Why Tomb Raider Failed as a Reboot

Lara is a vaguely established character in other games, and for this reboot we were told that this game would redefine her. But did it really?

Editor's Note: This is part of an ongoing series of featured blogs from GameSpot users.

There is a creative strain in both films and gaming where old franchises are being resuscitated and updated to appeal to modern sensibilities. Arguably, the most successful film reboot of recent years was Batman Begins, directed by Christopher Nolan. Rather than merely redressing what we already knew about Batman, the film gave new insight into why Bruce Wayne transformed himself into a crime fighter and where his moral values stemmed from.

Although working in a separate medium, Crystal Dynamics' cinematic reboot of Tomb Raider is a missed opportunity to offer similar insights into the beginnings of their popular heroine Lara Croft. Rather than critiquing the game's mechanics, I will provide a discourse as to why I believe the story fails to establish Lara's background and personal values and why her psychological transformation is undermined by the conventions of the action genre.

One of the major reasons why Tomb Raider fails as a reboot is because its narrative never justifies itself as one. Consider the opening sequence on the ship the Endurance. The developers rest on the assumption that gamers already know who Lara is, opting to breeze through the introduction without dedicating any time to establishing her history, personality and inner life.  

What sort of person was Lara as a student? What was her relationship to her parents? How did they feel about her going on this expedition? The game is impatient, skimming past these details so that it never earns the moments to make us care about Lara before putting her in danger.

The game attempts to characterise Lara as a survivor with her voice-over suggesting she looks inside herself for inspiration and drive: "When life flashes before us, we find something. Something that keeps us going." This is true of Bruce Wayne's character whose guilt over his parents' death fueled his sense for justice. Yet what is the inner motive in Tomb Raider? The game briefly suggests its Lara's guilt for deciding to sail into the storm and being shipwrecked.

However, when the game attempts to draw power from Lara's heritage, lines such as "You're a Croft" are weightless and hollow because in the vacuum of this story we don't know the value of her legacy. Listen to another self-reflection at the end of the game: "I resented my father," Lara says. This revelation rings false because a thread of conflict between Lara and her father is never established consistently throughout the narrative.

Further, what new characteristics do we learn about Lara from this reboot? She's tenacious and brave in saving her friends, but aren't those qualities already typical of the character? The thudding moroseness of the game's grizzled tone also denies Lara any self-awareness or wit, meaning her personality lacks the charisma and spark of her rival Nathan Drake, whose comedic energy perfectly matches Uncharted's comic book aesthetic.

Beyond her grit and toughness, Lara feels interchangeable with other gaming heroes, lacking the distinctive idiosyncrasies that could have distinguished her. The simplicity of her personality results from the game's dependency on action, rather than a willingness to explore a psychological transformation. While being strangled, Lara wrestles a pistol free and, through a series of button prompts, she shoots her attacker dead. This was deemed a significant turning point by the developers, as it's the first person Lara has ever killed.

Yet kills in the game don't form psychological barriers--they're treated as bonuses. Once the player regains control, Lara is guided to the next area where she shoots another two men dead. Experience points are earned and can be used to give Lara more effective ways in which to kill people.

Whenever Lara's dialogue grows angrier in tone, the effect is cosmetic. There are no psychological repercussions to her kills, or any insight into how murder affects the person she used to be, because her character doesn't exist prior to the Endurance.  

Tomb Raider shouldn't be exclusively criticised for failing as a reboot, but it amplifies the disharmony between games and storytelling. Do gamers care about being emotionally attached to who they are controlling? If so, how much playing time are they willing to sacrifice if developers are to dedicate longer stretches to characters and exposition? 

Great storytelling is a result of time management; how much information can be conveyed about a character in only a few scenes? Recently, I've seen an increasing number of Hollywood films sacrificing the opening thirty minutes to dive into the action sooner, rather than developing their characters and their motives.

This leaves a separate, irresolvable question about which medium is imitating which. Tomb Raider rests in both camps. It wants to be a highly cinematic reboot, a la Batman Begins, but like most games, it doesn't dedicate the time to understand its central character. It leaves Lara functioning more like an avatar than a compelling figure whose origin roots we can fully invest into.   

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310 comments
cminc
cminc

Im playing the 'definitive' edition right now on xb1 and pretty much cant believe the praise this garbage has received since it's initial release.

CD wouldve been much better off making a movie.

In considering that 99% of the gameplay might as well be on rails as youre required to travel to a specific place, in a specific way, using a specific path to shoot a specific spot, to capture a specific guards attention that triggers the specific cutscene, where you MUST push the specific buttons at the specific times to progress, they certainly didnt make much of a game.

How the hell did they go over budget on this? Gameplay's worse than uncharted, the story's moronic, the voice acting is beyond bland, the script is uninteresting and theres next to nothing to do outside of moving lara forward and ocassionally looking for one-room-tombs.

Tomasina
Tomasina

Lara Croft is potatoie looking, I think of Broderick Crawford the way her whole box looks, really dirt on her just makes look more like an unwashed spud.  Seeing this game in person on a friends gaming PC just made me even less interested in it.

SonicBrewtality
SonicBrewtality

I'm not sure how much more of this Tomb Raider reboot i can take. It's not even a game, more of an interactive movie. The most enjoyable parts are the cutscenes and when they're over and i have to start playing again and mashing buttons in constant QTE's i think to myself, "Why isn't this all just one big movie?". The tombs are "puzzles" are practically non-existent. The skill points appear to just be in there to try and create depth but fail miserably at it. I guarantee i could complete the game no bother without investing in a single skill. Hold Q to find out where to go at any point. It's more hand holding bullshit taken to the extreme, no challenge or incentive to feel like progressing. Granted the graphics and animations are the most stunning i've seen in any game and the environment is immersive, but the player ain't gonna feel immersed if they don't even feel involved in the game. Also Lara's origins were already established in the older games and this game has completely changed her already established backstory. I was never a fan of the old Tomb Raiders, but they were far more interesting as i felt involved and i actually had to use my brain. This game is just another bog standard 3rd person FPS, except it gives the player even less control


"Oh look, some unsuspecting enemies ahead, i'll just crouch to avoid cover. Oh, the game's automatically done it for me. What's that game? You suggest using the bow and arrow to take them out silently? I would never have thought of that, thank you game. Oh and thank you for entering bullet time randomly so there is literally a zero percent chance of me missing. Oh a dark cave, i think i'll walk slowly through here to try and keep quiet and avoid detect -- oh what's that game? You're automatically making me walk slowly and taking the most basic of freedoms away from me? Thankyou, i feel so accomplished playing you.

10/10 BEST GAME EVER THROWN OUT OF A WINDOW

hellfire951
hellfire951

This was an awesome game much much much better than previous tomb raider games so your review sucks big time

garywood69
garywood69

Very weird article. Again and again you blame the game for not being a different kind of game. Well it's an action game. I feel that you need to meet a game on its own territory, not get angry that it doesn't make its way to yours (you really can't justify criticising an action/shooter game for rewarding killing. What else is it supposed to do?) Most action games just don't have good story-telling. Simple as that. They clearly focussed their energy on the gameplay mechanics- and did a brilliant job with it.

So by all means point out that the story isn't a strong point and the characters could've been better. But to my ear, writing a whole article pointing out that it wasn't a psychologically sophisticated story is a bit like writing a whole article about how bad the first person shooter segments were in The Walking Dead Season 1.

Neangeles_999
Neangeles_999

In the gamespot review they said it themselves that the character arc and her transition from academic to adventurer was one of the most interesting aspects of the game...so who is this guy to say the reboot "failed" like it is a concrete fact anyways? It is just his opinion and his "this game's story isn't as good as the Batman movie" argument doesn't hold up very well...this is a video game not a 2 hour long movie of course the story is going to be less well developed you cunning genius.

zakkaz666
zakkaz666

This was a great article.

The gameplay is great and I did enjoy playing it, but as a deep storytelling experience Tomb Raider failed. It's as bland as a dull blockbuster movie. 

quakke
quakke

Pretty sure the reason it failed was because they completely altered the style of the game.

From Adventure Action with freedom into lame modern Cinematic On-Rails go forward only shit.

CptSkyfish
CptSkyfish

I rather enjoyed this game myself

JulyAeon
JulyAeon

There can't be anyone interested in gaming who doesn't know anything about Lara Croft and Tomb Raider.  So really, an introduction about Lara shouldn't be necessary. Tomb Raider was always about the discovery of hidden treasures and mystical lore.  The thrill lay in entering a level with mysterious pyramids, cavern etc and the thrill of finding out how to get into them and doing reasonably well thought out puzzles.  

And that is so totally not apparent in the reboot.  The reboot is to me like AC3, everything tightly squeezed in to appeal to the very casual/action/shooter/stealth/hunter/micromanagement genre aka neither here nor there.   The few puzzles I get in this game are pathetic compared to the previous installments of TR.  And what is it with the killing animals and skinning them? I get it, she is trying to survive and all, but FarCry3 has this and of course AC3 does it as well, but it all points too much towards "now press button XYZ to find out how it feels to plunge your knife into a being".  Which brings me to the mechanics of these aforementioned games as well...and the dreaded quick time events.  These started to annoy me with the TR Anniversary, so they are not a new pet hate, they just managed to get super annoying now. 

The Reboot is a console game for the new age gamer that doesn't want to be bogged down with spending time on puzzles and finding your own way around obstacles without help. I again find myself (like in AC3) playing a game that doesn't hold any thrills, but bores me half to death while playing it. Shame, I can still play the old TR games, but this one is not captivating me at all and I seriously doubt I will replay it again.

Toro_Nev
Toro_Nev

Great article, can't wait to play it myself!

Gizmofather
Gizmofather

reboot was perfect. People were not. Damn, picky, short minded people

MegamanX2011
MegamanX2011

Lara Croft only got attention from the media and its few fans due its godzilla boobs. Her games were always average at best but her gigantic breasts made her stand up for a while. She was never a gaming icon and whoever thought a reboot would make anyone care about her prob deserverd to get frustrated.

inaka_rob
inaka_rob

Yeah your out of your mind! This game was amazing! Mp sucked. But who cares? This game was like uncharted but a nice set of breasts. And after the really boring uncharted 3, this game made the whole "I'm playing a movie" feel fun agian. Collecting crap was actually fun. Maybe I didn't think this was a good reboot becuae I never like the old tomb raider. So I guess if you liked those old crap games, maybe you wouldn't like this amazing game. I finished it two days ago, and couldn't believe how much I liked that game, was excepting it to be meh.

finalkain
finalkain

The only kicker I see in this Blog is that Lara didnt have huge Angst when forced to start killing to survive. Some may see that as unnatural... I dont find it outside the realm of possibility as something that can just be accepted.

POKE777GM
POKE777GM

Online play was a joke => jump around like a kangaroo and you will dodge 60% bullets.


The story was the exact opposite, it was a pleasant surprise and definitely didn't disappoint at all. Stoked for the sequel.

Warlord_Irochi
Warlord_Irochi

3.4 million copies sold, over 80 in Metacritic, a sequel on the way...

I don't see the fail.

BOZ_10
BOZ_10

I really enjoyed the game myself. Just hated the online play and ****ing useless online trophies otherwise I would have achieved a Platinum. I at least enjoyed it enough to gain all of the Single player trophies even played through the whole game 3 or 4 times.

SoulScribe
SoulScribe

Very insightful read. According to what devs have said in past interviews, they wanted you to feel attached to Lara and wanted you to sympathize with her every action but failed to create connections that creates such pathos. The gameplay is a contradiction to the story. They establish the fact that she is mortal by piercing her with a metal rod through the stomach. This sympathy is short lived as soon after you are running about taking tons of gunshot wounds and fighting waves of heavily armored thugs (All this while she still has the hole in her stomach).

MysteryJ0ker
MysteryJ0ker

The game didn't fail by any chance.  It's more for the gameplay than the story.  The story, however, completely contradicted what the developers said they wanted.  Any emotional scene is drowned out by action immediately after. 

It's great to play but didn't fulfill what the developers said they wanted to implement.

buccomatic
buccomatic

i don't think tomb raider failed in any way at all. it was kickass from start to finish and IMO is the best game of 2013.

gimousis
gimousis

It was one of the best games I've ever played, and definitely the best Tomb Raider so far. I have no idea why people might not like it.

Arcturuss
Arcturuss

TR was one of the best games i played last year...


Which was really really fucking surprising..  I don't like tomb raider at all

PetJel
PetJel

I've been playing Tomb Raider since TR1 and this is one of my- if not absolute favourite game of the series.


And her relationship to her parents? That's been shown in other games in the series. Going indepth in that would sidetrack the game with way too much charactar establishment which would define her person TOO much maybe. Her personal life has always been sort of mysterious besides the clues in her manor levels and it's just fine like that. We get enough clues about her school life as is and about her personality. Being dragged to parties but prefering her study etc.

simewn
simewn

Amazing production values, but I didn't like it as a game. I would gladly watch someone else play just to watch everything that is happening on the screen but playing it wears me off.

ernelson1976
ernelson1976

The opening complaint here is interesting. The game fails because it doesn't give Laura's backstory? Wow. That's what the game is, from beginning to end. You could call it impatient, I suppose, that the game gets right to the action--but that's what most good stories do. We learn about her background, her relationships, and her internal life throughout the game. That's what the game is about. Sure, they could have dumped all that on us at the beginning of the game--and then he'd be complaining about the draggy, exposition-heavy first act.

Sorry, the Tomb Raider reboot wasn't the best game I played in the last few years, but it was far better than average, and an excellent reboot. It had many flaws, but none of the critical. Aside from the occasional clash of narrative tone with gameplay, it was a decent game that fulfilled its expectations. The blogger here doesn't quite seem to understand that the game is trying to explain why Laura is what she is. That's what prequels do.

atomicjuicer
atomicjuicer

I avoided this game because my instincts suggested it was a corruption of the character. I'd love to have bought it as the visuals look astonishing but all the rapey torture nasty crap turned me off.

Lara is supposed to be an explorer not a cold blooded serial killer.

Bigfatlardygit
Bigfatlardygit

While it wasn't PERFECT, and it certainly could have done a lot more with her emotional journey towards becoming bad-ass Lara, I think it's a bit of a stretch to say it failed. It told an interesting origin story and was hugely entertaining. 

DrowNoble
DrowNoble

What seems clear to me is this blogger didn't like the game from the get go.  Probably one of the "it's not Lara!" people who decried the game for not being like every other TR game out there.

The whole of the game, that the blogger failed to understand, was Lara's journey from a naive student of archeology to the beginnings of the Lara we all know and love.  In this the game didn't "fail" by any means.  While an older Lara (from previous games) would of just jumped, cartwheeled and dual-pistol blazed through all the baddies, this younger Lara had to scrounge for salvage and pick her fights carefully.

A long intro to provide background isn't necessary as that wasn't the point of the game.

RandomAvatar
RandomAvatar

Your first mistake was comparing a reboot movie and a game that shows the hero's history, also, she is a SURVIVOR, which means she ENDURES what's about to come, while Batman was TRAINED to endure. There are no perfect games and there's always something to be changed or improved in any game. As a psychologist, I can say that the problem solution behavior only happens when you don't have an immediate answer or solution to the problem, and this causes confusion, frustration, fear, insecurity. Her first kill sounded awful, but also she noticed she HAD to kill to survive, when she learned that, all the did was repeat that same behavior of killing. She got better at shooting, but there's no way she'd become an assassin or a goddamn psychopath or a sociopath. THE STORY IS NOT ABOUT BEHAVIOR CHANGE, IT'S ABOUT THE ACQUISITION OF A ENTIRELY NEW CATEGORY OF BEHAVIORS. Don't talk about what you don't know, jerk.

Tomasina
Tomasina

@zakkaz666 It's sure no Far Cry, and the movie they made out of that was even less of a story!

hellfire951
hellfire951

@zakkaz666 Gameplay as well as story telling was also great I don't know what kind of story telling type u like but this was awesome


SgtStrungOut
SgtStrungOut

@inaka_rob You sucked at the old games, that is why you hate them. They were awesome, it's just that they took skill, patience, and perseverance to play. You have none of those you crappy casual gamer.

Darkefka
Darkefka

@inaka_rob those old games are not ''crap'' because you didn't play them, they were amazing for their times,..

wallywest
wallywest

@ernelson1976 Totally agree, the game is the backstory.  Quite honestly who gives a damn who she is before the game?  Its the experiences she goes through that turn her into the compelling character she is now.  I really enjoyed this remake, and never liked the originals or their sequels.

Failed? Ya don't think so.

Warlord_Irochi
Warlord_Irochi

@atomicjuicer"Lara is supposed to be an explorer not a cold blooded serial killer."

And she is not, as the game develops she looks more like the desperate survivor.
How many people she killed in previous games before throwing a proud smile in the next cinematic?

neroist
neroist

@atomicjuicer Yeah I just beat the game. They seem to try to portray as a caring person whio likes people and their lives they lived when finding relics. 

In the start I was bombarded with QTEs that show that the solraii would kill me if they got their hands on me. But as the game goes on it show that some are people trying to survive and being forced to live like this by evil men and something else.  But Lara will just kill them most of the time not letting you let them live. 

Basically see someone kill them... but Lara is a caring person?

GDurasow
GDurasow

@RandomAvatar I'm curious, doc. How does gratuitously calling someone a jerk reflect on an alleged psychologist?

PetJel
PetJel

@neroist It's called a sacrifice in favor of gameplay. The game would be boring as hell if there wasn't a person to shoot. There is a limit with how much psychology and drama you can put in before it dulls the game to tears gameplaywise.

RandomAvatar
RandomAvatar

Simple, we psychologists are people who learn psychology. We do not incarnate it, which means we still have our individuality, if we act as psychologists in our personal lives, we'd make people scaried of being analised. Also, he's not my patient, and if he had the courage to blog this article, he should be aware that people will criticize it, even if everything he says makes sense, and jerk is much lighter than what I usually see, also, who here can prove me or him are not jerks?

neroist
neroist

@PetJel @neroist Ah I like to role play in my games. I love games that give immersion into a different world. Not a shinny graphical "whack-a-mole" game. Not that there is anything "wrong" with that style game, but it is simply not my taste.