Shadow of the Tomb Raider: What made this trilogy so great and what can we expect from the next instalment?
‘Shadow of the Tomb Raider’ is the rumored name for the upcoming final instalment of the reboot-trilogy from Crystal Dynamics. We take a look at what made these games so great, and look ahead to what we want to see in the upcoming release.
Few games can boast a history like ‘Tomb Raider’. Since 1996 Lara Croft has been one of the most iconic gaming characters, shooting, climbing, and fighting her way to mainstream appeal. However the franchise had grown stale, what had made the series so great became routine, monotonous. Gamers were moving away from the female protagonist and it seemed that the iconic character was losing her mystique. But in 2013 Square Enix released the first of a reboot-trilogy named simply ‘Tomb Raider’.
‘A Survivor is Born’
Crystal Dynamics completely revolutionized the portrayal of Lara Croft. No longer was she a fearless, experienced adventurer who chose to face countless adversities. This Lara Croft was a timid character whose passion for archeology led her to Yamatai in search of a lost kingdom. The key difference is that Lara doesn’t choose to face the adversities she faces, but is thrown into danger and life-threatening situations. The player sees the growth of Croft, from the incredibly powerful scenes where she tries to get over killing a man in self defence, to overcoming the obstacles to save her companions. The heart and loyalty of the protagonist is clearly displayed, and very endearing. Lara Croft becomes a confident survivor in front of our eyes.
The narrative and gameplay differ greatly from earlier additions to the series too. The story became a cinematic masterpiece. Not only through the use of the cut-scenes (aided by realistic graphics and great voice acting) but through the action and adventure set-pieces too. Some critics argued that these moments made it feel a little too like the player is having their hand held throughout the game. But that’s part of what made ‘Tomb Raider’ such an incredible experience to play. It wasn’t an open-world game where the player makes their own story or way through the setting. There are clear objectives and paths to follow. But this allowed the developers to perfectly plan each moment of the game to create truly blockbuster moments which the game will be fondly remembered for.
Crystal Dynamics truly rebooted the series in a way many didn’t expect. We could assume there would be fantastic graphics, good (if sometimes repetitive) combat, and a clear and sometimes endearing storyline. But what no one expected was the reimagining of one of gaming’s most iconic characters. Lara Croft really was the driving force in the game, the reason to keep playing, the reason the game is so well thought of. Her story and development were so perfectly endearing that it was near-impossible to stop playing, the player wanted to see what awful situation she would be put through next and how she would react to this and overcome it.
‘Rise of the Tomb Raider’
It’s in the name: a survivor has risen. The 2015 sequel was always going to be interesting as the development of the protagonist had already taken place. Square Enix openly embraced this within their advertising for the game, clearly stating that Lara was now an experienced adventurer who was ready for what was thrown her way. Perhaps then this Lara Croft may be closer to the character of before the re-boot?
Again Crystal Dynamics managed to present an incredibly endearing and likable protagonist. Early on in the game the player witnesses many flashbacks to Lara’s home life, and her struggle to overcome her post traumatic stress disorder (caused by the events of the previous year on Yamatai). These flashbacks allow the protagonist to become humanized and display weakness, despite the fact she is now a trained and prepared adventurer. Likewise the flashbacks show how the protagonist struggled with her PTSD until she buried herself in new archeological work. This gave a reason and purpose to her story, and allows another development to take place for Croft throughout the game.
Crystal Dynamics also built on what made the 2013 reboot so successful. The cinematic set pieces were again included and heightened in this sequel. The very opening scenes begin with Lara Croft traversing a mountain during awful snowy conditions. Obviously she gets separated from her companion and has to deal with avalanches, huge falls, and life-risking leaps to make it back to help her friend. These improved and more dangerous cinematic moments allow the odds to once again be against Lara Croft, who may be prepared, but not for this. Crystal Dynamics once again portrayed a very likable and compelling main character.
‘Shadow of the Tomb Raider’
Crystal Dynamics will again be in the situation where they need to make Lara Croft endearing. She’s obviously an incredibly likeable character who we’ve seen grow, but the best way to build empathy is by making her look out-powered. This will obviously be incredibly difficult to do as she’s now witnessed so much and overcome incredibly challenging obstacles. However the developers will need to find a way, as Lara Croft has been the best part of these games so far, and no doubt that will need to be the case again.
Two aspects of the reboot trilogy which have felt lacking are the combat and representation of villains. Combat against the wild animals has been consistently excellent and thrilling: perhaps none more so that the memorable battles against the wild bear in ‘Rise of the Tomb Raider’. Although fighting against other people rarely evokes that same sense of excitement or danger. The countless, meaningless enemies that Lara has to encounter feel very un-life-like and offer no great challenge. There’s the very similar cover, shoot, advance, dodge the grenade routine which gets old very quickly. Despite how traumatized Lara was from her first ever killing in self-defence, she quickly becomes comfortable with disposing of these unimportant obstacles. It’s quite jarring in fact to consider how quickly she becomes immune to this mass killing.
Sadly these traits also transfer to the main antagonists. In each game so far there have been two, almost stereotypical villains that evoke very little from the player. Their actions and emotions follow in the trend of a traditional evil character, and really don’t add much to the series. Crystal Dynamics need to focus on writing an antagonist who is just as compelling as their lead. This could even help them put the odds against Croft again, something which is pivotal for the series. Jut like how the Joker in ‘Batman: Arkham City’ added so much to the story and representation of Batman himself, a well written villain could do just the same for Lara Croft.
The Legacy of the Survivor
With so many game franchises it feels like the developers put so much focus on the setting and gameplay, that the main character is almost forgotten. However with this re-boot trilogy it feels like Lara Croft was written for and developed first, and then the story, gameplay, and setting were written just for her. I hope that the ‘Tomb Raider’ franchise rises even further from here. There is already a movie in development which is based on the reboots (that hopefully bucks the trend of bad gaming movies) which means that the series can once again capture the mainstream interest. Crystal Dynamics have created a new legacy for ‘Tomb Raider’, hopefully now it can remain a gaming staple for years to come.
Written by Stan Cohen
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