There’s a moment late in Shadow of the Tomb Raider where Lara Croft rises out of the water, silhouetted by flames, a knife brandished at her side. She charges at a faceless mercenary wearing terror on his face before Lara blankly stares and slices the man to death. It’s a scene pulled from any number of Friday the 13th sequels, where hockey masked-killer Jason Vorhees survives some impossible fall, only to turn on those who tried to kill him.
Lara Croft is a serial killer. A violent one too. The number of grisly deaths break with the passe gun violence traditional videogames. There are only so many times one can see a person murdered by climbing gear before it has an effect, numbing or otherwise. Croft drags others underwater, choking and stabbing them in case drowning isn’t enough. There’s another animation where she leaps from a tall tree with a touch of surrealist movement, pouncing on her victims like a jungle cat. Oh, and she kills wildlife too.
She murders bad people, of course, because they might take over the world. Maybe. In reality, Croft is dealing with the consequences of her actions and her privilege. She’s rich because her parents – and by extension herself – wandered into unexplored ruins and artifact-napped cultures piece-by-piece. Shadow of the Tomb Raider gives that archaeological gig true consequences. Her greed sets off a worldwide calamity. The culture Croft seeks to preserve is soon devastated.
A better, certainly more mature story would elevate this theme. Shadow of the Tomb Raider just likes the spectacle of it all. A few same-y (if spectacular) setpieces crush innocent villagers under the waves of a tsunami or the inescapable rush of a mudslide. In-between, Croft still raids tombs. It’s as if she learned nothing in an abbreviated first act that foreshadows destruction, or maybe a few more world-ending cataclysms is her goal after all.
Rise of the Tomb Raider dealt with religion. It was clever. To an extent, so too is Shadow. There’s the rise of a cult, and Croft’s own disbelief that so many people could follow a false deity who is doomed to destroy their civilization. Trump-ian, in a way. Again, a better grounded story might take this angle too, but Shadow of the Tomb Raider is ultimately molded by what came before, certainly so in that addiction to violence. It’s even Croft herself, who this rebooted Tomb Raider series loves seeing pained. She begins Shadow crashing a plane, then seconds later, gritting her teeth with her leg caught in rocks. There was merit in establishing fighting grit when Tomb Raider was establishing this new look Croft. Now it’s only masochistic, cruel, and needless.