I have strange feelings about the Tomb Raider reboot. On the one hand, it is a very well-done action adventure game. It strikes a nice balance between combat and exploration and does both well. It adds some new elements to the franchise and I enjoyed it a lot. On the other hand, it gets too far away from what makes the Tomb Raider series special to me, its focus on challenging platforming and puzzles. Soon I hope to be able to reconcile these feelings and write a review of it. What I am sure of, is that a sequel to this game that melds old and new could be a very special game. And because of this, I thought I’d go over the elements from previous entries in the series that I need to see make a return in a potential sequel to this most recent Tomb Raider.
More Challenging Platforming: If there is one thing I need when I play a Tomb Raider, it is challenging platforming. That is my favorite part of the series. The new reboot does not deliver on this front. The platforming presented here controls really well, but is simply too easy. The next game needs to bring back in hazards and traps. These will make the timing of your jumps more important. There also needs to be more of a “How do I get from Point A to Point B” element. There is a bit of this in the new game particularly when looking for collectibles in the larger hubs, but still not nearly as good as it was in the past. With these elements added in or expanded upon, we can see a more rewarding and challenging platforming experience in the next game.
More Platforming Moves: One thing that will improve the platforming’s puzzle element that I just mentioned would be adding more moves to Lara’s repertoire. Crystal Dynamics’ continued to add to Lara’s platforming moves over the course of their last trilogy and I hope they do the same going forward here. Climbing up vertical columns, bounding between walls and hopping on tiny points are just a few moves from recent games they could add back in. And they could always come up with some new moves to add to her arsenal. With more ways to traverse environments, it will make you think more about how you need to make your way through levels, while also giving you more control over Lara. Both of which should make for a more fun game.
Bigger and Better Tombs and Puzzles: The tombs are just completely lacking in this game. Even if tombs didn’t fit into the world they built for this game (though I can see several opportunities for big tomb locations being included in this game’s narrative), they needed to have what we get from tombs included in the main storyline. Tombs have been relegated to small side objectives. Some of these are fairly clever, but far too short and too seldom (only seven throughout the game). There are also only a handful of puzzles in the main storyline. In the sequel, I want the kind of grand tomb locations we expect from the series from a style and visual standpoint as well as the kind of large-scale multi-room puzzles we expect to see Lara solving on her adventures.
Swimming: Hey I know what you are thinking, “Matt, swimming and underwater levels in games are the worst. Why would you want them back?” Well Tomb Raider does them better than any game out there in my opinion. The controls in recent TRs for swimming have been very well done and have generally been a boon to the games. It adds another element to the exploration and level designs. I think this could be added into the new game’s structure very easily. Swimming can be handled like a new ability like the rope arrow or the climbing axe. At some point it could be upgraded with some sort of breathing apparatus which would allow you to go further underwater or allow you stay under longer which would get you to new areas. Maybe even a harpoon gun could be added to gate stuff away underwater as well.
The Swan Dive: There are little things in games I just love. The way animal species in Jak games combine two we know into one. The sound effects in Sly games when he is sneaking about. The way Amaterasu gets bored and falls asleep when people are talking to her in Okami. The swan dive is another one of those things. It isn’t necessary nor does it add a ton to the game, but it is just cool. If swimming is back in, I hope to see the swan dive return as well. And of course, a few opportunities to make high dives into water far below you. I was actually hoping they might have a cutscene where she does her first swan dive or something like that in this game. Would have been a neat nod to fans. Hopefully we get to do it for ourselves in the next game though.
Dual Pistols: Without saying too much, I’d say Lara’s iconic dual pistols will be back in the sequel. On the one hand, they might not seem as good a fit in the new style of combat which isn’t quite as cartoony as the flipping about shooting wild animals the other games had. On the other hand, this game was still plenty ridiculous and her going with dual pistols again is just one of those things I’d like to see back. It’s Lara and that just seems right.
The Grapple: I was a fan of the grapple Crystal Dynamics’ worked into recent Tomb Raider games. Rope arrows did some of the pulling tasks that the grapple had done previously, but I feel like it could still play a role in a sequel for a couple of its other abilities. Much like rope arrows were upgraded with the rope ascender and the axe was upgraded from opening doors and crates to climbing certain walls, strengthening the grapple (or whatever contrivance they want to come up with) could unlock various moves for it and therefore unlock new areas in the world. Start with it swinging you over gaps. Then add the ability to repel with it and then add the wall-run move. These would also add to the depth and challenge of the platforming.
Gymnastics: Being able to do random tumbles and stuff was rather useless, but just one of those little things I enjoyed and wouldn’t mind seeing back. You could do handstands as you pulled yourself up ledges. Various flips while walking down hallways and cartwheels while balancing on beams. I’m not sure if this is too out there for the developers to put in there slightly more grounded take on the series, but I’d welcome it back. Not in combat or anything. Just for fun in other spots.
Croft Manor: Singleplayer content outside the main campaign of a game doesn’t get much better than Crystal Dynamics’ versions of Croft Manor. Particularly Anniversary’s. The Manor plays out like one big puzzle as you try and acquire your gear throughout Lara’s huge home while collecting various rewards and trying to solve all the little puzzles throughout to reach the final room. They could now be free to go with a whole new design for the manor and the new game’s gear-gating elements would fit right into the Metroid-style setup of Anniversary’s Manor.
The Balance Shifted Back to the Adventure Side: If I had to guess about the percentage of action (combat and setpieces) to adventure (platforming, puzzles and exploration), I’d say its probably about 50/50. As much as the combat has improved in the reboot, I still don’t want to be spending half the game doing it. The world has plenty of action games, but adventure focused ones, like this series typically is, are rare. I’d like to see it shift to a 75% adventure to 25% action ratio or close to it. The exploration was the strongest part of the reboot in my opinion and if they ramp up the platforming and puzzles like I suggested earlier in this blog, I think the game will be much better and unique for this shift in balance I am asking for.
I am really hoping Crystal Dynamics’ looks to the past and includes some of these in the next Tomb Raider. I think most of these would fit well into the new game’s structure and world. With a combination of old and new, we’ll have the best of both worlds. A game updated to today’s standards in presentation, story and combat, but with the focus on challenging adventure elements that the series has always been known for.
Were there any elements from older games you felt were missing in the newest Tomb Raider? Did you like the reboot just the way it was? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!