I started to write this in response to the Destructoid community casting call
for the same subject, but both life and my fickle health made me take more of a detour then I wished, and I missed the boat
. But screw it, I'm typing up what I wrote through the week and posting it any way!
This may have some light Tomb Raider(2013)
Now I know what you all might be thinking: Lara's been around for 17 years, she's not new.. Or even the best. But in thinking back on what we want out of videogames, especially in the last 2 years, this re-envisioned Lara has it all, and every bit of what makes her up is new:
She's fresh (literally and figuratively, compared to her older iteration).
She looks amazing (graphically and otherwise).
She's innovative (in road less taken approach they took with her)
A story, more about her herself, instead of just gut pounding action (though the action is there)
She's a strong female character that isn't a lifeless flaunting of negative things (in spite of what people wanted to believe prior to release)
And all of this, in spite of certain award nominations
, from a game that seems to have gone largely underrated by the gaming community.
The game imagines the jarring start of Lara Croft's journey from college student to hardened explorer, in a way that gives a much more definitive start then the original Tomb Raider
; a game that simply had the voluptuous adventurer being what she was is within little to no context. Now we got to see every we get to experience every grueling step, allowing us to achieve her personal growth with her. And it's a growth that has extended beyond the screen, and into the real world.
The problem's facing new Lara weren't always a part of her journey however, since the community seemed to find a heaping pile of reasons to hate on her, from about the moment we found out about her return. But rarely have any of these issues been actually about Lara herself, but stigmas people have about her based on very little interaction with the actual game.
Thinking back on it, I'd say the exact point where the negative reactions started was actually at the very beginning, with the first rumblings of the games existence. The announcement got a mixed reaction of optimism and frustration. The new game, and take on the character, would be far better then any game we've seen from the prior series of the same name in past years, but Lara was met with a lot of hate for the idea that she would be waify (yet not overbearingly sexy), fragile, and younger. Thing is, this happened in comments across the internet, but isn't quite as remembered as what happened after, when the game was finally shown at E3.
I don't think Crystal Dynamics could have foreseen the turbulence they were flying into after showing the game at E3. The general feeling I got was awe at the way the game looked, and seeing the new Lara in action, but many took what we saw and earnestly ran with it in the most ridiculous direction imaginable, based on how little we saw of the game: Lara would be brutally raped.
As completely serious the subject matter was, I began to personally call what was going on "Rapegate," just to give it just a little levity, if crudely so; because no one else was apparently going to do that for me, at least not in any comment sections I was looking at. Everyone else was simply too busy claiming it was the only thing going on.
I still really can't believe that people thought, in any capacity, that the developers of this game would openly depict Lara getting brutalized like that by Yamatai Island's inhabitants, especially from out of context footage of her barely being caressed, when cornered by a single dude -who, as we find out, she knees in the junk and becomes her first human kill -never, to my memory, being remotely touched that way again. It just wasn't going to happen, and when we played the game: it didn't.
But this is also the exact moment where I feel like the big time rush of videogame feminism found its ground; on the back of a vulgar display of the mass consciousness thinking the very worst. In one fell swoop Lara went from strong female character; a determined survivor that that could have wiped away the negative stigma of being a big boobed sex symbol of past Lara; immediately into being talked about the better part of the year leading to the games release as being the penultimate sexual assault victim; sight unseen.
And that was it. For months. Lara was going to be raped and no one could convince those vocal about it to believe anything different.
Then the game dropped, and we got to actually play the scenario out.. And there was no rape. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, she kills the only guy who really got the opportunity to get that close in one of the games best "fuck yeah!" moments. All the "hype" was completely overblown.
Yet this also almost immediately started the next phase of "Operation Hate Lara," the: "She's a little too good at killing" phase. An extremely odd turn from being initially perceived as the international poster child for weak abused and battered women.
Gamers had been angsty all along about the fact that new Lara wasn't like past Lara; a person who can just go in and gun up a place, be it against humans, animals or the occasional dinosaur. Here we had been presented a new version of the character that may not have ever handled a gun, or at least not in the same capacity of the her prior. The initial frustration was with the fact that this island full of men would simply trample her.
Then we used her to trample them.. In bulk.. And people got twisted the other way, saying that she couldn't possibly do that.
But this was also the moment where I started to feel she was my favorite character of the year. She wasn't really the mass murdering beast everyone was making her out to be, and had really wanted all along. It wasn't really a case of "She mows them down with shotgun like they were nothing. Rawr, Marcus Fenix!" when it was more along the lines of something like," She's surviving the best she can, under impossible circumstances, and look at the way the kick back effects her."
What we were asked to see, and many apparently ignored, was Lara struggling with every aspect of the journey she was thrust into, as told through the animations and sound direction. The game actually goes so far as to make the player look a bit closer at the periphery of the beautifully presented characters and environments we were all clamoring for since we were fed the handful of footage, to see the little idiosyncrasies of the subtle actions, movements and sounds Lara makes all throughout the game; in a way that would cause David Cage to need new a new pair of shorts.
Dislocated shoulders hurt. Jumping for a ledge you can barely catch, hurts. The kickback of a gun can throw you off balance. Killing for the first time, will leave in shock; but having to continue to survive will keep you moving. Running for 5 hours straight is going to wear on you. Those little groans aren't suggestive, they're the reactive calls of a body wracked with pain. And Lara shows evidence of all of this, coming out the other side a tattered mess of nerves and instinct that simply didn't give up when the chips fell so far down Yamatai's darkest crevasses, where hope would be little more then a dream that only normal people can achieve, before overcoming all obstacles to finally save her friends. Lara's story was better told through these intricate subtleties, then it was the story most of the time.
But many unjustly bemoaned her for being, as they saw, a steely eye'd killer, the likes of (insert most protagonists here); but in that they had found exactly what they wanted when they said she was being done all wrong, not being the hardened, often uncaring, warrior they always had in past Lara.. And they still weren't happy with that.
It only proved there just isn't pleasing everyone.
But the various problems seated in peoples perception aren't the only things that make up the new Lara Croft. There's one hell of a soul in there too.
One thing you can always pull out of the prior Tomb Raider
games is that Lara was bored sounding and often heartless superwoman, who was simply about shooting her way through everything with relative ease, and never having many problems climbing the walls and flipping over obstacles. Unlikable would be something of an understatement.
The mission always seemed a bullheaded paramount to her her, and anyone (or thing) who got in her way was going to get a bullet for their troubles. Any amount of talk in between is all business. Nearly no allies, but tons of rivals.
New Lara, however, has many more layers of emotional depth, allowing her to be a much more human character then the tempered loner-bot we've always known.
There's new found compassion for people; a whole crew that she not only saw as friends, but as close family, some of which had known her through all her life, and loses to the islands unrelenting cruelty over the course of the game. These situations made for some of the games most gut wrenchingly sad moments I've seen all year. She even seems to care a lot about that shifty asshat of a professor that totally screws everyone over.. Well, at least before he goes just a little
The entire reason Lara pulls her friends to this island is because her best friend, Sam (who I've not mentioned, for the fact that people think Sam and Lara were lesbians, on top of all the other baseless things people thought) wanted to know more about her Japanese heritage. She wasn't looking to become rich to trick out her mansion or grow her collection of unitards. Or to find some artifact before some other character could use it to destroy the world. She just wanted to help a friend get more in touch with herself.
I don't think we'd be able to see that, and believe it, from old Lara.
While old Lara was always implied to being the smartest bean in a lonely field, the new Lara is decidedly more learned, and more gleefully inquisitive, then we've seen a lot of characters be in recent years, outside of puzzle games
. Listening to her wonderment when she'd find an artifact became part of the joy of seeking them out.
And, it almost goes without saying, new Lara is a far more determined then old Lara ever was, if only because old Lara never seemed to be frightened by anything she faced, mundane or supernatural, or ever all that worried that she'd come out the other end intact. She was always a little too
confident that she'd come out the other side of the tomb.
And all of this mucky muck is why my favorite new character of the year is Lara Croft. Crystal Dynamics took an out of touch, aging, character from a series that had become largely laughable, and made her feel more human then she ever had in her 17 year history; even against the backdrop of a world that had her running around worrying about such ridiculous notions as Oni and mystically powerful Sun Queens. A character that, for me, grew beyond the confines of a game and broke out of conventional confines to became so much more to people then a bunch of pixels; that they couldn't find reason to stop talking about her as if she were a person you could walk up to and shake hands with.
And she's a character that still has room for plenty more growth as the future of the series rolls on, in a journeys that I can't wait to go on with her.
These levels of depth (and heated debate) say a lot for a character, especially when the character finds a way to outpace their own game, even after so many years of being one of the biggest names in gaming.
Big kudos to Lara and the company that made her, for that.
(Since the C-blog formatting often hate me; if the formatting of this post is a little off, I invite you to come over to my blog to check it out: http://geek-forge.blogspot.com/2013/12/my-favorite-new-character-of-year-lara.html