Throughout the Tomb Raider reboot series, Lara Croft has been building to a transformation. She struggled to find her survival instinct footing in Tomb Raider and began to learn how to adapt to it in Rise of the Tomb Raider. But in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, she’s taken on the titular mantle. She’ll still get brutally impaled on a mission failure screen, of course, but she has no doubts about who she is or what she’s capable of.
Some people would even call her a narcissist. She’s so overly confident, Alanah argued in an earlier hands-on session we had with the game, that she’ll ignore even her allies in favor of pursuing her adventures. She has a hero complex: Lara believes no one knows better, and no one can do better. No one can save the world but Lara Croft.
But Lara’s actions have consequences, and grabbing an ancient dagger that sets off an apocalypse might just be the worst among them. As Alanah had put it: Shadow of the Tomb Raider is “the confrontation of how her flippant attitude toward messing with historically, culturally significant artifacts can influence everyone, not just her alone.”
But the game’s lead writer, Jill Murray at Eidos Montreal, disagrees. “You, playing as [Lara], know that it’s the wrong thing to do [to take the dagger] because of everything you’ve seen. But you also, I think, in that moment feel like she has to take it. Because you also feel Trinity coming after you and you also trust that they’re going to do the wrong thing with it,” Murray said after a Gamescom demo this week.
“She’s doing the best she can in that moment. She’s forced to face her mistakes. But we’re not looking for her to get over herself. She just needs to confront it and see, oh crap, I still am human and valuable. How can I be a hero while still being human?”
So how do you make Lara Croft, newly confident tomb raider and men murderer, also human? The team at Eidos Montreal thinks that the large hub cities and interactions with NPCs inject that level of depth both into the story and its pacing — so it’s not all pickaxes in throats and scaling walls and solving puzzles — as well as every characters’ development.
Those interactions with her allies lead to some genuinely awkward moments, Murray said. And she has a favorite.
“That’s our pinnacle — our signature achievement: is awkwardness on purpose in a video game.”
“I was like, ‘What have I done, how are we going to get this in the game,’” Murray said. It was a very particular scene with a particular direction that she was aiming for — something the actors managed to breathe life into. “It’s an extremely awkward scene between three people,” Murray said. “They’re making corny jokes, it’s really stiff and weird and it really took until the final polishing round for it work in the game and then it all hinges on Lara, [who] shoots Jonah one look and the timing of the look is just so funny. You laugh, and you understand it’s supposed to be funny.”
“If it weren’t for that much polish, it’d just be like, ‘What’s going on right now? I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel.’ That’s our pinnacle — our signature achievement: is awkwardness on purpose in a video game.”
Lara isn’t accustomed to depending on other people. She’s the lone wolf, preferring to carry the burden of saving the world on just her shoulders. “She is used to just going off alone in tombs — that’s her comfort zone,” Murray said. “[That awkwardness] also comes out of her friendship with Jonah. We start to get a sense of his future, and who is he when he’s not with her and it’s about her giving him his space to go do his thing. It is awkward, even for the player when they’re used to seeing two characters who are always paired together, to even see that they can go off and divert. It all comes out of that. There’s depths to that awkwardness.”
And so Murray doesn’t think of Lara as a narcissist, at least in that text book, classical definition of the word.
“I think she’s someone who has experienced a lot of loss. She’s also seen with her own eyes things that have challenged her beliefs — these supernatural events. She always wants to do the right thing and I think she also profoundly believes that all of these powerful forces that are maybe mysterious and not understood yet are real and I think that’s what pushes her forward, is her curiosity and her belief and her own faith and her faith in other people’s faiths.”
So Lara is finally that fully realized badass. She knows her history, can solve a mean puzzle while jumping over simultaneously spinning and flaming spikes, and stealthily murder more people than should be feasibly possible. But she’s human, too. And what’s more human than a little bit of social awkwardness?
Tina Amini is the editorial manager of games at IGN. You can find her on Twitter.