Could Crystal dynamics have missed their biggest opportunity with the newest entry in the Tomb Raider franchise? Finally bringing to light a secret that has hung over the series since its earliest entries, and one that only this writer seems to notice.
Over the past couple of years, the partnership of Square Enix and Edios has been one that keeps on surprising and delighting the games market. From the original Arkham Asylum to the reboot of PC mainstay Deus Ex into the robust stealth action title Human Revolution, and the everything but the kitchen sink sandbox title Just Cause 2. This year in particular has already given us Sleeping Dogs – the Hong Kong action sandbox that pick and mixed concepts of this generation's brightest titles, and soon we'll have a new entry in the Hitman franchise with the polished and punchy Absolution. Perhaps more importantly – we have next year's reboot of a pop-culture icon.
Soon to a Console or PC near you, Crystal Dynamics and Sqaure Edios reintroduce the beloved buxom and British stalwart Lara Croft in the brand new Tomb Raider – a refresh of a series that had began to lose traction among video-game players and the public alike, despite a number of good, solid games in the current generation (especially the excellent downloadable title Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light.)
By now fans of the series or followers of games outlets are quite clued up on the concept of this reboot. If not however – Tomb Raider 2013 is prequel to the classic series, where the frosted temples and ancient tombs have been replaced with a singular island setting – a dense jungle in which the best part of the story will write through, undoubtedly with enough caves and caverns to give us a visual break from cliff face and foliage. With the new setting, so comes a new focus: peppered amongst the climbing and combat of the series past is a focus on survival. You hunt, camp and explore this uncharted island in an effort to stay alive, and will come up against the forces of nature and even deadly strangers along the story's path.
With the territory of a prequel story comes the fact that you'll play as a younger and in-experienced Lara Croft. Once a character that capitalised on the Action Girl trope back in the early 90s, we instead shape through playing the new title how Lara will grow into the confident hero that became the face of the Playstation back in the 1990s.
During the last month, I had a chance to play with an early build of the rebooted Tomb Raider. Without delving into a long drawl on how it played or whether it'll be worth it's release price, I will say I enjoyed it on a number of merits – especially it's visual fidelity, with character details and the jungle surroundings on par with an Assassin's Creed title, although perhaps not as detailed as it's contemporary Uncharted games. However, my preconceptions of a more free-form experience may have been a little too pie in the sky – as the demo itself was a very linear affair, with Lara only needing to fend for herself when the story needed it, rather then the nuanced pill popping and inventory management of a Resident Evil title that I imagined would have been introduced.
Which leads me to the point of this so far colourless rant on the new Tomb Raider. Because as I sat down with a few minutes of the title, watching a beaten up teenager aim a worn down bow with the accuracy of Crysis 3's steroid infused super soldiers, it reminded me of something that had been bugging me ever since the early days of the franchise. A question that I almost pressured onto one of the poor PR staff that hovered around the play stalls, and one that time again I felt like shooting over to the company e-mail, doomed the junk pile among bank code scams and Canadian drug leaflets.
What about Lara Croft's Type 1 Diabetes?
Now, for those of you who didn't go back a page or close this browser window, let me get a chance to explain myself.
Sine I was a little kid, I've always been surrounded by people from many different walks of life to my own. To a naïve and perhaps incredibly stupid young child, there is a curiosity that come with what would otherwise be incredibly touchy subjects. One in particular was the case of a boy in my primary school class – same age, even the same first name – who happened to suffer from childhood diabetes.
While today I am more informed about the origins and symptoms of the disease, my feeble brain would only process the fact that he was allowed to take breaks out of lessons at the beep of his alarm, to eat digestive biscuits and drink orange Lucozade.
Perhaps I dwell on it due to the jealousy of a member of my student body getting the privilege to drink fizzy pop in the classroom, but the association of that drink with the condition of Type-1 Diabetes will be one I'll never be able to shake off. The idea that one drink could be synonymous with the condition that plagues 850,000 people in my country alone is somewhat absurdest, although my notion is shared at least between members of my family, and a small number of my friends.
Which is why I can only assume that Lara Croft has Diabetes. After all – she was the face of Lucozade for years in her home country, and even found herself taking pauses from intense action to energise herself on the stuff (at least in the world of television advertising.)
So why bring it up again now? Why not. When you talk about the idea of survival, managing your inventory and the dread of saving your supplies, what better way to encourage it then allowing Lara Croft's Diabetes to be at the forefront of the game-play mechanics.
Taking a cue from a titles like Ubisoft's Far Cry 2 and its malaria mechanic, or the stamina mechanic of the downloadable title I am Alive, borrowed somewhat from the classic Shadow of the Colossus, the constant pressure of the islands active setting will eventually take toll on the hypoglycaemic Lara, making success of survival even thinner without the proper maintenance of her blood sugar levels. Eventually it'll cause her aiming and even climbing ability to tarnish, before she eventually succumbs from the effects of low blood sugar.
While titles in the past have tried to build their entire game play around educational messages, usually leading to ham-fisted pop quizzes in-between atrocious platforming levels, a title like Tomb Raider could successfully integrate the concept of hypoglycaemia into an intriguing survival mini-game that would reward smart players who keep it under management. Titles like Minecraft have already proved that people are willing to adapt and survive outside of when the story asks them to. Rather then aiming to be a cinematic roller-coaster that many titles the generation have began to be, Tomb Raider would instead harken back to classic titles that would reward responsibility in playing and exploration – rather then punish players from deviating off the garden path.
Atop of which, if handled correctly, it would carefully bring awareness to a disease that many people have been uneducated about – myself included.
Really, Is it too much to ask that Lara Croft could be our first hypoglycaemic videogame heroine?