Last April, I published an article admitting that Rise of the Tomb Raider’s Endurance Mode is a lot more fun than I’d initially assumed it to be. Afterwards, I decided to pen follow-up posts covering my experiences with the rest of the game’s various pieces of DLC. When the site I was working with at the time bit the dust, however, it became my intention that said posts would be among the first to grace its successor.
Since launching The JHN Files, I’ve been constantly meaning to get around to them. Obviously, though, I never have. The articles have become a permanent fixture in my mind; every time I think of something new to write, I remember that they still aren’t done. There is, however, a hitch.
Increasingly, one of the goals of the posts has become getting Rise of the Tomb Raider off the table — problem is, it’s actually been off my mental table for quite some time, and trying to force myself to write about it when I’m fundamentally unenthused to do so is, to be perfectly honest, making me miserable. As I’m sure you can understand, miserable is something I’m not fond of being, so I’ve decided to let those posts go, accepted that they never will be done.
I loved the deliciously creepy Baba Yaga with its very Underworld-reminiscent finale; had — mirroring my experience with Endurance — a lot more fun than I expected to with Cold Darkness Awakened; and, in Amelia Croft, finally found a reboot character to love in the terrific Blood Ties. But those experiences are in the past, and there my thoughts refuse to dwell, turning eagerly to the future instead.
So that’s where I’ll let them go.
It is, after all, only a matter of time before we start hearing about Lara’s next adventure. What will that adventure bring? At the moment, that’s anyone’s guess — but I have some thoughts on what I’d like to see from it.
A STRONGER LARA
I think I might need to don some body armour here. I can almost hear the calls to arms in the distance, the sounds of pitchforks being taken up and flaming torches lit — but if you’ll bear with me for a few moments, I’ll explain what I mean when I say I’d like to see a ‘stronger’ Lara.
Each version of the character has been physically strong. Reboot Lara is, too. Each version of the character has been mentally strong. Reboot Lara is, too. But previous versions of Lara were also strong in character, and I don’t think that’s something the rebooted character can claim to be… yet.
It’s debatable, that one, because I know and like a fair amount of folks with whom this version of Lara resonates, who feel represented by her in ways they didn’t before. That’s a great thing. But I can’t pretend she’s resonated with me.
To put it bluntly — and despite the myriad improvements Rise brought to the table — I find her bland. Boring. Gone is the sharp wit, the feistiness, of previous versions of the character. There are occasional flashes of the woman she has the potential to be here and there, but — to me — the attempts made to make her relevant, relatable to a modern audience, have rendered her the most unremarkable Lara yet. Couple this with extremely off-putting voice acting, and you have a character I still have difficulty thinking of as Lara Croft.
That’s the crux of it, really: I have difficulty thinking of her as Lara Croft.
It would be both unfair and unrealistic to expect Lara to suddenly be a completely different character in the next game, but I hope those flashes of the women who previously bore her name become a little more common.
Failing that, another reboot couldn’t hurt… right?
A FAMILIAR FACE
So far, there have been two games in the rebooted Tomb Raider timeline. Two games, and yet Lara has had three faces.
In 2013’s Tomb Raider, she looked fresh, distinct. In the following year’s next-gen Definitive Edition, her features were softened, making her look younger and, honestly, more fragile. Cut to Rise of the Tomb Raider, and she became an entirely different person.
Love the Rise model though I do, I hate this, hate the fact that developers repeatedly overhaul character models just because they can. By all means, evolve them, incorporate new technologies, but retain some semblance of familiarity. I’ve said it before — time and again, in fact — but there’s a lot to be said for continuity, and feeling as though you’re on an adventure with an entirely new character utterly defeats it.
THE SILENT TREATMENT
Reboot Lara talks too much. She’s certainly not the only video game character to do it, but, in her case, it’s especially galling.
On the one hand, by constantly commenting on her situation, or offering tips on how to proceed, she completely undermines one of the most appealing aspects of earlier Tomb Raider games: the ability to get lost. Gone are the days when, if you tried to use an item that you didn’t need just yet, Lara would simply say, ‘No.’ and leave you to it.
On the other hand, there’s just no need for it. It's as cheesy as it is unnecessary, and I wish more developers would realise it. The fault doesn’t lie with the writer(s) here — they’re just doing their job.
‘We made it, Dad!’ Great! Keep it to yourself.
A CURE FOR S.C.A & A SURVIVOR NO MORE
S.C.A. Suspiciously Convenient Amnesia.
One of the central themes of the rebooted Tomb Raider is Lara ‘becoming who she’s meant to be’, learning what she needs to, one day, become the tomb raiding badass we know and love. In her first adventure, she learns quite a bit — when we join her Rise, however, she’s forgotten most of it. There’s no other reason for this than to facilitate having a skill tree in the game — and, frankly, that’s nonsense.
If we’re going to have to build Lara up from scratch over the course of each new game, then what's the point of it all? Where’s the sense of progression?
Unless the developers can retain the same skills for Lara’s next adventure, and build on them in new, interesting ways, then I reckon they should just abandon the skill tree. The next game will be Lara’s third adventure… if she’s not retaining stuff by now, then there’s something seriously wrong — which feeds nicely into my next point: enough with the survivalist stuff.
Enough with having to craft weapon upgrades and equipment to get Lara through her expeditions. Enough, ultimately, with her setting out unprepared. In other words: adventure, not survival.
As I said above, we’re heading into Lara’s third expedition — not counting her comic- and novel-based exploits. If she doesn’t have the foresight to pack a decent bow and at least a handgun next time, my already strained credulity will be snapped clean in two.
Perhaps as a result of having spent so much time with Anniversary and Underworld in particular, I find Tomb Raider to be at its best when you’re alone in some vast labyrinth with only the crumbling of rocks, the howling of the wind and the sounds of Lara’s breathing to keep you company, when — other than the occasional spot of wildlife — you might not encounter a soul (alive or otherwise…) for hours on end.
Though there were a few moments that recalled this feeling in Rise — despite much statements to the contrary, the majority of tombs were still optional, so you had to veer off the main story path to find said moments… — both it and Tomb Raider are so character-heavy that I haven’t really felt it since 2008, and I miss it. A lot.
There’s definitely something to be said for the fact that different characters draw out different aspects of Lara’s personality, giving us a deeper look into who she is and all that psychobabble, but, personally, I’m hoping for some extended 'alone time' in future games, with Lara ‘becoming who she’s meant to be’ on her own terms.
Less outside influences. Less helping people out, and less being forced to take a different path, or to hurry through otherwise interesting locations to avoid a group of enemies.
And speaking of interesting locations…
There are many factors that lead to both Tomb Raider and Rise not quite feeling like Tomb Raider games. One of the most prominent, I feel, is the relative lack of truly ancient ruins — or, perhaps I should say the relatively large presence of 'modern' ruins. The Shantytown area in Tomb Raider, the various bases in Rise; however impressive the technology used to bring them to life, these visually homogenous locations are dull, boring, and, frankly, utterly uninspiring.
I find myself wanting to hurry through them, rather than take the time to explore every nook and cranny. I firmly believe that future titles in the series would greatly benefit from more traditional locations, and not only that, but they'd also allow for the return of something else I feel the more recent games have been lacking in…
IT'S A TRAP!
Traps. Traps, traps, traps — or, more specifically, trap corridors.
True, it might take some work to make them seem believable in a modern adventure, but I can't tell you how much I miss dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodging my way through them.
I can see Lara running through the cool, gray and utterly lethal corridors of Anniversary's Egypt as I type these words, my imagination all but salivating over what they might look like reimagined on today's hardware.
Traversing Rise of the Tomb Raider’s world was a pleasure, with simple exploration being the highlight of the game. Running, jumping, swimming, throwing up ropes to climb various objects — these things were all excellent. Not excellent, however, was the climbing. Shimmying across ledges was unrealistically floaty, and jumping to those above… well, the less said about that, the better…
I can’t tell you how much I hope to see this addressed in the next game. It might seem a small thing, but more believable, weighty-looking climbing would, I think, lend Lara’s movement a degree of credibility it currently falls short of reaching.
Then again, given that this issue first reared its unsightly head in 2008’s Underworld — with the introduction of mo-cap — and hasn’t yet been remedied, I’m not holding my breath.
COMPELLING VILLAINS: TRINITY, ITS CRONIES, AND THE IMMORTALS
First up: Trinity.
In Rise of the Tomb Raider, Trinity — the shadowy entity behind Konstantin and his cohorts, and all-around ‘big bad’ of the rebooted universe — existed as little more than a sinister voice on the other end of a phone. For a series striving to deliver ‘gritty realism’, this was decidedly cartoonish. I’d love to see the organisation become more clearly defined in the follow-up. It’s about time it revealed itself.
Additionally, I’d really like to see any newfound depth extended to the organisation’s cronies, too; the boots on the ground. Ana and Konstantin may have made for compelling enough foes, but the rest of Trinity’s presence throughout Rise was utterly bland, and distinctly lacking in diversity. Rise was a great game, but there’s no denying that shooting, stabbing, and strangling your way through cheesy mercenary man after cheesy mercenary man — each barely distinguishable from the other — becomes tiresome after awhile.
Tomb Raider’s Solarii presented a solid reason for this homogeneity, but, really, there’s no excuse for it in Rise — unless, of course, I’m missing something; given today’s society, it wouldn’t be surprising for workplace sexism to be listed amongst Trinity’s shortcomings.
Finally: the immortals. Not those calling themselves immortals — found in the dreaded novel-that-shall-not-be-named — but the actual immortals: Tomb Raider’s Oni, and Rise’s Deathless Ones. They’re just too similar to each other: big, loud, menacing. There might, of course, be some as-yet-unexplained narrative reason for this similarity (fingers crossed…), but with immortality being a central theme of the rebooted storyline, it’s all but guaranteed that we’ll see some deathless foes crop up again in future, and Rise’s Jacob serves as proof that such beings don’t have to be ‘big, loud, menacing’ — so, as with Trinity’s cronies, some variety here would be very welcome.
Given recent developments, it would be utterly remiss of me to write an article about the future of Tomb Raider without addressing the apparent leak of the next game’s title.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider came to light last October — which really threw me when I looked it up for reference… tempus fugit indeed — when someone decided it would be a good idea to work on a classified presentation on the subway.
Reaction to the title was decidedly mixed. Some loved it, others… not so much. I can be counted amongst the former. To me, Shadow of the Tomb Raider sounds… well, cool. It’s tantalising, food for thought and fuel for speculation.
Personally, I think the most obvious assumption is that the ‘shadow’ will be Trinity — or an agent thereof — letting Lara do all the work and picking through her leftovers as she delves deeper and deeper into the mystery of immortality. But that’s not the only possibility.
It could refer to Lara’s father, and his continuing influence on her adventures, or it could hint at the introduction of some sort of doppelgänger.
My favourite thought, though, is that there’s something deeper behind it. In Rise of the Tomb Raider, there was a real sense that Lara's quest to uncover the Divine Source could have serious consequences for mankind — it’s likely that she’ll pursue and encounter other such powerful artefacts on her journey, so the ‘shadow’ of the tomb raider could well be the trail (possibly of destruction…) she leaves behind her as she does.
AN ARROW TO THE HEAD OF TIMED EXCLUSIVITY
Though it seems, now, but a distant memory, I still remember how it felt when Rise was announced as Xbox exclusive — and I’m sure I’m not alone. No matter how you choose to look at it, Rise’s exclusivity, temporary though it may have been, was disgusting. It was short-sighted, greedy — a slap across the face to the vast majority of Tomb Raider fans. And the refusal from all parties to clarify just what that ‘exclusivity’ meant was equally egregious.
Being taken down the same road with the next game in the series doesn’t bear thinking about. Given the tremendous response from the community last time, I’m fairy certain we won’t see history repeat itself, but, at the end of the day, you never really know, and, frankly, that terrifies me.
I think that’s my biggest wish for the sequel. Disappointing though it would be, I could deal with it if none of my other hopes were fulfilled — Rise, after all, was fantastic, flaws ’n’ all — but if the vast majority of the community found themselves excluded once again, all because Microsoft doesn't have an Uncharted-style game of its own to offer, I’d be heartbroken. Heartbroken and, honestly, furious.
I would, in fact, feel obligated to set a torch aflame and take up a pitchfork of my own.
But I hope I won’t have to. As I said above, it’s only a matter of time before we hear tell of Lara’s next adventure — well, official tell, that is… — and though I’m deeply nervous about what revelations the announcement may bring, I can’t wait for it to come along.
She is risen. It’s about time we found out where she’s going next.