Can the Newest Tomb Raider Game Learn From Franchise’s History?
While it’s quite frustrating to be waiting six more months until Rise of the Tomb Raider releases on PS4, the reviews indicate that it’ll be worth the wait.
Looking ahead, while the newest Tomb Raider game – i.e, Rise of the Tomb Raider’s successor – has yet to be given a release date or even be revealed, the incredibly positive critical reception to both modern Tomb Raider franchise entries indicates that we’ll be seeing a new Tomb Raider game soon.
However, despite this largely warm reception, the Rise of the Tomb Raider sales figures left a lot to be desired. The question on many people’s lips was – why? Why did such a great game sell so poorly? The fact that it was an Xbox One console exclusive did not help proceedings, but this isn’t the only detrimental factor. We can learn a lot about the history and the future of the Tomb Raider franchise from the last Tomb Raider entry, and draw some conclusions on the direction that the new Tomb Raider game will take.
It was during E3 2014 that Rise of the Tomb Raider was formally announced, with a trailer premiering on Microsoft’s conference stage. It wasn’t until months later – in Gamescom of 2014 – that the Rise of the Tomb Raider PS4 release date was set for holiday 2016, with Xbox head Phil Spencer citing the success of Uncharted as the main reason for Microsoft poaching Tomb Raider.
“I’m a big fan of Uncharted,” Spencer told Eurogamer, “I wish we had an action adventure game of that ilk.” Of course, this is all conjecture, but besides impacting its PS4 release date, did Uncharted directly influence the development of Rise of the Tomb Raider itself? I believe so, and there’s much evidence to support this theory.
Firstly, there’s the gameplay itself. One of the first glimpses we got of the game was during Microsoft’s E3 2015 conference, and it didn’t look like what many gamers were expecting. The scene showed Lara Croft, fresh of the events of 2013’s Tomb Raider, scaling an icy cliff, displaying a great strength that her miniscule figure would indicate didn’t exist. An avalanche quickly disrupts proceedings, and Lara must outrun crumbling rocks, gushing snowfall and rickety wooden platforms. Besides looking like an action set-piece ripped straight from Nathan Drake’s journal, this footage almost felt like a betrayal of everything the Tomb Raider series was known for.
Perhaps the weak Rise of the Tomb Raider sales figures were due to the fact that the game didn’t feel like a pure Tomb Raider experience. The Uncharted influence is apparent, from the action-oriented gameplay to the focus on performance capture and story. Fans may have been expecting a classic Lara Croft adventure, something more akin to the Tomb Raider trilogy released on the PS3; these games are much more puzzle-focused, with the gunplay and action taking a backseat. The first tasters of Rise of the Tomb Raider were anything but puzzle-focused, and this put a lot of people off.
So, how can the new Tomb Raider game fall more in line with what we expect from the franchise? How can the third Tomb Raider title see an improvement over the Rise of the Tomb Raider sales figures? Of course, there’s no surefire way to guarantee the success of any video game. Pleasing fans, building a stellar experience and remaining true to a series’ core elements is a tough job, for any studio. However, Tomb Raider is in a unique position, in that it has to work hard to gain the loyalty of PlayStation gamers who may have been scorned by the Rise of the Tomb Raider PS4 release date.
To start with, developer Crystal Dynamics should build on the superb characters and layered storytelling they have established with both current-gen Tomb Raider games. This is a great change for a series that, historically, told less-than memorable tales. Story-driven experiences, from Uncharted to The Last of Us and Bioshock to Telltale, have a proven track record of success. If the player can more easily connect with what’s happening on screen, then awesome! This was a huge plus in Rise of the Tomb Raider, so it’s safe to assume Crystal Dynamics will carry this forward with upcoming Tomb Raider games.
What didn’t work in Rise of the Tomb Raider were its action set-pieces. They almost felt added in purely to make the game more exciting, and to appeal to the explosion-loving FPS COD-bros that dominate the gaming scene. Also, its open-world setting seemed at odds with the naturally enclosed nature of a scripted action scene; what kind of game did Rise of the Tomb Raider want to be? Linear action, or sandbox behemoth? The 2016 Tomb Raider game suffered from an extreme case of identity crisis.
The 2013 Tomb Raider has a slightly higher Metacritic score than its successor (87 on PS3 versus 86 on PS3), and while not a huge difference, it’s telling. It shows us that people value the integrity of a franchise more than that franchise’s attempts to become something it’s not. In the case of Rise of the Tomb Raider, it most definitely should not have been an action game, and should have stuck more to puzzles and story like its predecessor did.
The truth is, we won’t know what the future of the Tomb Raider franchise will hold until later this year. Because the Rise of the Tomb Raider PS4 release date is so far off, we won’t have the full picture until early 2017, at the earliest. Until then, all we can do is speculate, and speculate some more.
Of course, there’s also one other thing the new Tomb Raider game could do to fare more favorably. Don’t release alongside an incredibly popular, highly anticipated, universally adored series like Fallout. Mic drop.