Developers Crystal Dynamics working under Square Enix have a tough campaign on their hands with the latest Tomb Raider game because in order to reboot the series, they’ve effectively changed the perception of the main protagonist Lara Croft from buxom pin-up adventurer into a more humanized gaming character. There’s a lot more grit and a darker overtone to the new young Lara Croft and her predicaments than the quite tame – in comparison – previous game Tomb Raider Underworld which makes for quite a contrast. Where Lara in her adulthood has been subject of male attention due to how she’s been represented – both in game and out (and deliberately) – the goal for Crystal Dynamics has been to not reinvent the character per se, but to present a more engaging story for the character that somewhat tarnishes the reputation of what’s previously been built. It’s an interesting move, and one has to understand the motive in attempting to make the game appear more mature. At the same time, the contrast between the two representations of the same character is quite stark, and seeing as this latest Tomb Raider game sets the tone for Lara’s future, one has to ponder, where the character goes from innocent and badly beaten youth, to aristocratic tomb raiding pin up babe. There’s probably not much sense in the reasoning, other than the apparent shifting away from pin up looks to something more gritty being a sign of our gaming times more than anything – Crystal Dynamics aren’t the only developers making these bold changes.
Having played the opening parts of the game, the differences are instantly forgotten as there’s too much going on to distract the player from the actual looks. Crystal have been quite clever here, to instantly bury any remnants of gamers’ past expectation from the get go; but in doing so loses some of the identity of the character many will still be fond of but cleverly disguised by the fact that this is a younger version of the same character. In a way, this latest Tomb Raider does feel like a different game despite sharing some similarities in name only. This is a reboot after all and with such a complete shift in presentation of the lead heroine being at the helm, perhaps is the best thing the series needed after flagging sales of the previous game. However, for those more in tune with the bikinis and tight shorts of the past, the glamorous action adventure babe, there’s little respite as Tomb Raider knocks firmly at the door of acceptance as it ditches the tropes which put it where it is today. It’s a bold and deftly move that will no doubt win and lose some fans along the way, but kudos has to be given to Crystal for thinking outside the box – how many more games would there have been with the same Lara Croft character? Perhaps it was getting stale after so many games. Sometimes change is needed and in this case, as long as the game’s fundamental values keep players hooked – which they do very well – then the superficial looks of the leading character become null and void to a certain degree. Tomb Raider should be approached with less focus on the aesthetics and more intensity for the situations and scenarios encountered. This seems to be the prevalent theme of the game and from the first opening moments works great to the point where the tight tank tops and oversized chests of the past become a distant memory. Whilst Lara has gotten younger in this latest instalment, the game has most definitely grown up and perhaps so has its audience.
Tomb Raider releases worldwide on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 from March 5th.