When we spoke to Tomb Raider developers from Crystal Dynamics before watching the E3 demo, they told us that – quietly – there were some elements of the demo that they thought might cause a little drama. The conversation hinted that – perhaps – Crystal Dynamics was testing the waters a little, seeing how far certain elements could be explored, and finding out what gamers wanted to see more of.
As it turns out, gamers were more than happy to respond, giving Crystal Dynamics all the drama it may have hoped for, over the alleged “attempted rape” scene included in the demo. Before everything exploded, we spent a little time with Senior Art Director Brian Horton, who explained the Californian studio isn’t shying away from a “pretty charged topic” (and, while the game is full of confronting situations, they’re not all quite to that extreme).
Brian and his team are remarkably proud of Tomb Raider and the new (old?) Lara Croft (who we now know is portrayed by British actress Camilla Luddington). She’s becoming more human, less of the puzzle-solving, tiger-slaying automaton who starred in the earlier games in the series.
…and, like Lara, Crystal Dynamics are human. The developers have taken on a huge responsibility, working with a character – an icon – as powerful as the Tomb Raider herself. As humans, they’re bound to mis-step. The E3 demo was not a mis-step. It was a powerful, gorgeous, well-presented chunk of video game that left me wanting more and truly appreciating some of the mechanic changes that Crystal Dynamics has implemented.
Executive Producer Ron Rosenberg’s now infamous interview with Kotaku, on the other hand, possibly wasn’t the most sure-footed move for the company. But it recovered, with studio head Darrell Gallagher quickly making a public statement on the matter, with his colleagues also explaining that they would reconsider their approach to certain scenes, topics and gameplay themes.
The game itself (remember, it is all about the game) is beautiful. The young Lara Croft is full of emotion; she actually apologises to her first kill, a deer she shot in order to gather food. She’s scared, she’s angry, and she’s determined.
Tomb Raider has always been controversial. It’s the first title on everybody’s lips when it comes to “misrepresentation of women” in video games, and Crystal Dynamics always had a difficult road ahead, making Ms Croft a more believable human while not making her an unbelievable hero. After what we saw at E3, after hearing Brian’s passion for the game, and after seeing the way the studio reacted to public outcry, it feels like she’s in safe hands.