There I was, bow drawn and breath held, ready to kill a beautiful deer I’d been tracking for about five minutes. Lara Croft muttered something like “I can do this”, just before I let the arrow fly. The deer ran and more scrabbling through a dense forest followed. Two more arrows felled the deer and I went back to the abandoned campsite Lara had found a few minutes earlier, where the meat would be cooked and Lara would brood alone.
That loneliness reminded me of something, which is that other humans have always been the worst part of the Tomb Raider games.
I played a very short slice of the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot at Comic-Con last week, which appears to catch up with Lara shortly after she encounters the pirates who threaten her life. The scenes I sampled find Lara looking for signs of other survivors of the shipwreck that stranded her on a mysterious island. After some platforming segments, Lara finds a radio and other gear belonging to people she’d been with on the boat. Lara — who talks herself a lot in the parts of the game I played — then decides that she needs to track down the people who may still be alive.
Then it hit me. I don’t want to find these people. I’d rather wander through the game’s beautiful environments and see what else I can shoot with Lara’s bow. Could I climb that ridge over there? How about just standing in this stream and watching the mist climb upwards and dissipate?
People have always been the worst part of Tomb Raider games. Hell, the bow Lara uses to hunt was plucked off of a dead stranger, presumably done in by other human beings. And, as previously reported, Lara kills her first human right after he tries to do the same to her.
My favourite parts of various Tomb Raider titles have always been the wide expansive vistas the games have taken me to, chock full of deathtraps or treasures and done up in the styles of long-dead civilisations. Swimming down to Atlantean ruins or shimmying an the ledge of an ancient Aztec ruin always felt more electrifying than another jump-roll-shoot gunfight with a bunch of generic thugs. The series’ biggest successes have been in transporting players to the faraway and the mythic, and letting them comb through those environments. Whenever the murmurs of human voices floated toward me in the game, I knew that some fight would happen and that it’d take me from what I really loved about controlling Lara Croft. The big villains of the series have always been the worst kinds of scenery-chewers, too, mouthing off about power or destiny or riches and why they deserve it. Whatever. I want my solitude back.
The hunting demo reminded me of the roles animals have played in past Tomb Raider games too. They’ve generally been ornery antagonists that players have been prompted to shoot on sight. But in the upcoming game developed by Crystal Dynamics, they’ll also serve as food, as part of a dynamic landscape you’ll be tasked to survive in. At one point in my time with the hunting demo, I followed a pair of rabbits around a hollow for as long as I could. They disappeared and I amused myself by spearing a wild bird with my bow.
I was stalling, see. I didn’t want to get to the messy business of rescuing, being rescued or facing off with other humans.
Now, I’m not naïve. I know I’m going to have to fight someone and/or some things in the new Tomb Raider. But the leafy beauty and quiet melancholy of that very short hunting demo left me wanting a game that would let me commune with nature away from the chatter of other two-legged animals. Hopefully, as Lara journeys to becoming a hero, the new Tomb Raider will offer up a few more of those pastoral moments.