TR5: The Frame

I remember, long before there were any Tomb Raider movies, idly musing about how I would approach such an adaptation. (I have no training in film, but why would that stop my musing?) I really liked the idea of framing the story as a tall tale that Lara Croft tells about her own exploits, thus excusing the more fantastic elements, like evil meteors and Atlantean demon-aliens and hidden dinosaur habitats. (It’s sadly been forgotten by this point, but early Tomb Raider seemed to have a rule that every game had to have at least one tyrannosaur fight, if only in a secret area or bonus level. I saw no reason why this rule would not apply to movies as well.) I imagined Princess Bride-like interruptions where skeptical party guests object, and an ending that revealed that not only was everything Lara said true, but there were even crazier things that she left out. What can I say, I was really into unreliable narration at the time.

Tomb Raider: Chronicles reminds me of that a little because it, too, puts a narrative frame around the action. The writers had decided to kill off Lara Croft at the end of the previous game, Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, and Chronicles is a collection of stories shared by the people attending her memorial service. I’m still in early stages, so the game still might surprise me, but I don’t think it’s taking advantage of the frame in the same way as my hypothetical movie treatment. Mainly it just serves as a way to present several completely unrelated stories, and even that just draws attention to how loosely linked the scenarios in the previous games were. If the writers had wanted to, they could have cooked up a macguffin to link up this game that’s no less arbitrary than the motivations for gallivanting about the globe in the previous ones, but I suppose the way they did it is more honest.

I remember thinking that Lara’s death in The Last Revelation was unconvincing, clearly just a cliffhanger setting up her inevitable return, like the death of Superman. But apparently it was more like the death of Sherlock Holmes: the team at Core Design was tired of Lara and wanted to kill her off for real, but there was too much public demand for the decision to stick. Chronicles is thus Lara Croft’s Hound of the Baskervilles, published out of chronological order after the character’s death, reminding everyone that this is how stories work and that we might as well unkill the character because it’s not like their death accomplishes anything.

One thing I’m not clear on yet: How does the framing affect the gameplay? Will I carry my inventory from story to story, because that’s how the game works, or will it get wiped, because that’s what makes sense narratively? I’m actually kind of hoping for the former, just because that specific kind of ludonarrative dissonace interests me. I guess it’s my new unreliable narration.

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