I mean, aside from getting a bit of grief from TR fans over my "tired schtick", I also get tweeted at by no less a luminary than Rhianna Pratchett - the writer of the first two Tomb Raider reboot games - having mentioned her and Jill Murray (lead writer of Shadow of the Tomb Raider) in the piece.
Here's what she had to say to me: "Paul - You know how games are made. How many people are involved. The tumultuous nature of AAA development. The relatively low power that writers wield. The story by committee that often happens. You know all this.... Yet throughout the TR games, you seem to aim blame squarely at the writer(s). Myself in the past, and now Jill. Regardless of how you feel about the tone of the games/Lara that is an unfair and inaccurate call out."
Over the weekend, Rhianna doubled down, sharing this tweet by Jill Murray: "Y'all. A game's Lead Writer is not its only writer or the person most in charge of story. We have narrative directors, cinematics directors, creative directors, brand, editorial... I'm flattered ppl know who I am but only tagging or crediting or criticizing me is hecka strange."
It might feel hecka strange to Jill, but she did numerous interviews to promote the game, and her name was all over the marketing, so... well... y'know.
I've met Rhianna Pratchett (and she's very nice). She was perfectly civil with me during our Twitter chat, but there's no getting away from the fact that quite a lot of the publicity around Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider converged on her involvement.
She, like Jill Murray, took (or was given) the credit - much of it good when it came to the 2013 game - for the reborn Lara Croft. Indeed, I appreciated what they did with the proto-Lara in the first reboot, and I've nothing against either Rhianna or Jill. In fact, Jill was lead writer on one of my favourite games of all time, Assassin's Creed Black Flag.
Nevertheless, on Rhianna's website there's a whole page dedicated to her involvement with the games, and - as it points out - she was "an active figure in the game's marketing campaign", and "was interviewed by many notable news and entertainment outlets, including: CNN, The LA Times, Entertainment Weekly, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, Metro, The Independent, Penny Arcade, Digital Trends, Rock, Paper Shotgun, The Huffington Post, Wired, The Escapist, Polygon, IGN and Eurogamer"...
With these new Tomb Raider games, a lot of the marketing focuses on the story and character, almost as if they're inviting us - the self-appointed critics - to, y'know, focus on it. And, by association, whomever they're naming as the writer. Similarly, if you don't want us to call out Lara's continued desecration of ancient civilisations, don't keep making a big deal, narrative director Jason Dozois, that these games are "about learning that archaeology is also culture, and history, and language".
Plus, lest we forget, I'm in the slightly unique position of being a games critic who actually writes scripts for a living, so storytelling in games is something I do tend to concentrate on. When I'm presented with a game, such as the three recent Tomb Raiders, where I'm told how important the story and character are, it tends to be catnip for me.
And all of that is why I mentioned Rhianna and Jill by name.
Unfortunately, I know all too well that you can't have it both ways, which is why when Pudsey The Dog The Movie came out I made sure to keep my head down. Though that didn't stop me getting blamed in reviews as one of the architects of the movie's failings. Which, of course - for better or worse - I have to accept that I was.
Still, I initially felt pretty rotten that I'd upset Rhianna and - potentially - Jill. I don't want to pump negativity into the world, least of all direct it at any individual.
And what's more, Rhianna is right; in my job, even though I'm usually credited as sole writer, the end result is equally the work of numerous producers, executive producers, and script editors. That's just how it goes. It's part of the reason why, when I have been nominated for or won writing awards, it feels so meaningless to me. Most writing - especially on a property as big as Tomb Raider - is a collaborative effort, and Rhianna is absolutely correct that I know this.
And yeah, perhaps I would've responded better to these games if the lead writers had been given more control over the character, but it is what it is.
Still, henceforth, when mentioning the Tomb Raider series, I shall blame everyone for the wretched story and characterisation; senior brand director Rich Briggs, secondary writers Rees Savidis, Mark Cecere and Craig Towsley, directors Remi Lacoste and Daniel Chayer-Bisson, producers Wistaria Carlone, Mario Chabtini, Jean Chin, Britt Clifford, Jonathan Dahan, Guillaume Dubois, Rose Hunt, David Kury, Lana Purnell, Mario Chabtini and Fleur Marty, designers Michel Leduc St-Arnaud and Heath Smith, programmer Fédéric Robichaud, and Camilla Luddington, whose portrayal of Lara boasts all the enthusiasm of somebody reading out the ingredients of a supermarket microwave lasagne.
Here's the unfortunate thing... having written about Shadow of the Tomb Raider's storytelling already, I wanted the review to focus on the gameplay. Regrettably, even if it weren't for all of the above, it's impossible to separate the story and the character from the gameplay in Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
As with its predecessors, everything is tied back into the cut-scenes. Yes, you can skip them, but doing so removes context - and many of the side-missions are so brief and dull and repetitive, that the context is the only element which makes them semi-interesting. I mean, if you're going to include so many cut-scenes, either make them engaging, use them to further the story, or shine a light on character. Hardly any of the cinematics in Shadow of the Tomb Raider succeed in ticking any of these boxes. They're simply not very interesting.
Relatively early on there's a playable flashback sequence. You know: a bit like they did in the most recent Uncharted, where we got to see a young Nathan Drake during a formative moment in his life. Whereas the Uncharted flashback ticked all three boxes, all the Shadow one does is show a very young Lara Croft running around the grounds of her family home, role-playing being a "tomb raider". In other words, the young Lara is the exact same character we see in the later levels.
"Oooh, look at me - I'm raiding a tomb! I'm finding some old things! Wheeeee!"
There's zero character development, it moves nothing on, it's not particularly intriguing, and - oh! - then her dad shoots himself because, well, Lara Croft has to be dark and tortured, right?
It fundamentally misunderstands how storytelling can, and should, work. Good storytelling - which all of the marketing of this Tomb Raider reboot trilogy insists they contain - will pare a story back to its essential elements, jettisoning the fat. Almost all of the storytelling in Shadow of the Tomb Raider is padding, which makes it feel like a slog. Instead of trying to make us like Lara it's as if they just want us to feel bad for her.
So, that extended grumble aside, what is new in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, gameplay-wise?
For starters, it's set in another jungle, a shift from the previous game's mountainous terrain. It revolves around a couple of open world hub locations - which are full of the inevitable side-missions. It's absolutely beautiful to look at (few games are this beautiful), the more stealth-focused action, when it happens, is solid, and the puzzles in the tombs feel satisfying. Combat could be better admittedly - when you are spotted, and a fight breaks out, it can feel chaotic and confusing - but it isn't game-breaking.
Otherwise, there's not a lot in terms of hands-on gameplay which is brand new - the most memorable of Lara's new skills is the ability to slather herself in mud, and hide more effectively in shadows - but the way Lara moves through the world is for the most part relatively solid. Best of all, perhaps, is an enhanced difficulty options screen, which let's you tailor the gameplay towards your own style of play.
There are some properly awe-inspiring moments where the game takes off, and everything feels epic and important, but then they seem to insist on clipping your wings. It results in an oddly-paced affair, where the action and story seems to build... and then everything grinds to a halt for some tangential guff in The Village Of The Boring Locals.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a deeply frustrating game. It insists on a story and details and elements which are anathema to what I want from a Tomb Raider game. More frustrating still, these got in the way of all that's good here.
The classic Tomb Raiders were about the thrill of exploration. Now everything feels laboured and depressing. No Tomb Raider game needs missions which require you to backtrack repeatedly to find some irrelevant character's lost belongings. We want to raid tombs, we want to fight bad guys.
That's all we need.
And yet, for all the moments that the game sparks, it always returns to this dull, moany, character, and a couple of hubs full of equally dull characters, who give you dull missions relating to their dull lives, via reams of pompous, portentous, exposition.
I don't care if you can switch the dialogue into their native tongue - the game's much-heralded "Immersion Mode" - because it makes not a blind bit of difference to the gameplay. I don't want to have to spend hours of my life gathering crafting items from the environment, or fannying around with busywork. Consequently, the lack of focus results in a lack of coherence. There's lots here, but it's hard to find a centre or through-line.
And what's the deal with Lara's death scenes - now more grisly and uncomfortable than ever? I felt extremely odd when she had a spear impale her shin, before a bunch of grinning bad guys stood above her, thrusting spikes into her body. Once again, there's an awkward tension between them wanting us to enjoy our time with Lara and getting off on watching her suffer.
It's the most advanced Tomb Raider yet, but it's also probably the worst of the three reboots. It feels that now they've finished Lara's origins we still don't really know who she is.
Oh, she's a "survivor" we're told, but here she feels more like a predator shouldering a woe-is-me victim complex, a jumble of weird contradictions which fail to make up a clear, or interesting, whole. Sadly, had they not embarked on this exercise of fleshing her out, had they not made such a big deal of the character and story and drawn our attention to it, none of this would matter.
SCORE: 501.623123123123123 out of 999.82666777777