Tomb Raider and The Lowest Form of Conversation

According to mob boss Tony Soprano, from the memorable AMC series “The Sopranos”, reminiscing is the lowest form of conversation. He says it in a scene where a couple of middle aged men are bringing up stories over dinner and start every sentence with “Remember when..”

It’s a bitter sentiment from a character written to struggle with mental health, but there’s a lot of merit to his feelings on the subject. Reminiscing is comforting and safe, and something to fall back on with old friends and family. At the same time it can be a way to avoid talking about the present, mask a lack of conversation material, and social awkwardness towards people from whom you might have grown apart or didn’t make any new memories with for a long while.

Sometimes I wonder if this is the case with the Tomb Raider games and their fanbase. Just this week I witnessed another flurry of angry sentiments on social media, regarding the last batch of DLC for Shadow of the Tomb Raider. A new outfit, a nod to one from the first TR game from 1996, didn’t turn out the way some folks wanted. Moreover, allegedly a level inside Lara’s residence “Croft Manor” was scrapped. Earlier in the “DLC season” there was outrage because an alternative skin that made Lara appear as in the old school Core Design games, didn’t come with any in-game effects like the regular outfits (like improved stats or bonusses). I’m picking a single example, but there have been more. An ongoing demand from fans to reference, pay homage or honor the old 1990s Tomb Raider games.

You could say that this is just cute and part of being a fan and having fond memories of the series that you fell in love with. At other times, especially when there’s a lot of online discourse, I wonder if the fandom is being stuck in the past too much. Or, maybe it’s the game that’s at fault, not delivering the new content that satisfies people, and therefore only being able to please fans by harking back to the old days.

Back to the comparison I drew with reminiscing. When you are in company of old friends, and you feel that bringing up memories is the only thing you got left to talk about, it might be time to make some hard decisions. Like Tony, who in the aforementioned scene, leaves the table. Is it time to consider the friendship over? Or maybe it’s time to pick yourselves up and find new things to do and rekindle your friendship in new ways.

The thing is, the people currently in charge of the franchise couldn’t really choose and are sort of stuck in the middle. The 2013 reboot “Tomb Raider” tried to make a hard departure from the older games. No more manor, no rich, privileged Lara, no witty jokes and dual pistols. A more grounded, gritty and mature tone and experience. Which was a bold choice, and Crystal Dynamics knew it would not please everyone, but also bring in new folks who would be into it. Which is, in my opinion, a fair choice to make. You get to make something creative, you know you can’t please everyone, so you make a well-considered decision. In Crystal’s case, it was: “We’re making this our thing and we are going to leave some things behind.”

They didn’t have to do it that way, they could’ve stuck to the old formula: Croft Manor, butler Winston rattling teacups, braid and twin pistols. But the thing is, with the second and third game (important note: the third reboot game was developed by Eidos Montreal under direction of Crystal Dynamics) they sort of started to cater to that demand, but kind of half-assed. Like, they weren’t going to change the entire tone and direction of the reboot, but they wanted to please nostalgic fans somewhat. Somewhat. A few outfits, a few nods to characters and events from old games, a small bonus level for the 20th anniversary, but all of it sort of shoehorned into the reboot universe.

And in that way, Tomb Raider became that friend that didn’t want stop being friends but also didn’t quite want to move on to new things. And now it kind of lingers, bringing up old stories from the old days. “Hey, remember when..?” Yeah, we do remember. But please, either let’s go do these things again, or find other stuff to do. We’re not going anywhere.

I don’t know where Tomb Raider is going in the future, who is going to oversee it and what their plans are. But please, make harsh decisions. Maybe you’ll piss off some people, maybe don’t do what everyone wanted. But make a choice and go for it.

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