Review – Shadow of the Tomb Raider

I’ve been critical in the past of the reboot Tomb Raider franchise and at least once, the series proved me wrong. So, despite my criticisms at the ridiculous notion that Shadow of the Tomb Raider was still part of the origin story for Lara Croft, I was hopeful for this new entry in the series.

I shouldn’t have bothered. It’s trash. It’s beautiful, but trash. Continue reading Review – Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Shadow of the Tomb Raider: The Quest for Lara’s Humanity

Yay, a new Tomb Raider is coming and we’ve seen trailers and footage and a month-long campaign of mini games on the official Shadow of the Tomb Raider site. NuLara is back for another adventure that will likely see the writers beat her up in increasingly creative ways as a means of “character growth.” If this sounds like I’m not excited for the game, you’re half right. But let’s talk about that, shall we? Continue reading Shadow of the Tomb Raider: The Quest for Lara’s Humanity

Review: Rise of the Tomb Raider

It’s been a while since Lara survived the island of Yamatai and stopped the resurrection of Queen Himiko. Now, on the hunt for answers and to hopefully prove her father right, she embarks on another quest, to Siberia, in Rise of the Tomb Raider

Continue reading Review: Rise of the Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider Rises, Beats Expectations

I’m not a proud man. I don’t stick to my opinions even when I’m wrong and if I make a mistake I apologise.

So, with that in mind I’ll say this: I was wrong about Rise of the Tomb Raider and my low expectations. I was wrong. There, I said it, but don’t get too excited because I wasn’t completely wrong. There are still a lot of shallow elements to the game, stuff that seem at home in the Uncharted series but feel oddly out of place in Tomb Raider. But I’ll leave those for another article and now focus on the good bits. Continue reading Tomb Raider Rises, Beats Expectations

Potential of the Tomb Raider

Yes, I insist on using Rise’s naming style for my articles. It’s a terrible name for a game.

In the past few weeks I’ve ranted quite extensively on the Tomb Raider series, both on my low expectations when it comes to the upcoming title Rise of the Tomb Raider and about the reboot series overall.

I even considered ranting a bit more just on the very sore subject of the timed exclusivity, but that topic’s been run to the ground and as a very wise friend said on twitter, enough is enough.

But I still feel there’s a lot to say about this 20 year-old series.

In past articles I’ve been quite negative and resistant to change, but I’ve made it clear that I want to be wrong! I want Rise to make me eat my words. I want the Tomb Raider not only to rise but also to stand tall and keep going.

I know I’ve made it seem as if I wish this Lara never existed, and it might be partially true, but it’s just because I know how strong a character the original was, even in all the silliness of her series. She was confident, strong, capable and brilliant. She faced everything head on, even if she had doubts, remorse or reservations. But she also enjoyed herself. She saw the wonder and beauty in every place she visited and she pulled you in so you could see things from her point of view. Everything was an adventure to her and she took as much joy as she could from whatever she did, something I wish I could do more often.

Her Ladyship Croft!
(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons) Her Ladyship Croft!

As a character I admire the original Lara and I found her more inspirational and captivating than most male video game characters. As gaming changed and we entered the dude-bro era, Lara remained herself, with all her charm, wit and copious amounts of sarcasm. And of course backflipping, diving and shooting animals!

At least until they moved on from her to Nu-Lara.

I don’t want this new younger Lara to be exactly the same as the original, as much as it may seem like it. But I do want her to inherit some of her traits. Tomb Raider 2013 was a misery fest, and so far, between all TR media, it seems they want to take her into the “angst-filled hard-ass” archetype and I hope it doesn’t happen. The world doesn’t need any more of those. We need someone who sees the beauty and wonder in everything, someone who reminds us that even the worst circumstances have some good in them. Nu Lara is strong, we know that, but so far the only growth has been on the scabs covering her many wounds. Even the comics—bridging the games—have too much pain and misery and very little happiness.

I’ve said it before. When you’re telling a story, if there aren’t good moments, then the bad ones lose effectiveness. And so far, Lara has had too many bad moments and very few good ones. Her close circle of friends is less there to offer comfort and support but to be victims and hostages.

Enough with the blood & mud and doom & gloom. Let's hit some ruins!
(Image Credit: Dark Horse Comics) Enough with the blood & mud and doom & gloom. Let’s hit some ruins!

If Tomb Raider were a novel, I wouldn’t worry about the character because she would be in Rhianna Pratchett’s hands and she is an outstanding writer. But the creative vision for the character belongs to the developers and so far, they seem to prefer grit and misery to adventure and excitement and joy. For Rise, they tell us she’s having issues dealing with the events of the first game (or possibly the events of the 2nd, as we don’t know if the therapy is before her trip to Siberia or after), and she’s going to a therapist. I fear this is just to make Lara much more vulnerable, and that the therapy is just a “plot gimmick” for this game instead being instrumental in the character’s development.

But there I go again being negative. Sorry about that.

I want Lara and the new Tomb Raider series to learn the lessons of its predecessor and combined with its own stories evolve into something new and better. I want this Nu Lara to be better than the original. I want her to inspire people as much as the original did—including me. I want her to find the joy of exploration, the awe and wonder and the adventure in life, instead of just wading through pockets of misery.

For the games, yes I want to see more puzzles. I know, I sound like a broken record on this, but it’s part of the adventure genre. It’s part of that sense of wonder I mention, to find ancient ruins with incredibly complex mechanisms you need to piece together or use in some way to progress. Sure, we can get away from box pushing, I’ll be the first behind that idea, but we need that awe, that joy of discovery and that’s what I want the series to bring in the future. I hope Rise’s tombs will be as good as they promise or even better. I want them to be complex, and combine items and physics and platforming.

Go big, go silly, go insane! Be stupid, be brilliant!
(Image Creidit: Otakusphere) Go big, go silly, go insane! Be stupid, be brilliant!

In terms of platforming and acrobatics, I want Rise to take it into a bolder direction and future games to go even further. From the classic pits with a rope over them to ditching the climbing gear and just do it by hand. My good friend, Kelly from the Archaeology of Tomb Raider, said that a lot of the challenge of platforming went away with the auto-grab and that is generally true, but there was still a great chance of failure. If you don’t believe me, just check out my Tomb Raider Underworld and Anniversary videos, you’ll see me dying often enough. And that’s where I hope we’ll move, not into the same platforming elements from the past, but the same challenge and risk, to those moments where if you don’t jump at the exact edge, you won’t make it across the gap. I know I’m sounding nostalgic and wishing this series was like the past one, but again, I just want it to learn and use the past series to evolve into something better.

Finally, combat. They’re already going in a very good direction by letting you sneak past enemies instead of just shooting and killing.

However, the one thing I want the most for Tomb Raider—as a game—is for it to be sillier. Gameplay and events grounded on reality are good but sometimes you can squeeze a bit more fun out of a sequence if you allow for some nonsense. Perhaps it’s physics not working exactly as they should, or the character being more agile than she should in a given situation, such as five back-flips in a row while firing two guns at incoming raptors. The Oni were a good first step, but I hope they step further away from ‘reality’ and more into the silly bits!

More tombs, more complex ancient machines!
(Image Credit: Stella’s Tomb Raider Site) More tombs, more complex ancient machines!

And all that together is what I want and what I hope from the Tomb Raider series in the future. I don’t want Lara and her games to mimic the classic series, but I do want them to acknowledge their existence and use them to improve upon, to evolve into a series that will have cynical fans like me jumping for joy and enjoying adventures with this Lara as much as we did with the Classic.

But until I play Rise, I can’t do anything but that: hope.

Tomb Raider: Rising or Crashing?

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.

This segment alone has more interesting gameplay across the board than all of TR2013
This segment alone has more interesting gameplay across the board than all of TR2013

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.

This is what amounts to a 'puzzle' in this new series...
This is what amounts to a ‘puzzle’ in this new series…

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.

So much potential, so incredibly underused!
So much potential, so incredibly underused!

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.

This is what the game is all about: Hurting Lara!
This is what the game is all about: Hurting Lara!

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.

This classy lady!
This classy lady!

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…

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.

(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.

(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.

(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.