When people ask me what my favourite gaming franchise is, my answer has always been Tomb Raider, and I'm pretty sure it always will be. It was the franchise that first got me into gaming as a young girl, after many fun-filled hours of playing it with my Grandad. Also, Tomb Raider I was released in same year that I was born. I firmly believe that, even without these ties of sentiment or nostalgia, I would still have an affinity for Lara Croft. I mean, what's not to love about a strong woman who travels the world, beating all the bad guys and finding lots of relics?
The Tomb Raider franchise has certainly been a popular choice among gamers, as is evident from the sheer number of games, films, books, and comics that have been produced. As of date, there have been 10 games released in the Tomb Raider series, 2 games in the Lara Croft series, 3 Gameboy games, and 5 mobile games. In this article, I will be talking about the games in the main Tomb Raider series.
As a fan of the original games, although I can praise the more recent Square Enix games on their own merits, I cannot help but draw comparison. For the purpose of this article, I am going to class original games as Tomb Raider I - Tomb Raider Chronicles and reboot games as Tomb Raider and The Rise of the Tomb Raider. I am aware that there are a group of games in between these (Angel of Darkness, Legend, Anniversary, and Underworld), but I'm going to put these into the category of 'Transitionary'. So, without further ado, let us delve into the comparisons.
Whenever I talk to friends about my love of the OG Tomb Raider games, one of the first criticisms they throw at me is the unconventional control scheme. Alt + Ctrl is an absolute classic. How are the arrow keys not better than WASD? They have the directions on them, after all. The reason for using WASD for movement in video games is to keep the right hand free to use the mouse. This leads them on to their next criticism. Shooting control, or more so, the lack of it. Sure, auto-lock does half of the work for you when it comes to tackling enemies, but Tomb Raider games are not about the shooting, but instead are about the puzzles and the adventure, where you occasionally have to shoot down the animals or bad guys that are getting in the way. Fortunately, they don't know enough about the games to know about the more finicky controls, such as / for flare, Delete/Page Down to sidestep, and End to roll, because I'm not sure I would be able to defend them apart from saying 'it's part of the TR charm'.
There's not too much to say about the controls of the reboot games. Tomb Raider is now conforming to the standardised scheme. Unlike the classic games, shooting actually requires some skill now, so the right hand must be reunited with the mouse, and the left hand can comfortably fall back on the WASD that we've all grown accustomed to.
With the development in technology, Lara's environment no longer consists of a system of blocks that she needs to conform to when dragging or pushing objects around, nor are her jumps a test of judgement with regards to trying to determine how many blocks you need to leap over in order to avoid the gap of certain death. There is also no longer a need for side-stepping around an object to line yourself up with it in order to grab the various goodies on the ground or position yourself at just the right angle to turn that pesky key or pull the lever (for added difficulty, try doing this under water). The one perk of the block system would have to be the ability to walk to the edge and trust Lara to stop before plummeting to doom.
Thanks to this change, Lara is now free to move through and explore her world unchained. However, I do still miss the charm of the old system.
I love all of the Tomb Raider games (yes, even The Angel of Darkness). The playstyle of the game has changed over the franchise's lifespan, with the earlier entries being puzzle/adventure gems, and the reboots being generic AAA games with Lara's face in them. Don't get me wrong, I have got nothing wrong with generic AAA games, with their focus on combat and lack of depth (sorry, not sorry). I enjoy a lot of the recent releases, but I am a bigger fan of games where you have to work out how to progress instead of being presented with a linear course.
Although it could drive Grandad and I up-the-wall not knowing what to do next in order to reach the end of the level, I did love the sense of accomplishment that was gained when we finally made the breakthrough. This was the main aspect of the game that got me hooked and evoked a lifelong love of the franchise, so I was a little disappointed when Survival Instincts were introduced, as this undermined what it meant to be a Tomb Raider game, in my humble opinion. Having the solution to the problem being presented to the player at just the press of a button could easily remove an hour of gameplay from the game, and where is the fun in that? Obviously, you could just refrain from using this feature if you wanted to stay true to the root of the game, but its inclusion was just a reminder of the fact that AAA games are much kinder to the player than they used to be (apart from Dark Souls, of course).
One of the biggest differences that my sensitive self noticed was the increased visibility of violence. In earlier games, whilst little me would often get a jump-scare when some beast or baddie jumped from behind a corner to attack Lara, nothing gruesome was ever shown apart from a little nip on the arm and maybe some red splatter. Given that I had become accustomed to the rather tame originals, you can imagine my reaction when I was thrust into the gritty world of the reboots, and I was shown my beloved Lara being impaled, mauled, and crushed. This was made worse by the fact that I would be the one inflicting this pain on Lara by panicking and bottling under the pressure of the surprise quicktime events. Obviously, I was many years older and had had more exposure to such scenes by this point, but I think little me would have had a heart attack. No complaints - just observation. Not that I ever want Lara to get injured, of course...
If you asked me to recall the music in the reboot games, I'd draw a blank. Ask me the same question about the classic games, and I'd be gushing. Admittedly, I may be a little biased because of a little thing called nostalgia, but even taking that out of the equation, it is irrefutable that the music is incredible. It compliments the gameplay so well with regards to building tension and drama, so much so that the music alone would have me quaking in anticipation. You can only imagine my excitement when reading about The Tomb Raider Suite. For those of you who aren't familiar, I shall explain. International games composer, Nathan McCree, has written a collection of his favourite tunes and cues from the first three games to celebrate 20 years of Lara Croft, and has enlisted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to record this masterpiece at Abbey Road Studios, for release on vinyl, CD, digital download and streaming services.
Tomb Raider Suite
To anyone that has only played the recent Square Enix games, I would highly recommend that you check out the classics on Steam. If you like puzzle/adventure games with many hours of challenging fun to be had, and can see past the late 90's graphics and quirky controls, you will not be disappointed.
I would also recommend the reboot games to anyone that has been a loyal fan of the Tomb Raider franchise from its early days. Though it has deviated from the original formula that we fell in love with, it has beautiful graphics and is a perfectly executed origin story which was a pleasure to play.