Tomb Charters

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Does Tomb Raider feel like Uncharted? Or are we all feeling the wrong thing? This column investigates the startlingly common criticism that isn’t really critical.

I’ve been on a bit of a Tomb Raider kick lately. I’m loving the new interpretation and how Square Enix has managed to keep everything we know about Lara in the game whilst giving her an entirely different narrative string. One criticism of the game has been popping up more often than not, though, and I feel it needs to be addressed.

Tomb Raider feels a lot like Uncharted.

There’s not much I can argue with there in the way of facts. Tomb Raider definitely has the feeling of an Uncharted game. It has the usual running, jumping, shooting, platforming, quick-time eventing, ancient civilisation, unforeseen mystical circumstances malarkey that makes up a… Tomb Raider game – or an Uncharted game.

This makes up the chicken/egg scenario that is the “feels like Uncharted” criticism. I remember a while ago when the first Uncharted came out, not specifically, so don’t quote me, reading an article that said Uncharted felt a lot like Tomb Raider but with a male protagonist. I also remember even longer ago reading one of my dad’s old PC Gamer magazines that had an article saying that the original 1996 Tomb Raider felt like playing through an Indiana Jones movie but with a female protagonist. So the question is does Uncharted feel like Tomb Raider, does Tomb Raider feel like Uncharted, or do they both feel like Indiana Jones?

The answer lies in our culture. A lot of creation relies on an amalgamation of things that inspire the creator. My writing style, for example, has been inspired by the writers, journalists and commentators that I grew up reading, listening to and watching. I took that inspiration and, with a bit of my personality thrown into the mixture, used it to craft the way I write. It’s a form of intertextuality that, if someone reads my writing and notices a similarity, can either help or hinder my readership.

The same goes for games; what is Medal of Honor? Is it a Call of Duty clone, or the original back to claim residence? Are they both owing to the war film genre? Your answer to this question and your feelings about it can mean the difference between a sale or an extra £50 come release day.

The most recent exampled quoting of a game baring close similarities in a chicken/egg scenario happens to be the recent Thief game slated for release in 2014. Phil Savage, of PC Gamer, when showed screenshots of the upcoming game went on record to say “it all looks a bit Dishonored, which is apt, given that Dishonored looked a bit Thief.” This is a perfect example. Both games work on their own with their unique focus as the main feature of the game, Dishonored being assassination and Thief being thievery, but it’s extremely difficult to not recognise even the slightest similarity between the two.

Now, obviously, this is a risky knife edge to walk. Beyond the point of losing a sale if accused of plagiarism. I’m sure we all remember the debacle that was The War Z with its blatant money grubbing off the back of the ever popular Day Z. There’s also the tiresome homogenisation of every game into an action shooter and the lack of any substantial new IP when sequels are proven to sell like hot cakes wrapped in bondage gear with a copy of 50 Shades of Grey taped to the side. So what can be done when “original” happens to be a tired, defunct concept? What can be done when nothing is “original” anymore?

I think one of the more interesting solutions happens to be the exploration of interactivity in games. No, I don’t mean interacting with other people via a share button, thank you PS4. I mean interacting with a world beyond our own. Video gaming, as a whole, is only the second ever interactive form of escapism that can fully immerse a person in a different dimension. It’s a lot more realistic than the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books.

Gaming can exist in a place where a person can experience the horror of PTSD or being lost and alone in the terrifying unknown. It can let a person experience the drama of losing a child due to ones own mistakes or a family to an unjust political system. The dizzying highs of victory and heroism and the crushing lows of loss, betrayal and cowardice are commonplace to the player and they impact a lot harder for their hand in the dealing. Sure, we can recognise the trials and tribulations of characters in books, movies and TV. Yet, we can never experience them in the same way we can with games.

Gameplay wise, Tomb Raider is a lot like Uncharted – or gameplay wise, Uncharted is a lot like Tomb Raider. Now they both have a different focus, like Dishonored and Thief, they both have a different experience. I’ll look to Uncharted now, whenever I want to feel like the badass adventurer that I know I am not, and I’ll look to Tomb Raider whenever I want to feel the impending loss of innocence when that desire for survival becomes faced with unimaginable threat. They may play similarly, but they don’t feel the same.