You know those little diagrams you see in cartoons, where it shows you the cross section of a brain? Men have things like 'sports' and 'money', while women have 'shopping', and 'shoes', and 'repressed rage at the patriarchal society which raises us from childhood to view women as frivolous and unimportant creatures'. An increasingly large portion of my own cross section has been taken up by the new Tomb Raider game. This is a surprising phenomenon, given we have learned almost nothing about it officially, and only slightly more unofficially. But still, it swells and swells. It swallows cells, and still it swells and swells. But I don't find myself desperate to know more about it yet. All I think about is how impossible making a new Tomb Raider seems.
Tomb Raider should not be a difficult series to continue, on the face of it all. The last game was only released in 2018, and while it was the least popular in its trilogy, that was down to a lot of smaller issues inside the game rather than any broader issues that made a modern day Tomb Raider an insurmountable task. Rise of the Tomb Raider, released just three years earlier, is considered to be in the series' all-time top five (and would be third in my personal ranking). Tomb Raider is not a forgotten classic whose awkward charm would not translate to the modern gaming scene. In fact, it pioneered a lot of elements that remain commonplace today.
The most obvious would be that Tomb Raider was one of the first series to have an action-oriented female protagonist, but it also had rapid gunplay, a variety of weapons, and cinematic set pieces before they were standard, and these remain hallmarks of modern gaming. It doesn't make for a perfect translation into the most generic of moulds – Tomb Raider was always best with distinct, closed off levels over a vast open world, which is part of the reason Shadow felt so shallow. But still, Tomb Raider should work. I'm just worried it won't.
First off, there's the increased emphasis on character interrogation. Originally, Lara Croft was a kick ass heroine with smart quips. Over the years she became a kinder, more empathetic figure, but the true Lara remained. With the Survivor Trilogy, she was rebooted into a rookie, and as she has hardened through trauma, the 'kick-ass-ness' has been erased. Maybe that's no bad thing though, given the Lara of Shadow feels more natural than Forspoken's much maligned lead. I'd like her to have a bit more steel – even making her 'the cool aunt' over 'the sweet mom' would be something, and would keep her fresh, kinder charm. This is all part of a larger issue though – she is a tomb raider.
The title of the game literally means Lara steals from the dead, and in modern archaeology terms, that means she steals from native cultures. It's not a great look for a modern, progressive hero. The new game has the tough choice of either overlooking this and leaning into the classic tomb raiding with caves and traps and puzzling, or admitting it doesn't fit today and moving her away from her own origins. The latter offers more creativity, but the former has more foundation. I believe either are possible, but Shadow was caught in the middle and I think the next game will be too.
Then there's the question of where this game fits. Tomb Raider (2013) was the second reboot the character has had, and kicked off the third era which became known as the Survivor Trilogy. Technically the third reboot, although Angel of Darkness tends to be ignored. I wouldn't object to it happening for a fourth time, but the sliver of official info we do have tells us the next game will try to tie together the strands set up in Legend and Underworld with the ending of Shadow. These are two very different interpretations of Lara you're putting together, and it's hard to see that this plan doesn't get in its own way somewhere down the line.
Then there's the leak, which suggests Lara is a mentor to a team of new archaeologists. This could be a good idea, but it also sounds like it might have been dreamed up by a suit rather than a developer. Having a wide range of characters means a broader range of demographics and leaves the lingering fear of overly complex upgrade systems taken from the live-service playbook, as well as potentially the monetisation to go along with it. Let's not forget this game is being made by Crystal Dynamics, fresh off the failure of Marvel's Avengers.
I want more info on the next Tomb Raider, but I worry that anything I hear will only make me worry further. There aren't too many series as close to my heart as Tomb Raider, and those that are either keep chugging along fine or have long since been abandoned to the scrapheap of nostalgia. Tomb Raider continues to lurch through the mud of an uncomfortable middle ground, and it will stay in the marshes until the next game arrives.
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