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Lara Croft can’t seem to catch a break. The character, who since her debut in 1996 has rarely gone unmentioned in discussions of female representation and objectification in video games, might soon be thrust into the middle of a whole new world (pun intended, I guess) of cultural criticism: the white savior motif, looted art and repatriation, cultural voyeurism.
Indeed, critiques of the game’s issues in these areas have been trickling in since publisher Square Enix unveiled the first gameplay demo in April, but after the release, think pieces on the implications of a white British aristocrat fighting to save an ancient Incan city from destruction are a near lock to proliferate.
Square, along with developers Eidos Montreal and Crystal Dynamics, seems to be aware that its hero might be slapped with the “problematic” label, as the first thing that appears onscreen after starting a new game is a message reading: “Shadow of the Tomb Raider was created by a diverse and talented team comprised of multiple genders, backgrounds, ethnicities, religious beliefs and personalities. Although the game is not based on real-life events and represents a work of fiction, it was developed in conjunction with a historian and cultural consultants.”
Nevertheless, there are several parts of the game where I found myself sucking air through my teeth, not least of which is a brief flashback sequence in which a young Lara explores her childhood home, Croft Manor, and geeks out over her father’s private collection of priceless items stolen from colonialism’s greatest hits.
Of course, it’s the rare adventure/role-playing video game that doesn’t include, as an element of gameplay, just … walking into houses and rummaging through people’s cabinets for items and gold. But I’d be lying if this didn’t feel a bit different sometimes.
Picking up a few months after the events in 2015’s Rise of the Tomb Raider, Shadow opens in Cozumel, Mexico, where Lara and her best friend and traveling companion, Jonah Maiava, are searching for a dagger called the Key of Chak Shel. When Lara makes the impulsive decision to take the dagger from an underground temple in an attempt to keep it out of the hands of paramilitary organization Trinity and its leader, Dr. Dominguez, she unwittingly triggers the Mayan apocalypse. After a brief tsunami, she and Jonah set off for Peru to secure another relic, the Silver Box of Ix Chel, and prevent Dominguez from using the two artifacts to, quote, “remake the world.”
Shadow of the Tomb Raider comes out Sept. 14 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.
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