Tomb Raider celebrates its 20 year anniversary this year. To celebrate, a set of bonus content for Rise of the Tomb Raider was released yesterday. It includes classic skins, a new level in Lara’s manor and a new co-op mode. Although I enjoy this thoroughly, it also made me realise the definition of ‘classic’ Tomb Raider is becoming relative. When I became a Tomb Raider fan, I was twelve years old. A person that is twelve years old today, was born in 2004. That was a year after the release of Angel of Darkness. A lot of young Tomb Raider fans were not even born yet when I was online arguing with others if Crystal Dynamics was right to reboot the series or if the should continue the work of Core Design. Old 1990s Lara is largely irrelevant and abstract to this new generation. They were, for God’s sake, nine years old when the current reboot (2013) came out.
Blood Ties is a wonderful nostalgia trip, cleverly wrapped in a narrative that is also about reminiscing and reconciling with the past. It’s chock full of easter eggs, references and nods to the former games. But in a way it also seems to close a chapter. Like: this stuff is gone and over now. At the end, as we solve the last mystery of Croft Manor, the sundial in the great hall points us to the future. And not by coincidence, that future lies outside the manor.
Ever since Tomb Raider said farewell to its original series of games, there has been a massive fan demand for all the classic elements of the 1990s Lara Croft and her adventures. The first soft reboot of the series was 2003’s Angel of Darkness. With this game the series made a step up to a new generation of consoles and it left behind a few trademark features. There was no Croft Manor training level, no akimbo pistols, no tank top and khaki shorts. Instead of Indiana Jones-esque adventure the narrative took a darker turn into gothic European history and such themes as alchemy and Enochian magic.
After the Tomb Raider brand was handed over to another studios, a second reboot followed. Lara got a physical overhaul, a different back story and a more mild mannered character. The Legend trilogy didn’t do very well either and in 2013: after a massive layoffs and a purchase by Square Enix, a brand new Tomb Raider was released. This game made even a more radical departure from the originals and firmly established itself as new game series.
And all these years fans kept asking for the same. Where is the Manor? Can we lock Winston in the freezer? Why doesn’t she have a braid? Do we get twin pistols? Are we going back to Egypt? Crystal Dynamics has answered these questions in various ways through spin-off games and little nods and references in the main series. But with Blood Ties it feels like they wanted to put an end to the discussion. The whole segment seems to say: “Here, we meet you in the middle. Have Croft Manor, have Winston and have a few dozen references to the old games. But this is what you get and after this we’re done.” And I personally think that’s fair.
Curiously, the story reveals a lot about Lara’s youth and her parents and Lara’s mother appears to be very similar to her daughter. In fact: as the level unfolds and you find more documents regarding her life, it appears that as a hommage to the old games, the writers adopted a lot of 1990s Lara’s biography into that of her mother. Furthermore, their old butler Winston seemed to be around when Lara was a child and is not mentioned in the present. Lara Croft literally shifted a generation.
Brave New World
Lara Croft is a millennial. Born in the nineties and grown up with technology, luxury and the digital world at her fingertips. Lara was brought up by misguided baby boomers with disproportionate expectations and grew up alongside bitter and cynical Generation X adults calling the shots. Her privileged father couldn’t be bothered with anything but studying ancient legends and taking his girlfriend to far away countries. He left his daughter to clean up the mess and figure out her own goals and ambitions. Her generation is not the type to settle down and grow up. Millennials are often called “the Peter Pan” generation; never too old for cake and wine, blanket forts and binging Netflix. Exploring the world with a laptop under their arm, high hopes and beautiful dreams, a damaged past and an uncertain future. Lara Croft and Tomb Raider are about struggle and reconciliation, idealism and living in a brave new world.