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.
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.
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.
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.
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