The reboot of Tomb Raider has come and gone, and although the game received critical acclaim, it still didn’t sell the amount of copies that Square Enix thought it would. In its first month, the game sold 3.4 million copies, but the company wanted to sell nearly double that amount. They expected 5-6 million in the first four weeks, a number that was still conservative. The company must be asking itself why they failed to meet expectations. One thought that comes to mind is, “Has Tomb Raider topped its creative potential? Has the game series that defined action/adventure exploration reached the creative glass ceiling? Is that why it didn’t receive the attention that it deserved?”
No, I don’t believe it has. And I still think that it has some places to go. This blog post will serve to explore what can be done to re-energize the series in its next installment. First, I’ll explore what the reboot succeeded in, next I’ll point towards some improvements that can be made in the future, and finally, I’ll give my opinion on where the game series should absolutely NOT go.
What Was Done Right
The reboot ditched both the “Anniversary” canon of the latest Tomb Raider and the one of old in order to establish a brand new continuity, and this was a definite necessity. As much as Eidos and Core Dynamics may have been trying, they were drastically failing at revitalizing interest in the franchise. The newer games were “okay” by many standards, but they were still re-treads of previous ideas established in the series. Furthermore, despite the writer’s attempts to integrate a personal story into the life of Lara, she still remained a cipher, a difficult character to pin down. Something had to be done.
The reboot fixed this by reintroducing Lara to the general public as a fully realized individual, a character that audiences could identify themselves with. Before Lara was just a figure, but now she has personality, heart, and internal doubt. She is a human being that goes through the challenges of life just like the rest of us, her challenges are just a bit rougher than ours.
Speaking of rough, the grit and realism of this new installment was a great choice as well. Gameplay wise, the game got us into the thick and messy through forcing us to scavenge for spare parts and food as Lara fought for her life. Lara’s survival story was one that we had to endure right along with her. It may have been shocking to the public (I’m sure we all remember the “rape” scene fiasco) but it drew attention to a game that needed it. Now Lara was vulnerable and human, and the public was aware.
Lara’s humanity was further realized through her interaction with the strong cast and narrative direction of the game. Past installments were focused solely on Lara, and even then they didn’t focus on her inner spiritual struggle. Now we have Lara working with teammates and friends, and as a result she’s become more clearly defined. Human interaction always brings growth.
What Can Be Improved
It’s in both of those areas though (grit and character interaction) where I believe the game can find new life.
The past Tomb Raider games have always carried with them a sense of isolation. Exploring forgotten, long abandoned ancient ruins was Lara Croft’s addiction, it brought her purpose, but it also set her apart from the others around here. In this reboot, we have Lara constantly interacting with her friends and advisors, and so the horror of solitude never quite manages to establish as it did before.
This isn’t necessarily a flaw with the game, but it’s something that the developers should look towards in the future. Now that Lara’s become a hardened survivalist, how does that distance her from general society? How is she going to manage the weight of all the lives she’s taken? Is Tomb Raiding going to become a psychological escape from the world? This would be an interesting approach to take, and one that would both contribute to the atmosphere of the game as well as the new in-depth character of Lara.
This theme of isolation and grittiness can be further integrated into gameplay by strictly limiting the amount of items at Lara’s disposal. Taking Tomb Raider back to the survival horror days of Resident Evil, where ammo and health were scarce, would do wonders to further push desperation onto our protagonist. Yes, I know scavenging was main game play element to the newest game, but it just wasn’t brutal enough. The difficulty level needs to be increased. Tombs need to be larger, and the sense of belonging needs to be shaken. True horror needs to be felt in all aspects.
Where We Shouldn’t Go
As I’ve argued, Tomb Raider should be a series that thrives on isolation, and integrating co-op into the series would throw all of that away. This is a direction the game should avoid at all costs; we’ve seen what happened to Resident Evil 5 & 6, and we all know how well Angel of Darkness fared. Bringing in companions (even those not played by friends) should be a topic well avoided.
But most of all, Tomb Raider must not lose the heart that it’s recently found. Whatever is done in the sequel, careful attention must be paid to maintaining the new dimensions that have been added to the series. It’d be a shame to see the series revert to its former, unintelligent self.
When all’s said and done, games like Tomb Raider aren’t ever going to die out. Lara Croft, like her male counterparts Indiana Jones and Nathan Drake, is a classic character archetype. She stands at the human intersection of greed, heroism, and inner strength. If this character goes to rest, she’ll soon be replaced by another.
I’d rather that not happen though, as this new iteration has only just been born. I hope the creators are able to dig deep into their own bag of ideas to bring us some great surprises in the future. And hopefully…just maybe…they’ll use some of mine.