The new Tomb Raider movie, currently dubbed by Google searches as Tomb Raider 2018, comes out later this week (here’s what critics are saying so far). This time, Alicia Vikander takes the role of the popular video game character after Angelina Jolie’s stint in the early 2000’s. If you’re a gamer, and a fan of the Tomb Raider franchise, this movie might spark some interest since it bears resemblance to the 2013 video game from Crystal Dynamics. And that is a good thing. This is for those, like myself, that loved that game. This is a movie for the players.
Although I did hear about Tomb Raider growing up, my first hands on with the game was on a Playstation demo disc that had the playable demo for Tomb Raider 2. I remember spending hours replaying it – trying not to get hit by the tigers, anticipating all the traps, and delighting in how cool it was to flip through the environment., That was all the experience I really had with the franchise until much later when Tomb Raider Legend was released, and I was able to play the game on PC.
The blocky polygons were much more refined in Legend; Lara was now taking enemies out doing slow motion back flips, and conversing with folks over coms while puzzle solving. However, the game still felt just like the previous version, and even the versions I saw on X-Play and Gamespot reviews. “What’s missing?” I thought. Although many people were enjoying Legend, I could not see the interest beyond the second iteration of the game. It was fun then, but it didn’t feel like it evolved since that time.
It wasn’t until 2013 that I make another attempt at the Tomb Raider franchise. Lara had gone through a complete makeover. The series was rebooted under the Square Enix banner and the developer, Crystal Dynamics, wanted to tell us an origin story of this icon. The game was fantastic.
The elements of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider 2 were barely there, and now seemed to have new elements in it, some of which felt like it was out of Naughty Dog’s Uncharted, which had taken the crown of Tomb Raider in the late 2000’s. However, the quips of Nathan Drake from Uncharted were not here. Lara was all business on an island that meant the same. It was a side of this character I had never seen; she was lost and she was scared. I had never seen Lara scared and unconsciously, while playing the game, I became uneasy, and I wanted to know why. I played through Tomb Raider in just under under two days. The presentation and gameplay were outstanding. This was what I was looking for, but didn’t know I wanted; it was definitely a fantastic return for Lara Croft.
The reboot started a new Tomb Raider franchise and was followed by Rise of the Tomb Raider which made its way to multiple platforms. It was built off of the 2013 version, but Lara was established as a much more strong-willed person. The presentation was beautiful, and Crystal Dynamics had blown out the exploration and survival system a lot more. Lara was stronger, she was sure of herself; her challenges, although difficult seemed attainable now. That latter observation caused some disconnect for me. I was unsure of myself and my then difficult situation and it was hard for me to connect with a character who seemed to have things figured out.
I typically enjoy playing empowered hero characters in games. Samus Aran in Metroid, the soldier in DOOM, Ryu in Ninja Gaiden. All characters that have hero capabilities, who are fearless when encountering insurmountable odds. I started to remember how I felt playing the reboot and drawing comparisons to where I was in my career. I had just taken the opportunity at a studio and was patiently waiting on my Visa to be established. The process was taking forever, I was feeling every day that I would get a call from the company from saying “You know what, this is taking really long and we can’t wait, we need someone now”. I had no control over this process; I felt helpless.
Being an international working in North America in the video game industry is extremely difficult. It is one thing to learn about foreign culture and customs that we sometimes take for granted in the Caribbean, but another to realize that every day you must work twice as hard to prove your worth. Not to mention that moving countries is both time consuming, and taxing. The pressure is heavy, but you have no control over that, you are helpless to that fact and all you can do is persevere. That was what I found in the first Tomb Raider reboot: the feeling of helplessness but determination to persevere anyway.
The recent announcement of Shadow of the Tomb Raider scheduled for September 14th (with a full reveal April 27th) this year could not be timed better as it rides the hype of the film. I remain optimistic that Crystal Dynamics have sharpened their skills for Lara Croft and learned from their feedback about its predecessor. I expect a Lara Croft who is bold, yet always on alert as she traverses her environment. I think this is someone that I can connect with now. Just like Lara, I have changed as well.
This is what I see in the movie that is coming to the big screen this week. A reboot of the film franchise from a reboot of an incredible game. I am seeing a helpless person who, just like many of us if we were thrust into an incredibly difficult situation, would have no choice but to persevere. Sometimes we must embrace who we are based on circumstance. And for a moment, when many of us play the game, we are strong, we are daring, we are bold, we are courageous…we are Lara Croft.