Rise of the Tomb Raider Review: A Reflection of America's Religion Battle
By chance, Rise of the Tomb Raider released alongside a public scuffle over Starbucks' holiday coffee cups - Starbucks' 2015 edition is solid red. No snowflakes, no snowman, no green. Just red. Conservative Christians believe Starbucks is destroying Christmas; the cups are equal to the derogatory X-Mas. Rise of the Tomb Raider happens to make metaphorical sense of the scenario: Its villains are the vocal Christians who feel Christmas has been belittled by a red beverage container. Heroes are other pacifist Christians who are sensible about their beliefs.
Out of 2015's low profit margin blockbusters, none are showcasing bravery in their content like Crystal Dynamic's follow-up to their 2013 reboot. This was a development studio who blew out their welcome on chunky 32-bit space games and a talking gecko pre-Geico. Now they're churning through compelling theological debates, in sync with real world social drama.
Rise of a Theological Battleground
Rise of the Tomb Raider, on the surface, appears to examine religious devotion like a dire History Channel special, say Bible Secrets Revealed - exploitative Saturday afternoon cable filler. Direct connections to the Christian faith are downplayed by Tomb Raider. The name is not spoken. That hurts. However, the aesthetics won't lie. Religious tomes textured in gold. Images of a white, bearded prophet and his dozen followers tiled into ancient stone. Stained glass crosses. Halos. Execution, resurrection; it's as if a Sunday mass has been installed in an adventure game.
Mysticism, miracles, faith; there is little here which ignores Christianity's backbone. It's fair criticism to believe the avoidance is fear over upsetting a target audience or becoming the red cup. It's hypocritical. The industry has few qualms with mowing down Middle Eastern Muslims within a slew of contemporary war dramas. All of the picturesque realism surrounding Lara Croft battles itself without the religious authenticity.
All of the picturesque realism surrounding Lara Croft battles itself without the religious authenticity.
Then again, maybe direct causal links would act as a distraction from what Tomb Raider is doing. It's not a slam against faith. Rise's scarred villain Konstantin has gone insane with belief. To doubt his allegiance to the unnamed prophet is worthy of death, a plot waiting soak up sales from the increasingly atheist/agnostic 20-something demographic. A majority of video games would leave it this simple.
But there is a balance, other believers living off the land in seclusion, wanting to be left alone. They pray, they live without intruding on anyone's life. Anti-Starbucks Christians (but not anti-Starbucks Christians) bring their vehicles to erode the landscape with missile strikes, disrupting a reasonable, unobtrusive, and devoted lifestyle. That's the powerful framework, a religion imploding because progressive society challenges centuries-old systems. Some adapt, others use metaphorical firearms to keep the old guard.
Reflection of Our Times
If there exists a single mainstream video game (and it is certainly alone as a console exclusive) which acts as a reflection of modern society, it is Rise of the Tomb Raider. While not an encompassing portrait, the exaggerated narrative is an unforgiving interpenetration of media flare ups over Kentucky license clerks, school prayer, and what some view as religious persecution. Konstatin has no greater purpose other than enacting what he sees as God's will – he's the Westboro Baptist Church of the scenario. It's a loaded sentiment and displayed without sensitivity toward prejudiced conservatism.
Heroine Lara Croft rallies to aid the peaceful believers, crossing a sublime (even subtle) open world which make sense of the genre's typical nonsense. By pure will, Rise is more than its allegory. The game stumbles – Lara cannot pick up dropped guns until they're “officially” acquired; people leave an inordinate amount of voice recorders lying about – but is brightly willing to acknowledge itself as a video game in other functions. Adding ammunition capacity to a rifle with deer skin is an uneventful mechanic. These do not impact a carefully guarded narrative. In comparison, disallowing gun pick up is an error which breaches logic.
Lara handles the loss of life unfazed; she's used to stabbing and shooting people.
There is also a lingering issue of violence. Like Rise's predecessor, the finale is a slew of disconnected gunplay scenarios. It's far too loud. To credit, Rise handles the slow influx of action set pieces with a matured eye for pacing, only succumbing to a helicopter battle as closure. Lara handles the loss of life unfazed; she's used to stabbing and shooting people now. When questioned, she replies, “I kill to survive,” a phony bit of exposition. Staying at Croft Manor in Surrey, England would save thousands of people. She apologizes for what she has wrought on a small village, a disingenuous gesture.
Quirks aside, Rise of the Tomb Raider can join a list of essential contemporary and fashionable video games. It's a stand out which includes bountiful “content,” dodging the misguided attraction to superficial busywork available in other games. The only signs of age will be technical.
Properly Defining Buzzwords
Games too often falsely call themselves cinematic... It's an act, a marketable front. Not so with Rise.
Rise is flushed with production values which work beyond thematic scoring and attractive eye candy meant for trailers. Rise is overflowing with purposeful voice, focused on developing characters as much as its theme. Games too often falsely call themselves cinematic while missing critical intangibles. It's an act, a marketable front.
Not so with Rise. Tension is genuine, eliciting panic from Lara when near drowning or losing grip while clinging to ice walls. Lara shows growth as well, now determined and sure of herself as opposed to distraught. There is proper establishment of place, time, and story composition, infinitely more cinematic than camera angles. People, places, things; they're stocked with identity and introduced with a proper sense of narrative spacing.
While Rise of the Tomb Raider is a piece of dedicated fantasy, relive Lara's trek sometime in the future and it will be likely to decode 2015's social circumstances. It's the same as superhero cinema stirs in domestic spying and government overreach parables between laser beams. Important entertainment landmarks are capable of keeping their value.
The Marvel Universe cycle is one. Video games have Rise of the Tomb Raider. The upheaval over gay marriage rights. Concerns over church and state. Inflammatory clickbait headlines which incite a typing war across social media. That stupid, stupid coffee cup. Those are all embedded into and indirectly part of Rise of the Tomb Raider. Better still, common sense prevails. Hopefully Rise is predicative too and coffee cups of the future are only used to serve drinks.