Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Thoughts on Tomb Raider

I never played the original Tomb Raider games.  I wasn't a big fan of action 3D platformers, and there were enough other games to keep my attention besides "that one with the woman with the big chest."

I did play some of the later games by Crystal Dynamics, though.  Tomb Raider: Legend, Tomb Raider: Underworld, and the reboot Tomb Raider were all games I enjoyed, but there was something that bothered me about Lara Croft in particular.

In the end, she's always alone.

"Row, row, row your boat, gently down the- okay, now you go!
Oh.  Right."

Now, I don't mean she never has any relationships.  She has a team in several games that she works with, and a large chunk of the reboot is her saving her friend from being sacrificed to a weird sun god thing, but when I think back to so many archaeologist heroes, I never picture people working alone.

Indiana Jones had Sallah, Marion, Short Round, Marcus, Willie, that ship captain who tries to keep Marion safe by pretending to want to keep Marion to sell as a sex slave, and others who were at this side through adventures.

Dr. Daniel Jackson had the rest of the team of SG-1 beside him as he explored worlds, ancient tombs, and alien star ships.

Nathan Drake had Elena, Sully, and Chloe, as well as others according to Wikipedia.

Julia Chang from Tekken becomes good friends with Chun-Li, and I would buy everybody I know a copy of "Kickers, Inc.," the movie/game/TV series franchise I imagine featuring the two of them as a Interpol/archaeologist duo who have to keep defeating terrorist plots involving ancient relics.

Lara really doesn't have anybody who can "keep up" with her.  People she knows either always die, betray her, or get kidnapped, and I think it's too bad, because seeing how she connects with people while doing things she actually enjoys or needs to do is a big part of establishing a personality for her.

I can grow sympathetic for Lara by watching her get beat up by everything from pirates to nature itself in the reboot game, and I know she's determined to help her friends, but in preparation for when the game comes out on a system I can play (sorry, still not interested in an Xbox One, Microsoft), I've been reading articles, including one by Game Informer that details a scene where Lara gets separated from one of her companions on a mountain, one of the few survivors from the previous game.  Lara's desperate to find any proof of what she went through and saw in the first game of the reboot, to the point that it seems she's almost mentally ill in her obsession.  After an avalanche separates her from her friend (again, someone else who witnessed all sorts of crazy stuff), she says she "has to go on alone."

"Bull," I immediately said to my magazine.  "There's no reason why Lara couldn't work well in a team, unless you're afraid she'll stop being the special little flower who is the only one who can do anything."

Except even then, she's not really that good at what she does.  There are all sorts of soldiers, mercenaries, and other explorers that get to the places Lara is going first, they're just smart enough to fly their helicopter closer, get their boat in a better place, or simply bring better supplies when the weather isn't trying to murder everybody.  The only reason Lara usually gets the treasure first is that she kills everybody she meets who isn't on "Team Lara" (which, we've established, is usually just her).

I want to see Lara work with a partner in one of these games.  I want someone who helps you scale cliffs, explore passages, and solve puzzles.   Better yet, make it a co-op game.  If you're telling me that players wouldn't throw loads of money at a two or four player co-op game where you have to work together to climb, spelunk (that's a word, right?), or crawl to obscure tombs and then have several people hold off soldiers or mercenaries with gunfire while the others solve a puzzle, I'd call you a liar.

Each character would have a role.  One person would be stronger than the others, and would be needed to hold sliding doors in place so others can get through them as a group, or shove long-rotted mechanical gears back in place so ancient puzzles can be solved.  They'd also be the best at clearing paths through jungles with a machete.

One would be the natural athlete, able to climb just a bit higher than the others to access areas with tools needed to continue the game.  They might be better suited to driving jeeps down canyon roads as well, or be the best swimmer to get across a raging underground river while carrying a rope so the others will have a rope bridge to use to get across.

There's the researcher, able to decipher clues, solve puzzles faster, and craft items needed to get out of sticky situations.  They'd be able to figure out which plants can be used for healing, and which ones would be toxic and can be used to coat arrows or other weapons with a poison.

Finally, there's the trailblazer, quick with a gun, but able to figure out paths people need to take.  They'd be the one firing their pistol at the angry local forces thinking they're defiling an ancient temple while shouting "HURRY IT UP" at the researcher.  The most weapons knowledge, but also the one who understands the gear the best.  They're the one who needs to be in charge of the ropes to keep others in place while scaling the side of a mountain or lowering people down into a chasm to explore a cave system.

Plant the four characters at the start of each level at a randomly generated location, like a mountain pass, the edge of a jungle island, or a cave entrance.  Have the puzzles, climbing surfaces, areas to jump to, and threats randomize each time so that things are never the same twice.  One moment the trailblazer is holding a rival group of explorers at bay while the others try to get an ancient doorway to open, just to have to toss a gun to one of their teammates because it turns out the key is on a platform jutting out from a ledge below them, and he's the best one to hold the rope to pull the athlete back up.  The strong guy is holding a door closed to keep out an angry spirit totem, but gets replaced by the athlete and the trailblazer as he's needed to carry a fallen part of a giant mechanical system back into place in order to get a water wheel moving that opens up the next area to explore.

Make one of those characters Lara Croft (the trailblazer, probably?) and we'd see whole new layers of her personality as she interacted with people who would be anything from friendly rivals, dear friends, former lovers, old teachers, or just amicable coworkers as they work as a team to uncover the treasures that help her (and them) build their fortunes.

...I got off track there, but I think the end result was worth it.  What was my original point?  Oh, right, Lara Croft doesn't need to be alone, and by doing so you're keeping her from developing the depth and "character" that the game company keeps claiming they're trying to add to her.  Unless the whole point of the second game is "Lara learns that she doesn't need the entire world to accept what she saw, as long as she has close friends to stand by her side" then I'm afraid it will be one more time she shoves away anybody who can help her be a complete person and simply be a cold, distant person known for shooting people and destroying lost treasures, only now with more personal suffering.

No comments: