After almost a decade of solid output from Crystal Dynamics (Tomb Raider Anniversary is my favorite of the Crystal Dynamics era), we’re getting to meet Lara Croft all over again with the March 5 release of Tomb Raider. I was relatively curious about the new direction, with its themes of survival and development. We are supposedly going to see how Lara Croft became the Lara Croft we met in 1996 and idolized years on in much the way Daniel Craig re-introduced us to James Bond, Christian Bale to Batman, Bomberman to Bomberman: Act Zero, etc. I was never big on this franchise. I remember enjoying Tomb Raider 2 and 3 at most, but never actively bought into Lara Croft as the pop culture icon she is revered as. She is simply an avatar for me to explore mythical tombs, flip switches, and fight off ferocious beasts. Still, I grew heavily interested in this new Tomb Raider, and then I saw it in action. (Does anyone else notice a normal arrow causing a barrel to explode?)
You can probably tell from the title of the entry where I’m going with this. Everyone has compared it to Naughty Dog’s Uncharted games in both positive and negative connotations. I’ve enjoyed the series for two-and-a-half games. The series works less for its mechanics and more for its summer blockbuster-level writing and dialogue from its memorable characters in ridiculous situations performed under great voice direction from talented actors. They are ten-hour interactive adventures that are fun to experience, but as the years passed, I had grown tired of seeing certain designs transferring over to some games: the structural damage that forces the player to take a new path to the next objective, the camera cutting away to said structure breaking apart, the stale gunfights that drag out and appear so often that they feel almost intrusive when I’m more curious to see the next set-piece.
From the footage I’ve seen, Tomb Raider just appears to be going in the same, safe direction of padding small side activities out to keep the game “long,” and filled with “content,” the moments some would refer to as “suspense” of having the player quickly press a button in a timed event. I suppose from the developers’ perspective, the “cinematic gameplay” is a winning formula, since it worked for a blockbuster franchise that owes part of its success to this franchise. With all the hype of a mature narrative, Lara learning to survive and players experiencing what she is willing to do to survive hell, I was hoping for something… else. Uncharted can be Uncharted all it wants. I want Tomb Raider to do … something else.
Personally, I’d have loved actual tomb/ruins exploration designed as puzzles of a sort. Not necessarily matching symbols or a slide puzzle and a door opens, but figuring out how to get to the next area and objective. Portal is the closest game I can think of that is a realization of my wacky thought process. I at least didn’t think being a survivor of a shipwreck and overcoming that would include gunning down hundreds of enemies with a shotgun in the process.
I understand I’m being a bit unfair not having actually played Tomb Raider. That’s fair. However, I don’t believe that simply being positive about a product I haven’t experienced yet is any more valid than the reverse. Everyone reacts. I hope this game proves me wrong.