Tomb Raider wears its cinematic aspirations on its grimy, blood-soaked sleeve. In the mode of Uncharted, this is a game that very much wants to be a movie — its 'camera' is a constant companion, never missing the opportunity for a close-in tension shot or a jumbled, handheld action sequence. As Lara Croft runs through the rain and engages in Croftian derring-do, you can feel the invisible cameraman's loping stride as he follows behind.
In terms of design and pacing, Tomb Raider also takes a bevy of cues from Uncharted, but it diverges from Naughty Dog's series in one crucial way: Where Uncharted drew from the same pulpy adventure serials that influenced Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider draws from something much darker: In addition to lifting a number of themes from the exploitation cinema and sniff-tinged horror of the 1970s, and it aggressively channels Neil Marshall's 2005 horror movie The Descent.
I'll have some spoilers for both Tomb Raider and The Descent here, but nothing too major. It'd be hard to spoil The Descent, really.
In The Descent, a group of tough extreme-sports-type women head into an uncharted cave and, after a cave-in, find that their situation goes from bad, to worse, to super way fucking worse. It's a hell of a good horror movie, and you should totally watch it, particularly if you liked some of the ideas explored in Tomb Raider. (And don't mind having your pants scared off.)
The similarities between the game and the film are apparent from the get-go: Women in caves, lost and injured, hunted by a terrifying group of all-male antagonists. And eventually, the women (or in Tomb Raider's case, woman), find that they're stronger than the men and fight back.
I haven't seen anyone at Crystal Dynamics specifically call out The Descent as an influence (and in this feature today at GameSpot, Crystal Dynamics head Darrell Gallagher focuses more on Die Hard, which, sure). But considering the fact that Tomb Raider contains at least two clear-cut homages to Marshall's film, it stands to reason that someone at Crystal Dynamics was a fan.
A bit near the beginning of the game conjures aspects of The Descent's controversial ending — it was given one ending in the UK and another in America, before being released as a final cut with only the original ending.
I remember seeing this sequence when it debuted at E3 and thinking, "Good lord, is this game seriously going after The Descent?"
There's also this bit, from the middle of the game:
Which is an explicit shout-out to The Descent's most iconic image:
Soon after that scene, a blood-drenched Lara lurks in the darkness, ready to exact terrible vengeance on the men who have hurt her and her friends:
Just as in The Descent, Shauna Macdonald's protagonist Sarah is 'reborn' from a lake of blood as a woman driven into an animal frenzy by fear and a desperate need to survive:
(Side note: Rebirth, lost children, a bizarre group of all-male CHUDs killing women... CAVES filled with BLOOD... yep. Discussion still continues as to whether or not The Descent is a feminist horror film. I see it as one, but I understand the arguments on the other side. I'd imagine a similar discussion will continue about Tomb Raider.)
And then there's the poster for The Descent 2, which I haven't seen, but which presents a scene that should be pretty familiar to anyone who's played Tomb Raider:
Torch? Check. Climbing axe? Check. Tank-top? Check. Tore-up physical appearance? Check.
It's remarkable that a big-budget, AAA video game would turn to such dark, hardcore material for its cinematic inspiration. If you'd told me in 2005 that in eight years, we'd get a Tomb Raider game that drew inspiration not from Indiana Jones or Romancing the Stone but from The Descent, I wouldn't have believed you.
Despite (or possibly thanks to) its dark tone and grisly atmosphere, Tomb Raider seems to have been a success, certainly critically and from the sounds of things, also commercially. It's said that horror can't be mainstream — I've even argued that point here at Kotaku. But then, Tomb Raider isn't really a horror game, though it sure can be horrific at times.
All the same, it's cool to see a big-budget game deliberately reaching for a reference point as far off the beaten path as The Descent. If games are going to continue to imitate movies, at least they're starting to pick interesting ones.