Tomb Raider fans have been left out in the wilderness for a little while now, but we finally have a credible insight into the next game. We were initially told it would somehow continue on from Shadow while looping in the as-yet unrelated Legend trilogy, and while I’m not quite sure it does that, the news does give fans reasons to be excited. And yet, no one really is. The leaked pitch sounds like a great idea for evolving a character that badly needs her return to the big time, but I appear to be alone in those thoughts. Why is a community experiencing its longest drought ever, after one of its most poorly received games, turning its collective nose up at a good idea? More to the point, what does a good Tomb Raider game even look like these days?
The basic pitch for the game is that Lara is now an icon in her own world, and as such a bunch of younger ‘Tomb Raiders’ look up to her. She also is more concerned with protecting the historical integrity of artefacts rather than actually raiding tombs for them, and there’s not a daddy issue in sight. The leak adds that the game will have a ‘grounded tone with fantastical elements’ but that’s just Tomb Raider. The leak might as well claim it stars a white British woman with a brown ponytail – we know that already.
This seems to me like a phenomenal pitch for a Tomb Raider game. Now that the series (and gaming as a whole) has embraced a greater focus on narrative, something had to give. I know it’s called Tomb Raider, and I know the original games were all about back flipping and stealing goblets, but these days things are a little different. Playing as said white British woman and travelling to once colonised lands to steal symbols of religions wiped out when the British forced natives to embrace Christianity just feels a bit iffy.
In any other game a smooth talking millionaire invading the lands of people of colour to plunder their riches for the British Museum (or to house in her mansion) would be the villain. Some Tomb Raider fans might want a return to the halcyon days of the ‘90s, but they must realise doing that will mean abandoning a narrative. Lara has always had a story to some extent, but nothing compared to the more mature and layered developments over the last decade of gaming. Shadow fluffed the landing, but the Survivor Trilogy understood Lara’s place in the modern landscape.
Then there’s the team of Tomb Raiders, which has been much maligned already. I get that without details we can imagine them as the worst, most Gen Z demographic-hitting, whiny and annoying creatures to ever walk the planet, but Lara has always done better when she has people to bounce off. She deserves a slice of reverence in her own world, too, God knows she’s due it. It feels like people expect it to be Tomb Raider: The CW Edition, when more characters like Sam and Jonah could only ever help.
Of course, the big question is how this all connects. It has been almost four years since Shadow of the Tomb Raider, making this the second-longest gap between titles in series’ history. With five years the current record and this new game seemingly still some ways off, it will comfortably be the longest drought Tomb Raider fans have ever endured. Yet Lara’s glory days are not so far behind us.
While my personal favourite is 2006’s Legend, and many fans hold the ‘90: originals close to their hearts, 2015’s Rise of the Tomb Raider is a great entry in the canon. Easily the peak of the Survivor Trilogy, it’s in my top three after Legend and TR2. While some fans aren’t quite as hot on it as me, it’s generally agreed that Rise is very very good. Unfortunately, it was followed by Shadow, which isn’t.
Shadow might be the most a Tomb Raider game has ever misunderstood Lara, diluting her down into a limp and naive heroine, one defined by classically feminine caregiving traits. She spent a lot of the game hugging people and patronising the natives as if she was a Hollywood B-lister making a career-boosting documentary about the plight of African children.
There are some fans who will always roll their eyes at Lara having more of a heart, preferring her to stick to quips and kicks to the face, but it might not have been so bad if it wasn’t so hollow. Shadow didn’t so much feel like a caring Lara as it did a Lara pretending to care. It learned all the wrong lessons from Rise, and the idea of a game following on from it does feel worrying. But if the sequel can modernise Lara while keeping the heart of the character, as Rise did, fans might be more willing to embrace it.
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