This week my final post in the Rise of the Tomb Raider As-I-Play series went up on TLF. My AIP posts tend to have a lot of frustrations in them, since those are very often the gut reactions we have to things while playing–swearing at Lara, making snarky comments out loud about dialogue or action, and generally being enraged at rabid bears are part and parcel of playing through the game.
But when it comes right down to it, I really cannot be positive enough about Rise of the Tomb Raider as a game and as a sequel to the 2013 Tomb Raider. Sure, Lara should have died of either brain damage or hypothermia about five minutes into the game, but this is a fantasy, after all, and Lara is about as physically durable as a human being could possibly be (and then some).
Rise of the Tomb Raider hits all the right buttons: it has solid gameplay which draws in the traditions of the Tomb Raider series going all the way back to 1996 without the enraging parts (the tyrannosaurus rex boss-fight, for instance, or the gaping lack of plot evident in the first game). As someone who went back to the 1996 game from Rise, I found the gameplay very, very familiar, and mostly in good ways, which I think is a testament both to the quality of the original gameplay design and to the way in which the Crystal Dynamics team chose the right parts of the original Tomb Raider to reproduce. (And added the right amount of RPG leveling-up complexity.)
But the biggest difference for me is the way in which Rhianna Pratchett’s Lara Croft is a much more complete human being. She has thoughts and feelings beyond “I can’t do that”; she is often conflicted about her role as a tomb raider and an archaeologist; she is actually concerned about the people she saves (and even, sometimes, kills); she is resourceful; and she even wears weather-appropriate clothing (mostly)! For me, the difference between the non-person Lara of 1996 and the very human Lara of 2013/2015 is what makes the rebooted franchise a completely different experience, in spite of the many similarities in design.
In short, the core fantasy of the new Tomb Raider series is the same as the core fantasy of the old one: a survivalist explorer facing dangers and challenges she must overcome in order to defeat her (somewhat supernatural) enemies bent on world destruction/domination. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is the way in which Lara goes about it–she is cautious, careful, hesitant about entering new and dangerous spaces. The pacing of gameplay in the reboot is intentionally slowed down to increase the impact not only of what can happen to Lara, but what happens because of Lara. There is more tension in the reboot because of this, but there is also more space for contemplation of what, exactly, it means to be Lara Croft, and that–whether you actually take the time to think about it–is what makes all the difference.