Over the past few days I’ve been working my way through the new “Tomb Raider”, developed by Crystal Dynamics. I have generally very high standards on games that try to revive a beloved video game character.
I’m a big Lara fan, having played the original Tomb Raider to death as a child (as well as the “Unfinished Business” expansion pack, and the Tomb Raider 2 demo which was included on the CD). I never did play through the sequels up until Angel of Darkness, instead just drooling at the new outfits and abilities that Lara showed off in the previews that played at local video game stores.
Angel of Darkness was the second Tomb Raider game we bought, and while it was essentially a terrible game, full of glitches and silly attempts at reviving the gameplay with stat building mechanics, there were some elements I *really* liked. The detailed cityscapes and apartments were so fun to explore, and they really nailed the melancholy, parisian, early morning atmospheres. It was a great mix between new and fresh environments, classic tomb raiding, and realism and fantasy.
Until now, the only other Tomb Raider game I had played was “Tomb Raider Anniversary”, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It was truly as nostalgic yet fresh a remake as I could have asked for.
Now, to the “Tomb Raider” reboot released some weeks ago.
There is so much to like about the game. In fact, if this was a brand new series with no expectations to meet, I would call it ‘flawless’. The visuals are highly detailed and varied, immersive, and beautiful. The story is interesting and mostly believable. Dialog, interactive cutscenes, etc.. all fantastic.
But I have some serious issues with it as a TOMB RAIDER game.
Firstly, Tomb Raider has always been a puzzle adventure game. Combat was pretty minimal; other than taking down wild animals and crazy fictional or extinct creatures (Dinosaurs, Mummies, Skeletons..), Lara’s bodycount was a believably small and innocent number. In the original Tomb Raider, coming across another person was the scariest, most confronting part of the game. They had guns, and you could die very easily. Often they got away, and you only end up killing a handful of people that got in your way. Overall, a pretty civil game focussing on the jump puzzles and exploration elements.
In 2013’s Tomb Raider, the exploration is optional. Puzzles are minimal and generally very easy – rewarding but leaving you wanting more. Instead, your focus is on taking down hundreds and hundreds of deranged & stranded men who really probably don’t deserve death if you could just sneak past them (which you can’t – I tried). If this is Lara’s first big adventure, why is she so sweet, innocent, and hesitant in her “future” adventures that we’ve already played? Or are we re-establishing Lara as a soldier with archaeology and acrobatics as a side dish? This reminds me of Max Payne 3, which too focussed on an unrealistically gigantic number of soldiers trying to take you down, with the depth of each confrontation lost.
I was really fearful that the reboot would see all fantasy get thrown out too. Thankfully, there was one weird beast thing that appears early on (at which Lara gasps “What the hell is that thing?”), and the story is based on a supernatural, ancient power that uses storms to prevent anybody leaving the island on which Lara is stranded. But having not once been placed face-to-face with a huge, mythological beast to fight, I’m still left wanting.
Other minor yet dear elements missing – the memorable Tomb Raider theme tune, dual pistols (at one point she is given a 2nd pistol and I was like “HELL YEAH!” only to find she gives it to another survivor within that same cutscene), and the Croft manor.
All hope is not lost, though.
I really liked Lara as a character. They got her accent right, her face, her clothing. There were references to her father and the Croft legacy, and she had a child-like love for artifacts and discovery even in the heat of battle. She didn’t *want* to kill anybody, at least not at first. The writers were intentional in turning her into a bad ass warrior by the end of the game, and you notice it through her gradually brewing anger towards the people she’s killing. And minor as it might seem, the way she ran, jumped, shimmied, etc felt very similar to previous Tomb Raider games. I also liked the way she related to other characters in the game – courteous and well-spoken, but generally distant, as if she has a hard time relating to people on a personal level. Not socially inept, just very introverted and happy to study and explore.
Essentially, Lara still seemed like Lara, just thrown into a very different and extreme situation to what I’m used to – maybe that would be OK if it were chronologically placed AFTER all her previous adventures, but if this is to define her character, it just doesn’t match up.