If you’ve read The Archaeology of Tomb Raider and seen the comments before, it won’t be a surprise to you that I don’t have the highest expectations for the upcoming reboot sequel Rise of the Tomb Raider. There is too much I find wrong in it, too much lacking for anyone who’s played the original series. I’m the recurring cynic on those comments.
Last week Game Informer dedicated at least one article a day to the new game, but the articles were lazy, uninspired and not really informative. Most of them just rehashed information we already knew about or recycled past interviews. The interview videos were laden with PR-speak, which to those of you who don’t know what that means, is talking without actually saying anything, answering each question in the most non-committal way possible. You heard them say things like “passion, survival, trauma, exploration, tombs,” without really giving much away. Worse still is they kept talking about these things in almost a monotone. The resulting videos are soul draining.
It’s quite obvious the point was and is to create as much hype as possible, to make sure that sweet spot of millions of dollars in pre-order revenue. But with examples such as Assassin’s Creed Unity and Watch_Dogs I’m wary of this move. I suspect and fear they might deliver a shoddy product. You may call me a cynic, but it’s happened before. The two Ubisoft games I’ve just mentioned are perfect examples of this. And it’s not just them but also a growing trend in the games industry. A lot of hype to get money before people realise how flawed the experience is. We’ll know for certain hat is the case if Rise of the Tomb Raider gets the infamous release-date embargo.
But my low expectations don’t just come from the hype-machine—it just lowers them more.
I liked the reboot as a game, but I felt it was lacking as a Tomb Raider title. It was too much of a modern-gritty-shooty game. While I do respect the developers’ creative vision and I did enjoy the game, I still feel something was missing, some of the adventuring spirit that has always been the central point of the series. Everything was about survival, and killing people and Lara getting hurt. The archaeology, the exploration of tombs and the puzzles were secondary now, just side-activities that did nothing more than add a completion percentage to your game. The only ones that added something to the experience were the artefacts you found from previous inhabitants of the island, as they helped sell the Dragon Triangle and Yamatai’s background.
The plot was good, but it took ages to get going and ran in circles for a while. It’s what I call the Crysis Conundrum. In that game, you have an alien invasion plot, but you spend 95% of the game fighting humans. It’s the same with Tomb Raider 2013, you spend most of the game dealing with the cultists and the actual mystical side of the plot and the supernatural Oni forces only appear in the last segment, as if they were trying to remain tied to ‘reality’ for as long as possible.
Another problem the game had was the supporting cast. Excluding maybe Roth and Sam, they were all cardboard cutouts, all of them stereotypical. Ask most players of the game and they will tell you they’re just there to be helpless victims for you to save at one point or another, or watch them die…just because. It’s the problem with these neo-gritty stories: they all think you need to have violent deaths for characters to grow and things to have meaning. They don’t understand that for the bad moments to be effective, there also have to be moments of joy. If everything is always hopeless then you become desensitised to the ‘pain’.
In fact, the secondary cast is still one of the biggest problems in the new Tomb Raider’s storytelling. Beyond the scope of the game, the comics—bridging the games and expanding on the new lore—also have Lara constantly saving friends. Every story arc involves at least one crewmember of the Endurance or someone related to them. It’s starting to feel as if that’s the only type of story they can tell.
And it’s disappointing for those of us who have been with this series for years, the ones that enjoyed the old TRs, suffered through Chronicles and Angel of Darkness and then saw the light again with the Legend-Anniversary-Underworld trilogy. Those of us who enjoyed the crazy adventures Lara got to in the Top Cow comics, the crossovers with Witchblade and so much more. The stories were sometimes silly, but they managed to capture the sense of adventure of Tomb Raider, they had Lara actually raiding tombs. Same with the games, there was adventure, plunder and ancient secrets to find and they managed to tell compelling stories without sacrificing anything. Just take the LAU trilogy, all had wonderful personal stories for Lara yet they are still outstanding Tomb Raider games.
Another point for me to keep my expectations low is perhaps a minor one: Trinity. First introduced as a small secret in Tomb Raider 2013, and then fully so in the comics, the organisation is now the main antagonist in Rise of the Tomb Raider and they are without a doubt one of the least intimidating and interesting secret groups in the world. From their appearance in the comic, they’re laughable B-list 80s villains. I told Kelly M from the Archaeology of Tomb Raider what I thought about trinity, what made them ridiculous and I still think so: “As a shadowy organization, they are about as subtle as a C4-packed truck honking La Cucaracha.”
Their main agent in the comics is a religious nut. They also made him extremely sexist, perhaps hoping to make him even more unlikeable, but to me he just seemed pitiful. I do know that making secret organisations isn’t easy and making good ones even less so, but Trinity just feels barely fleshed out, just a name thrown out to see if it sticks. And by the way, and for the record, Trinity is a terrible name for a secret organisation.
I’m worried that we’ll once again spend a good chunk of the game ‘fighting humans’ and have the mystical and tomb raiding sides tacked on at the end. With the way Trinity seems to work, this will most likely be the case. You against this insane army (plus bears) until you reach the last segment of Kitezh.
By reading all of this, you’ll probably think I’m hung up on the past games and I’m not giving the new ones a chance. But this isn’t a new IP but a new ‘series’ built on top of one with a massive following, with an already dedicated fanbase and with it come expectations. We know it’s a new Lara (or Nu-Lara as I like to call her) and she has her own stories, but we do want to see her having adventures, not just ordeals and traumatic experiences. We want puzzles and tombs to be part of the main game, not just something tacked on at the end to placate us, to be able to say “oh, we added those” nonchalantly. Sure, we like secrets and additional stuff, but we want Lara to Raid Tombs, not just spend hours on hours stalking and killing enemies. We like the deep storytelling but we want deep gameplay as well, we want brainteasers to go with the high-octane action. We want to feel with the characters but we want a wide range of emotions, not just hopelessness. And to be honest, I don’t think we’ll get it with Rise.
I’d like a bit more of this type of gameplay:
As I said near the beginning, I thought the reboot was a good game. It is, it’s very good, but only if you consider it a standalone product. When you put it as part of the entire Tomb Raider franchise, it’s becomes the least favourite title for most fans.
There is one thing though: I want to be wrong. I want Rise to be everything I think it won’t be. I want them to prove me wrong and make me swallow my words. But you know what, I don’t think that’ll happen. My low expectations will at least help me enjoy the game…if I ever get to play it considering the asinine exclusivity deal.
But that is another topic entirely.