It's a mixed blessing never having sampled Lara Croft on Xbox. While it was easy to bemoan the lack of Lara when things went right, at times the PS2 was welcome to her. We lost count of the number of times we plummeted to a screeching death, pigtail flapping and legs everywhere, during the training mission of Angel of Darkness - it made us rather smug. It wasn't just the falls that were killing Croft, it was the programming.
"Angel of Darkness's review scores were the lowest in the series' history and
it was time to take a reflective position on the Tomb Raider and Lara Croft brands," Chip Blundell, vice president of brand marketing tells us. "The development team and the global brand team went on a Lara Croft soul-searching mission together... old consumer research was unearthed, new consumer research started, we read and re-read every gaming review, had one-on-ones with editors around the globe, and played the games again. We asked the hard questions. We challenged ourselves to think differently. Who is Lara Croft? What does she stand for? What makes her tick? Why should someone be interested in playing Lara in 2005? Who is the competition? What did the films do for the brand? What values was the original brand built upon? And how is that relevant today? The answers may seem obvious to some, but the solutions could be endless."
Endless indeed. Lara has been subject to all manner of incarnations and character changes in order to keep her 'down with da kids'. The latest, for the forthcoming Tomb Raider: Legend, sees her stripped bare (behave), and then taken back to the roots that made her such a damned winner in the first place. Gone, we're afraid to say, is porny Lara. Well, almost.
Toby Gard, creator of Tomb Raider and Legend's lead designer, explains, "It wasn't a conscious decision to modify Lara at all... and we never really thought she looked 'porny'. We've just worked on her model and look. It's a natural evolution. We're now using close to 10,000 polygons, so we're able to make her look much more realistic. She even gets wet when she goes into water, and she gets dirty if she rolls around in filthy tombs long enough." Mucky cow - we knew she wouldn't change that much.
Chronicles of Lara
Gard was recently quoted saying he wanted to get back into the Tomb Raider franchise to give it a 'kick up the arse', so does he think that's what he's currently doing? "Yeah, after taking a long break from Lara it's been interesting to revisit her," he explains. "Technology is quite different in 2005 compared to '96, so we're able to do so much more with her look and movements. My role has been mostly to help get the character moving back in the right direction. So I'm dealing with fleshing her out, both in terms of personality and in terms of animation, look and feel. Crystal Dynamics has built this game from the ground up and control is one of our main objectives. We're making huge strides in this area and the results so far are quite exciting. People will be able to move her and control her in a way that you'd imagine a top action heroine to perform."
Is he saying she'll be an all-jumping, all-swimming, Prince of Persia ass-kicker? "Oh yes, all of the above," says Gard. "Expect to see lots of movement and action. In fact, everything you'd expect from a larger-than-life character like Lara Croft."
Hmmm. When Gard says Lara will feature lots of 'movement and action', it reminds us that he's previously said he's going to be trying to make Tomb Raider: Legend faster and more actiony than before. This doesn't mean he's chucking out the puzzles, does it?