'Rise of the Tomb Raider' is a tale of 'woman versus wild'

'Rise of the Tomb Raider' is a tale of 'woman versus wild'
Watch out for the bears in "Rise of the Tomb Raider." (Crystal Dynamics / Square Enix / Microsoft)

There was a bear blocking the path of Lara Croft. Please, I thought, do not let her kill this bear.

She had already taken down four or five men – maybe even six, as the Molotov cocktail had a wide explosive ring – but all of them seemed like creeps and they had orders to kill anything that moved. They had it coming, but this bear? This bear could roar, that was for sure, but I'm not so sure this bear deserved to die.


The bear, after all, didn't know any better, and Croft seemed as much as part of the wilderness as the animal. Moments earlier, she had ripped open the carcass of a deer, needing parts for an arrow. Croft could certainly this take on this bear. The bear would be wise to avoid Croft, not the other way around.

Lara Croft is perhaps only second to Mario when it comes to video game characters who are household names, and the Croft in "Rise of the Tomb Raider" is a seasoned warrior. Perhaps a conflicted one, but one whose greatest – and perhaps only – foe appears to be the natural elements.

"Rise of the Tomb Raider" will be released for the Xbox One this holiday season, and the game was the subject of just one of many extended previews Tuesday at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

With the follow-up to 2013's simply titled "Tomb Raider," developers on Tuesday sought to explain how the forthcoming game centers not on Croft's battles against, well, more human elements, but instead focuses on any of the obstacles that block her desire to explore. Barriers could be the freezing cold, lack of food, the punishing side of a mountain or maybe even the so-called men of "the Trinity' who sought to reach the same ancient ruins as Croft.

But men with guns were insignificant compared to this bear.

The game, after all, is one that centers on the theme of "woman versus wild," says Noah Hughes, creative director for the Crystal Dynamics/Square Enix game.

This much was certain: Unlike the 2013 title, which boasted supernatural elements and saw Croft taking on an army of the world's most worthless men, "Rise of the Tomb Raider" will focus on Croft the adventurer. In bits and pieces of the game shown Tuesday, Croft was a loner, encouraging a pal not to follow her into the wilds and definitely seeming more at peace talking to the wind.

And yes, this time around Croft will be questing her way into tombs – lots of them.

"'Rise of the Tomb Raider' returns Lara Croft to her roots as an adventurer as a super powerful woman who has incredible bravery and who's able to think really quickly and get herself through some truly terrifying situations, all in quest of the next big adventure," says Shannon Loftis, GM of Microsoft Studios. "I think I saw one person online say, 'Wow, look, the tomb raider is actually raiding tombs.' I love that."

"Rise of the Tomb Raider," explains Hughes, will be less about Croft the video game assassin, and more about Croft the video game archaeologist. There will be action, sure. In one scene, the so-called Trinity had Croft surrounded, at least until Croft found higher ground in a tree and rendered a man unconscious by jumping and swatting him with the end of her bow. A few poisoned arrows took care of the rest.

Yet there will also be ancient languages Croft has to uncover, and she'll be following the texts of her archaeologist father to lead her to lost crypts. "This is Lara's great tomb raiding expedition," promises Hughes." One of the most common pieces of feedback we heard last time was 'more tombs.'"

"We recognize that a lot of fans want as much 'tomb' as they can get," he adds.

Since Crystal Dynamics/Square Enix rebooted the famed franchise for consoles in 2013, the series has emphasized a more realistic, human Croft, one more interested in thinking out loud than wearing tight-fitting clothing and offering sarcastic quips. When the team previewed the game at last year's E3, it was Croft visiting a psychiatrist, one who encouraged her to "take some walks, maybe pick up nice hobby."

"Tomb Raider" differentiated itself from most mainstream video games by focusing on Croft as a fully developed character with normal flaws, not just a human with nearly superpower abilities. Hughes said Croft at the start of "Rise of the Tomb Raider" is still dealing with the trauma of the events of the last game, but stressed it's not so much the violence Croft endured as it is the fact that no one believes Croft's tales regarding the more otherworldly elements she witnessed.


"Lara is in a tough place when she comes back," Hughes said. "I think part of that is sort of the trauma she experienced, but an important subtext of that scenario is that she saw something she couldn't explain and no one else really believes her.

"She believes," he continued, "that there's an underlying human truth behind these myths. To some extent, it makes her the crazy one in her world. It's hard for her to just return to a normal life. We catch up to her a bit adrift. Like the first one, this is a story about identity."

It's a shame, then, that a wild bear got mixed up on it. At first, it seemed like Croft had gotten the best of the creature. She first tried to outrun it, and when that failed she found a crevice in the forest trees and attacked it with her mountain climbing ice ax. That should have been enough, but Croft ultimately needed to traverse the bear's cave for passage to the ruins.

"You can try," Hughes said, "to get past the bear without killing the bear."

But it won't happen. In early glimpses of "Rise of the Tomb Raider," it's Croft's abilities to master the elements that are most impressive.