Tomb Raider legend returns to its origin

Latest Lara Croft adventure tells an untold story from the past.

The original Tomb Raider consisted of running down twisting tunnels while gunning down the native wildlife. The new game takes a different approach by having scripted scenes and a focus on the narrative. These changes have made Tomb Raider into a more cinematic experience.

We spoke with Crystal Dynamics senior art director, Brian Horton, about how the new Tomb Raider fits into the franchise’s long history.

How is this Tomb Raider different to the previous ones?

Crystal Dynamics senior art director, Brian Horton (BH): The goal of this game is to create an action adventure Tomb Raider game, one that is reshuffled and refactored for the modern gamer. What’s different is that it is an action survival experience now, so while it fits in the action adventure genre we have coined this new phrase. It is more action centric and story driven with a complex narrative about Lara Croft when she was 21 years old and on her first adventure. It’s about her transformation from someone who is inexperienced and into a hero. That’s a big change for the Tomb Raider franchise where Lara Croft has always been fully formed. So with this game we get to show Lara’s first adventure.

What about gameplay?

BH: We have put more attention on the combat system. We have a “fluid cover system” where a player can easily move in and out of cover without hitting a button, with a third person camera perspective for the combat. Our combat has a combination of high action moments and pseudo stealth elements. There’s also a mechanic at the camp sites where Lara can upgrade her tools, weapons and abilities by collecting salvage or gaining XP. The game also features physics driven puzzles and an analogue navigation system. There are a ton of new features but packed in a way that makes it feel like a new game.

Why has Lara Croft been left out of the game title?

BH: The original Tomb Raider game was simply called Tomb Raider. It wasn’t a Lara Croft adventure and that’s what it really was. We want this game to be the first Tomb Raider game for a new generation. So we went with a simple title and tried to make a statement that this really is her first adventure. This was not going to be a story that ends and ties into the old games. These were going to be new stories from herein out.

Is it a reboot, a prequel or both?

BH: I see it as a reimaging of the franchise. It’s a reboot in the fact that it’s not a prequel to existing stories, so I feel reimaging is the best way to describe this game.

What are the challenges in working on a famous property?

BH: It’s a very revered franchise for a lot of people, where people love the character and the games. They also have strong memories of what it felt to play the first Tomb Raider game. The goal is to honour such people that have this connection to the franchise, but at the same time deliver something new and a game for someone who has no experience with Tomb Raider, so they can immediately get into it and have a fun time. So the challenge is essentially making sure we’re honouring the past while at the same time doing something new for the future.

Any inspiration from the Core developed Tomb Raider games?

BH: On a personal level, I played Tomb Raider since the very beginning on the original PlayStation. I wanted to get that same feeling I had when playing a Tomb Raider game for the first time. When we designed Lara and became different from that original vision, she still has all of the elements such as the top, the bottom, the boots and the ponytail. I wanted people to look at her and see it as a realistic take on the same character.

Why the original Tomb Raider in particular?

BH: The original game also had a very mature flavour to it, even though it was a teen rated game at the time. It was very graphic with depictions of death, so it was a very realistic take in an era of video games that were more light hearted. After all, it was an era where Mario was king. That gritty take that the original developers brought to the industry is something we wanted to do but on the next level. We wanted to make a grounded and gritty game that would stand out from the other competitive titles that we have seen in the third person action adventure genre.

Any consideration to include the braid in this game?

BH: Core have stated that they wanted a ponytail in the original game but they did not have the technology at the time to pull it off. We weren’t going to go back to the braid, and it was a conscious decision we made early. We decided to instead stick with the loose ponytail. There was talk at one point of Lara not having long hair and a ponytail, but we quickly realised it’s an iconic part of her personality. Even though the first Tomb Raider didn’t have it, it’s still something we think of when we hear of Lara Croft.

What is your favourit Tomb Raider game?

BH: It would be the very first one, as it was the first time I was introduced to the franchise. Tomb Raider II was also fantastic, but the first Tomb Raider was the game that opened my eyes up to what three dimensional gaming can be. That and Mario 64 were games that changed my whole perception of what video games can be as a medium.

Any chance of new Gex game?

BH: We don’t have any plans for Gex games in the future, but Gex is one of those mascots that Crystal Dynamics was known for back in the day. I have good friends that I work with that brought Gex to life. The current creative director of Tomb Raider was also a part of that. I’m actually a huge Soul Reaver fan and love the series, and I’d like to see more of it. But at the moment Tomb Raider is our main focus and we believe this vision of the franchise is the right time to reimagine it, and it will hopefully set the stage for more games for us in the future.

Want to read other video game interviews with key figures from Sony, Microsoft and more? Then check out Good Gear Guide's complete interview archive.

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Patrick Budmar

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