on Jul 10, 2013
It’s hard for me to judge Tomb Raider too harshly with regards to tone, because I’m guilty of the same thing. In The Witch Watch I set out to make comedy adventure like the Let’s Plays I do, and right away it drifted into standard adventure. Progress is slow on my next book because I made the same mistake: I tried to play it all for laughs and ended up drifting towards a more serious tone.
Tone is the one thing you don’t want to get wrong, because it sets up the expectations of the audience. Indiana Jones can do things that John Mcclane* can’t, and John Mcclane can do things that Lt. Horatio Caine would never get away with, and Lt. Caine does stuff that would seem ridiculous if attempted by Andy Taylor. The tone of the story sets up how much fidelity to real-world logic we should expect to see, and it also sets up what sorts of divergences we will tolerate. Andy Taylor can disarm and subsequently redeem a gunman with nothing more than an earnest smile and some folk storytelling. Indy can take abuse that would kill earnest Andy ten times over. We accept these worlds on their own terms, as long as they stick to their tone.
* John Mcclane in the first Die Hard movie. The character has suffered from power creep since then.
I think this is a big part of what went wrong with the end of Mass Effect 3: The first game set up a Star Trek tone, and the audience rebelled when the third game became Starship Troopers. People that played ME3 first didn’t have those same expectations. Tonal dissonance is also a big problem for the Fable series, where you have this storybook world and plot inhabited by Sin City style grimdark murdering sadists, like a couple of Game of Throne villains running around inside the world of The Princess Bride. It just doesn’t work.
Almost all of my gripes with Tomb Raider trace back to this tonal problem. It’s a shame, and it’s something I hope the get right in the inevitable sequel. Also, I can’t help but wonder which tone will win out. Will the next game feel like Jack London or Frank Miller? Or will it split the difference?