Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Wishlist for hypothetical Tomb Raider: Director's Cut

(Or.. possible fixes for Tomb Raider)

One of my favourite games ever, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, is being re-released in a new Director's Cut version. There's a massive amount of improvements they've made to the game, from the overhauled lighting engine to entirely redesigning all of the tiresome boss fights into something true to the Deus Ex name. It comes bundled with tonnes of nice extras like a sumptious art book, 8 hours of developer commentary and all the DLC seamlessly integrated into the main game. I'm really looking forward to getting the Director's Cut (once the timed exclusivity deal with the WiiU is over, grr..) and it got me hoping that Tomb Raider might receive a similar revisiting.

I really enjoyed my time with Lara's latest adventure, it's her best outing since the 90s and has positioned the series as a real contender that could displace Uncharted from the top spot of cinematic treasure hunting if it keeps up the same level of polish. But despite that, the game mechanics never quite gel with the story of an inexperienced girl transforming into a warrior. They made great strides towards that goal, but it didn't come off perfectly. Likewise, they stumbled in quite a forehead-slapping way by making a Tomb Raider game that isn't about tomb raiding and what little there is (while very good) is limited and unrelated to the plot.

A director's cut of the game could go back and rework some of the mechanics to make Lara's transition to badass more gradual and keep her feeling like a human being all the way through instead of becoming almost a superhero at the end. This video neatly addresses most of the problems the gameplay and narrative encounter largely due to not playing nice with one another...
http://youtu.be/sqm3_v9aZQY (lotso spoilers!)

They could expand the optional tombs and give us story-related reasons for venturing inside them through dialogue. Show us more of those handycam memories of the crew before the accident. We barely got to know them. Come to think of it, wasn't there going to be a level set on the Endurance before and during the crash?

That would be the ultimate big-ticket item (apart from mo' tombs). Let us find out just who these people are at the start and get us to empathize with them before throwing us into an epic tutorial section as Lara has to try and escape the ship. Picture Uncharted 3's cruise liner level but with people panicking all over the place and a lot more explosions. The climax of this added level would be actually playing what happens at the end of the trailer. But I'd make one crucial change- have Lara save herself instead of being rescued by "Unknown Male". Make it a quicktime event. The water's rising, electricity is zapping, time's running out! Tap X to not die! Having Lara escape drowning on her own there would establish her strength of will. She's not an action hero yet, this would be a tense and painful escape, but it'd show she's got the spirit to go on and do more to show she has what it takes than shooting a deer. They could have it be un-failable to drive home the notion she's a survivor, but that'd detract from the game's love of killing Lara in horrific ways.

After we dive off into the crashing waves, we'd wake up in the scavenger's den, improving the pacing and upping the stakes (since technically the player wouldn't know if anyone else has survived and they could be left for dead.) We don't need the bit on the beach since those characters have already been established in the added prologue level, and removing the clonk on the head when Lara's ten feet away from the group makes the scavenger's den setup more believable and shocking than the almost comical lead-in the game has now.

The other big improvement they could make would be adding additional game modes. The hunting has almost no purpose at the moment. If they included a "Survival Difficulty" where you actually had to hunt for food every once in a while to survive would have it make sense again. Additional concessions to realism could be made by having Lara not regenerate her health, needing to pick up first aid kits to heal her wounds, with appropriate pain sounds. They could play with the regenerating health in other ways too. (I think Campster might have mentioned this..) It'd be cool to have Lara go from needing to scavenge health packs and food at the start of the game to slowly getting health regeneration as she becomes more skilled.

These changes are probably more advanced than what Deus Ex has done, but I'm hopeful that if the Director's Cut does well, it'll give Square Enix confidence enough to consider doing this sort of thing with other titles, possibly on a larger scale. Since the team at Crystal Dynamics have revisited the past before with Tomb Raider: Anniversary (admittedly ten years later, but still..) and have said they're focusing DLC efforts into the multiplayer, it's not entirely unreasonable to hope they'd put together some nice additional single-player content for an ultimate edition package down the line. It's just what would that entail...?

Ridiculously optimistic wishlist in bulletpoint form:

  • Survivor Mode
  • Endurance level prologue (before + during crash)
  • More and expanded "challenge tombs"
  • More ambient dialogue, backstory
  • New Game+ (why every game doesn't have this is beyond me)
  • Options galore:
Toggle effects (annoying water and blood blobs)
Regen health on/off
Eagle vision on/off
QTE markers on/off 
   (for realism, get rid of colourful popups)
XP markers on/off 
    (having +10xp pop up after Lara's first kills breaks the mood somewhat)
More save slots (only three?!)

  • Developer commentary (lots of it)
  • Unlockable customisation (outfits, cheats etc.)
  • Cool extras like behind the scenes videos
  • Improved TressFX (seriously, that tech looks weird.)
  • All "preorder bonuses" unlocked
A director's cut of Tomb Raider 2013 with that sorta stuff included? I'd definitely be up for paying £20+ for it. So long as I don't have to buy a WiiU too of course.. :P

Anyways, keep up the good work, Crystal.
Hope that Rhianna Pratchett has some real sway over the next game. We need more good stories and this was the start of a great one.

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