E3 2012 – Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider E3 2012
Crystal Dynamics’ reboot of Lara Croft was a title I salivated over prior to E3. Still punch-drunk from last year’s showing, the footage offered during this year’s Microsoft Press Conference strengthened the belief that my optimism would be rewarded.

I’ve been pretty hung up on the idea that Tomb Raider really can offer an earnest portrayal of a female protagonist, one struggling to cope and overcome the dangers that seem to plague Lara around every corner of new footage shown – that the medium could gain a female protagonist capable of standing against the stereotypical idea of female characters in gaming the industry continues taking criticism for.

And if Lara Croft, who for so many years served as the poster for that idea of the stereotypical female videogame heroine, could fight against her own past to deliver a sincere and authentic portrayal of a woman fighting for her survival, well, it seemed like a rather perfect turn of events prior to my trip to Los Angeles.

These were the thoughts turning over in my mind as I sat down at the Square-Enix booth for a closed screening during E3, where I was entirely unprepared for what they planned to show me.



Crystal Dynamics’ screening of Tomb Raider didn’t offer a chance to get my hands on the title, rather showing gameplay and cinematics that filled in the blanks of the trailer shown just prior to the start of E3, which at one point shows Lara, with her hands tied behind her back, discovered by an assailant who begins groping her before she attempts to fight back and the two quickly find themselves struggling over a gun on the ground.

How she found herself in this situation is a rather critical point.

Exploring ruins with another man from her stranded party, the two find themselves suddenly set upon by a pack of armed men. While Lara’s would be protector is carrying a pistol, rather than defending her, he decides to set the gun on the ground and surrender. As the men grab Lara and bind her hands, you can hear him attempting to eerily comfort her with the words “do what they want,” and to , “just go with it Lara.”

I’ve witnessed countless women taken prisoner in videogames – hell, Bowser abducts Princess Peach and hangs her in a cage at least two times a year at this point. I’ve also guided Lara against countless challenges over the years, from armed assailants to wild animals intent on tearing her to pieces. But I’ve never cringed during any of those moments as I did during that showing, and I’ve never feared for her safety in a way that felt even remotely as real as that situation did. And feeling that unsettled by the footage convinces me that Tomb Raider is achieving more than I could have anticipated in just how uncomfortable this made me.

I’ll never experience an instance where my gender makes me vulnerable, and though a videogame can’t allow me to really understand that feeling either, Tomb Raider is confronting me with the reality of it.

Tomb Raider E3 2012
Lara’s femininity, which has served as an unquestionable strength in every Tomb Raider title to date, has made her a target of aggression here. But it also represents a source of strength with her refusal to surrender to the circumstances of the situation. And in the play of both those elements, you find the source for an authentic character, one with the potential to really earn a connection with each player that takes this journey with her.

When she later struggles with her attacker, it isn’t a cocky Lara Croft that wins the day while uttering a one-liner, but rather a Lara that refuses to stop fighting against her attacker and manages to gain a critical advantage – one that leaves her attacker sputtering blood after the shot removes half his face.

Tomb Raider is hitting subject matter I hadn’t anticipated, and finding me struggling for words to describe it precisely, and that is entirely why it’s the most important title I laid eyes on at E3, because it demonstrates the want to push boundaries that are uncomfortable.

But like Lara, Crystal Dynamics has a struggle to overcome in becoming something of a legend.

Tomb Raider E3 2012
You can see it in the details of the gameplay as Lara moves through the lush island environment, gathering equipment that can be used to upgrade existing tools by fireside safe points. You can feel it when Lara apologizes to the deer she kills in order to feed herself, visibly shaken before returning to the player’s control.

Tomb Raider remains a videogame, an entertainment experience offering us the chance to step into the shoes of Lara Croft, not a movie in which we can passively watch Lara become a person over the course of a few hours. And so the burden is in making the player feel this experience and believe the evolution of the character, making the real struggle one of not simply dropping traumatic cinematics on the player before returning them to a shooting gallery, but of reaching us not just through our eyes, but also through the controller.

If Crystal Dynamics can find the means to accomplish this, finding a new harmonic pitch to unite the subject matter with the gameplay, Tomb Raider could stand not just as one of the most important titles shown at E3 2012, but of the medium to date.

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  • http://twitter.com/4colorrebellion 4colorrebellion

    Yes. Really looking forward to this game. In a series I have always loved, I never really loved the main character. Tomb Raider for me was always about exactly that, raiding tombs. Traversal. But peoples love for Laura herself never made sense to me. She was shallow on both a design level and a identity level. This new version of Laura feels, for the first time, human. I hope this game pulls it off and I hope it starts a new direction in the series. 

  • AngelosLH

    It forever baffles me why people have a problem with old Lara, to me she always came across as a badass who had a passion for adventure and didn’t take shit who just happened to have a sexy body, subsequent games focused way more on her curves than her “not taking any shit”, Lara herself (in the ps1 era, at least) never said or did anything which made me scream ZOMG SExISM.

    I am curious by this new Retelling of Lara, and if it means guys get to know what it’s like to be girls for once, that’s cool, but it makes me uncomfortable that they’ve taken one of takings few badass women ( even if she was a bit cheesy) and made her into a victim, it’s not escapism to be reminded of stuff like that via a videogame. Important issues yes, but personally… That kind of thing is not why I play Tomb raider, I play tomb raider to be a strong confident woman with a big house and a butler

    • AngelosLH

      I will say that if they pull this off it could be a really good character study, mind, it just weirds me out that people seem to think Lara being a victim makes her more interesting than her being genuinely passionate about raiding tombs

  • http://photovoltaik.bandcamp.com/ Ujn Hunter

    As long as this doesn’t turn into Tomb Raider: Other T. I’m okay with it. Nice article Bee Tee Dub.