something we glimpsed in earlier games as well. It’s what led to his death and to a great many of Lara’s scrapes. “I’m just making everything worse” Lara says to Jonah and the player can’t help but agree. This series has been compared many a time to Naughty Dogs Uncharted and I am loathe to do it again… However, in Uncharted 4 there is a childhood memory section and the same can be found in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. You know it’s the final entry in a series when there’s an explorable childhood memory interlude. Both are set in grandiose mansions and both extremely fun to play through, a nice break from the chaos.
Day of the Dead, shown in many of the trailers pre-release, was one of my favourite sections. From Lara’s costume to the ambience provided by the village and their celebrations. I only wish it was longer and that her outfit here was available to be unlocked in the later game. Most of the outfits I got were just unappealing, so I would rather she go without rather than have to watch her look ridiculous in a cutscene while I regretted my choices, rather than watching the plot unfold.
Jonah and Lara have shared pain, they have a history together, he is the sole voice of reason when Lara is her most inhumane and unlikable. Such as at the end of the Day of the Dead section, Lara witnesses a kid fall to his death because of an event that she thinks was her fault. Rather than ruminate on this she immediately tries to abandon the village to their fate – claiming it’s too late and that everything her father’s done will be for naught. Jonah is the voice the players need or the frustration would be too much. The options here are; we need to help the people you may have damned vs. we need to abandon them to chase Trinity across the globe (again). He tries to do good where he can whereas Lara is more bigger picture. We see her pushed to her limit in this game and it’s a noticeably different Lara than we began with in 2013.
This is a slight gripe but before Jonah’s love interest, Abby, even spoke I knew her role. Before they even laid eyes on each other. It was very obviously telegraphed, the developers needed to ensure the player knew Lara and Jonah were just friends. Entirely platonic. Lara having a love interest in this narrative wouldn’t work so Jonah it is.
There are shadows that hint of the developers awareness of Lara’s role in a modern setting. A woman in Abby’s village even says to Lara; “Tourists bring money, researcher’s just take.” Abby herself, very directly asks Lara not to break anything and when she goes ahead and does it anyway she claims that “I’m not breaking, I’m restoring.” She’s technically right but it’s not her culture to restore. She’s a foreigner taking the role of cultural ambassador to a culture she does not belong to, which her lineage has a history of doing.
The Descent seems a heavy influence on the game too, which I quite liked. There are many times in the first half of the game where you are being watched and hearing noises. Sometimes you see movement in the corner of the screen that is gone when you turn to look. This feeling intensifies in the eye of the serpent as Lara is stalked through the cavernous ruin. But as with all monster movies, once the audience gets a good look at the beast some of the fear is lessened. We can see that the supernatural creatures even have a similar design to the ones in The Descent.
Location wise the Peruvian jungle locations were beautiful to observe. It was as though Lara had slipped into Tarzan what with the stalking jaguars, plentiful vines, even the clambering from tree to tree. Though to my knowledge Tarzan never covers himself in mud and slits a hundred anonymous mercenaries throats. Towards the latter half of the game there is a great scene where she rises from flaming water, determined and furious. It was an epic moment. Slightly reminiscent of the Bioshock opening in the best way possible. The player felt empowered and unstoppable, this Lara was ruthless. A culmination of her development in the last three games in one small moment.
This game is overall pretty great, the tombs are better than ever and we get to learn more about Lara’s childhood which is always a plus. The atmosphere can get quite tense during the supernatural parts which are some of the best in the game. Though the developers paint Lara in an unlikable light at times this is not unjustified. She is on the edge of madness, looking down into the darkness below. Jonah is her tether. It was a bold move to explore Lara’s psyche in this manner knowing the changes in her may disturb the player, but this was not the Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider. Yes, she still has a heritage of colonisation, but that is part of explorers like her and Drake. This may be the end to this particular reboot but it is by no means the end of Lara.
*The game is currently drastically reduced so if unlike me, you waited to purchase it now would be the time.