20 June 2014

First of all, I just want to mention, if you haven't played Tomb Raider (2013) this article has major spoilers for the storyline. It also has slight spoilers for the first issue of Gail Simone's comic series. Just everywhere. Spoilers. Watch out!

Days before E3, rumours began to circulate that we may hear news regarding the next instalment in the Tomb Raider series. The speculation was fuelled primarily with hope, but in the final moments a domain name was purchased which made Lara's presence at the show a very real possibility.

During the Microsoft E3 Conference, Crystal Dynamics announced the sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider.

Back in 2011, I wrote an article for Guns and Grapple which looked more closely at the trailer released during E3 that year. The article focused on some of the clues Crystal provided to hint towards the game's storyline and how they might plan to reinvent the protagonist. This trailer on the other hand is different; we see Lara as an experienced explorer and one affected by the death and events which occurred at Yamatai.

First of all, I just want to mention that there are a number of interpretations online about the new trailer. A popular theory is that Lara is suffering from PTSD. There's a fantastic article by Ashelia about going through therapy and praising the mature direction of the upcoming title. If you haven't already, I highly recommend checking out the piece. With a different interpretation, Leigh Alexander also wrote an article which was later retweeted by the game's writer, Rhianna Pratchett who defended the trailer. It's interesting stuff!

My interpretation is quite different from both of them and focuses on the possibility that Lara may be returning to her Core Design's biography.

"When you're ready, open your eyes."

The scene begins in the middle of a therapy session accompanied with the soothing sounds of  "The Car Chase" by James Horner. Lara is avoiding eye contact with her adviser, shielded by a hood which covers her eyes. At first we cannot see our protagonist, and she's not instantly recognisable; her clothes and the way she slouches in the chair suggests that she is an ordinary young woman who is reluctant to progress through the sessions. The therapist continues to talk and is the only one to do so until the final few moments.

Despite the fascination about the hooded figure there is something in the therapist's voice that is equally interesting; you may call the tone slightly patronising or clinical, but there's also a relaxing narrative tone as though he's talking about Lara rather than to her.

The world of Tomb Raider has always welcomed a mythical element from uncovering the history of Atlantis to travelling to Helheim, yet there's always been an element that remained close to reality; it makes the games more compelling. After acquiring the series in 2003, Crystal Dynamics has been exploring that line between fiction and reality with Lara initially sceptical of anything supernatural. In the recent reboot, the developers' continued this idea; after reuniting with her shipmates from the Endurance, the team quickly splits up in order to find Sam. Lara is quickly partnered with Dr James Whitman, an archaeologist of sorts, who believes that myths and legends are closer to reality than many believe. Lara instantly shoots down the hypothesis stating "But this is real Dr. Whitman we're not standing on a myth." As the game progresses, her perspective opens up to more mythical possibilities. 

The meaning and audience for the opening lines are vague. Is he asking Lara to reawaken to the reality of a plain therapist office away from forbidden cities? Or perhaps asking the audience to expand their sense of reality just like our protagonist was forced to? It feels intentional that there's an ambiguity which is aided by the camera shot emerging from darkness with the mention of that imperative.

 "You say the flashbacks have stopped. This is excellent improvement."

Throughout the scene there's an undeniable fascination revolving around Lara. She's both restless and tense, constantly shifting but still subtly reacting to his statements. As the audience, we also know something about the character that is oblivious to others, Lara lied. The therapist comments on her progress stating that the flashbacks have ceased, and suddenly we're pulled back into the waves at the coast of Yamatai and back to the adventure which started it all. We're introduced to a new side of Lara's character which I can't help but feel mirrors her original biography from 1996, her disdain for regulations and procedure. The biography from the Trilogy boxset goes so far to say she finds it "suffocating". He mentions her loss of grip on reality. She shuffles in her chair. He criticises her isolation. She digs her nails into the armrest.

Then there are the lies. Not just about the flashbacks but about the new cuts on her hands from a recent adventure despite her therapist's impression that she refuses to step outside or have a hobby. Or in fact the suggestion to "take some walks" despite her wearing footwear ideal for hiking.

"For many people these traumas become a mental trap, they get stuck like a ship frozen in the ice..."

Personally I absolutely love this line! During the development of Tomb Raider (2013), Crystal Dynamics took inspiration from real life explorers. They focused on the individuals' struggles and bravery to shape their protagonist, one of those individuals was Ernest Shackleton. He was an restless explorer with a love of the sea, a passion which led him to create his own voyage to Antarctica via the South Pole in 1914 entitled the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, in which he sailed on board the Endurance. The following year the ship became embedded and locked in ice and Shackleton was forced to evacuate. Ten months later the ship disintegrated into the sea, where it still remains. 

In April 1916, the order was given to sail to Elephant Island with the crew fitting on board in just three lifeboats. Once on land, the crew began preparations for a voyage to South Georgia on a small ship named James Caird and relying on the Carpenter (McNish) to keep the raft afloat. The first voyage consisted of a skeleton crew which reached shore two weeks after setting off. The remaining party was rescued three months after.

"A girl your age, should be exploring new horizons."

As a personal note, I would LOVE to see Lara returning to our screens with a dislike for procedure, struggling to contain her annoyance at compulsory therapy and leading a secret life. Everyone thinks she's affected or made fragile by her experiences, in truth they wouldn't understand. They weren't there when Lara solved the mystery of the island, or traversed across ice and fire to save Sam, or defeated a powerful Queen with the ability to summon storms. At the end of the last game she sits on the edge of a rescue ship, watching the waves and the sun slip below the horizon, determined not to return home.

Throughout the session we see glimpses of an adventure. Lara is running through a forest  her trusted icepick in her hand, her face hidden by the hood of her heavy duty coat. Behind her is the roar of an animal which is chasing her at a fast rate just metres behind her. As the camera pans in we see it's a bear. Despite the area sharing a similar likeness to Yamatai, the absence of bears in the game and Lara's new look implies a new adventure. The return of the icepick is interesting, perhaps Lara has formed a connection to the gear, viewing it as a symbol of endurance?

"There's another type of person. Do you know what happens to them...Ms Croft?

 Throughout the session Lara remains quiet, silently reacting to the therapist's comments until the final few moments when prompted for a response. It's at this point we hear Camilla Luddington, the voice actress for Lara Croft, answer "We become who we're meant to be." By her confidence in the answer, her tone, and the use of the third person pronoun "we", it's a pretty safe bet to say that she considers herself to be the latter. After the struggles at Yamatai, she's emerged stronger than she was and more determined. 

This was another section of the trailer which suggested to me that Lara feels restricted by what's expected of her. In the room, she is monitored by the therapist who tells her how she is feeling and what she is doing. It's not yet known if these sessions are optional or mandatory, but his statement "I think we're making progress in these sessions" implies Lara has been attending for a while. 

Another interpretation why of Lara could be attending the sessions could be because of Sam, who either pressured her into attending or refuses to go herself. The recent series of comics explore the events after Yamatai and bridges the gap between both games. The first comic features a sleep deprived Sam who frequently sleep walks and has nightmares and flashbacks about the island, yet refuses to accept help. While Lara is affected by her experiences, she doesn't seem to suffer as a result of what she's endured, instead she tries to strengthen the bond between herself and her former crew members. Her acts in the comic and the therapist's description of her character are contrasting which could mean that she's describing Sam's fears as her own to understand how she could help her friend. It would also explain how she responded the way she did after the therapist mentions her real name, she's not hiding then, the answer was bold and determined.

[Disclaimer: This is a fan interpretation of the trailer and therefore the article should be taken as speculation and not fact. I also use some quotations from the video as headings, although it's not a complete transcript. ]  


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