Developers today are struggling with the idea that their characters grow between games. In most titles, your character from a previous iteration in the series was the ultimate badass, with all the unlocks, all the powerups, all bases unlocked, constant income from the captured locations you stomped your way through…
…you get the idea. The typical character at the end of most games.
However, the next title releases, and suddenly, you’re back to gutterpuppy loser, no weapons, the entire city or location has fallen back into enemy hands, you’re a shadow of your former glory, forgotten and ridiculed, no sense of “Hey, there’s that badass from the last game!” The setting has forgotten you, as if the developer were saying “Well, if you didn’t play the previous title, we don’t want you to have anything cool starting out.”
That’s not how trilogies are played, man. I have gamer buddies who can’t wait to play Uncharted 4, but they refuse to even peel off the plastic until they’ve played the entire previous trilogy. More power to them, I say. They’re trying to appreciate the story as it is, not jump into the middle of things and try to sort out the early details as they go.
Rise of the Tomb Raider takes this concept and turns it on its head. Lara’s previous reboot from 2013 portrayed her as a young, naive archaeologist, with much to learn. She had never experienced all of the adventures from her previous titles, had never shot someone, and had never had to rely solely on her survival instincts as a mad cult chased her across unfamiliar terrain. I remember her emotional reaction in that game when she commits her first kill on a man. The panic, the hyperventilating, the crying. It was so brilliantly executed that I actually felt regret, and furthermore empathized with Lara’s unbridled terror at what she’d done.
In Rise of the Tomb Raider, that initial naivete is stripped away, leaving a stronger, more battle-hardened Lara, with experiences that have followed her from the previous title. She is no longer fumbling with weapons, no longer panicked in firefights. She is smoother, more agile, and it feels like a character that has grown out of experiences that the player has suffered, and succeeded through, alongside her.
One of my other previous gripes about Lara Croft was the overt hypersexualization of her character, really as a sales pitch.
“Hey, come check out the busty, scantily clad brunette as she flips, dives, and otherwise flaunts her feminine wiles through caves full of deadly snakes, feral beasts, and constant gunfire and peril!”
I love the fact that Crystal Dynamics made Lara’s new model young, vibrant, and full of emotion and life. But I’m furthermore thankful that they made her more appropriately fit her setting. The beginning of the Rise of the Tomb Raider saw Lara and a friend doing some serious mountain climbing on extremely dangerous terrain. I would have had far more trouble taking Lara seriously if she’d been up there prancing around in her previous iteration of booty shorts and a flimsy tanktop. Normally I don’t get on a soapbox about stuff like this, just because other games like Saint’s Row give such hilarious options for how to dress a character. But Rise of the Tomb Raider wants to be taken seriously, a young, female heroine struggling against all odds to overcome what, admittedly, most of us would just go “nope” and go the hell home. Her wardrobe fits several environments and allows for the immersion to remain high.
Like the 2013 title, Rise of the Tomb Raider does a fantastic job of seamlessly weaving a world together into one where revisiting a previous location isn’t a boring stretch that artificially pads the game’s length. There’s always a reason to go back and revisit previous locations, be it to hunt down game and plants for more crafting materials, conquer a previously inaccessible Challenge Tomb, or to do freshly arrived missions from allies that dot the maps.
Finally, Rise of the Tomb Raider, again, does an awesome job of making the player feel Lara’s mortality. It’s so easy to screw up, die, and be set back if you’re foolish. The death scenes, like in the 2013 reboot, are punishing, and furthermore disturbing, lending to a desire to NOT see them again. The last game that really disturbed me with its death scenes was Dead Space, with Isaac being literally torn limb from limb by the monsters he faced. Lara’s death scenes are equally disturbing, but in a more familiar, with gruesomely accurate depiction of the tragedies that can befall an adventurer in no man’s lands forgotten to time.
Overall, Rise of the Tomb Raider has done an awesome job of captivating me with its larger-than-life environments, smooth combat, and sense of adventure. I haven’t finished it yet, but every foray back into the mountains has left me with an undeniable yearning for the next.