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6 Things the Next Tomb Raider Needs
I love the new Tomb Raider. Crystal Dynamics has done a fantastic job rebooting and breathing new life into this franchise, and shows us first hand that even old dogs have new tricks. From its grisly, intense atmosphere to its exhilarating, fluid gameplay, I really do love the new direction this franchise is taking. It’s actually been a while since I’ve played a game as engrossing as Tomb Raider.
Yet, while I literally could not put the controller down the whole time I was playing, I couldn’t help but think of a few things that might make the next Tomb Raider stand out even more.
No More Regenerating Health
Tomb Raider creates a very tense and exciting atmosphere, but I find that Lara’s automatically regenerating health counteracts the whole survival mood that this game works so hard to implement. Automatic health regeneration is a well-established video game mechanic, but I think that in Tomb Raider it causes the game to lose tension and excitement because you know you have a good chance of escaping any situation by simply waiting for your health to return.
Alternately, knowing your health won’t automatically come back adds a little more pressure, hits you with a little more adrenaline, makes you think a little more about your actions, and creates a lot more tension and excitement. Such an adjustment for the next Tomb Raider would restore the satisfaction you get from overcoming tough situations and coming out on top when you are low on health and facing a hostile environment.
That being said, fixing the problem isn’t as simple as going back to the Tomb Raider norm of health packs and a life bar. One thing that really adds to Tomb Raider’s new atmosphere is just how limited, or non-existent, the HUD is. It really conveys a sense of it being you against the island, and makes you feel as though you’ll have to rely purely on your own wits and instinct. So interrupting that player immersion by putting a life bar onscreen is a definite no-no.
Therein lays the problem. Automatic health regeneration takes away the sense of urgency, but an on-screen life bar would also take away from the game. I think one way around this issue is to convey Lara’s health through posture and sound. A more hunched over Lara laboring to breathe is obviously in more pain and in more danger than an upright, livelier Lara. Even this isn’t foolproof though, as there are times in the game when Lara will hobble around for narrative purposes rather than as an effect of her injuries.
Maybe the answer is some sort of hybrid solution: health that regenerates but doesn’t regenerate fully until you are safe, reach a camp, or can patch yourself up. This leads to my next point.
Introduce More Survival Elements
Tomb Raider does survival-horror (although there is much less emphasis on the horror part) better than most survival-horror games nowadays, but one thing I think would be interesting to see for the next Tomb Raider is an even greater emphasis on survival.
One of my favorite games is Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Like any Metal Gear game, Snake Eater has its fair share of stealth and espionage, but it also implements rudimentary survival gameplay that really adds depth to the game. Snake can sustain injuries and it’s up to you to treat them; Snake can get hungry and it’s your job to get him edible food (inedible food end up poisoning him). I could see something like that really adding depth to the next Tomb Raider.
I’m not saying add something exactly the same, but rather something similar. To provide some context, Lara goes through all sorts of life threatening situations where she does not come out unscathed. Giving us the ability to sometimes treat Lara’s injuries (beyond the one time you actually do it in Tomb Raider) would really add complexity and depth to the game. Just imagine having to scrounge and scavenge for medical supplies as Lara suffers through an abdominal wound—suddenly Lara’s situation becomes even more urgent and dire.
Surviving also takes a lot of energy, so why not require us to find food for Lara so that she can sustain or restore her energy? Tomb Raider kind of plays at that by having us feed Lara toward the beginning of the game, but after that it’s as if she doesn’t need to eat. Like treating injuries, having to feed Lara would add to the overall mood of survival. More than just adding atmosphere, finding supplies or sustenance would also further a sense of exploration, as shrewd or prudent players might want to scour certain areas (more than they already do) for everything of use before moving on.
I know that it’s tough to implement a system like this and that not everyone will want it. Increasing the survival aspect will certainly beg the question of how much realism is too much. We don’t want so much realism that the game loses its fun factor, and in implementing more survival aspects we are definitely running that risk. However, if we were at least given an optional “Survival” game mode, I have a feeling that most of us would be very pleased.
Give Us Even More Collectibles and Places to Explore
Two of my favorite parts of playing the new Tomb Raider are roaming around to find all the various collectible and exploring the optional tombs. Both aspects make the game feel less linear and provide a sense of freedom by allowing you to go off and explore. Not only would it be great to have more collectibles, but so too would it be great to be able to do more with them.
Aside from the documents which fill in backstory and provide us with more characterization, I’m a little disappointed by the lack of payoff from some of these extras. Take the relics, for example. I enjoy finding the relics and hearing what Lara had to say, but all you earn is a bit of XP. I don’t know what I want specifically; I just know I want more.
The use of optional tombs also leaves me wanting. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy going into these tombs and solving their puzzles, but I still want more. I want more optional tombs with more puzzles (yes I know I sound greedy). It would be incredible if the next Tomb Raider allowed us to explore more tombs that take longer to go through and that give us more puzzles—they are a nice distraction and a nice mental change of pace.
Okay, I’ll admit it right here, this suggestion is purely out nostalgia for past Tomb Raider games. Specifically, I’m remembering the obstacle courses at Croft Manor that were put in place to get the player familiar with the games’ controls. While this really isn’t necessary anymore as the controls are quite fluid and easy to grasp, I miss being able to jump around an obstacle course and run around Croft Manor while Lara’s doting old butler follows her around with his permanently shaky tray of tea for Ms. Croft.
Of course, anyone who has played past Tomb Raider games knows where this is going. I want to be able to lock the butler in the freezer. Totally unnecessary, but now that I’ve mentioned it, you know you want it.
Fewer Quick Time Events
Like automatic health regeneration, quick-time events have recently become standard flair for video games. They aren’t necessarily a bad thing: a few QTEs sprinkled throughout the course of a game are useful for changing up the pace and throwing a few wrenches at the player. However, most games now have a tendency to overdo it and rely on QTEs so much that that they become mundane and repetitive. Tomb Raider, unfortunately, is guilty of overdoing the QTEs.
I get why Crystal Dynamics included QTEs in Tomb Raider. QTEs create a cinematic feeling, and with Tomb Raider being a very cinematic game it naturally should feature at least a few QTEs. In several cases, their cinematic nature helps convey a deeper sense of Lara’s desperation. We really understand that she is frantically doing everything she can to come out alive.
The problem with Tomb Raider having too many QTEs, besides making the game predictable and repetitive, is that it pulls you out of the tense atmosphere and reminds you that you are playing a video game. One of Tomb Raider’s greatest strengths is its ability to suck you in and suspend your disbelief. Unfortunately, having too many QTEs does just the opposite: it pulls you out of your suspended disbelief and makes you aware that you’re playing the game.
Now to be fair, QTEs in Tomb Raider are a lot more common in the first half of the game, but they are just way too frequent to have any meaningful impact. I think on some varying level, we gamers have also become reliant on QTE prompts to tell us what to do (Ironically, for as much as I’m starting to dislike them, sometimes I feel a little lost without QTES). So I think that the more Tomb Raider reduces its QTEs and makes us instead rely on our own senses and abilities to figure out what to do, the better we’ll eventually be.
Improve or Eliminate Multiplayer
Whenever single player games add multiplayer components, it’s going to be controversial. Many gamers feel that developers shift resources that could be used to expand the single player experience in order to create multiplayer dimensions. When it’s done right, you get something like Contracts in Hitman: Absolution, but when it’s done less right, you get something like Tomb Raider.
I shouldn’t say that multiplayer in Tomb Raider is bad; it just isn’t interesting. Simply put, most of us would much rather be playing the single player campaign. We all know that games are moving away from traditional single-player because developers and publishers want to add value and keep their games in our hands longer. But honestly, no one is really thinking when they pick up a copy of Tomb Raider, “I’m buying it for the multiplayer.” It’s just the opposite: we buy it for the single player experience, despite the multiplayer. So for the next Tomb Raider, multiplayer must be either actually worth playing or be done away with altogether so that the single player campaign can be expanded.
However, knowing the current trend in game development, it very much looks like multiplayer will be a part of Tomb Raider’s future. That being the case, instead of giving us the standard run-of-the-mill multiplayer, Crystal Dynamics should take a page out of Hitman: Absolution’s playbook and give us something innovative. Give us tombs and puzzles that measure our time and stack us up against other players, or let us create our own challenges. Give us that extra value you’re trying to add so the game actually does stay in our hands longer. Don’t give us a multiplayer that feels contrived and forced; give us something interesting, organic, and actually worth playing.
So there they are: six small adjustments/tweaks that I think the next Tomb Raider could use to make itself an even better game. But that’s just me… what improvements or changes, if any, would you like to see for the next Tomb Raider?