In my last article I spoke about my low expectations about the upcoming Rise of the Tomb Raider, sequel to the 2013 reboot simply titled Tomb Raider. But since then, I’ve been wondering about the reboot itself and the tone they chose for it, the style of gameplay and in fact everything about the damn thing.
Before I go any further though, I do wish to say it ticks me off that they chose to name the reboot simply Tomb Raider. For one it shows a definite lack of imagination, and there was already a game called Tomb Raider, the original, the one that started it all, the one remade into Anniversary. In a way I get it, it’s marketing to make sure that when people think Tomb Raider they think of the new one and not those that came before, not that it’s even possible. The reboot was just a droplet in the vast waters of the franchise. They do it to build their new series on the bones of the previous one, almost forgetting it ever existed. You can tell this by the interviews with the developers, at no point do they ever reference the previous installments, not even to say how it inspired them or how much fun they had with them. No, those don’t exist anymore, now you have Tomb Raider (2013) and the upcoming Rise of the Tomb Raider…what a silly name for a game.
As much as people complained about the Devil May Cry reboot, at least they paid homage to the predecessors and even called the game DmC to make sure it stood out as a different game.
Recently I’ve been playing Tomb Raider Underworld, the last in the old-Lara saga and I’ve been having a ton of fun with it. From the puzzling to the challenging platforming (I say challenging because there is an actual chance of failure) to even the combat, which is as much part of the game as everything else. It never takes center stage and is just added there for a nice adrenaline boost before you go on your way crypt robbing.
Playing the game after writing last week’s article made me wonder: did we really need a reboot? Underworld marks an end to the storyline they had built for the original Lara, finding the answers she’d been looking for. It was a very personal and emotional quest and perhaps future games wouldn’t have been able to top that. So perhaps we did need a reboot, but then again, they could’ve gone on to expand the lore and world, and give Lara even more adventures, maybe even retcon some of the worst moments in the series—Angel of Darkness for example.
In some way, the new Lara Croft isometric games have continued the original series, but they’re watered-down Tomb Raider games in the best of cases. Not slagging them off, they’re fun games, but not true TR experiences.
But the true question on my mind is if the reboot we got was the one we deserved, the one to push the series into new heights. A lot of game media outlets seem to think so, but I am still not convinced. I’m an old school gamer, I remember every title I’ve ever played and I always know what I like about certain series. For Tomb Raider it’s the adventure, the discovery and mysteries and all of those are missing from the new series. You have a wonderful location in Yamatai, with locations untouched for maybe centuries and at no point did they manage to instill that joy of discovery, that sense of pure awe and wonder about this strange place. They were too busy instilling within you a sense of panic and fear, two emotions that couldn’t be further from the core of what makes Tomb Raider what it is.
And for a game titled Tomb Raider, there were very few tombs and the ones present were so shallow in content they have always seemed like afterthoughts to me. This is even more apparent when you realise they were mostly optional—you could ignore them and it’d be the same—and the only thing you got from them were more parts for upgrading your gear. And inside these tombs you would find one puzzle at best, so simple in its design it bordered on lazy. In just the start of Tomb Raider Underworld I saw three puzzles that surpassed everything the 2013 reboot had to offer me and in doing so left me even more disappointed in the new series.
I expected a Tomb Raider to have combat, but also exploration, puzzling and, to some degree, secrets to uncover. Out of those we received mostly combat, in increasingly creative and gruesome ways. The puzzling is mostly missing, unless you call cranking shafts and spinning valves puzzles, and the exploration is too shallow. The only thing you’ll explore for is for the hundreds of collectibles that in the end do little but give you experience points (and the GPS caches that lead to one of the most underwhelming ‘reveals’ in history). I mentioned in the previous article that the only collectibles to add anything worthwhile were the artefacts, which ranged from “Made in China” fakes to a few genuine antiques. Still, I felt these could’ve been much more important. They could’ve been used to drive the game’s narrative in addition to the island’s backstory, as Yamatai’s history during wars and occupations isn’t really relevant to the plot. But if you had artefacts on the cultist antagonists, they could’ve enhanced the storytelling by giving you a bit more insight into their motivations.
That tweet got me thinking about another possibility. Could it be what we know now as the Tomb Raider reboot started its life as something else entirely and just got the name slapped on it to help boost sales? It’s been done in the past a lot, from Doki Doki Panic getting an American release as Super Mario Bros. 2 to Devil May Cry 2 being another game entirely with character model changes. It would explain the drastic departure in style and tone from the series’ predecessors.
JHNTWEETS also said something interesting about Tomb Raider last week. He said the reboot was a misery fest and it’s a point I mentioned in the past article and one of the things that I find most jarring about the reboot when you put it as an entry in the overall series. They tried to sell us a story about Lara learning to survive but she already knew how to do that! It’s made pretty clear by her and everything else in the game that Roth taught her everything she needed to know to survive. The only thing she learned how to do in Tomb Raider was how to kill people! Well, that and she learned how to take a punch, a kick, a stab, gunshots, spikes, a fall down a ravine and almost drowning. This is the game that took every opportunity to hurt Lara, because they seemed to have taken the “hardship/pain builds character” thing a bit too literal. I’ve played thousands of games where characters start out as innocents and become hardened badasses by the end and Tomb Raider 2013 is the only game where I’ve seen the character subjected to such a degree of punishment. It’s almost as if they took an unhealthy amount of glee in beating the crap out of her.
On a final note, I find it laughable how they keep pushing this new Lara (or Nu-Lara as I like to call her) on us as the new strong female lead, the new badass. We already had one and her name already was Lara Croft. I already knew how amazing she was as a character and they didn’t need to give me a misery-filled experience to prove that. Here’s a tip for all the developers aiming for this new wave of grittiness (Neo-Gritty basically): you don’t need to do it. Be gritty if it serves your world, but don’t fool yourselves by saying this is the only way to develop characters. Second tip: Misery is only effective if there are good moments to counterbalance it! Tomb Raider 2013 had waaay too much misery, to the point where the audience just stops caring.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is coming and not only have I low expectations but I feel the series as a whole isn’t rising as the title suggest but digging a deep hole for itself. I’m sure Rise will be a good game on its own, but with everything that’s been said about it I’m almost completely sure it’ll be terrible as an entry in the Tomb Raider series. The new games aren’t taking the series to new levels, they’re not evolving the concept and making it better but instead they’re slowly eroding the identity of the Tomb Raider series and I fear it’s only a matter of time until it’s there’s nothing left but another generic third person action game just carrying the franchise’s name. Dear lord I hope I’m wrong…