Today, we gained a few more details about Shadow of the Tomb Raider. We've known the game's title since 2016, when it was leaked via a quick picture on a Montreal subway. It's only been this year that Square Enix has finally been willing to talk about the title in detail. Now we know that Shadow of the Tomb Raider is coming to PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 on September 14, 2018.
Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider developer Crystal Dynamics has handed off the reins to the rebooted Lara Croft to Eidos Montreal. As such, this new developer is tasked with taking what has gone before and rounding out this version of Lara Croft. According to what USgamer's own Caty McCarthy has seen, the game will see Lara tackling what she's become in her drive to live up to her father and stop the evil organization Trinity.
What I found interesting was the vaguely dark take for Lara herself in the game's new cinematic trailer. In it, our heroine silently works her way through a cadre of Trinity soldiers. Covered in mud like Dutch from 1987's Predator, Lara uses a wicked knife and her now signature climbing pick to systematically dispatch foes. It's quite cool and actually pretty in line with Lara's in-game exploits where she kills hundreds of faceless guards on the island of Yamatai and wilds of Siberia, but in terms of storytelling, it feels like a regression.
The original Lara Croft, the one Crystal Dynamics left behind with 2013's Tomb Raider, was a relic of a bygone time. With less realistic graphics, many games tended to adopt more cartoonish tones in response. The early Tomb Raider adventures have Lara Croft leaping across platform and ledges in her classic tank top and shorts, dealing out death to everything in her way with dual pistols.
Once she gained a voice, Lara had an air of British disdain to her, which was established in the original film adaptations starring Angelina Jolie in 2001 and 2003. She killed a ton of people and animals, but she didn't really care. She was damn good at it and ready with a smirk and one liner just in case. Players never really thought about it in the original four games, but as the graphics and presentation of the Tomb Raider titles improved, players started to wonder, "Lara's a bit of sociopath, huh?"
Which is fine if your overall tone is right. Naughty Dog's Uncharted series side-steps this problem by having protagonist Nathan Drake always joking. The pace of the Uncharted's adventure recalls the Indiana Jones films, where things are happening so fast that you don't really think about the fact that Indy just let that guy slowly get crushed by a mining machine or the treads of a tank. Even this changed a bit though, as the latter Uncharted adventures, Uncharted 4 and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, tried to spend a bit more time adding nuance to their protagonists.
As graphics and presentation have improved, so to have the needs of storytelling. You could do the classic Lara Croft in modern form, but as she trends towards a realistic look and fully-voiced presentation, players will treat her more like a real person. Crystal Dynamics was mindful of the balance between the classic adventure elements—pulp action was always full of rampant, mirthful killing—with the requirements of modern stories.
"We wanted to give the fans something they could enjoy and be proud of, but we also needed to make something that would force lapsed-fans and non-fans to give Tomb Raider a second look. Re-introducing people to a new more human version of Lara was our starting point," Tomb Raider reboot creative director Noah Hughes told The Telegraph back in 2013. "In essence Lara and Tomb Raider would remain a pure expression of action adventure gaming. This classic essence would be seen through the fresh lens of a survival-themed origin story. Through this lens we could re-introduce audiences to a more human and relatable Lara Croft."
There's a moment early in Tomb Raider 2013 where Lara kills her first person and it hits her hard. It's the kind of moment that wouldn't fit right on the old Lara Croft. But she doesn't have the option to curl up and deal with those emotions head on if she wants to survive. This culminates in a later moment in the game where Lara frees herself from captivity again. As everything burns around her, Lara screams, "That's right! Run, you bastards! I'm coming for you all!" After being stalked for so long, she becomes the predator. It's a cathartic moment.
It's immediately followed by the death of her mentor figure, Roth. That's the grounding moment, intended to make you realize that this is all still about survival.
Rise of the Tomb Raider was probably the closest balance between Tomb Raider 2013 and the old Lara Croft. Lara no longer has to be here; she's doing this because she believes that the artifact in question would be worse in the hands of Trinity. And she's comfortable with the things that she has to do in order to survive, including killing others. At the same time though, Lara is dealing with a strong case of post-traumatic stress disorder that she spends most of the game ignoring. There's a layer of reality that still remains.
I don't know if Lara Croft in Shadow of the Tomb Raider will retain that. The character in the trailer is a stone-cold killer. She's not the self-assured classic version dispensing with dry British humor, but she's also not the somewhat-reluctant survivor that she began this trilogy as. One is enjoyable, the other believable. And I find myself somewhat worrying if Lara could lose the good parts of either version.
Which becomes a question of what we want Lara Croft to be. I find it interesting that as Drake wraps up his holster to become a family man, and Kratos leaves behind his need for revenge for a more nuanced take on the God of War, that Lara Croft might be going backwards in terms of characterization. I enjoyed Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider, and I'll probably enjoy Shadow of the Tomb Raider unless the gameplay drastically changes, but storytelling is a part of the whole experience.
While Shadow of the Tomb Raider explores Lara's action and how they affect the average person around her, I don't want her to lose what makes this version of Lara Croft work. She's not just the female Sam Fisher; she could eventually become that, but that's not really what I want from this character. And the perfect murder machine with a joke and well-managed hair fits the old Lara, not the new one. If becoming the Tomb Raider—which is an odd tagline for this game considering what she's done in the previous two titles—means leaving behind some sense of humanity, I think that'll be a loss.