Editorial — March 1, 2013 at 9:00 am

Why Tomb Raider Needed To Be Revamped


Lara Croft in upcoming Tomb Raider reboot

Tomb Raider is an undeniably popular series that has been around for almost two decades.  With a plethora of video games and two movies starring Angelina Jolie, it’s impossible to say this franchise isn’t well known.  Once again, Tomb Raider has become the major discussion in the video game industry with the revamping of the series.  The new direction looks vastly different from the previous games on almost all levels.  It’s caused quite the debate amongst fans, but I could not be more pleased by this new direction Crystal Dynamics is taking.  It was absolutely necessary to reboot the series, because it was fading away, and if something didn’t change, Lara Croft would be forgotten in her own dark tomb.

Tomb Raider did one thing perfectly, and because of that one thing, the series has survived all these years.  They created an amazing character. Say what you will, but Tomb Raider is all about Lara Croft.  It doesn’t take a professional in advertising to tell you sex sells, and Lara Croft has more than enough sex appeal to draw in an audience; but that isn’t the only reason she’s so popular.  Certainly among male gamers, it may be enough, but what draws in the female gamers?  It’s simple.  Lara Croft is the definition of an empowered, strong, individual woman.  She kicks ass and does whatever she wants.  She beats down baddies and saves the world.  She’s awesome!  She doesn’t hide in a corner and wait until some prince saves her (Ashley from Resident Evil 4, anybody?). She fights her way out of trouble, usually with some large explosion to follow.  Basically, she’s just plain cool.

So I was terrified that the next Tomb Raider game would make one fatal mistake.  I was afraid it would stick to the formula of the past games, and that would be terrible for one reason: it would be dated.  ”Dated” is the worst label a game could ever be given.  Even being called bad is better, because maybe the game is only bad since it tried something new and failed.  Hey, at least it tried, right?  But dated is a death sentence.   It means the game didn’t do anything new, the gameplay isn’t refreshing, and there’s just no good reason to pick it up. I was afraid the new Tomb Raider would rely too heavily on nostalgia and the Lara Croft name, which would only end in failure.

Don’t think that sounds that bad?  Do I need to mention Duke Nukem?  It was widely popular when it first came out.  It had fun gameplay with a cool, macho-man protagonist.  Duke Nukem Forever was released in 2011, and it was abysmal. Besides the hundreds of problems with the game, it just felt dated.  It was trying to succeed based off of the Duke Nukem name alone, which was created way back in the 90′s.  The protagonist was cool back then, but today he’s just a sexist tool.  Things that worked even a few years ago don’t work today.  I was afraid this would be the fate of the next Tomb Raider game, but the game isn’t just counting on Lara’s name: it’s trying to be a brand new game, and I deeply respect that.

Cover Image of Duke from Duke Nukem

Think about Assassin’s Creed.  No doubt it’s a super popular series, but have you played the first one recently?  It was a great concept, but had huge problems. Honestly, it’s a little hard to play with all the redundancy and problematic controls. Ubisoft adapted the game to fix the problems, and today, Assassin’s Creed is still widely popular.  The first Assassin’s Creed was not a failure, but if Assassin’s Creed II had played just like the original, then, without a doubt in my mind, it would have failed.  The video game industry is evolving every year, and the games have to keep up.  Tomb Raider needed to change or it never would have succeeded today.

The gameplay was passable back then, but it would never hold up today.  For those that don’t know, in the previous Tomb Raider games, there is unlimited ammo for the two handguns and a ridiculous auto-aim that helps you nail every enemy.  Imagine playing Uncharted with unlimited handgun ammo and blind-fire auto-aim.  It would take away almost all the fun in the combat gameplay.  Tomb Raider’s combat needed to be completely reworked, and it’s easy to see the reboot has done just that.

The other main problem was none other than Lara Croft herself.  I know, I know: I just said earlier that she was the reason the series was so successful.  I stand by that; Lara Croft was beautifully created (pun!) to be a wonderful protagonist.  She drew in the male gamers for obvious reasons, and she was an idol for females everywhere, because she was on par with all male protagonists in video games.  The problem now is that it backfired.

Lara Croft in Tomb Raider Underworld Fighting Tigers

She has become too much like a sex symbol.  By no means is she the only female in a video game to be displayed for her features, but there’s a balance that must be struck, and if it tips too far towards sex appeal, it comes off gimmicky. Let’s just say the scale was starting to tip a little too much.  Lara is definitely cool, but that can also take away from the game.  It can lessen a connection with the player.  Lara Croft became too perfect and too unreachable.  I am not saying Lara Croft is one-dimensional, by any means, but she needed to be grounded a little more.  It worked in the past, but by today’s standards, Tomb Raider just feels a little cartoonish in retrospect.

Protagonists now-a-days seem to be more and more relatable to the average person.  They are all still “cool”, but they don’t just act “cool”.  They have some other characteristic that makes them so well liked. Ezio from Assassin’s Creed II: a lovable womanizer.  Drake from Uncharted: an average, wise-cracking guy that stumbles his way through adventures.  Isaac from Dead Space: really troubled guy just trying to survive. All three have their cool moments, but they have other characteristics to define them.  The old Lara Croft was basically a model with sex appeal and unattainable awesomeness above all else.  That wouldn’t work today, not when trying to present a game with a very real feel.  The protagonists need to be an average person, but still encompass some heroic qualities.

That’s what this Tomb Raider reboot is all about, and it’s why I’m so excited for it.  This reboot has another level to it compared to past games.  The footage available shows a young woman desperately trying to survive.  She’s not some hot-shot that rides on a motorcycle without any worries.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but watching a character in a life-or-death situation brings another, deeper element to the game.  It invokes more feelings for the character, and gives a better overall experience.

This also has caused many problems among Tomb Raider fans.  People love Lara Croft for being that badass woman that doesn’t panic.  Who is this new girl who keeps moaning and crying to herself?  It’s a radically different Lara, and it’s easy to see why some people would be upset.  I’m here to say this is a very, very good change.  It opens up so many more channels that can be explored in the Tomb Raider series. This game is going to explain her past, and it’s going deeper into what makes Lara Croft into that famous tomb raider we all know and love.  It displays an accurate depiction of how a scared young woman would react if thrown into a situation like that.  I’d like to see you wake up upside down in some terrifying sacrificial cave and not cry.

The game is obviously going for a very real and despairing feel–not quite horror, but there is definitely some terrifying tension involved.  It’s actually an incredibly violent game, as well. You can’t see it in the trailers too well, but if you pay attention to gameplay footage and how trailers are edited, there is a lot of blood and gore.  You can dig your climbing pick-axe into an enemy’s head!  It’s going to be a gory, gritty, and gruesome game.  The vibe wouldn’t carry well if Lara wasn’t afraid of anything.  Think of the first Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.  That was an island as well, and he was surrounded by tons of enemies who wanted him dead.  Yet, that game wasn’t scary or gritty at all.  It had a different feeling to it, and the protagonist encompassed that feeling.  The gamer follows the protagonist, and, in turn, feels the same way they do.  To make the new Tomb Raider game carry some heavier undertones, the protagonist needed to match.

I am not saying Lara had to change just to fit a setting.  It’s a total reworking on all fronts, and therefore, the change is absolutely necessary. Tomb Raider could not follow the same formula as it had in the past.  I firmly believe it would’ve failed.  I also fully believe that future Tomb Raider games will feature a more mature Lara, but Crystal Dynamics wanted to recreate the history.  They wanted to start from the beginning, and Lara could not be that superhuman protagonist we all recognize right away.

People need to understand this is a reboot, and it is changing things for the better.  All the gameplay has been updated to fit the necessary qualifications to be a successful game today.  Not only that: it looks better than other third-person games out there.  It boasts a realistic cinematic experience, which is almost a must nowadays.  As great as that is, the important part is the new direction of the story.  It isn’t just a realistic portrayal of a woman overcoming incredible odds to survive.  It is so much more than that.  It’s about a survivor turning into a savior.

In one sense, this is a classic Bildungsroman setup, which is just a fancy word for saying it’s a story about maturing.  Usually, it’s about a naïve adolescent hero who goes into the real world and whose experiences make them a better person in the end (David Copperfield is the most obvious example).  The character has to mature, but not just physically–the character needs to develop psychologically and morally as well.  This seems to fit right in with the new Lara, doesn’t it?  Think about those trailers that were released.  Lara apologizes before killing a deer and convinces herself she needed to kill other people to survive.  This game has some deep ethical and moral situations for Lara to deal with.  She’s doing things she isn’t comfortable with, but in the end, it should improve who she is.  In the reboot, Lara Croft is a naïve young woman looking for adventure, and she definitely finds it.  She has to overcome her problems, and she will become a better person by succeeding.  This is all about the process of how Lara Croft became the Tomb Raider. 

Lara Croft in Tomb Raider with bow and arrow surrounded by fire

She Looks Plenty Cool To Me

Some series need to be revamped.  Tomb Raider is one such franchise, and, luckily, it looks like it’s moving in the right direction.  I cannot wait for the next Tomb Raider game, and I think it’s going to be a huge success.  It’s a reboot, which means it’s different.  It’s adapted to be successful in the modern day.  The developers adding a multiplayer mode is proof of that.  Yes, it’s different from past games, and Lara Croft is not her “normal” self.  This is not a bad thing; it’s the opposite.  This is a great step for the series.  I think it will give people a new way to look at Lara, and in the end, it will draw in a lot more fans.  It’s reworking a beloved character into what works for modern day gaming.

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