The Tomb Raider Reboot Could Use a T-Rex

I'm worried that Lara Croft won't ever get to fight a dragon again. And that she'll never go back to Atlantis. Everything we've seen so far from the gritty Tomb Raider reboot due out next year seems to indicate that the Crystal Dynamics is burning the fantasy trappings off of the action franchise. And that shouldn't be the case, because Tomb Raider thrives on unreality.

Now, I've argued before that the quiet, sparsely populated stretches of past Tomb Raider games have been amongst the best parts of the franchise. A sense of wonder feels easier to communicate when there's fewer jabbering humans around. So far, the impressive forests and wreckage shown in Tomb Raider demos have doubled down on a naturalistic realism. Even the threats that Lara comes up against—staving off starvation, surviving harsh weather, sexual assault (even if it's not called that)—have been more as down-to-earth. There's been dirt smeared over everything. And that's one approach to making a re-imagined origin story more believable.

However, Lara Croft's always been a character that's plumbed secret histories, whether it's been the mysterious fates of her own parents or finding out parts of mythologies that have been true. The magic/mad science/fantasy part of Tomb Raider games has always been an essential part of the heroine's appeal. Remember, this is a character that's taken down yeti and Nephilim.

In fact, when you compare Lara's adventures to those of Indy or Nathan Drake, the dive into the supernatural has been more pronounced. Indy only ever gets brief glimpses of the fantastic in his movies. Uncharted has stepped that up each time out, giving you a grotesque subspecies of humans in the first game and a parallel dimension in Uncharted 2. But those look like baby steps compared to Lara. She took down a T-Rex, after all. Call it magic, science-fiction or fantasy. Whatever you name that unreal element, it needs to be a part of a Lara Croft adventure. Fighting against superpowered Atlanteans and re-animated T-Rexs made Lara Croft come across as ultra-capable. Wielding just two Uzis against a horde of velociraptors makes her more of a bad-ass, not someone you need to protect.

In globe-trotting archeological adventure mythos like the one Lara Croft operates in, protagonists usually chase after an artifact that proves the existence of things that were considered myths. Going back to the 19th Century Allen Quatermain novels, you can see the roots of the Lost World genre—where riches, power, items or knowledge from time-lost civilizations get re-discovered—that lives on Indiana Jones, Uncharted and, of course, Tomb Raider. It's troubling that very little has been teased so far with regard to supernaturally significant material. And, yes, such elements could be teased without giving away the whole experience. Hell, it might make people even more excited.

The Tomb Raider Reboot Could Use a T-Rex

If we're going to see any sci-fi or genre elements in the Tomb Raider reboot, they'll probably be rooted in dark fantasy. Some of the screens we've seen so far hint at a horror element and the feral bogeyman grasping at Lara in the game's E3 2011 reveal certainly might have been a supernatural enemy. There's also the fact that the island where Lara's trapped seems to be a magnet for shipwrecks. So there might be a gothic style of fantasy underneath all the bow-hunting and precipice-jumping.

But my worry is that the wholesale leap into fantasy that Tomb Raider has generally provided will get minimized for more realistic-feeling drama. And that would be a shame. Lara Croft has swung Excalibur, for Christ's sake. She needs to do more than just huddle under a tarp. Hopefully, the new game gives her the chance to do confront horrors of the unknown.