Tomb Raider Rises, Expectations Lower

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.

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(Image Credit: IGN) The first image we saw of Lara’s new adventure

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.

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(Image Credit: Game Informer) The devs seem to focused on weapons and gear.

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’.

(Image Credit: Eurogamer) I do love the bow, I cant deny that!
(Image Credit: Eurogamer) I do love the bow, I cant deny that!

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.

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(Image credit: Dark Horse Comics) How trinity operates…

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.

Blogger Spotlight – Kelly M, The Archaeology of Tomb Raider

Welcome to Blogger Spotlight, where I show appreciation to the people of my ever-growing WordPress community through a small interview where they talk about how they started and what blogging has been like for them.

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The Brilliant Kelly M!

Celebrating its first anniversary, we’ll kick things off with the author/owner of The Archaeology of Tomb Raider, a blog focusing on the popular Tomb Raider series and archaeology, both through the games and in general.

On this site you find enlightening pieces on symbolism in the Tomb Raider series, the true origins of cultures, locations, relics and even creatures found in the series. You’ll also find news pieces on real world and current archaeological digs and discoveries and how they might change how we perceive history or how much they’ll impact a given society or country if they’re proved or disproved. And beyond that, if you’ve ever thought of pursuing Archaeology as a career, then Kelly has what you need to prepare yourself for the challenges ahead, the first thing being lifting the veil Hollywood and games have put over the Archaeology, revealing the true nature of this great path.

Trust me, every second spent on her site means something new to learn.

I leave you now in Kelly’s good company:

1) How did you get into blogging?

I suppose I sort of stumbled into it. I’ve always enjoyed writing and I used to spend countless hours writing letters (and later emails) to my friends and family when I was living and studying in the UK and China. This was back in the early days of the Internet so there was no WordPress, Blogger, or Facebook (the horror!) and some of my family still hadn’t figured out how to send an email (this has since been remedied). In 2004, just as I was preparing to move to Taiwan with my partner for 10 months, a friend told me about a new blogging service, LiveJournal, so I decided to keep a diary of my time there. It seemed like the perfect way to share photos and stories with my loved ones as well as connect with fellow expats and bloggers.

Once I moved back to Europe, I ditched the LiveJournal blog (though I saved the blog posts for posterity) and started a series of other blogs, most of which lasted no more than a few months. Despite my inability to keep those blogs going, blogging has been a part of my life for the past 10 years and it’s hard to remember a time when I *wasn’t* working on one.

2) Is your current site the first you’ve had? If not, can you mention the others?

Not at all. Quite the opposite, actually. I’ve gone through a dozen blogs over the past decade though none of these were particularly successful. Most of these were personal blogs (basically online diaries) which I soon got bored of while others were moderately successful (by “moderately” I mean, I had a few visitors each day as opposed to a couple a week).

I used to run one called “Eye on East Asia” which focussed on East Asian cultures and languages but I stopped working on it less than 2 years after I launched it as I lost interest and found it hard to compete with similar blogs (you’d be amazed how many China and Japan blogs there are out there). I then shifted my focus towards archaeology and started one called “The Amateur Archaeologist” which was quite similar in scope to “The Archaeology of Tomb Raider” but I couldn’t really figure out where I wanted to go with it. So I ditched that one and started yet another blog, “China Heritage Watch“, which focussed solely on Chinese archaeology and heritage issues in modern-day China. Although I really enjoyed working on this one, I found it didn’t attract as many readers as “The Amateur Archaeologist” due to its narrow scope. I guess Chinese archaeology wasn’t that popular amongst my readers. So after a few months, I put it one on hold while I figured out what to do with it.

And then in March 2013, only a few days after Tomb Raider 2013 was released, I stumbled upon a news article about the real-life search for Yamatai and Queen Himiko’s tomb and this inspired me to finally start a blog that I had had in mind for years: one that combined my passion for archaeology with my love for the Tomb Raider video games. And thus “The Archaeology of Tomb Raider” was born.

3) On any given day, how often do you post on your site? Do you have a post-quota you try to meet each week?

I don’t really have a fixed quota but I try to update the blog at least twice a week, even if it’s just to share some photos or post a short news article. I’ve received a number of guest articles from fellow Tomb Raider fans over the past year but it’s mostly a one-person show. Sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day…

4) Describe a typical week for you: your responsibilities, usual activities and how you juggle them and working on your site.

I have a full-time job, go to archery training once or twice a week, and have a number of other hobbies and commitments so I’ve had to learn more to juggle all of those with blogging and social networking. My Arte-Factual feature is perhaps the most challenging as I normally have to do quite a bit of research for those articles, so I tend to leave these for the weekend when I have more free time. Thankfully, my partner is quite forgiving and supportive of my obsession with TR and all things ancient. I spend almost 2 hours commuting to and from work each day so I’ve learnt to use that time for to do some background reading and/or social networking…though this always depends on how well the train’s WiFi service is working. All in all, I’d say I spend at least 2 hours every day working on the blog and updating its social media accounts…and I love every minute of it. 🙂

5) Describe the Best experience you’ve had since you opened your site (Blogging/Internet/community related of course)

It’s hard to name just one as I’d had a lot of fantastic experiences ever since I launched the blog. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people from all over the world who share my love of archaeology and/or video games and I’ve found that the Tomb Raider fan community is a very warm and welcoming one. As for personal achievements, I’m quite proud of the two competitions I’ve run via the blog as well as the amazing response I had when I announced my series of fan interviews. I got so many replies back that I had to publish several interviews a week just to clear the backlog. I may not have a massive readership but my readers are the best audience I could wish for. 🙂

6) Describe the Worst experience (or one of the bad ones) you’ve had since you opened your site (Blogging/Internet/community related of course)

Thankfully, I haven’t had any bad experiences since I launched the Archaeology of Tomb Raider. I’ve had a few minor disagreements with people on Twitter (mostly on the subject of the reboot game) but that’s about it. No flame wars or derogatory remarks. And I really hope it stays that way as I have no time or patience for trolls. I’ve got blog posts to write. 😉

I want to thank Kelly for taking the time to answer my questions and I wish her a Happy Anniversary and hope for many more to come!

If you have any suggestions for other things I should ask my guests, please let me know in the comments, but don’t forget to visit The Archaeology of Tomb Raider

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Attic Cleanup – 12th February 2014

Hello everyone!!!

As you may have noticed, activity in The Attic has been nonexistent and what posts there have been haven’t been from yours truly but by the awesome Kim from 1001up.com, who’s now my first contributor, with others to follow, wanting to use the The Attic as what it’s always meant to be, a space to vent whatever the hell’s going through the minds of the writers.

So, there’s a reason there haven’t been any posts lately, and that’s my mind being too preoccupied with the one plan I’ve mentioned in the past but never got into details. Now I can talk about it.

For the past three years, leading up to today, I’ve been in the immigration process to Canada. Today I finally entered the country as a brand new permanent resident! I hadn’t mentioned it before for simple superstition. You should never talk about your plans until they’re at least close to fruition. Counting on them before the time and talking about them just invites a rug being pulled from under you. So I kept my mouth and my fingers shut 🙂

But now things have come to pass and I can finally talk about all of this. I will have a post in the coming weeks describing the whole process, the “ordeal”, because sometimes it felt like it.

With that weight off my shoulders, I can finally think clearly again and more importantly, I can get back to the writing! So, expect the numbers of posts to pick up in the coming weeks, as I get back into The Mental Attic groove.

Speaking of writing, you might have seen I’m now part of 1001up‘s staff! You’ll see more than a few reviews on that site from moi, more than a few focusing on the real classics: Super Nintendo games, some of the absolute best there are, which I think a lot of you can agree with me.

Recently I played the Elder Scrolls Online beta, but as much as I’d love to talk about, I “signed” an NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement), which prevents me from mentioning anything about my experience, and it would be highly unethical and frankly illegal of me to say anything.

In the past weeks, while I haven’t written anything, I have read more than a few cool posts. You need to check out The Archaeology of Tomb Raider for Kelly’s latest articles and spot-light interviews! V has risen from the dead and posted on the topic of Valentine’s day and the horrible, horrible rom-coms she’ll watch and review for our pleasure. I gave her a weak and cruel blow and told her to watch Gigli. I can be a real bastard sometimes. My good friends at 1001up.com have been maybe a bit too excited about us joining and have put out a slew of posts about those, from the video announcement, to the blooper reel, to the staff interviews. Go check them out ASAP!

My current obsession though is Yahtzee Croshaw & Gabriel Morton’s Let’s Drown Out videos, and you should see them too, and read their blogs, Fully Ramblomatic and “I’ll think of something later“. I find Gabe’s posts fascinating.

What’s coming to The Mental Attic? A few interviews from Phoenix Online Studios, about their origin game The Silver Lining, and their upcoming and almost assured hits Gabriel Knight 20th Anniversary Edition and Moebius; as well as a shorter one focusing on the role of a PR Director in a videogame company.

I’ll try to get the ball rolling on Urban Arcana again and of course, more reviews and other random crap, as usual!

Finally, with the power of Canadian internet, I’m going to start doing more playthrough videos! Maybe drop in a podcast or two too. The first one will be a Testament of Sherlock Holmes “Speed Run”, followed by a series of Dark Souls videos 🙂

See you all around the corner, and if you’re in Canada, let me know and we’ll set something up!!