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Rise of the Tomb Raider, Fall of the Enthusiasm

November 10, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

Reviews are coming in for Rise of the Tomb Raider, which releases today, and there’s a lot of positive response. It’s great to see a game in my favourite series getting high praise, and from what I’ve seen, the game is an excellent piece of work. There seem to be a focus on exotic locations, puzzles and exploration, and it seems Crystal Dynamics have hit a groove with the Tomb Raider series.

And yet, despite all this, I cannot get excited for Rise of the Tomb Raider. I know I’ve mentioned this a few times, but I feel this is an appropriate time to clarify my feelings on the matter once and for all.

Tomb Raider is my favourite series. Before playing the original game on the PS1, my gaming tastes mostly revolved around 2D platformers, usually based on cartoons I watched. I talk more in-depth about my experiences with TR and how it shaped my love of gaming in my 1996 Chronological Challenge reviews, so check that out to see how influence on how the game and the series had a huge influence on my gaming tastes.

I’ve stuck with the series through the years. I endured The Angel of Darkness’ broken controls. I found praise for Legend and Underworld despite them obviously lacking much of a wow factor. I defended the reboot from hardcore fans who hated the idea of a younger, less confident Lara Croft. Even at its worst, I’ve always been unable to truly hate the series, and I’ve wanted to support it in every way possible.

When Rise of the Tomb Raider was first shown off at E3 2014, this general love and excitement showed. I was so happy to see a new TR announcement, and I was bouncing off the walls. I was ready for a new Tomb Raider. I am always ready for a new Tomb Raider.

Then a few months later at Gamescom, the game was then revealed to be an Xbox One exclusive, and I was furious. I didn’t want to buy an Xbox, especially after the many launch fiascos, and the decision seemed to be entirely based on money rather than anything logical.

I’ve already discussed this in the past, but I continue to believe the exclusivity deal is a bad idea; not just for the fanbase, but also in business terms. It seems ludicrous to shut the game off from the markets it’s historically sold better in, compounded with the fact that the Xbox currently has the smallest install base of the systems. With Fallout 4’s release date ending up on the same day, the deal seems even less likely to pay off for anyone involved. The whole thing makes even less sense when you remember that Square Enix cited disappointing sales for the previous title, so it’s hard to see how any of this works to combat that.

But the exclusivity wasn’t the worst of it, it was the attitude surrounding the exclusivity that bothered me. Crystal Dynamics knew about the criticism directed at them for gating off a whole game from its historically largest markets, and chose to either ignore it, or address it with some of the worst PR non-statements in history – they once offered up the Don Mattrick Defence, that if PS4/PC players are unhappy with the decision, they could just buy another copy of TR 2013’s Definitive Edition to make up for it.

There was also the constant back-and-forth on calling it entirely exclusive or a timed exclusive. Everyone expected timed exclusivity, but the amount of time it took for them to admit this was absurd. Crystal Dynamics responded like David Cameron at PMQs, preferring to state how great the game was instead of a statement that would at least acknowledge the possibility of timed exclusivity.

“We will examine the possibility of releasing on other systems in future but we can’t say any more than that at this time” – there you go, I can do your PR better than you. I get that Microsoft probably locked them into keeping quiet, but this statement would have been a damn sight better than anything they actually said.

Even when Microsoft started owning up that the exclusivity was timed, Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics still refused to say anything, so at that point it became less “tied to a Microsoft-mandated NDA” and more “Crystal Dynamics simply think we’re idiots”.

I refuse to support a developer that treats long-time fans like idiots.

So I was angry, and the eventual confirmation of timed exclusivity didn’t help, as the PS4 release was a full year after the Xbox release, and was vague as hell at best. But at least it was nice to have confirmation of other releases, even if the delay on them was a little excessive

At this point, I began to relax a little, but I was still wary. My excitement was gone, and replaced with tempered curiosity. The first Tomb Raider game in history that made me feel mildly curious instead of hyped as hell. The damage was done. Bad business backed by bad PR had killed my enthusiasm. Not just a few months of enthusiasm for the game, but almost 20 years of enthusiasm for the entire series. Not even Angel of Darkness managed that, and that game was a trainwreck.

The game was starting to shape up as something good, however. I began to genuinely consider sucking it up and waiting a year for the PS4 version. I wasn’t thrilled, but I was willing to let all this be water under the bridge if the game turned out to be good.

And then Square Enix confirmed the presence of microtransactions in the game. A single-player that you pay £50 on entry for, and it expects you to continue spending money on it. That was it. I was done. Rise of the Tomb Raider is now firmly in the “avoid” category for me.

None of the companies involved in this game have any justification for demanding yet more money from the player in a game they’ve already paid a wedge of money for. If Squeenix or Crystal Dynamics are concerned they won’t make enough money on sales alone, perhaps they shouldn’t have agreed to a deal that would lock out two major markets for the title. If it’s Microsoft wanting to claw their investment back, then perhaps they should stop wasting money lowering cars from the ceiling at E3. You all know my thoughts on microtransactions anyway, but Christ, this one’s the worst.

With the positive reaction from journalists, I’m hearing a lot about the game these past few days, and I just feel sad. Any joy or enthusiasm I could have possibly had for the title has gone, replaced with weary cynicism that wants to see the game turn out to be a failure as karma for the exclusivity politics and microtransactions, but I also want the game to succeed because it does look decent enough.

Ordinarily, a game using as many terrible AAA tactics as this one would make me just dismiss it entirely – I skipped the last few Assassin’s Creed games without a second thought – but this is my favourite series of all time. This game has made my relationship with Lara very complicated. I want to support the game due to my love of the series but I simply can’t because I am unwilling to give money to companies with as much disdain for their customers as Squeenix and CD have shown.

Put simply, if the original Tomb Raider represents everything that made me love gaming in the first place, then Rise of the Tomb Raider represents everything that makes me hate gaming right now. And I hope it never happens again.

  1. November 10, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    I have to agree with everything you say here, such a shame they went down this route, having played Tomb Raider since its PS1 days to now, I feel they’ve ripped away one of my beloved games away from me, I played all the games, PS1 to PS2, then I decided to get a Xbox and now a gaming PC (Warcraft nerd). I can’t afford a new console (student), I currently play Tomb Raider on my pc, it just feels like a group of greedy people got together and said ah F%^K the fanbase, get them to spend €350 on a console that I have no use for, fair enough PC users won’t have to wait that long, but for all those guys with a PS4 I do feel sorry for you, I was excited when I heard about the new game, I could not wait to get home and look at the trailer, and then I saw Microsoft say those words, “exclusive”, my heart sank, I feel that they’ve taken away one of my all time favourites characters, taken away my choice with no consideration or explanation. I really hope they learn from this, but as we can see already with the microtransactions, they are just looking for more ways to squeeze and drain our pockets because they know all of the fans will give in, its disgusting and I hate them for it, but do I hate them for continuing the series, no, because we get to see more games of the iconic heroine we fell in love with all those years ago, eventually I will give in, because I want to play it and be a part of her next story and see how she becomes the Tomb Raider we know of. Eugh F%£K them. /rant over.

    • November 11, 2015 at 1:10 pm

      I know why they did it (“disappointing” sales of the previous game, Microsoft were willing to help with dev costs) but it was still a bad business decision – it locks out big chunks of the market, shows a lack of understanding of what systems the games typically sell on, and it creates bad PR. I cannot imagine the amount of money Microsoft offered was nearly enough to cover the loss of trust within the fanbase, or indeed the sales lost by restricting it to the smallest market while releasing it simultaneously with one of the biggest games of the year (I’m not into Fallout, but it’s clear that it’s getting a much bigger reaction than TR, and always would).

      That said, I don’t like to get too into hyperbole with this and claim that I feel betrayed or had the franchise stolen from me, because I can still play and enjoy the older titles. I just find it tiresome that the AAA games industry continues to be shitty in every possible way.

  2. November 10, 2015 at 7:08 pm

    One thing that instantly disappointed me from the few articles I read was the phrase “optional tombs.” I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that a game called TOMB Raider, has them as something optional, on the side. I do hope there are ruins and such to explore for most of the game, with intricate puzzles and such and not a bunch of villages and camps filled with enemies and dangerous wildlife.

    I will reserve my final judgement for when I actually play the game on PC if and when it ever releases.

    And yes, the exclusivity is nonsense, even more considering we’re close to the 20th anniversary of the series. I can bet you they’ll play the release on PC and PS4 as some special Anniversary event.

    Awesome piece 🙂

    • November 11, 2015 at 1:14 pm

      Yeah, the optional tombs thing has always come across as weird to me, but it does look like the new one is more tomb-focused in general, so I interpreted it as smaller tombs off from the main big ones rather than them being exclusively a side thing.

      The PC version will be out in spring, apparently, so in about 6 months’ time. And if they play the PS4 release in a year as a special anniversary event, they can get stuffed. Unless they’re doing something really special with the PS4 version to make it a proper “Anniversary edition” (ie. significant exclusive content that recalls the best of the series), then that’d be even more terrible PR for them on top of the dungpile that already exists.

      • November 11, 2015 at 2:06 pm

        They need to remake TR2-4 in the Deus Ex: Mankind Divided engine (would be funny considering Human Revolution used a modified version of TR Underworld’s engine). That would be an amazing Anniversary bonus. Bring them back to modern PCS…and consoles.

        But it won’t happen because Crystal Dynamics seems to want to distance itself from the classic series, unless it’s to milk Classic Lara with spinoffs 😛

  3. November 11, 2015 at 1:45 am

    Wow, its sad to hear your disappointment with a beloved series but I agree with where you are coming from. The direction they went with the game’s release (not talking about gameplay) was not handled well. I hope Square Enix gets their act together with the upcoming FF and KH releases because I expect them to mess stuff up nowadays.

    • November 11, 2015 at 1:23 pm

      Timed exclusivity I can deal with. Lara Croft & The Guardian of Light was a 2-month timed exclusive for the X360, so I just waited. The difference is how everything was handled. If they’d been up front about everything, like they were with GoL, I’d have been more accepting, but the whole thing was a marketing disaster that considered series fans secondary to the needs of Microsoft/Squeenix executives.

      Squeenix are already doing obfuscating announcements for FF and KH. They announced that FF7 was coming to PS4…as a straight port. Then a year later they went “LOL actually a remake’s being made after all!”. Then they confirmed that both the remake and the port were coming to PS4…and no one could understand why. And with KH, they built up a KH3 announcement…then showed a mobile spin-off game. Admittedly, they did then show off KH3, but the mobile game was done just to wind people up. So Squeenix are turning this stuff into an artform, it seems!

      • November 12, 2015 at 6:21 pm

        And you’re forgetting the KH 2.8 thing, a remaster release to placate people on the continuing delays on KH3.

        Also, there are more videos of the FF guys cruising than there are of actual gameplay. And of KH they’ve pretty much showed only ONE video over and over.

        Square-Enix the masters of obfuscation and misdirection…but clumsy as hell with following through to the end.

  4. DrHenry Indiana Jones
    November 11, 2015 at 3:42 am

    I wish they release it soon on Pc and Ps4. It is an incredible game. And it would be terrible and unfair for the game and developers if they lose fans because of some company’s mean decisions. And also, the reboot was really really good.

    • November 11, 2015 at 1:24 pm

      PC version’s coming in about 6 months, PS4 version in a year. Which does little to mitigate the problems with this exclusive.

  1. December 24, 2015 at 12:09 pm

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