“Yet no sensible person would ever call Tomb Raider ’96 a shooter. It had shooting, yes, but that didn’t define the game. Those encounters, whether with humans or wildlife encountered along the way, acted as punctuation. They existed to liven up Lara’s journey, whose essence was about exploration, not combat. The original Tomb Raider saw players navigating complex labyrinths, navigating ancient traps and puzzles, and picking her way though a vast underground space in search of answers to an ancient mystery.
On its surface, the new Tomb Raider seems much the same. But the balance is skewed, and the game’s elements exist in very different proportions. Lara engages in nearly as much combat as she does exploration, and the traversal aspect of the adventure feels greatly stripped down. Where some found Tomb Raider ’96 dull because of all the wall-climbing in solitary caverns it entailed, the reboot’s crime is in making the act of exploration nearly non-existent — boring in its simplicity. The game text makes a cheeky reference to “tomb raiding,” which after all these years comes off as a little too self-conscious for its own good (like when Star Trek finally referenced its own title three decades after its debut). The irony, though, is that no other game in the franchise has contained less of its namesake tomb-raiding than this year’s. Quite the contrary; Crystal Dynamics quarantined anything resembling the cave-diving of yore into optional “tomb challenges,” carefully sealing away the need for any skill besides those revolving around combat neatly out of sight.
Don’t be afraid, they reassured players. Those scary parts where you’re not killing things can’t hurt you anymore.”
“Lowering barriers to entry is the watchword of contemporary large-scale pop culture, even as the tremendous success of intricate works like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones demonstrate a thirst for complex, serialized narratives. But those are “premium” shows — read “niche.” To really soak up maximum dollars (instead of merely a whole lot of dollars), IP holders have to break things down to their most easily digestible form, which has translated in practice to constant reboots and endless retellings of the same iconic tales.
Tomb Raider slots neatly into this trend. Here we have a new origin story for Lara Croft, which is totally unlike the previous origin stories of Lara Croft, yet ends up creating the same Lara Croft we used to know (except less cartoonish in appearance, and much grimier). And it all makes for a pretty damn solid game; it simply stinks at being Tomb Raider.”