In Mother Russia…: As-I-Play Rise of the Tomb Raider (Part Four)

Back with Lara on the cliff where she was just threatened by a young woman with a bow—now she must know what it feels like to face off with herself—it’s time yet again for a friendly reminder that this post will almost certainly contain spoilers.

From the cliff overlooking the installation, Lara gets to zipline down (wheee!), and finds a creepy recording from a Trinity soldier. He says that he “Watched the man’s eyes go glassy as he begged me for something. Not Russian. No clue.” He concludes by saying that “Konstantin keeps telling us that we’re out here for a special reason, tells us we’re doing God’s work. I’m starting to see that now.” Obviously, the game is getting in its digs against religious extremism, and is intentionally reversing the Christian-Muslim trope that has become a bigoted touchstone of modern American culture, placing Trinity (the ostensibly Christian-oriented Crusader organization) in opposition to the Prophet and his people to make a point.

Lara continues, needing to take out several Trinity soldiers, while wolves howl loudly in the background. Moving forward requires killing more of them, although they’re pretty easy to pick off, occasionally running up to one or two and whacking them with the axe. At one point, one of them lobs a grenade, which reminds me that now Lara can heal (another new mechanic), and that I have to keep crafting arrows for her (yet another new mechanic), which is actually kind of annoying, at least at first, although I pretty quickly get used to it. Easy enough, but just one more thing I have to keep track of. I am not a big fan of micromanagement, and would really just rather collect them, although I suppose it’s nice to be able to add more myself instead of constantly having to scavenge them. (However, since I play on casual, this tends to be a non-issue for me anyway, as I have more than enough to go around.)

Upstairs, there’s another recording, this one in which the soldier is unhappy—he says, “I already want out.” He appears to be some sort of security person, and says that he’s “carved out a secure channel on the network.” I wonder of Lara is going to end up connecting with this disaffected soldier.

Moving deeper into the installation, Lara kills more soldiers, finds another pistol, and then shoots the two Trinity soldiers interrogating a third man—which I headshotted instantly (just to brag a little)—and moves into the room. The prisoner is speaking a language that sounds vaguely like Greek (to me). He gasps out that “They have him imprisoned… I’ve got to… got to…” and then dies. One of the doors is locked (and requires a lock pick, the game tells me), but the other opens. Through that room is a narrow window, with more Trinity soldiers on the other side trying to repair a fuel leak in the garage. I guess they gave me a gun so that I don’t have to take the time to load the arrows.

Konstantin walks in, and begins to berate one of the soldiers, who protests that they encountered too much resistance. Konstantin stabs out his eyes with his thumbs—the man was “supposed to by my eyes”—and leaves him whimpering on the ground, telling him to accept his suffering. He is summoned away by a call saying that one of their prisoners might know something about the Divine Source. He leaves the wounded soldier on the ground. I have to kill the rest, but I don’t have to kill the eyeless one, so I don’t. At least not directly. I do have to blow up the engine, and the explosion appears to kill him, and also summons a couple more soldiers.

Lara remarks that “I seem to have a habit of running afoul of religious zealots” (referring back to the Solarii on Yamatai), and suggests that “Earning the trust of the locals might prove useful.” I can’t help but feel that she’s being a little colonialist here—exploiting the locals just as Trinity is, only with less cruelty. Paternalistic colonialism is still colonialism.

Past the Train Yard, Lara can go through a hole in the chain link fence. In a boxcar she finds a rosary whose “beads have been worn away, almost to nothing.” Trinity, or the Prophet’s followers? It’s hard to tell at this point who believes in what (which is part of the point, of course).

At the bottom of another zipline is a man who killed some of the Trinity soldiers (presumably one of Sofia’s people). He asks Lara for help shutting down a radio tower (player choice to accept). I’m all about helping people (yeah, right), so why not? These side missions are new to RotTRTR2013 had optional challenges (and RotTR does, too), but not missions like this one. They’re pretty common in other games (Borderlands 2, especially), though, and don’t seem to be too distracting here, more seeming to serve as a means of justifying why Lara has to do small things narratively, instead of trying to shoehorn them into the major plot by having yet another person radio her to tell her to do something.

As Lara explores, her radio allows her to overhear a discussion about a prisoner. She suggests (to herself) that maybe freeing that prisoner would be a good idea.

As I explore further I start finding toys made by gulag prisoners (that’s not depressing at all), as well as a cave that is clearly lived-in by someone, a family photograph (“Russian, late 1950s”) with the word “remember” on the back. A reminder about those we’ve lost not just to war, but to oppression, both internationally and domestically.

There’s a tomb near here—an ancient cistern, so more swimming—with the most annoying throw-oil-cans puzzle EVER, since Lara drops things (oil cans) every time she falls in the water or jumps on something. I can’t tell you how many I dropped by accidentally falling into the water. Ugh. Inside the tomb, Lara also remarks that the water will erode everything—that there will be very little “left in a few decades.” Fragility of time, the erosion of civilization, and how transient even our greatest accomplishments are.

With all five communications beacons destroyed, Lara goes back to her ally and he gives her a lock pick. (Yay!) This enables her to open a crate beside this Base Camp, which completes her semi-automatic pistol (more yay!). There’s another Base Camp just before the walkway to the prison. And, naturally, on the way across, the walkway falls so Lara’s “stuck” on the other side. That’s one way to keep me from going back. There’s another monolith on the way up, and then Lara walks smack into some Trinity soldiers. Shot one rapid-fire with the bow, then beat the other two with the axe.

I don’t think I killed anyone in TR2013 with the axe, and I’ve been using it a lot this game. I’m not usually big into melee fighting, but for some reason I get impatient in this one (even though I’m really good at distance head-shots) during mid-range fights, and the bow is just annoying once they come within close range. And yes, I could use my gun, but pistols just have no finesse. (Yes, I’m a sniper-snob. Let me snipe with my bow, or I’ll default to crude bludgeoning techniques. None of these plebeian ‘fire-arms’ for me.)

There’s another Soviet plaque on the wall, and the voice-actor’s tone when Lara says “More Soviet propaganda” sounds exhausted, as though she’s beyond irritated that the Soviets just HAD to put up propaganda everywhere. I find this rather amusing; Lara’s as irritated by the transparent propaganda as I’m sure the gulag’s victims were, which—for me, anyway—also parallels a mental fatigue at current American propaganda with the “War on Terror” and constant harping on “freedom” and “free speech” that I see happening both in the world and—this is where it’s more personal—online in the gaming community that just can’t let go of “ethics in games journalism.” I’m fully aware that it’s unlikely that RotTR is referring to GamerGate (although not impossible, given the crap that Rhianna Pratchett took about making Lara too feminist), but it’s a point of identification for me, nonetheless. The point about Western anti-Islamic and pro-neoliberal propaganda is taken, however, and is—I would argue—the more relevant example here.

There’s another Base Camp at the Communications Tower, and a Supply Shack. I can apparently buy things from the Trinity equipment technician? He tells me that he’s been stockpiling gear and is on my side because he thinks they’re insane. So… I guess I’m exchanging Byzantine coins for things. That’s… weird. I mean, okay, it makes mechanical sense to have a way to purchase supplies, but the narrative justification is a bit… pushing it. I mean, okay, I can see a supplier being okay accepting gold, but giving away one’s archaeological finds for a flak vest just seems to go against everything an archaeologist ought to stand for… but maybe that’s just the academic in me.

Outside is another recording from Trinity—and it sounds like the same guy who just sold me some stuff for gold—which says that “It’s f***ing Jonestown out here.” He also says that Trinity is about to assault the Remnants (the “native” population, who are descendants from the original followers of the Prophet, and yes, “Remnants” is a horrible name for them, since it makes them sound like leftovers or little bits of people), who are “lost in time. We’re talking furs, skins, and iron arrowheads. We’re about to go meet them with attack choppers and fifty cal machine guns. I’m on the wrong goddamn side of history.” Needless to say, there’s some pretty poignant criticism here of Western involvement in clan wars where the people are in no way equipped to handle Western technological warfare, where the war is uneven and the only possible outcome is slaughter. It’s us who are “on the wrong goddamn side of history” here.

Once I’m pretty sure I’ve found everything I have the equipment to deal with, I zipline down to an old church. Konstantin is speaking with what sounds like Trinity command, and they say that “If the situation becomes untenable, we will step in,” and he assures them that “It won’t. You sent me for a reason. I was chosen for this. I will succeed.” Of course it will, because it’s essentially Lara’s job to make sure it will. As she’s listening (this is all a cut-scene), two soldiers sneak up behind her and capture her, knocking her unconscious. That’s head-trauma number four, and a good time to take a break.

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[…] Although I normally like to intersperse which games I’m playing for my As-I-Play posts, I just didn’t have a chance to get to Bastion over the holidays, so you get another post on Rise of the Tomb Raider instead. […]

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