Rise of the Tomb Raider released earlier this month, and despite the inclusion of some questionable microtransactions, it is otherwise being hailed as one of the greatest games of 2015. But does it really deserve to be called a Tomb Raider game? Before you jump to any conclusions on where I’m going here, let me just give you a quick visual demonstration. This is a render of Lara Croft’s model from Tomb Raider Underworld, the last Tomb Raider game released before the latest iteration of the series:
And here’s Lara from the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot:
Now, the main difference in this first character design, to state the obvious, is the focus on Lara’s GUNS. In older Tomb Raider titles, Lara was always a walking/running/cartwheeling weapons cache, blasting away terrorists and dinosaurs alike in a barrage of bullets. Her adventures were always ripped right out of the likes of Indiana Jones and 007, and were presented with the bombast of a Hollywood blockbuster (funny, that). The newer, grittier Lara, in comparison, looks like she just climbed out of The Descent. She’s almost exclusively marketed wielding an ice pick or a hunting bow, weapons of last resort to be sure, and far cries from the automatic arsenal of entries past. This change of equipment reflects the game’s tone: it was the first Tomb Raider game to receive an M rating from the ESRB, and it dealt with much darker subject material than Lara’s previous romps. Combat revolves around stealth and calculated gunfights, as opposed to frantic, acrobatic shootouts. The shift is rather jarring, to say the least.
It feels too jarring, in fact, as if someone retitled the game at the last minute. The reboot is Tomb Raider in name only, as the game lacks any thematic, structural, or mechanical similarities. The game itself could be called anything and still do well; while an important part of gaming history, the Tomb Raider name had long ago lost anything resembling a sizeable fanbase. The reboot could easily have been the start of a new IP altogether. But that would never happen. Because that would be a risk.
Game publishers, much like Hollywood, are afraid of the gamble that comes with establishing a new franchise. Tomb Raider, while then nowhere near as popular as the likes of Halo or Uncharted, was still a name people recognized. At the very least, folks would take notice when the game was announced. How relevant the title is matters not.
As is often the case, this reboot culture in gaming mirrors that of movies. Filmmaker Max Landis infamously took to Twitter earlier this year when he blamed the failure of his movie, American Ultra, on Hollywood’s disinterest in new ideas. While a large part of American Ultra bombing had to do with the fact that it was mediocre, it was no means as bad as the awful Hitman, Fantastic 4, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. reboots it was competing with, not to mention the uninspired Sinister and Mission Impossible sequels that were out at the time. The nail in the coffin for Ultra was a shoestring publicity campaign that not only failed to spread the word, but also misrepresented the film to the few that heard of it. But had “American Ultra” been preceded by the words “National Lampoon’s:”, “Avengers:”, or even “Frozen 3:”, studio execs would be much more comfortable in pouring the same money and support into it that they did into the other, less deserving films that it was running against.
Not everything “Re-” is a cancer on the industry. Remasters are also growing in popularity, allowing newer gamers to experience classics that would otherwise only be available on defunct platforms. “True” remakes have allowed said classics to evolve into something even greater. The Gamecube remake of Resident Evil remains the greatest survival horror title in the history of gaming, and titles like Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes and Black Mesa allow games to flourish in an entirely new light, their core experiences intact. It’s amazing what can change in six years:
The problem lies alone with reboots. Publishers are starving the market of fresh new stories and characters for the sake of added security when releasing games. Why tarnish the name of Battlefront with a hastily slapped together “reboot”? For that matter, why even make another Star Wars trilogy, when we could have an original sci-fi franchise to rival it for a new generation? Tomb Raider is only a recent example of the practice gone wrong. What could easily have been a new, kickass female protagonist (of which, lest we forget, there are a dire lack of in gaming) is instead saddled with the moniker of a recycled, has-been icon that is inferior in nearly every way. And even the excuse that publishers are afraid of new things doesn’t hold much weight when you consider that all of the above mentioned reboots are complete departures from their source material. Regardless of if the game is gold or garbage, reboots only further weaken the gene pool of innovation in game development, and further encourage companies to recycle the same, tired concepts.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my kids and grandkids living in a world where Mario and Master Chief are still the icons of gaming. They should have characters of their own to love, not the ones I grew up with. The Birth of a Nation shouldn’t be the first work to come to mind when someone mentions film, and odds are The Odyssey isn’t the first title you’d associate with literature. If you’re like me, and you’re tired of getting reheated leftovers, then you can help make original ideas viable again. Fund games on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Petition for developers to be able to follow their dream projects. Make video games imaginative again.
What are your thoughts on all these familiar names? Seen enough? Can’t get enough? Weigh in down below!