After serving as lead writer on Crystal Dynamics’ critically acclaimed 2013 Tomb Raider reboot and its 2015 successor, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Rhianna Pratchett surprisingly announced her departure from the franchise at the turn of the year. With rumors abound that an additional sequel – purportedly titled Shadow of the Tomb Raider – is already in the works, Pratchett’s lack of involvement was seen by fans as a major blow to the iconic franchise. However, could the series actually benefit from the departure of Sir Terry Pratchett’s only daughter?
Of course, that’s not to say Pratchett’s writing was anything less than stellar in the first two titles in the rebooted series. In Tomb Raider, Pratchett and her collaborators retold the origins story of one of gaming’s most beloved heroines to great effect, transforming a previously one-dimensional stereotype into a strong, albeit vulnerable, young woman. Indeed, the title received numerous game-of-the-year awards and nominations, including a Game Developers Choice nomination for Pratchett’s narrative. The awards were the latest in a long line of accolades for the Core Design-created franchise.
The influence of the series on popular culture is undeniable. Lara Croft has inspired her own animated television series and numerous other gaming spinoffs since the original title released in 1996. For instance, the Microgaming-developed slot title, Tomb Raider: Secret of the Sword, which we read about on this site, is a five-reel, 15-payline slot game which contains symbols based on various generations of Lara Croft video game titles, as well as the Idol Bonus, which is themed on the series’ exploration elements.
If you’re looking for a review of the slots title, you can find it here. The franchise has also spawned numerous movie adaptations – with a reboot based on the current gaming series coming in 2018. Shooting has already started in South Africa and the UK, naturally including some green screen CGI as well.
For all of the praise, however, some critics have suggested that Pratchett’s storytelling throughout both Tomb Raider and its sequel was ultimately at odds with the series’ gameplay; a phenomenon referred to as “ludonarrative dissonance”. In other words, while Pratchett’s narrative portrayed Croft as a vulnerable young woman whose experiences shaped her into a survivor, the title’s core gameplay of brutal combat and slick death animations went too far in many respects, turning the protagonist into a ruthless and cold-blooded murderer in the space of several acts.
Indeed, multiple publications have argued that particularly by the end of Rise of the Tomb Raider, Lara Croft had been hardened into a psychopathic serial killer. Such a criticism isn’t narrowly confined to Crystal Dynamics’ series, of course: Naughty Dog’s Uncharted has been subjected to similar debate ever since Nathan Drake first step foot onto our screens, culminating in the self-aware studio naming a trophy after such complaints in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.
The fact that Tomb Raider has, to a greater or lesser extent, been trying to emulate the success and style of the Santa Monica-based developer’s series since its 2013 rebirth has doubtlessly led to something of a conflict between Pratchett’s vision for the characterization of Lara Croft and the developers’ desire to deliver high-stakes, Uncharted-esque action-adventure gameplay. Like it or not, gunplay and hand-to-hand violence plays a huge role in cinematic adventure titles, and players most likely wouldn’t have accepted a Tomb Raider game without it. But it has unquestionably led to a bit of a murky vision for the future of the series.
Given the commercial and critical success of Rise of the Tomb Raider, it’s clear that not all players have been put off by this apparent disconnect. However, with Pratchett departing and Crystal Dynamics surely set to bring Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s writing in-house, the series may ultimately benefit from having a development and storytelling team that are very much on the same page. With Croft’s origins story being largely fleshed out by now, the studio has the luxury of the freedom to take the franchise effectively in any direction they want. Hopefully, that will be away from the Uncharted contender it has become into more original territory.