The Lara Croft game
It seems absolutely insane to me that it is coming up to the sixteenth anniversary of the first Tomb Raider game. Sixteen years. Where did that go? Vague memories of this pixely young lady running around, puzzling her way through dim Egyptian corridors, the rhythmic staccato of those hypnotically clapping pistols, ticking away in the face of doom. Talismans, dinosaurs, medi-packs; pull this switch, push that block. It was gaming close to its peak back then, despite the annoying controls and camera that never seemed to wheel around quick enough.
Of course Tomb Raider II, with the extended mansion, had the joys of bumping into the Croft Manor butler, a fine edition to the game. Oh, the hours I spent running into that guy…come on, we all did it. But I lost touch after that, picking up the occasional rental, never being particularly moved by this thoroughly one-dimensional character, the “pair of boobs with a couple of guns attached” as Rhinna Pratchett—lead writer on the latest game—delicately puts it.
So naturally, my attention wasn’t particularly drawn to the announcement of the latest instalment in the frankly tiresome franchise last year. An origin story…hmm. I gave the teaser a go: gritty is not what you’d really expect from the digitally preened Croft, but it was. Not particularly unique, but gritty. Cheesy is probably to be expected from the franchise, and that’s what we got. With vulnerable whisperings of “I went looking for adventure, but adventure found me” and “I knew what I must become,” I could feel my eyes rolling. The cutscene footage looked beautiful though; it amazes me how close the gaming industry is getting to movies. Crossovers have been made, sure, but the more compelling the graphics get, the more a gamer sits down to enjoy the art of a game, not just the gameplay.
But narrative can often be lacking, and as an enthusiast of all things plot driven, I look for this in a game. Along with this comes great character development, something Tomb Raider has never really done for me. This is where an origins story comes into its own. As Noah Hughes, the Creative Director on the latest instalment, says, they didn’t start with wanting to do an origins story, they started wanting to do something fresh. Clean. A blank slate.
This is where Rhianna Pratchett steps in. Pratchett, the writer behind the critically acclaimed Mirror’s Edge, is clearly giving it her all in terms of revamping this character. In the latest trailer, we see Lara as a human being, not just something at the end of our analogue sticks. She pines “Sorry” as she shoots a deer through the head for survival; her patent vulnerability as she struggles for survival on a cold, unforgiving island; her cries for help into a radio, with no one at the other end. And the crashing turning point as she is dragged screaming into her first kill.
There was much controversy surrounding the alleged attempted rape scene in the trailer, as detailed in Audrey Drake’s cracking article on the subject. Executive producer, Ron Rosenberg specified that it was an attempted rape, but that it wasn’t just for shock value. According to Rosenberg, they were trying to tell the best story possible. This led to a flurry of backtracking, as Crystal Dynamic’s Studio Head, Darrell Gallagher, asserted that there was nothing sexual of any kind and the scene goes no further than that. I can see why they would panic in the face of thousands of conservative chin-flappers, but I agree with Drake that it was silly to claim that the scene wasn’t alluding to anything sexual; it is an 18 rated game after all. The fact is, it makes for an absolutely key scene in the development of the character and I don’t believe Pratchett would handle the theme with any disrespect, because it would be professional suicide. Besides, the trailer culminates in Croft taking control: turning into the Croft that she didn’t think she was, and the Croft we all know. It makes the kill all the more poignant and pivotal in the character’s rebirth.
Let’s steer away from that touchy area. Pratchett claims to have put much of herself into the character. She’s “bookish,” constantly “in her head” and apparently, she learnt archery at public school…not exactly in the way Lara learnt, after being cornered into wielding a bow and arrow, but still. She cites terminator and Alien as influences and, remembering the strong female characters of Sarah Connor and Ripley, it seems that Pratchett is giving Lara this treatment as well. The character has been thrust on to an island of death and destruction, and the only way she’s going to survive is by changing. As Pratchett says herself, “you can’t have bravery without fear” and it is this theme that has caught my attention. Lara is learning to be brave; she’s becoming something more than just the grunting posh girl with guns, that we all used to chuck off a cliff or drown for amusement. She’s a character again. And I’ve got a feeling I’m not going to like diving her off cliffs into spikes any more.