Games Go Horror: Tomb Raider
Warning: The following contains spoilers for the 2013 video game reboot, Tomb Raider. You have been warned.
Today the new trailer for the Tomb Raider reboot film dropped and has me slightly optimistic about the movie’s chances of being any good. In honor of that, I decided to revisit an idea for a series that I had, but I never really perfected, a series known as Games Go Horror. The original idea, essentially, was to take a nonhorror game and pitch a horror version of it. I think from here on out, it will be more about identifying horror attributes in games widely regarded as nonhorror and how with a little tweak they could be the next big horror game.
Lara Croft is one of the best female protagonists across media, I truly believe that. It’s very rare that a franchise gets to mature with its fan base and when such a series comes along, its something very special. Back in the 90’s, Lara started as an adrenaline junkie and spoiled rich girl best known for her top-heavy attributes, booty shorts, and her expertise in vanquishing unlikely foes such as dinosaurs, statues, mutants, gods, and Titans with her dual pistols.
With her latest 2013 reboot, we got to see a completely different side of her. Instead of a block-bodied sex symbol and self-assured action hero, we got a story about an earnest and inexperienced archeologist who was soon to be tested by the gritty reality of a world without hope. We witness heroism thrust upon her by circumstance and her will to survive carries her through the most impossible situations. At first, she is reliant on the constant reassurances of her fellow survivors, but that reliance slowly morphs into a confidence born of need. The theme of her story is survival and that sort of thing gels very easily with the horror genre.
In fact, very early in the game’s development cycle, the team at Crystal Dynamics visited the idea of genre-bending the franchise. The game at that point was called Tomb Raider: Ascension and it was heavily inspired by the horror survival genre. The game would have pitted Lara against more supernaturally endowed foes than the 2013 reboot. Concept art for this very early rendition of the game can still be found online or unlocked in the Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition.
Some of those horror qualities still managed to worm their way into the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot. While the game is more of a grounded take on an often fantastical franchise, elements of the paranormal were still evident in the game. The climax of the game sees Lara battling Japanese demons called Oni and the spirits of a long-lost empire. There are also extremely graphic death scenes when Lara fails to make a jump or quick time event. One of the most memorable for me was Lara being impaled through the bottom of her jaw as she failed to navigate a waterway she’d fallen into. Also, much of the set design and set dressings would have been right at home in a horror movie (dead bodies, skeletons, halls of rotting corpses). There was a scene where Lara falls into a pond of blood littered with human remains on either side and emerges looking like a crazed woman, a scene straight out of The Descent(a criminally underrated movie). Lara has even squared off with Baba Yaga and zombies in some of her DLC.
I for one wouldn’t mind seeing a Tomb Raider game explore the horror survival genre as an offshoot or somewhere down the line in the future. Till then, I hope the homies at Crystal Dynamics remain horror fans and continue filling their Tomb Raider games with little nuggets of horror gold. If you’d like to read more about the horror game that was not meant to be(Tomb Raider: Ascension), trustedreviews.com did a really awesome piece that you can check out here.