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Tomb Raider: My Deepest Condolences For The Loss of Your Series

2013 In Review: Tomb Raider is already dead, but there's still enjoyment to be found in what Crystal Dynamics has put in its place.

By Mike Williams. Published 4 months ago

Last week, Jeremy asked if Crystal Dynamics had to kill Tomb Raider to in order to save it. It's entirely possible they did, in order for the series to reach the astounding expectations Square Enix has for the franchise. Instead of being tied to the Tomb Raider that Core Design created in 1996 and refined over the course of seven years, series handler Crystal Dynamics decided the way to success was a full reboot. 'Reboot' being a contentious word in our industry.

Pictured: Not a tomb.

The reboot is a bit of an art. It gives the creators a chance strengthen what has worked in the past and discard what hasn't. To leave behind or streamline years worth of ideas, because over half a decade or more having a few bad ideas in a franchise is inevitable. A reboot can also be seen as an admission by a franchise owner that its current fanbase isn't enough. Publishers these days tend to use the reboot as an attempt to reach a new, larger audience, while still having the safety net of the existing audience. Understandably, the fans that have helped Tomb Raider survive for seventeen years may lament 2013's reboot. They feel left behind in pursuit of a new audience.

As part of Tomb Raider's new audience, let me extend my sincere apology. Your series is dead and I'm part of the vultures feeding on its carcass.

You won't always find yourself on the side of established fandom. Sometimes you'll be that person who's first and favorite Final Fantasy is Final Fantasy VII, or XI, or XIII. Perhaps, Resident Evil 5 was your joie de vivre. Or you thought 2008's Prince of Persia was far better than what preceded and followed it. First experiences with a franchise are powerful.

I never played Tomb Raider. It existed, I had friends who played it, but my interests at the time tended to lie in other directions. The series was just under my radar, outside of the Tomb Raider film starring Angelina Jolie.

In the PlayStation 3 era, I jumped onto Uncharted, a series which shares a bit of DNA with Tomb Raider. The trick to getting players into a new game or series is to find that hook; a visual, thematic, or gameplay mechanic to build a bridge to a player's heart (and wallet). For Uncharted, my hook was partially visual - the game looked amazing - but more importantly it was the thematic similarity to Indiana Jones. I've always been a big Indiana Jones fan, so Uncharted's pulp-inspired lead and overall tone was a big win for me. I enjoyed all three Uncharted games and I'm looking forward to the new Uncharted if Drake and his cast are back for another grand adventure.

Quite pretty. Also not a tomb.

Tomb Raider 2013 occupied the same space in my brain as its predecessors until I played a demo at E3. Halfway through my demo, neurons connected and sparked. "Oh, this is like Uncharted with Lara Croft," the neurons said. The game went from dead silent to a major find on my hype radar. When it was released, I was there on day one. Did I already have an Uncharted? Sure, but that was back in 2011. This was an Uncharted in 2013, with a whole new character, story, and tone.

Uncharted was my hook. Was Tomb Raider in that demo exactly like Uncharted? Of course not, but it was close enough that I could see myself playing it in the future. My mind presupposed possible enjoyment based on past experiences. I'd like to say I think deeply about these things, but I can trace other gaming loves back to their hooks. I wouldn't have gotten to my current favorite Starbound without starting at Minecraft, sliding through Terraria, and ending at Starbound. Dead Space? Resident Evil in space. Disgaea? Cartoony, humorous Final Fantasy Tactics. You get the idea.

Making Tomb Raider like Uncharted was what got me into the series. If you're a fan of the classic Tomb Raider gameplay, I'm the consumer they left you behind to reach. Again, I'm sorry.

The reboot didn't reach Square Enix' expectations, but it still had the biggest launch in franchise history. A Tomb Raider 2013 sequel is still coming and I'm glad because I liked Lara Croft. She's still an invincible murder machine like Drake when you're actually playing the game, but during the scenes in-between, she's a survivor focused on saving her friend. There's a great divide between Croft's quiet willpower and Drake's cocksure swagger. I was also pleasantly surprised that Crystal Dynamics and writer Rhianna Pratchett chose to skip any romantic subplots in this game. (Unless you count some fans' longing for a possible romantic entanglement with the aforementioned friend.)

I understand the sense of loss some fans feel for their version of the Tomb Raider, but I tend to be inured against similar sadness and rage due to other mediums I tend to follow. As a comics fan, I'm quite used to the idea of a character or property being taken and twisted into unrecognizable shapes. Sometimes the resulting creation works for me and sometimes it doesn't. Teen Titans the cartoon wasn't the Teen Titans I wanted to watch, while the cancelled Young Justice was great. The CW's live-action Arrow show has little relation to the DC Comics' character of the same name, but I find the show immensely enjoyable on its own. DC's The New 52 is largely a dud with me, but something like Marvel's Superior Spider-Man still has my interest.

Warning: Actual tombs may be raided.

The Japanese Kamen Rider and Gundam franchises are largely different from version-to-version, with only a few visual and thematic tropes connecting separate seasons; sometimes it works for me, sometimes it doesn't. I tend to enjoy seeing what creators come up with when trapped within a certain framework. Warren Spector's Final Fantasy, Hideo Kojima's Final Fantasy, and Brenda Romero's Final Fantasy would all be completely different games within the confines of the Final Fantasy franchise, but I'd love to see them all.

At some point, I just found it easier and less anger-inducing to separate different versions of a character or property. Jeremy argued at the end of his piece that perhaps Square Enix should've retired the Tomb Raider series as it stood before. I'm arguing that they did, the same way that Capcom retired one Resident Evil series for another (the line here shifts between Resident Evil 4 and 5 depending on the fan). The Tomb Raider we have now is a different machine than what came before; it may have some of the same trappings and bring back some of the same ideas, but it's largely a different game.

You don't have to love what comes next, of course. If you're dissatisfied with the direction of a series, voting with your dollar is only part of the equation. The other part is explaining to Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics - in a civil manner - why you chose not to partake in Tomb Raider 2013. Perhaps they'll return to the series proper in the future. I hope for your sake that they do, or some other developer picks up the torch. In the meantime, I'll be over here waiting for Tomb Raider 2.

The best community comments so far 10 comments

  • danger.to.others 4 months ago

    Nicely written article.

    Continuing on with what Ohoni posted, I have played all the Uncharted and what you heard is correct.
    The enemies in that game are lined up like target practice.
    In fact, the levels themselves, save for big moments like floods or collapsing houses, are plainly laid out.
    The draw of the series really hangs on the detail within those plain levels, the characters fluid animations and personality.
    The stories are weak, it's the banter that's smooth.

    And I felt Uncharted 3 was terrible. Weakest dialogue, level layouts that had me getting stuck on the environment all over the place (something I never had a problem with in the first two) and general feel of burnout across the whole production.
    Not my burnout, it felt like Naughty Dog burning out.
    So that always bugged me a little when people dismiss the new Tomb Raider as Uncharted with Lara.
    The only similarities are you have a gun you can shoot and the jungle. But the tone and characters....The tone is more (not story, but tone) Apocalypse Now than The Last Crusade.

    And I agree with Ohoni in that, for me too, key selling point is Lara herself.
    Both in writing and the actress, they were completely believable in presenting the stress and changes over the course of the story that I've ever seen in a game.
    I'll try not to get into my own details deeply, but I've seen more devastation in my life than the average person.
    And coming from a certain life, it's interesting to me to see others elsewhere online luckier to have a safer path who questioned how Lara turned from devastated over her first kill to taking on a small army by the end, those people laughing how that was a bit too unreal.
    But ask anyone who's been in the middle of battles how it was handled in game.
    Because in real life, if you're pushed into a do or die moment and you turn out to be a survivor, yes, that will shake you if you're thrust into it.
    But also, yes, if you're still in the middle of danger, it doesn't take months of therapy to feel that change in you.
    You do it once, something clicks. You're able to do it again and it can surprise you how easily.
    Not like a psychopath killing people for cutting in line, but rather when truly bad people have your life threatened, what was never there before IS there immediately, the ability to pull the trigger to keep yourself alive.

    Through the game she makes little statements marveling how easy this and that are, like she's a bit stunned at herself.
    Which is good writing and about as great an insight as you could possibly fit within the confines of a videogame set up like a combination horror movie and action film.
    *SPOILER*
    And the part that still sticks with me, roughly 3/4 of the way in the game, where she's been though hell, she charges into a burning village filled with armed gunmen (and even better she says it while you're running in, not in a movie) she bursts forth yelling "Come on! I'm going to kill every last one of you!"
    *END SPOILER*
    This stuck with me because it was done well. She said it at the right moment and it was delivered with the right amount of unhinged edge and anger of her snapping in the moment.
    It brought me back to parts in my life where hearing that in that particular moment gave me both chills and a shot of adrenaline because I knew that feeling. Felt it and seen it in others in extreme situations.
    That wasn't over the top bravado. That was true. If you were under the stress of death or gunfire for too long, other than a highly trained soldier who suppresses that emotion better, you can lose it in the way she did.
    That was a great humanizing moment to me that might have meant nothing to some kid breezing through the game.
    But given those moments, that's why I would laugh at comparing Tomb Raider to Uncharted.
    Compared to the handling of characters in Tomb, Uncharted is a children's cartoon.

    I like Uncharted. But I love Tomb Raider.

    Whether other people noticed or not, it is the best written view of someone who has to end a lot of lives and their mentality gaming has ever seen.
    Tip of the hat to the writer, she did her homework with all the little nuances.

    What could have been a silly ad slogan with most games I kind of nodded and even felt a little....I don't know. Uncomfortable? Relating? A little of both?
    I felt those things as when the game had ended and it floated the words "A Survivor Is Born..."
    Too true. Not a hero. A survivor. And brilliantly handled little details underneath the main going ons.
    I was impressed they could invoke those feeling in me, seeing as I play dozens upon dozens of shooters, third person and first and don't feel anything other than a bit of fun.
    So I'm sure it's greater for me than for others, but damn....you suffered violent trauma and you're a gamer? You'll love this. Empowering stuff.

  • jeremy.parish 4 months ago

    You win, Mike Williams.

  • docexe 4 months ago

    The way I see it, while franchises have to renew and overhaul themselves once in a while in order to avoid stagnation, I think the best reboots, remakes, adaptations, alternate continuities and “non-linear” sequels are the ones that try new things while still retaining some of the core “essence” of the franchise. The new “version”, “continuity” or whatever can go through completely new and different venues, but as long as it evokes the “feeling” of the franchise, it will retail its identity. That “feeling” is the key part. For games as well as for most forms of art and entertainment, what ultimately matters for most people is the feeling that the entire experience transmits, rather than the minor details themselves.

    Resident Evil 4 is a good example. It changed many elements of the gameplay and marked the shift of the franchise towards action rather than pure survival horror. Yet, unlike RE5 and RE6, it still felt like a horror game, and while not as scary as its predecessors, it still retained their sense of tension and dread plus the emphasis on survival, even if that part changed from “surviving in spite of being truly vulnerable against the enemies, with limited options to fight back” to “surviving, as even if you now can fight back, you are still completely surrounded by hordes of enemies that are particularly intelligent and crafty”.

    Other examples in other media: Aliens and Terminator 2, which carried many of the themes and atmosphere of their predecessors despite also making a shift from horror towards action, and were actually very well received as a result. In comics, there is the recent run on Daredevil by Mark Waid, which abandons the “grittiness” and urban drama of previous acclaimed runs like those from Frank Miller, Ed Brubaker or Brian Michael Bendis, aiming instead for more fantastical and dynamic adventures. Yet, it still feels like a Daredevil comic because it still focuses on the personal tragedies, conflicts and inner demons of the main character.

    In the case of Tomb Raider, I will need to play it plus a few more games of the series, before I can decide if it truly abandoned its core essence.

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