"Tomb Raider" Through the Technical Ages: Lana Croft, Reborn
Lara Croft Is Reborn
Square Enix took over Eidos Interactive and renamed it Square Enix Europe, but it was decided that Eidos would still retain its independence as well as the production of Tomb Raider. This was shortly after Tomb Raider: Underworld's slow road to success. Subsidiaries of Eidos would still operate independently, such as Crystal Dynamics, but would be under the wing of Square Enix Europe now as Square Enix renamed Eidos Interactive during their soft takeover. The Eidos Interactive brand only exists through Eidos Montréal and still operates as a subsidiary for some games that existed before Square Enix took over, such as Tomb Raider, Thief, and Deus Ex. It is still published under Square Enix Europe, however.
Crystal Dynamics made the decision to split the Tomb Raider development team into two, with one focusing on the reboot and the other focusing on the start of a spin-off series. By the time the sequel was announced in December of 2010, it was revealed that it had already been in development for the last two years. It was also revealed that the reboot would be the first game in the franchise to go from a Teen rating to a Mature one in the United States, giving the developing team a broader canvass to reinvent Lara Croft upon. It was also the first main game to have a multiplayer mode for it.
Crystal Dynamics spent more time remaking Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider series this time around, even pushing back the release date to a different fiscal quarter. Unlike Core Design's effort to take Lara in a new direction with Angel of Darkness (which you can read about here), the hard reboot was successful and results in a much darker, grittier environment for Lara to traverse through. Tomb Raider: Legend's soft reboot helped to bring the games back on track but did not follow through in the subsequent games in the trilogy (which is covered here).
That trilogy spent too much of its energy trying to reinvent the original character design from the series into what they felt would be a more compelling adventurer. In the end, it ended up feeling a bit flat and repetitive without leaving much room for Lara to grow. The reboot series focuses more on how Lara came to be Lara Croft instead of how the Tomb Raider became Lara Croft.
Tomb Raider (2013)
Unlike the other installments in the franchise, Lara is rather young in this game. The story takes place shortly after she graduates from university at the fresh age of 21. Though she went through university, this is her first expedition aboard the Endurance in search of the lost city of Yamatai off the coast of Japan in the Dragon's Triangle. She is portrayed as being naive and vulnerable rather than the hardened adventurer many fans are familiar with from the original series. Similar to Legend, Lara now has a supporting cast of friends and family from the Endurance to help her along her adventure. Her life is once again marked by tragedy as some of them do not make it back home with her in the end.
Lara also begins the game as being skeptical of the supernatural and otherworldly but will become a firm believer in her father's research after witnessing the spirit of long-dead Queen Himiko attempt to possess the body of her friend. After the events of the main storyline have concluded, Lara vows to continue her father's research into immortality and life after death, no matter what. (You can read my complete review of the reboot here.)
Focusing on Lara's evolution into the Tomb Raider brings a different approach to the series, which was attempted in both Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation and Tomb Raider: Legend. The reason why the reboot is more successful than either of those in adding more personality and background to Lara is due to playing through the entire game as a young, inexperienced girl on her first adventure. Unlike the Last Revelation, Lara has no guide to help her navigate through the environment. She does all of the adventuring on her own with the goal of saving the rest of the Endurance crew.
Lara's trusty pistols are missing from this installment and the first weapon that she finds is a bow and some arrows. This becomes her primary weapon in the reboot with the only time she wields dual pistols being briefly at the very, very end of the game as a nod to her original origins.
Instead of having the R.A.D. (Remote Analysis and Display) binoculars from Crystal Dynamics' trilogy, survival mechanics are introduced. When activated, these will highlight items in the environment that Lara can interact with. How detailed her survival view depends on what upgrades are applied within the survival category.
Similar to Angel of Darkness, Lara now has upgradeable stats in the categories of brawling, surviving, and hunting. This adds a customizable play through aspect as different categories will make different aspects of the game easier. The survivor upgrades deal with the amount of salvage and experience points you'll earn as you progress through the island as well as how easily Lara will spot objects that she can interact with via survival instincts. Hunter skills impact Lara's ability to use various weapons efficiently as well as how much ammunition she'll be able to carry around with her. The brawler perks will decide how much pain she can tolerate as well as her hand to hand combat skills--such as throwing dirt into the eyes of enemies that get to close or being able to dodge and counter enemy attacks. Unlike Angel of Darkness, though, these skills are purchased at campsites (which function as the save points for the reboot) by spending experience points, which are granted for progressing through the storyline and for completing challenges and tombs, hunting, or killing enemies.
In addition to upgrading Lara, players now have the ability to upgrade her arsenal of weapons as well. This is done by spending the salvage littered all over the island at campsites. But you can only upgrade a weapon once you've found it in the game (all of which are located through specific cut scenes or scenarios).
This is the first game within the franchise to have a multiplayer option available as well. Multiplayer mode is entirely online which allows two teams of up to four people (survivors versus scavengers) to compete across five different maps. The three different modes available are: Team Death Match, Private Rescue, and Cry For Help. Team Death Match is set up similarly to most player versus player campaigns with each team given a certain amount of time to rack up the most kills. The team that wins two of three matches is declared the winning team at the end. Private Rescue is set up a bit differently from the first mode. Though it's still player versus player, the survivors are tasked with locating and salvaging medical supplies to bring back to certain goal points while the scavengers are tasked with a certain number of deaths to reach. In Cry For Help, the survivors are hunting batteries to repair the damaged radio beacons while the scavengers are hunting the survivors themselves. As players improve within this mode, they'll unlock different characters to use on both the survivor and scavenger sides as well as different weapons. Lara Croft is one of the last characters to be unlocked in this mode.
Keeley Hawes did not reprise her role as Lara this time, despite the fact that she continues to voice Lara in the spinoff series. Instead, Camilla Luddington provides the voice for Lara as well as the motion capture movements for Lara's model. Her face, however, was based on model Megan Farquhar's face.
Crystal Dynamics brought in Jason Graves to score the soundtrack, despite early confusion that Alex Dimitrijevic had been going to compose the soundtrack. Rather, Dimitrijevic composed a track for the initial Tomb Raider trailer but it was not the track that made it onto the final, finished trailer for the game. That was composed by Graves. Despite his usual orchestral style, Graves desired to create a soundtrack that would stand out and be memorable to players. So, with the help of architect Matt McConnell, a special percussion instrument was created to capture a variety of unique sounds that would be layered in with orchestral sounds. Graves also decided against having a soundtrack with primarily Japanese influences and instead went with the idea that the soundtrack would be a mixture of sounds from all over the world, just as the scavengers were from different regions of the world.
The twenty track soundtrack was released on March 5, 2013, and totals at about seventy-five minutes in length and does not feature any of the original series' music. It can be purchased in physical format or on Amazon and iTunes for digital users.
Tomb Raider was well received by fans and critics alike with both the original and the upgraded Definitive Edition for next-generation consoles doing well on their own. Within forty-eight hours of its initial released, one million copies of the game had already been sold. By April of 2015, the game had sold more than 8.5 million copies, making it the highest-selling game in the series to date. Both versions of the game have held strong positions at the top of UK charts.
The main complaints with the game seem to be with how linear it is compared to some of the earlier games as well as the strong emphasis on combat. There's a scene early on in the game where Lara laments having to kill a scavenger that was attempting to sexually assault and then kill her. That remorse seems to be quickly forgotten as the player then goes on to kill hoards of enemies. It can make it hard to sympathize with Lara throughout her plight and can also easily cause the player to forget that Lara hasn't become adjusted to this world quite yet. There are a few tactics and options for avoiding confrontation, but not all of them can be avoided and those tactics don't always work out as stealth isn't Lara's primary objective most of the time.
As for the differences between the two versions, they were almost nonexistent other than smoother graphics and a 1080p resolution. A few different control options and all previous DLC content were also included in the Definitive Edition. While many praised this version of the game, it was noted that it may not be worth it to those that had already owned the game on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 but, instead, recommended it for those who had not yet purchased the game.
I own both versions of the game and I agree that, unless you're a huge fan, it's probably safer to only buy the Definitive Edition if you haven't gotten the original version. Otherwise, it's just some updated graphics and some DLC content that isn't even fully interactive with the environment. The extra outfits stay nice and clean as Lara continues to become dirtier throughout the game from running around in mud, grime, and blood. It can be a bit distracting and pull you out of the story if that's something that bothers you.
Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015)
Crystal Dynamics signed an exclusivity contract with Microsoft for the reboot's sequel and found itself in the midst of controversy right away. Tomb Raider has become known for its presence on Sony's PlayStation consoles as most of the original games in the franchise have been timed exclusives for PlayStation. There was such an outrage among fans that Darrell Gallagher, the CEO and head of studios at Crystal Dynamics, had to release a statement just a few days after the announcement that it would only be a timed exclusive. (Which can be read, in full, on this Tumblr post.)
Even with the clarification that Xbox would only have exclusive rights to it for a certain amount of time, it didn't stop fans from starting petitions and complaining left and right about this deal. Some are still aggravated about this deal despite the fact that Rise of the Tomb Raider finally made it to the PlayStation 4 console in October of 2016 and the PC in January of 2016. Though in truth, the PC release was probably due to a lack of slow sales on the Xbox 360 and Xbox One consoles, but that will be covered more below. Before that, we'll go through the history and development.
Rise of the Tomb Raider continues a year after the events of Tomb Raider as Lara tries to deal with the events that happened on the island of Yamatai. True to her remarks at the end of that adventure, she's seen continuing to follow her father's research on immortality. This gains her some notoriety among the tabloids as they refer to her as "another crazy Croft." Even her unofficial stepmother, Ana, tries to encourage her to deal with her demons rather than continue to chase her father's. Lara ignores her and sets off on an expedition to locate the tomb of the Prophet of Kitezh, who was said to heal the sick and dying. Her main foes for this expedition are the Order of Trinity, an ancient order of knights that have been searching for all things supernatural and have adjusted into a secret society that operates as a black ops militia in present-day.
Crystal Dynamics expressed a desire to take some elements from Naughty Dog's Uncharted series in order to improve the functionality of the game and to cement their standing in the action/adventure gaming community. They took their time balancing out the combat, puzzle, and exploration parts of the game as well as introduced the concept of having smaller, side missions to accomplish as you progress through the main storyline. You'll find special, rare gear that can only be acquired through completing these missions as an incentive to do so.
Four DLCs were released as well, each adding a unique level of gameplay. The first, titled Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch can be played within the game and is based on the old myths and legends of Baba Yaga since Rise of the Tomb Raider largely takes place in Russia. Cold Darkness Awakened was the second released and offers an additional area to explore while trying to shut down an old Soviet warfare project that releases a viral pathogen into the air that will exaggerate testosterone and adrenaline production. This pathogen seems to only affect men, making Lara the perfect candidate to go in and shut it down before it infects too many people. Blood Ties is set in Croft Manor as Lara searches for proof of her mother's death to make her claim to both Croft Manor and the Croft indisputable while her uncle tries to legally steal it from her. The fourth DLC is a continuation of the third and titled Lara's Nightmare. Instead of just casually searching throughout the manor, Lara will have to fight off hordes of zombies.
Also for the first time, the player will collect in-game cards known as Expedition Cards. These cards will add a unique layer to certain modes such as Score Attack (where you play through each level with the intention of obtaining the highest score that you can), Remnant Resistance (where you play through missions to assist the Remnants), Endurance Mode (which involves the need to keep Lara warm, fed, and safe while searching for relics), Lara's Nightmare, and Cold Darkness Awakened. As you play through the game, you'll earn points to purchase packs as well as unlock packs of cards. You can also purchase the cards from within the game at varying price points for varying different rarities. Some cards are permanent editions that can be used over and over again while others can only be used once.
Some of these are purely for aesthetics (such as the card that turns Lara's flashlight into a collection of "groovy" colors or the card that gives either Lara or her enemies large heads) while others will give you additional weaponry or outfits with special skills tied to them. Each of these cards will have either a red or a green percentage in the corner which will affect your final score at the end of each expedition mode. The green ones will either keep your score the same or multiply it in your favor as they're the cards that are either for harmless aesthetic purposes or make your life more difficult (such as being more susceptible to damage). The red marked cards will make your life easier during the playthrough (giving you additional skills and upgraded weapons or weaker enemies) but will decrease your score in the end. Overall, this adds a fun and unique element to the replay value of Rise of the Tomb Raider.
Unlike the previous games, Lara must now craft most of her ammunition. She will still occasionally loot her arrows from the corpses of her enemies but most of them will be gained through crafting them herself with the branches from trees and feathers from nearby birds. The special ammunition that can be unlocked within the Survivor skill set will also need to be crafted, though there is a chance to loot it as well through perks within the Hunter skill set.
There are also additional outfits that come with perks such as having the chance to not use arrows or ammunition when firing or healing items when healing, since bandages must also be crafted to heal Lara. This is similar to Naughty Dog's healing element in Last of Us where you have to hold in a specific button while the characters patch themselves up. Unlike Last of Us, though, Lara must first find the ingredients for a bandage instead of health kits. Crystal Dynamics was very inspired by Naught Dog this time around and not just from the Uncharted series.
More stealth elements were also added into the game play, making it easier to avoid confrontation if desired. It also makes stealth kills much easier as well. The environment is more interactive as well, similar to the environment in Tomb Raider: Underworld. Once a certain event is triggered or a trap is launched, it becomes part of the environment permanently from that point forward. Lara is also able to climb trees and hide in bushes to evade being spotted by enemies. Though enemy intelligence has been improved upon again and they will actively search for her if they hear a noise or find a deceased comrade. Some of the noises they hear may be intentional from either throwing a rock or bottle or even shooting an arrow in an attempt to distract them or sneak up on them.
Lara will also be able to craft Molotov cocktails, smoke grenades, and regular grenades from items that she finds laying around in the environment. Grappling hook mechanics return after being absent in the last installment as well as the ability to swim underwater and navigate through areas that contain a lot of water. Some other new gear that Lara will acquire is: a combat knife to both cut through ropes and be used in combat; a lock pick to open locked doors and crates; and also a re-breather that will enable her to breathe underwater for an infinite amount of time.
Camilla Luddington returned as the voice and motion capture elements of Lara once again.
Jason Graves did not return to compose the entire soundtrack for Rise of the Tomb Raider. Instead, he's only responsible for the main theme. In fact, the music for Rise of the Tomb Raider is unlike any of the other games to date. It was composed by Bobby Tahouri, who has some impressive compositions from Game of Thrones and Iron Man already on his resume. The soundtrack is very cinematic, helping to give the storyline a larger than life feeling.
In previous games, there have been scenario-specific loops of segments from specific tracks that are triggered by certain events. This still somewhat exists in Rise of the Tomb Raider but in a different capacity. A new software licensed by Intelligent Music Systems called the Dynamic Percussion System was used to compose the tracks beat by beat for a unique play through every time. Certain sounds are cued by certain events but they're samples of music that play over the existing background noises for a layered experience. For example, in combat, the music will decrease or increase in tempo by how close you are to the enemies. But the generated music will cease once the enemies have been defeated or when you're safely out of range.
This is sampled in the YouTube video below:
In 2015, Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O was approached to write a track for Rise of the Tomb Raider. While she doesn't play video games personally, nor does she usually write music for them, she agreed as she has fond memories of her brother playing video games from her childhood and she enjoyed the idea of creating a song that was closely tied with the storyline.
The song, titled I Shall Rise was greatly influenced by Lara herself rather than Lara the Tomb Raider.
Reception, Sales . . . and a Sequel?
Rise of the Tomb Raider received high praise from critics prior to and upon release in 2015. Despite receiving high praise, sales were much lower than expected at less than two-thirds of the sales that the 2013 reboot had secured. Some critics and journalists have cited this slow start to success as a result of Rise of the Tomb Raider coinciding with Bethesda's Fallout 4 release date. This may be the case as Rise of the Tomb Raider was the fourth bestselling game in the initial week of its release. Some fans would blame the exclusivity contract as a reason for only selling 63,000 units in the UK initially. But Rise of the Tomb Raider did find success digitally on the Xbox One over the week of Christmas and became the best selling game for that week. By the end of 2015, it had sold more than 1 million copies. But by the end of January 2016, it was released on the PC to help further boost sales. And by October, it was released on the PlayStation 4.
Both the director of the Tomb Raider franchise and the executive of Microsoft were satisfied with the initial sales, but it should be noted that the Windows version of the game went on to sell three times the amount that the Xbox One version had initially sold all within the first month of being released on the PC.
This was apparently noted by Crystal Dynamics as the head of the company, Darrell Gallagher, stepped down from the studio after more than a decade of working there in December 2015. Speculation among the public has been that this decision was due to the poor initial sales Rise of the Tomb Raider put out though a letter released by Gallagher himself as well as statements from both Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix made the process sound voluntary. This speculation is further reinforced by the early release on the PC when the Xbox One exclusivity contract was supposed to last for one year. Even the PlayStation 4 version was released a month before that contract was supposed to end. Personally, I believe the sales from the Microsoft contract contributed to Gallagher stepping down and being replaced by Scot Amos and Ron Rosenberg.
Square Enix accidentally revealed that another sequel for the series was already being worked on at Gamescon 2015. A leaked photograph of the game's dossier revealed a working title of Shadow of the Tomb Raider after someone was caught reviewing the information for the project while on a public subway system. After this incident, details on the series have been kept quiet but that hasn't stopped fans and journalists from speculating what could possibly be in the next installment in the series.
Based on the ending for Rise of the Tomb Raider, it's safe to assume that Jonah will probably be making another appearance in the series and it may partially take place in Mexico or Central America where her father was researching an artifact before his death. Or it could be an entirely new location and several years in the future after Lara has done some more adventuring. I imagine that we should be getting some more details of the next game within this year or the next. Hopefully without any kind of exclusivity contract attached. The gaming industry has evolved so much from Tomb Raider I's initial release and the series has been finding success on other consoles since Crystal Dynamics were first able to work on the franchise. It would be a shame to see them follow in the same footsteps that Core Design took since they've done well with the series thus far. There's no real need for an exclusivity contract, timed or otherwise, at this point in time. Tomb Raider has already garnered its fame and has a strong fan base on its own without any gimmicks. It's time to just let people enjoy the games without restrictions.
© 2017 Gaylen Cook