The ethics of tomb raiding
Lara Croft--the Tomb Raider--has always had right on her side. In adventure after adventure, Lara has solved countless puzzles and killed hundreds of people, all with the steadfast belief that she's on the side of angels. And the bad guys, well, the bad guys had it coming to them. But in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, doubt has crept in. For the latest installment in this long-running series, Lara Croft's actions and motivations are under the microscope. Is the Tomb Raider actually causing more problems than she's solving?
It's an interesting concept for developer Crystal Dynamics to explore, and from all of our early looks at the upcoming game, it's not an angle they're only paying lip service to. This questioning of Lara seems core to the experience of Shadow of the Tomb Raider. It's there in one of the game's trailers, where you see Lara scaring a child after approaching him with blood literally on her hands. It was there in the very first gameplay demo we had hands-on with, where Lara's thoughtless actions in desecrating a tomb kicked off a huge natural disaster that ends up killing hundreds of people. And it was there when we were shown the game's new hub area of Paititi, where Lara has to work hard to make the local residents see her as a trusted partner as opposed to a foreign invader.
During a recent interview with GameSpot, the game's creators said that this questioning of what being the Tomb Raider is was the necessary next steps in Lara Croft's journey.
Jill Murray, Lead Writer: In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, we see Lara at the height of her powers, and now she's able to be the architect of her own chaos. She's already questioning, 'Now that I have all this power, what am I going to do with it? Can I keep going like this? Always pursuing my obsessions? Always trying to be the first one to get there? Or am I better off learning from this and finding a new way of doing things?'
You're almost setting her up to be the bad guy, right? In the trailer, you literally have her with blood on her hands and the child running away. At the end of the demo we just played, the lead characters are questioning what she's doing, whether she's thinking of the greater ramifications. Why go down that route with such an iconic character?
Chris Johnston, Brand Manager, Crystal Dynamics: This is the most capable Lara Croft players have ever seen before, as a result her decisions have much larger implications than they've ever had. So we're seeing a character that the player's ultimately growing with. Now that she's more powerful, she's being confronted with decisions that aren't as easy as A or B, or left or right. Each of these decisions have very different consequences, and it's about Lara being able to fully understand the consequences of her actions. In the classic storylines, it's always Lara racing against someone else to get something first. Now we're seeing this different exposition of Lara's racing against Trinity, but by her taking the artifact, it actually ends up triggering a Mayan apocalypse. We're seeing a very different situation that players haven't seen Lara in.
Are you trying to present that as a flaw in her character that she needs to reconcile? This insatiable drive that she has?
Murray: I don't know if we would call it a flaw, but it's definitely a core characteristic, and it's definitely something she's gonna be examining more deeply. It's something that, in this game, causes her a lot of conflict and guilt and grief, and she has to work through her contrasting feelings of responsibility and guilt.
The new hub area in this game is different from the large areas in the past two in that it's a living, breathing city filled with inhabitants. Why make the change to this habitated area?
Murray: The short answer is it's more interesting, and it's not just dead, quiet artifacts. There are people that you can engage with, missions she can take on, and things she can discover. The other thing that's great is that any idea that she might have had about coming in and fixing everything is probably not going to work. She's gonna learn most of the time that the people there are helping her a lot more than she could ever help them.
Johnston: I don't want to get into spoilers, but being in this space allows us to explore her character as well, where we see a different side of her. It allows us to touch a deeper narrative into who she is as a person and the emotions that she's going through.
Murray: What we mean is she's not coming in from the outside as a fixer of problems. She's going to have to work with the local people directly. She's going to have to, for the first time, let other people be the drivers and not just keep doing that thing where chases down her obsession. She has to listen to what people are telling her, wait for them to invite her in. If they need her help, they'll ask for it.