Even though it feels recent, it's closing in on two years since the announcement of Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics' latest project--a reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise. Given the simple, yet appropriate name, 'Tomb Raider,' and with the tantalising and promising slogan, 'A Survivor is Born,' we were told to forget everything we knew about our action heroine, as Tomb Raider was going to be an origin story that creates Lara Croft and takes her on a well defining journey unlike any other. Being the Tomb Raider fan that I am, naturally I almost fell out of my chair after hearing the news.
For those unaware what the new Tomb Raider is about, here's a brief insight to inform you:
Fresh from university and in search of lost relics, a 21-year-old Lara Croft journeys to an island off the coast of Japan aboard the Endurance, a salvage vessel helmed by Captain Conrad Roth. Before anchoring at bay, the ship is cloven in two by an unforeseen storm leaving Lara separated from any other survivors and washed ashore. She must endure both physical and emotional torture in order to survive the island.
Tomb Raider begins with an unarmed, unprepared Lara who must search for weapons, tools, and essentials such as food and water in order to survive. It's been revealed that sections of the island are closed off (thankfully, not by invisible walls, but relevant obstacles) until Lara is able to perform specific physical abilities achieved via some sort of skill tree, or after obtaining necessary equipment to advance. We're left to assume that the game features some sort of open-world elements, considering the base camps littered about the map. In these camps, the player can combine items they've found in the world to create new items, similar to Dead Island and Dead Rising (but less crude, I'd imagine.) We can also improve Lara's abilities and fast-travel to previously discovered base camps to avoid copious amounts of backtracking, a la Oblivion and Skyrim--unless you want to backtrack. Combat also has a larger emphasis, naturally, and no longer features a lock-on system. Apparently, they've also done away with Lara's dual pistols for now, and instead, have given her a single pistol to find (with limited ammunition, praise the Lord) as well as a bow and arrows, which is proven to be her main weapon--being able to craft arrows has not been confirmed.
The game also introduces a "survival instinct" that Lara can use to solve puzzles. It will highlight useful items for use if the player is stuck in solving a puzzle, like Square Enix's upcoming game, Hitman: Absolution. Tomb Raider also features a selectively destructive environment and a much more realistic method of manoeuvring. When the player jumps to grab a ledge, Lara will no longer magnetize to the nearest ledge like in the previous games (post-Angel of Darkness). The player will also be able to change direction in mid-air. Puzzles will also be more complex than previous games; they will use elements of fire, water, wind, and friction. Helping hands and UI will be kept to a minimum, except for indications of burnable objects, health items, and during quick time events.
I have to admit, I wasn't entirely on board with the idea--don't get me wrong, a reboot is exactly what the franchise needed if complete annihilation was out of the question. With Core Design gone after the terrible reception of Angel of Darkness, Eidos took over and led Crystal Dynamics on a hellish path of recreating Lara to make her more "relatable," which was a load of rubbish, I thought. Their first game, Tomb Raider: Legend, which received the strongest critical response since Tomb Raider II in 1997, is one of the highest-rated games in the history of the franchise...somehow.
Now, don't get me wrong, I did enjoy Legend, quite a lot actually, but I absolutely loathed the lifelong search for Amelia Croft that was the back-story for the remaining of the franchise. The companies could have simply meshed together Legend and Underworld, the combination allowing a single game with a desirable length, and been done with it. Even they must have realised how stupid of an idea it was, considering the Tomb Raider (1996) remake, stupidly titled 'Anniversary' in between Legend and Underworld. I'd bet any amount of money that the lead designer went, "Right, since we can't just scrap the Legend story altogether, let's work on something different before continuing it so we don't strain ourselves." Having put together the plot of Legend and Underworld together and released it as a single game would have saved us all a lot of time and headaches, and Eidos and Crystal Dynamics could have been working on something a lot more worthwhile and to-the-point.
Now, what I truly appreciate is how Square Enix bought the company and basically stepped in and said, "Eidos Interactive, get your sorry ass to the back of the room and hang your head in shame. This is how you do things." While I'm still a little sceptical about the reboot, I have high, yet solid hopes for it, as it has loads of potential that had better not be wasted--otherwise, we might as well kiss Lara Croft goodbye, as the franchise isn't on the same pedestal it used to be. For those wondering the obvious, "Well, what potential are you on about," I'll get to that in a minute, if you'd kindly keep your pants on. Eidos and Crystal Dynamics truly mucked up the franchise when you get right down to it--taking a cold, ruthless, kill-anything-in-her-way woman, and turning her into an emotional, family-oriented mess is a sure-fire way to lead a franchise into ruin. If I had it my way, I'd kick Eidos to the curb and restrict them to working on the Hitman, Thief, and Deus Ex franchises and demand another instalment in the Timesplitters series.
⇨ Just a brief bit of information: while it's true that Square Enix purchased Eidos Interactive Ltd. in 2009 for £84.3 million, Square Enix said earlier that it would let Eidos Interactive remain as it is currently and not meddle in its internal affairs. ⇦
Moving on, I promised I'd touch on the potential that a Tomb Raider reboot has, and I'll get into that now. Naturally, as with any reboot, there's the potential to reinvent everything about a series, especially the main character. I've noticed that Lara seems to be a lot more vulnerable, more human, somewhat relatable (damn it), and younger...and in addition, the twins are smaller, praise the Lord. I never understood how one could run around and jump and clamber all over the place without her breasts smacking her in the face. Without a doubt, there will be some virtual perverts who'll be disappointed, and that's putting it mildly--you know, the guys who can't get a real girlfriend and are forced to belittle themselves to drooling over virtual cleavage. Hang your heads in shame.
Furthermore, while we're being told to forget everything we knew about Lara and the Tomb Raider series, Square Enix and their crew have the ability to create something that won't make us regret forgetting the previous Lara or go running back to her. I mean, if you're going to take the time to reboot a franchise, you might want to get it right with the first instalment--give us a lengthy game, give us a lot to do, make it beautiful, fun, challenging, thrilling, exciting--all the aspects of a video game worth the $59.99. It's not much to ask, really. I can name a few companies who do it often and do it well, some of which who have lesser advanced technology, so there's no excuse why others with better technology cannot.
Lastly, create a Lara Croft that not only outshines the original from Core Design that was praised so highly, but one that people would metaphorically kill to either meet, be, or even have the privilege of controlling in the game. Lara has had two personalities, as I've said before--she was once cold, ruthless, and more than happy to kill anyone and anything that stood as an obstacle between herself and her goals. Then, there was the Lara that was way too emotional and more relatable. The second generation Lara, as I call her, lost her edge. I couldn't take her seriously when she was angry. "From this moment, your every breath is a gift from me," she spoke to Amanda Evert in Tomb Raider: Legend. My response? "Bitch, please." Not literally. But still, I couldn't take it seriously. I could think of several, more threatening, witty, and cold remarks to have made at that moment, and with a better tone of voice. You see what I'm on about, yeah? While Lara in the reboot is vulnerable, that doesn't mean she has to be a weakling. But honestly, after the details I've read and the gameplay video unveiled previously, I get the feeling that she starts out vulnerable and afraid, and turns into the cold, ruthless bitch I used to know and adore.
With that being said, I'm looking forward to seeing the new "Crossroads" gameplay trailer being unveiled on Spike TV tomorrow, and with fingers crossed, I'm hoping that I get to hear more of her voice and witness some personality.
There might be light at the end of the tunnel for Lara Croft yet. If not, I suppose she could always turn her guns toward the people responsible for turning the franchise inside out. I'm looking at you, Eidos.