We're Worried The New Tomb Raider Is Getting Overshadowed

This week on Kotaku Splitscreen, we raided some tombs.

Jason’s on vacation, so I was joined in his stead by my colleague Maddy Myers to talk about the PlayStation Classic, Nintendo’s new Switch Online service, the exciting Destiny 2 raid, and new safety concerns among professional streamers. Then Stephen Totilo came on to talk with us about Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which he reviewed and I’ve played a bit of.

We closed out with some talk of Assassin’s Creed Origins, a couple off-topic recommendations, and as always, a music pick of the week.

Download an Mp3 here, and listen here:

Here’s a lightly edited transcript from part of our chat, when we discussed our concerns about how little buzz Shadow of the Tomb Raider has generated, and theorise as to why that might be.

Stephen Totilo: I have this whole anxiety about this game that I shouldn’t have. But I can’t help it, and I’ll just acknowledge it. The game is gorgeous, right. It’s one of the best-looking games I’ve ever seen. Would you agree, Kirk? One of the best-looking games you’ve ever seen?

Kirk Hamilton: ...hmmmm, I dunno. I mean, it’s a really nice-looking game...

Maddy Myers: [laughing] Immediate disagreement. Kirk hates how it looks.

Kirk: Well, superlatives are dicy!

Stephen: It’s an amazing... come on. How many other games have done trees with that many leaves, Kirk! Come on. I don’t know what games Kirk is playing.

Kirk: [laughing] It’s a very expensive- and lovely-looking game.

Stephen: It’s a very expensive-looking game. It seems very expensive in the amount of world they’ve made, credit to them that you can switch a lot of the dialogue from English to whatever the native language would be of the people you’re speaking to, which is in some cases Spanish and in some cases Yucatec Mayan.

Yes, it’s Mayan stuff, even though it’s in Peru, which the game makes a point of talking about, why that is, and it sort of explains why this stuff is so hidden, because people wouldn’t think to look for Mayan civilizations in Peru.

So you can tell it’s a very expensive game, and I don’t feel like the game is going to do that well. I don’t sense a lot of buzz for it. I check out the game’s subreddit, you know, we like to cover games after they come out. I’m trying to get a sense of the vibrancy of the community.

And sometimes, games do super well and yet they don’t have a very exciting post-release life span. Far Cry 5, for example, supposedly the top-selling game of this year, according to the NPD group, which tracks sales in America. And yet I don’t feel like its post-release life has been all that interesting. And that could be the case for what’s going on with Tomb Raider, but I really feel like it’s the case that there’s not a lot of buzz for this game.

And I’m like, man, I really want people to still make games like this. I really want them to still make games where A), it’s a lengthy single-player game. That’s the kind of game I like. I like to explore environments, you know, Metroid-style, do some backtracking, which you do do in these newer Tomb Raiders. And I really appreciate the extra mile they went with the language stuff and some of the other bits of attention to detail.

And so I can’t help but think, I play a game to enjoy it, and yes also to cover it for the readers, but I can’t help but find myself invested in some weird way in its success. I really hope this is not a boondoggle, because I want more games like this to exist. And it’s weird to feel so much sympathy for, like, it’s a triple-A game, they’re gonna be fine. Square Enix is gonna make a lot of Kingdom Hearts money, and they can afford to spread that around to the next Tomb Raider.

But you know, I see these super expensive games, and I sometimes wonder if the price tags on them will ever give sticker shock, or buyer’s remorse, or whatever the right expression would be after the fact, and these big companies decide, oh, crap, we can’t do another one of these! Look how that one just did!

Kirk: If Jason were here, he would chime in with something about the unsustainability of triple-A game development, and he would right about that. I think in the case of Tomb Raider, I share that feeling...

Stephen: The anxiety, or just the sense that it’s not having an exciting post-release life?

Kirk: Well, I share how I like these kinds of games, too. I want to play more games like this. Games that smartly mix puzzles and stealth sections... especially, I’ve been struck by how puzzley this game is. It’s almost a puzzle game [first and foremost]. There’s more puzzles than action sequences so far, which is really cool.

I think in this case, specifically though, Spider-Man just killed it. And I think that really is what’s happened, in terms of who’s talking about it when. I remember this kind of happening to Rise of the Tomb Raider too, for different reasons. It [launched as] an Xbox One exclusive, so there was this kind of weird thing where no one could play it. But there would be these vocal readers, and they’d be in our comments, you know, [Rise] wasn’t on the Xbox One bests list, our list of the best Xbox games.

And there were people saying, “Why isn’t this on [the] list?” It wasn’t on our Games of the Year list. “Why isn’t Rise of the Tomb Raider there? It was really good!” And I think that over time, it came out on more systems, and more people came to appreciate, oh yeah, that was a really good game.

This game feels similar, and right now, at least... I’ve been playing a lot of Spider-Man, of course we’ve talked about it quite a bit on past episodes. That game is unbelievable in some ways that Tomb Raider is not, and similar in a lot of ways, too. It’s a third person action game, though I mean obviously, it’s about Spider-Man. It’s not about climbing into tombs, it’s about swinging around Manhattan...

Maddy: Hmm, Lara Croft is basically a superhero at this point.

Kirk: That’s true. But I guess, the focus is very different in how this Tomb Raider series is [focused on] making her seem more like a real person, and Spider-Man is much, much more of just a straight-up superhero story. But there are these similarities, they both have this really impressive facial capture technology going on, where you’re watching digital actors emote really convincingly.

But Tomb Raider’s story is kind of a dreary slog, I gotta say. It starts on this huge bummer note, all these people die, and [Lara]’s just super sad, and she’s fighting with her best friend, and they’re disagreeing, and everyone’s telling her she sucks. And she feels like she sucks...

Stephen: Which, credit to them for hitting those notes, right? That’s unusual.

Kirk: Right, and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. It’s just that in contrast to Spider-Man, which is this wonderful, really humanistic look at being a hero and trying to be a better person, with these fabulous characters who support one another ... the vibe is so different.

And when you look at what people kinda want right now, not just from video games, but in general, it just seems like Spider-Man has totally dominated the conversation.

And that’s despite the fact that to Tomb Raider’s credit, it is the Uncharted game you can play on something other than a PS4. And you need a PS4 to play Spider-Man. That’s always kind of been an appeal of Tomb Raider, I just don’t know that at this exact moment in time, that it’s enough to get people talking about it.


Comments

    Think you’re right to be worried Stephen - I don’t know anyone rushing out to buy it; there are so many big, different & innovative games coming out (both AAA & indie) it’s hard to be excited for what may be a very well made game but - if reviews are to be believed - is essentially more of the same in a series that was good but never great to begin with? Sure plenty of people will play it at some point but given the bizarre time of year to release it with the competition & the speed the price dropped on the previous 2 I can’t see it having staggering success. I could of course be talking rubbish & it sells gangbusters.

      I really enjoyed the initial 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider, but Rise of the Tomb Raider was unfortunately a great disappointment for me.

      I picked up Shadow of the Tomb Raider regardless (as the day one launch price is generally quite cheap) and was planning on playing it after Spider-Man. Despite finishing Spider-Man's story campaign last night... I don't want to stop playing.

        As a big fan of the 2013 Tomb Raider game, Rise of the Tomb Raider definitely left a sour taste in my mouth by going exclusive to Xbox for a year. Only ever ended up buying it recently as it was on special for about $15. I don't plan to rush out and get this new game either as it really doesn't seem like that much of an upgrade over playing Rise of the Tomb Raider.

          So, I'm an idiot who bought Shadow of the Tomb Raider on launch day. I bought it because well, the day one launch price caught me ($69).

          So far... it's alright. Gameplay-wise it has its fun moments. Stealth can be down right abusive (in the player's favour) and gathering resources to upgrade your equipment seems less tedious than Rise. Despite the somewhat open, Metroidvania-style environments, it doesn't feel that much bigger than the previous Tomb Raider games.

          The story so far is typically quite ho-hum. Honestly, I'm not really that interested. I don't really like the characters. I really liked Lara in the first game but in Shadow, I think she's a bit of an idiot and she doesn't seem like a very good friend to Jonah, and at the same time, Jonah follows her around being her friend. They don't really explore this (yet, perhaps they will) but Lara seems like a bit of a dick, really.

          So far, it's not Game of the Year, but it's got some fun, unrealistic stealth mechanics which is very much inspired by a mix of Rambo and Predator.

      Sometimes i think some games might not do well and others think the same but theres always the fanbois who will get it and Tomb Raider has alot of them. I remember talking with my local gameshop regarding a few games over the years that he was always surprised they did well even though it had little advertising or fanfare about them and 2 games that come to mind was FEAR 3. He bought 1 copy to sell and then had about 50 people show up on release day to buy it and didn't have any. The other was HITMAN, the one before they started doing episodes. Again, not much talk surrounding it but people shown up in swarms to get their hands on it.

    It seems like all three of the new Tomb Raider games have come out against something strong. Not to mention the first one's PlayStation delay. It's a shame because these games are great. It's easy to dismiss them because of the brands origins but this trilogy and the movie take themselves seriously and it works really well.

    And that’s despite the fact that to Tomb Raider’s credit, it is the Uncharted game you can play on something other than a PS4.

    This complement sells the game so short. Yeah they're both about similar subjects, but Uncharted is about shooting waves of randos between well acted cut scenes with beautiful views. Tomb Raider is cinematic in everything is does. It doesn't stop being immersive. It sounds like bashing Uncharted but it's more that they both have different goals.

      The difference between Uncharted and Tomb Raider is that Uncharted is about shooting waves of randos and then making some witty remarks while Tomb Raider is about making us feel Lara is vulnerable while shooting waves of randos.

        The tomb raider games have always had engaging gameplay AND cinematic flair at the same time.
        Uncharted, while also an expensive game series, has always left me cold. Not enough immersion, terrible shootouts with bad mechanics. Can’t interact with the environments much, unlovable characters. Every detail planned to the nth degree with little soul.

          Doesn't sound like you've played any Uncharted game beyond the first to be perfectly honest.

    I am a massive tomb raider fan yet I haven't bought it.
    One reason is that I don't have time for an open world right now where I have to scavenge for parts and stuff. I just want unlimited ammo.
    Another reason is that I am really enjoying my jaunt through my backlog this year. Right now i am playing Darksiders, can't believe I missed out on such a great game.

    It did remind me that I never played Rise of the Tomb Raider, which I can apparently get for <$30 now, so I think I'll pick that up this weekend and get Shadow in a year or so.

    I do think they look good, and the critical reception seems strong, but they always seem to release in a crowded window and get a bit overlooked.

    I'm only about 4 hours in so far, but I'm really enjoying Shadow of the Tomb Raider. It's beautifully constructed, and while yes it's more of the same mechanically speaking, the story is different enough and the setting is gorgeous. The South American jungles of the game feel dense as fuck, which really helps the immersion. The story is cinematic for as far as I've played so far, and it's great to hear much improved background banter.

    I do think it's been overshadowed, for sure. It's a solid game with an 80% positive rating on Steam. I played through Rise immediately before starting Shadow and there's no drop in Lara's personality like some reviews seem to be parroting. It is badly timed against Spiderman, which didn't help, and I didn't really see much coverage for it before it released, although granted I have most ads blocked.

    The base game is worth the purchase. The deluxe and Croft edition extras are standard optional fare, either outfits (which can have game effects in this version) or upgraded weapons you really don't need. For USD$60 it's worth the buy, and if you like it then you can get the season pass for the extra tomb content later.

    SotTR spoilers ahead!

    I thought the conclusion of the reboot trilogy was weak. The self-contained story of SotTR is alright, but the arc that began in TR 2013 through to Shadow ended with a disappointing whimper. It was too short, flat, no emotional payoff, and hardly any dovetailing into classic era Lara save for the butler cameo right at the end. I felt that the promises made in the first two games weren’t delivered.

    I loved the first TR reboot. But because I had to wait over a year to play it on the PS4, I had the same feeling for the 2nd, and now the 3rd.
    I'll get it eventually, and I'll love it. But I know I can wait, and I know it'll be super cheap.

    The problem I see is that half the fanbase only had access to ROTTR game less than two years ago. And I suspect a lot of PS4 players were like me and didn't rush out to buy it on release after we got burned with this timed exclusivity BS. So because of that a decent chunk of the fanbase only got around to playing the previous game in the last 12 months. That's too quick a turnaround, especially since we got our thirst for adventure quenched by Uncharted in the mean time.

    SotTR was also very poorly marketed. I saw Spider-man everywhere, from screens to sides of buses. Tomb Raider was so under the radar that even the guy at EBGames was surprised.

    I picked it up day one, and am enjoying it. The puzzles and tombs have had a lot of attention, the settings and visuals are awesome... but I don't know if it's just me, the combat is cumbersome and so far the story hasn't been exactly gripping.

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