Crystal Dynamics and Microsoft made headlines some weeks ago when they announced what had only previously been hinted at when the new Tomb Raider was debuted during Microsoft’s E3 press conference: that this new title, Rise of the Tomb Raider, will be coming holiday season 2015 as promised, but it would be exclusive to the Xbox One. In discussing the arrangement, Crystal Dynamics expressed the cooperation and shared vision this would allow between them. Microsoft further confused the discussion by stating that they had been seeking an exclusive action-adventure to match the wildly successful Uncharted franchise on the PlayStation.
This only served to further outrage an already upset fanbase, making the move seem as though not only were they intending to make a traditionally multi-platform franchise exclusive to Microsoft systems, but that it was serving in place of Microsoft seeking a way to develop a new action-adventure IP of its own. But then, most of this came to naught when it was confirmed that it’s actually going to be a timed exclusive. Though no specifics have yet been given as to how long it’ll be exclusive to the Xbox One or exactly what other systems we’ll eventually see the game on, there’s still some consideration to be given about the entire arrangement.
On one hand, it’s understandable that Microsoft might be seeking such avenues, given that even with all the uptick in sales of their newest consoles — even with the stripping of the Kinect — it’s still regularly being outsold by the PlayStation 4 on the domestic market. Exclusives are the kind of thing that get gamers flocking to a particular console and no doubt Microsoft is hoping the boost in notoriety from this franchise will help.
Even so, with all the positive that 2012’s Tomb Raider reboot has accomplished, it’s hard not to feel overly upset with these events, particularly once the timed nature of exclusivity was revealed. The PlayStation 4 has always been a more preferable option for me going into the next generation, due to familiarity than anything else, and even though I can see myself eventually getting an Xbox One down the line, it’s hard not to feel the manipulations from Microsoft, taking advantage of the most adamant of fans who will want to get their hands on the game as soon as it’s released.
At the same time, Tomb Raider was a good game in a lot of ways, but I would hesitate to call it a great one. Given how dramatically they reshaped the franchise with their newest entry, it might even be fair to call Crystal Dynamics’ latest Tomb Raider game almost something entirely new in and of itself that just happens to have the same title and main character as from the previous games.
Uncharted did a lot to reshape what’s possible in terms of cinematics, storytelling, and scope, among other things, and for once, Tomb Raider found itself having to take its cues in a big way from someone else. Though it included many distinct features that set it apart from Sony’s most prolific of franchises, it also felt like someone desperately seeking to play catch-up to others in the genre that were leaving them in the distance. Gone is much of what long formed the core of the franchise — the tomb raiding itself — instead serving on the peripherals as optional, but by no means the focal point of the series.
This demonstrated in many ways both the greatest weakness and strength of the game. It sought to re-examine Lara Croft’s character in a new way, giving her a greater depth of humanity than has ever been explored. (Not to mention, a figure that is reasonably proportioned and no longer so overtly sexualized.) It wisely borrowed from many of the high-octane story events and third-person shooter fun that has come define so much of what is successful in the genre. This is by no means a crime, as many of the greats steal from others — it’s just how you improve on it and find new ways of utilizing these ideas that set your apart.
Unfortunately, Tomb Raider has yet to do enough to set itself apart. Though at the same time, it might be a bit absurd to expect so much of it so soon. In looking at it as essentially a brand-new series that was able to bank on the successful name, it’s not surprising it didn’t come roaring out of the gate on its first try. Very few do — and it’s usually on the second or third go around that true greatness begins to emerge.
This is most certainly what we can hope from Rise of the Tomb Raider. The bits of information, to say nothing of the E3 trailer, certainly look promising. Throw in the return of Camilla Luddington as our main character and Rhianna Pritchett as the game’s writer, and this could have a lot of potential. But at the same time, that’s all the game and series are still: potential. Until we actually see the game, we won’t know if it’s more of an Uncharted 2 or a Dragon Age 2. It could be something that improves for the better or something that disappoints in comparison to its predecessor.
Had the newest Tomb Raider been an excellent game, I know I likely would’ve been more upset at the news. It would be a shame to miss out on the series’ next outing, especially since it will likely be years before I can afford a second next-gen system. Had they done this with something even grander than Tomb Raider, like Destiny or Assassin’s Creed, that outrage may very well had quadrupled, but with confirmation that it will only be exclusive to Microsoft for a set period of time, it almost becomes something of a shrug of the shoulders. Add in the mixed messages of Microsoft’s PR department about what they hope to do with the series on their system and the fundamental feeling of being manipulated, and it makes me even more okay with waiting. Sure, the game looks great — and I’m optimistic for it as a follow-up. All the same, I can wait until it comes to the PlayStation 4, whenever that day may be.