We've had our three games in the new origin trilogy. It's done. It's over. Time to move on. It isn't too late to fix Lara Croft, and return the character to where she belongs; as the foremost icon of the modern games industry.
Because, you see, Lara is important. Not only is the character a British creation, but she's female, and there aren't enough female games protagonists with the sort of profile Lara once had.
It's time to put my money where my mouth is. This is how I would fix Tomb Raider.
Yeah, there's probably some deep backstory reason for why she's addicted to the adrenaline rush, but we don't need to get all heavy about that. It is what it is.
Just show her being a reckless adventurer, with an effortless cool. Modern Lara is not cool. She's a boring psychopath (the worst sort of psychopath) who in one breath is droning on about respecting the past, and in the next she's kicking over vases and stealing whatever is inside.
Once you've established Lara as a selfish thrill-seeker, THEN you can throw an obstacle in her path which threatens that.
You've probably seen Aliens; that was the role served by the character of Newt (given greater emotional context in the Special Edition where we learn that Ripley was mourning her lost daughter). Aliens did it sparingly however, so it never got annoying. There were no great monologues where Ripley spilled her guts about all her inner turmoil; saving Newt became a much more instinctive thing, but the audience understood it. It was primal and true.
Give Lara an arc where she has to learn to be less selfish, to live for somebody else. Show her struggling with who she thinks she is, and who she really is. Give her somebody who allows her gradually to become more vulnerable and warm.
Yes, we've got Jonah, and he's probably the best thing about the new Tomb Raiders, but he's still kept at arm's length, not really doing much other than fulfilling the roles of Johnny Exposition and somebody for Lara to monologue at.
If this person were captured, or under threat somehow, it makes the stakes all the more personal for Lara. It humanises her to show that she cares - especially if she struggles to show that she cares. Then, in turn, we'll care more about her. She could spend much of the game trying to push them away, but through it we see that - despite herself - she's a good person.
Want a brilliant example of how this can be done in a way that's warm, funny, and real? Watch Taika Waititi's Hunt For The Wilderpeople.
She could give Lara a slightly scatty element, somebody who gets by on luck as much as skill - Indiana Jones style. Or think about Die Hard; John McClane was a regular cop who found himself out of his depth, but kept going - however tough things got - because it was the right thing to do. What carried him through was his humanity, and a sense of moral obligation.
So many great action movies keep their tongues firmly in their cheeks, and it doesn't have to water-down the sense of epic ness.
Seeing Lara nearly failing, and brushing off the failures with a gag, makes her more relatable, rather than the semi-invincible, tedious Terminator (the worst sort of Terminator) she's become.
Even when Indiana Jones was trying to stop Nazis the action never ceased being a roller-coaster. The action set-pieces had real wit and invention to them.
By making Lara more human and relatable in these moments, we get to see her in over her head, saving the world because she's found herself in a situation that she's mostly ill-equipped to deal with.
Death is never fun, but we don't need our attention drawn to the grim reality of what Lara does. If you make the deaths so wince-inducingly realistic, it cheapens them when, five minutes later, Lara is cheerily shooting the breeze with the locals.
Plus - frankly - a lot of Lara's enemies in the original games were mutants, or monsters, or dinosaurs (and, yes, animals admittedly), rather than soft-bodied goons.
Some of the grief I got for my original article mocked me for comparing Tomb Raider to Uncharted. "Oh, so a massive bodycount is fine so long as you quip about it" scoffed several big idiots.
Well, sort of... yeah. It's a video game, and the reason why the killing in - say - the old black and white arcade game Boot Hill was more palatable was because you didn't have a photorealistic close-up of your opponent's bulging eyes and death rattle. It's fine. It's a video game. We don't need to be reminded that death isn't fun, because then it becomes a form of murder porn.
Again, stop feeling bad about Lara's actions... We never stopped to question the number of bad people killed by the good guys in, say, Star Wars. But if you are going to get all conflicted about it, then I dunno... put a bit less of it in.
The original Tomb Raider series really mixed up its locations - Venice, Atlantis, London, an oil rig, Area 51, The Great Wall of China, Egypt, New Mexico - so that Lara really felt like a globe-hopping adventurer. This kept it feeling fresh. The current games dump her somewhere, and more or less leave her there for the duration. And the locations - lush and beautiful as they are - just look like locations in any number of modern games.
Also, given the accusations of white colonialism that have arisen since the release of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, it might be worth seeing her defiling something other than ancient civilisations.
By comparison, Lara's actions will seem all the more heroic when she does the right thing.
The new games strive so hard to be grounded that we've lost one of the reasons why Lara became huge in the first place. All those earth tones, the dull cargo pants... changing outfits from one scene to the next... Nothing about how Lara dresses or looks is particularly unique or specific to her.
It doesn't have to mean a return to that original outfit. You can do a lot with colours. Even giving her a teal-y/green-y vest would be a step in the right direction. And bring back the double holsters. And for that matter, why does everything have to be photo-realistic? A huge element of Lara's iconic status was that she was - admittedly due to the limitations of the technology - slightly more cartoony. It could be worth exploring.
Or at the very least... let's not have her face look different from one cut-scene to the next, like she does in Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
You can tell a great, iconic, character by their silhouette alone. Darth Vader. Indiana Jones. Bart Simpson. Mario. Sonic. A backlit modern Lara is wholly unremarkable.
Thing is, how much story do we actually need? In Shadow of the Tomb Raider there are way, way, waaaaay too many static cut-scenes (though it might be that it feels that way because they're so boring). It's a game with pretensions of being a film, without understanding the nature and structure of cinematic storytelling.
It'd help hugely to get some of that story happening during the gameplay instead of having to stop repeatedly to dump a bunch of information onto our laps. In movies, story and character doesn't stop when the action starts. A great action sequence should be filled with emotion and stakes; look at the climactic battle in The Empire Strikes Back.
Why does that work when the fight with Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace is just hollow acrobatics? Because Luke is fighting to save his friends, avenge the death of his mentor and father figure, and prove himself as a warrior (and that's before you get the reveal that Darth Vader is his father). Luke is horribly outmatched, whereas in The Phantom Menace the bad guy is ganged up on by two highly skilled Jedi. He gets lucky and kills one of them, but then he's cut in half and kicked down a drain.
Cut-scenes have become one of biggest things wrong with modern gaming, a way for game producers to live out their film-making fantasies, rather than something most players want. There has to be a better balance between interactivity and passive storytelling.