The Game Mechanic – The problem with Tomb Raider

I don’t think I’m going to be able to finish Tomb Raider.

It’s not that it’s too hard; although the game’s pathetic cover system does regularly get me killed, it’s that Square-Enix may well have crafted the very first player character I’ve ever actively hated. I genuinely can’t stand playing as this cruel, aggressive, hateful person any longer. I think I’m done.

Even worse, the game actively tries to paint Lara as some pure survival figure and a genuine hero. Out to protect those she loves, forced to take lives in order to accomplish this when, unfortunately, that’s just not how the game itself actually plays out.

Bathing in the blood of her enemies.

I’ve written before about using your game’s mechanics to reinforce story and Tomb Raider (2013) is a perfect example of a game doing the opposite. You are Lara Croft, immaculate survivor, beacon of all that is good and true. A character who is horrified to the point of vomiting all over the freshly made corpse of the first bloke she kills, and yet she really enjoys hurting people sometimes.

I eventually became so jaded with the game’s pathetic characterisation that it became impossible to be immersed. When main characters died I found myself laughing out loud at the clichéd script and dull voice acting. One minute she’s babbling on about how vital it is that she risk life and limb to protect her friends, the scenes almost painting a halo around her bonce, the next she’s slaughtering droves of her fellow survivors.

a shallow tale of someone who adapts to murder so quickly it’s like she was always moments away from becoming a serial killer.

The writing seems unsure too. At one point Lara stunned me by telling the corpse of a man I’d decided to put out of his misery to “go to hell”. Either smack-talking or indicating a very worrying desire for another human being to suffer for literally the rest of eternity. That was the turning point for me. The moment where my path and Lara’s split.

I’d have been content if the game had ended like this.

I had a glimpse in my mind of a truly great game after E3 back in 2011. A game that had solid pacing and really captured the feel of being alone and helpless. A game that charts Lara’s descent and re-emergence. What was delivered was a shallow tale of someone who adapts to murder so quickly it’s like she was always moments away from becoming a serial killer.

Tomb Raider is just the most perfect example of ludonarrative dissonance I’m yet to see in a game, if you can forgive me using such a term. The story says one thing and the gameplay says another. This murderous, unlikable, psychopath won’t be surviving on my hard drive much longer. Time for an uninstall, I think…






13 responses to “The Game Mechanic – The problem with Tomb Raider”

  1. josh avatar

    WaaAaaaaaaaaa!!!! Seriously you sound like a whining little spoiled brat. It’s a video game. It’s not gonna win an emmy, a tony, or an oscar. They told the story they wanted to tell with characterization THEY wanted to use. Get off your nerd ass, go out and write your own shit if it doesn’t meet your “standards.” Stop wasting internet space with crybaby shit. Ohh i don’t want to FINISHHHHHH WAAAAAAA HAAAAA HAA HAAAAAAA, mom!!! My ice tea is cold!!! MOOOOOOMMMM!!! MOM?

    1. Ran Harpaz avatar
      Ran Harpaz

      I have to disagree. He has the right to speak his mind, just like you do.

      I just object to the fact that he for some reason takes the Lara at the beginning of the game and disallows her from having any sort of development.

      “She threw up in the beginning, but now she’s killing dudes all the time.” Isn’t an argument that flies when, as a former soldier, I’ve known for years that if push came to shove, I’d kill, then throw up, then kill until the people I want to keep safe are kept safe. I’ve had the unmistakable fortune to have never had to fire a shot outside of training, but whenever I had to guard a settlement in the west bank or a village near the Gaza strip, I knew that there was a possibility that I would have to make a choice by pulling a trigger.

      People who live in peaceful places at peaceful times have to face the fact that they have no perspective on an non-peaceful existence.

      And I believe no one who says they won’t kill to survive. We exist because we survived, because we put our lives and our existences above that of others. That’s evolution. That’s life.

      So you throw up a bit, then you pick up your pistol and you go save your dudes, and you deal with the fact that you’re gonna be a wreck for the rest of your life after that.

      1. josh avatar

        Well i see what you mean from yours, being a more realistic approach, but with all due respect, what I’m addressing is how spoiled rotten this generation of gamers is. Man, i started out on Coleco-Vision and the much forgotten Channel F console. And that shit was mindblowing when i was growing up. As games and consoles evolved, i watched the entire industry grow and adapt to new standards, and while people are entitled to their own critiques, there’s a fine line between saying something constructive and acting like a spoiled little bitch and stomping your feet saying i don’t even wanna finish the game. Then writing in your little blog looking for people to say awwww, and pat you on the back to make you feel better. Bitch go play Dig Dug from 1982 for a whole month, then come back and play Tomb Raider 2013 and tell me if you don’t appreciate that shit. Otherwise shut your spoiled mouth and enjoy the time and effort and massive amount of money and resources developers of today have poured into games these days.

        1. Ran Harpaz avatar
          Ran Harpaz

          I don’t know… What are blogs for, if not to put your thoughts and opinions on, whatever they may be. And if this dude sees something he doesn’t like, he definitely has every right to talk about it.

          And it’s not like being a gamer for 20 years of my life makes my opinions about stuff of any more inherent value than someone who’s been a gamer for 10.

          And I’d like to point out that he isn’t whinging here. He’s presenting an opinion (which, again, I find wrong-headed and wholly dismissive of a lot of people’s lives and existences). And it isn’t a poorly-worded opinion, and it’s probably well thought out. It’s just ignorant of reality. Which is his right.

          1. josh avatar

            As i said, people are entitled to their own critiques, that’s commonplace in this industry, and it contributes to the evolution of gaming, I’m for it, but when you write a blog essentially bitching like a spoiled brat, while secondarily addressing a gripe to justify acting like a spoiled brat, then leave it open to interpretation, welllllllllll…… pardon me while i excercise my right in turn.


  2. Ran Harpaz avatar
    Ran Harpaz

    Not gonna forgive you for using “Ludonarrative Dissonance” when you’re using it wrong.

    The story start in one place and moves, and at the end Lara is horribly hardened by her Trauma. She developed over the course of it.

    Try to learn from that.

  3. Mohammad AlFadil Hasan avatar
    Mohammad AlFadil Hasan


    After carefully reading your article I realized how true it is. That’s the difference between a well-written and directed movie, and a videogame. A movie instantly receive negative criticism when it has cliche lines in dialogue and poorly paced scenario, a videogame – on the other hand – loses only a few points on critics score when the same issue comes to surface as much emphasis goes to production values and thrilling game mechanics although these mechanics might not be well executed in terms of relevance to plot.

  4. Tiago Alho avatar
    Tiago Alho

    with this POV in mind, last of us is 10 times worst than tomb raider. mindless violence in front of a 14y old girl.

    1. Dan_ReadyUp avatar

      Not really, the point Johnny is making is that he feels that the violence Lara enacts is at odds with how we are asked to feel about her by the narrative. TLOU is all about Joel’s lost humanity and compassion and how Ellie’s presence both pulls him back to the reality of violence but at the same time demands he continues in order to protect her.

  5. Chris Jordan avatar
    Chris Jordan

    Johnny, interesting post! For me I think the action rapidly slipped beyond the grasp of Lara’s character development, but I don’t remember outright dissonance. Lara does get more apathetic towards her enemies, more angry and ruthless, but they were never permitted much humanity in the first place.

    I’ve got to admit, one of my favourite moments was the exchange, ‘She’s still alive!’ ‘That’s right! Run, you bastards, I’m coming for you all!’ That moment kind of sums up the whole thing for me: from the perspective of Lara’s character development, it’s a cool, empowering, slightly giddy and even funny moment, Lara finding her feet and gaining the upper hand after her earlier torture (and for me it seemed less that she was ‘hardened by trauma’ than the surfacing of a character that had been there all along). But looking at it literally, it’s absurd, and sinister when you consider the body count. I definitely think they could have hit exactly the same character development notes while scaling the violence way back. The shooter side of things can be taken hyperbolically, but even then it does get carried away with itself.

  6. Justin Keverne avatar

    I had a very different experience with Tomb Raider, if anything I was surprised in how much was done to show the impact these events were having on Lara’s character and the way the mechanics reinforced that; especially compared to the superficially similar Uncharted games.

    Lara’s entire demeanor changes over the course of the game, her common refrain of “you can do this” shifting from a means of overcoming fear to a statement of intent. The further into the game you get, and the more Lara’s abilities develop the less frequently QTEs are use, this helps to reinforce Lara’s developing agency over her situation; this character growth is reflected in many other aspects of the game too. Take the XP system, this is possibly one of the few games where the character’s arc is one of gaining experience over time meaning the XP system is not just a means of creating a sense of investment it also mirrors her own personal journey; Lara starts weak and becomes strong. There’s a similar situation with the Salvage system and the collection of Journals etc, those are directly analogous to Lara’s growing control and understanding of her environment.

    There’s some muddy pacing in the middle of the game, but overall there’s an arc to Lara’s journey and her psychological reaction to it which goes from victim to empowered saviour; from reactive to proactive. It’s still inherently problematic that her method of being a saviour is to kill everybody who threatens her or her friends. There’s a whole wealth of other factors that play into that, your reference to the other islanders as Lara’s “fellow survivors” is interesting as the game goes to some fairly heavy handed lengths to create a separation between Lara and the others on the island, explicitly “othering” and creating a division between “Lara’s friends” and “threats to Lara’s friends” (Note: This is not in itself a particularly appealing aspect of her character or of human behaviour in general).

    I understand Lara being a character you find off-putting though I have to disagree that the mechanics and narrative are a perfect example of dissonance, I found them to be in-sync in a way few other games have managed; the problem is that synchronization is in service of turning a victim into a person capable of killing. I have no idea how they are going to deal with this in a possible sequel though, the only way on from here really is cynicism or psychosis.

    Edit: Stupid grammar mistakes, that irritated me. 🙁

  7. John Brown avatar
    John Brown

    See your point, totally. Also feel that the definition of Lara as a character is sort-of set at this point. she’s walking the fine line between survival and psychosis she’s seen and done bad things and isn’t really given the time to reconcile the actions of ‘them’ against her own actions. Both could be seen as survival at any cost.
    Of course we have to remember ITS NOT REAL but I’ve got to think I’d be doing the same thing. I followed Lara’s growth and experience and invested the points along a scale I’d follow; survival and then aggression. Perhaps this says more about my personality than I’d probably care to know, but the long-shots are – and remain – my favourite in other games like Defiance.
    I enjoyed TombRaider, a lot. It’s one of those games I like, it had a character I could invest in and a story I wanted to follow through every minor aspect.

  8. Giles Armstrong avatar
    Giles Armstrong

    Some interesting points made, both in the blog and these comments. One question I have, and maybe we could see an answer in a follow-up blog:

    Given the same resources as Tomb Raider 2013’s development team, how would you have done it differently? Or how would you have preferred the game to be?

    That’s not meant to sound like an unkind or unpleasant challenge by the way, just a genuine question from someone who’s interested in your take on this subject.

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