Hey, CRYSTAL DYNAMICS!
I have a suggestion for you guys. It’s a bit long winded, but please bear with me — I think it’s worth a read.
First, a bit of background.
Four years ago, I found myself increasingly curious about the latest addition to the Tomb Raider family; while I’d played snippets of some of the old games over the years (don’t ask me which, I couldn’t tell you), none left a particular impression on me – certainly not enough to go out and purchase one for myself.
So about halfway through 2013 and with a shiny new gaming PC to play with, I was scouring the PC game review websites in search of something to sink my gaming teeth into. A title that kept turning up was the recently released Tomb Raider, which seemed to be garnering virtually universal praise.
For several days I looked at other titles, but kept on coming back to Ms. Croft’s latest adventure. The notion that the TR universe had undergone a major reboot and new characterization finally won me over, and I splurged.
Ironically, the game sat atop my PC for several days before I finally decided to pop its vinyl case – the memories of TR’s previous incarnations gnawing away at my temporary infusion of optimism. But, the day finally came when I slipped the disc into the DVD drive. Despite the reviews, I really wasn’t expecting much.
Ho. Lee. Crap.
This was not the Lara Croft I’d fleetingly experienced many years before.
She was an “ordinary” girl (with admittedly model-like looks and ninja-like athletic prowess) thrust into extraordinary situations, coping as best she could both physically and emotionally.
I was hooked.
Even better, Lara’s BFF was a fellow female, and Asian to boot, and the chemistry between the two was off the charts.
Added bonuses were a diverse and interesting support cast, top-notch VA work (Mathias excepted), an engaging story, a genuinely fascinating setting dripping with atmosphere and a fantastic score – all topped off with terrific gameplay.
In short, it was the most powerful gaming experience of my life. I literally would play the game into the wee hours of the morning, staggering to work the following days in a quasi zombie-like state.
It also literally changed my life; long cursed by severe social anxiety, I re-activated my old Twitter account and began to connect with other Reboot Tomb Raider fans.
Lara had become my companion on the road of Life.
After finishing the game, I promptly played it again. And again.
Seeking other like-minded folks, I eventually joined the Square Enix (then Eidos) forums. And immediately realized that this incarnation of Lara Croft had many vociferous enemies, at least among fans of the older generation of games (heretofore referred to as the ‘Classics’).
Some hated her depiction. Some hated her friendship with Sam. Some hated that she was not their familiar ‘Lone Wolf’. And in some cases this hatred manifested itself in truly disturbing ways.
I quickly left the Eidos forums (well, was banned really) and migrated over to the Tomb Raider Forums (TRF), where the prevailing hostility to Reboot Lara was no less palpable.
I was stunned.
Where was all the Lara-love? After all, gaming sites were almost universal in their praise of the game and this depiction of Miss Croft.
Three years on, I left the TRF due to incessant negativity towards a character I’d grown to love. It was not a healthy place.
This Lara might be a fictional character, but she evoked within me very real feelings and emotions.
So many hated her. But it was also obvious that she was loved in at least equal measure.
The fandom had experienced a schism.
Though the reasons for both sides of the argument varied wildly, there are broad brushstrokes one can recognize. And therein lies my suggestion to Crystal.
It has become painfully obvious CD don’t want to touch the Lara/Sam dynamic with a ten foot pole for fear of alienating one side of the fandom over the other. Kill Sam, and they would face the wrath of many Reboot fans that had come to adore her relationship with Lara. Conversely, put them in (any kind of) a relationship, and they would in turn incur the ire of those who longed for ‘Lone Wolf’ Lara, or even (and infinitely worse) the homophobes.
But by attempting to walk the fence, CD are missing out on opportunities.
So, here’s my suggestion:
Craft future games as you normally would. But have an opening menu option where a player can choose between one of say, three “versions” of Lara:
1. Lara is a lone wolf, with a comportment similar to her classic persona.
2. Lara maintains her Reboot persona, and continues to isolate herself.
3. Lara maintains her Reboot persona, but embraces her relationships with Sam, Jonah, and others.
Gameplay would be unaffected, as would the overall story, with only minor tweaks required depending on the depiction chosen by the player — perhaps certain cutscenes might be different, perhaps Sam and/or Jonah could be NPCs Lara can meet at campsites to vocalize with (as opposed to relying exclusively on her inner musings).
The beauty of this concept is that it would offer characterizations for a broad swath of the fandom, and each version of Lara would be equally canonical. It’s not as bizarre as it might seem at first glance — there are multiple concurrent incarnations of various fictional characters across many mediums. Superman, for example, is concurrently portrayed in the Supergirl TV series, the DC movie universe as well as myriad comics.
It would also (hopefully) allow for a more welcoming fandom sandbox, as the divide doesn’t make for a healthy environment and can only be detrimental to the franchise in the long run.
Heck, maybe they can even give various depictions of Lara different outfits/weapons/DLC, encouraging gamers to try all versions.
Whaddya say, CD?