24 February 2011

Many of the newer fans to Tomb Raider, mostly those that started playing the game around the time of Tomb Raider Legend, didn’t really seem to understand what the older fans were going on about when they say that Lara had changed. The derision from Core fans that greeted the sight of Lara staring aghast at her blood-stained hands, or greeted the theories that Lara was being driven by “Mommy and/or Daddy issues” left the new fans bemused and in some of the more fanatical cases, personally affronted.

Tomb Raider Legend's Lara after the third (and latest) major series reboot.

So what happened? How did the gulf open up?

The original Lara was created by a bunch of people in Derby, a rough and ready town in the centre of England. They’d all been brought up on Monty Python and Hitchhikers Guide and they’d all been inspired by the slightly black humour that is visible in at least the first couple of Indiana Jones films. There was a sort of anarchy still around in 1996 in the gaming industry (left over from the very early days), and not everything was “corporate”. It probably amused the Core team to make the hero into a Brit and the villain (Natla) into a Texan (in comedic contrast to normal Hollywood tropes). It probably amused them that Lara died in hideously grotesque or painful ways. It probably amused them that she shot everything in sight, even harmless rats, and that she seemed motivated not by “archaeology” but by raiding tombs for their “shiny things” with all the sympatico of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.

However … dreams change.

In 2001 - just after Core had apparently killed Lara off - disaster struck. Hollywood was persuaded to make some movies.

Angelina Jolie was great casting and she tried hard to give Lara that anarchistic edge that she herself knows so well. She even protested when her “pokes” were air-brushed out of the posters for Cradle of Life, bless her, but not even she could shrug off the dead weight of the “suits”. The Tomb Raider movies were about as edgy as Hannah Montana, and the total lack of gratuitous violence or “quips a la James Bond” left many fans feeling as they might when having ordered patatas bravas they received instead soggy fries and ketchup. Once you’ve gone down the bland path it’s very hard to turn back. The promisingly Gothic Angel Of Darkness was rushed out before completion and then blamed for the failure of the politically correct angst fest that was the second movie, and the heart of the operation – Core, Derby – were sacked. Lara might as well have had her heart cut out.

Fast forward to Tomb Raider Legend. Poor old Crystal Dynamics, an excellent firm, were lumbered with a task they didn’t quite get. May as well ask a British team to take over the running of the TV programme 30 Rock. They hired Toby Gard to try and get continuity, and then either ignored his advice or got lead astray by Toby having a senior moment about Lara’s “feelings”. I suspect the Daddy plot was salvaged from the execrable Tomb Raider movie – why do all American plots have such a big thing about “Daddy’s little girl”? – and CD probably also got told by people who ought to have known better that Tomb Raider was for kids.

All this left the TR fans with a huge culture clash. People who were entertained by Lara blowing away the helicoptor pilot at the end of TR3 were hardly going to identify with her blubbing over a well-earned bullet for American lunkhead Larson. Fans who valued the silence and loneliness of the first TR games would hardly warm to constant yammering from comedy sidekicks nor a soundtrack that droned on in the background like incessant elevator music. Even worse, from about 2006 to 2007 there seemed to be a concerted effort by various fan forum “bigwigs” to rubbish the Core legacy and to ban anybody who dared not to love the “new, improved” Lara. This Orwellian approach split the fanship into fragments and caused many old timers to leave forever.

So what now? With the “re-re-boot”, the newer fans are finding out what it feels like to have the rug pulled from under the Lara they thought they knew. At least everybody is now on an equal (lack of) footing. Square Enix seems to have found a polite way of undoing (hopefully) the damage done to Lara’s reputation as a hardass and it remains to be seen whether they can produce a game that takes hardcore gamers more then a couple of days to complete. (Who cares about the pretty parrots flying about if you can’t shoot them? Who cares about perfectly rendered landscapes if you can’t climb all over them?) Even the rumoured third movie might go the reboot route and give us a Lara that isn’t a bleeding heart liberal.

We wait with baited if slightly jaded breath …


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