Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Tomb Raider

One day back in 1996, a Core Design developer named Toby Gard was working on a 3D platformer for the Playstation. He had the utterly brilliant idea that a teenage boy would probably prefer looking at a sexy woman's ass than a hairy man-ass. Thus, springing forth fully-formed from the head of Eidos like an F-cup Athena, Lara Croft was born. Despite the fact that Lara was composed of about seven crudely textured polygons, their gambit paid off (never underestimate the imagination of a teenage boy when it comes to wanking) and the game was a huge success. Okay, it was also because it was a very good game for the time, even if it did have a frustrating control system that made a woman with the skills of an olympic gymnast control like a Sherman tank.

This is what passed for sexy back in 1996

The original designer then left the project and Eidos began to do what videogame companies do best... shitting out uninspired sequels while whoring Lara out to any company willing to have her shiny-green-tank-top-clad (what is that thing made of, anyway?) bosoms plastered across their product. Lara's influence could be seen everywhere, even in terrible ripoff tv shows like Relic Hunter (anyone remember that?). The series certainly has been a success for Eidos' marketing... recognition of the brand has well and truly eclipsed the quality of any of the games.

A cynical man would say that Lara was created as a way of distancing the brand from Indiana Jones while simultaneously exploiting horny teenaged lust for pixellated boobs. And I am a cynical man. But this hasn't stopped Eidos from giving themselves a pat on back at every opportunity for creating a "feminist icon". Now Lara is a permanent fixture in any discussion of women in games, despite the fact that (until recently) the series has been spiraling the toilet with each lackluster sequel.

After Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness was vomited onto store shelves, I imagine Toby Gard had an experience not unlike discovering your estranged daughter has been reduced to turning tricks in filthy alleyways for crystal meth. He returned to the series as development of a new game was passed to Crystal Dynamics and two surprisingly good games followed... Tomb Raider Legends and Tomb Raider Anniversary. They were very successful, largely because Lara controls like a human being instead of a 30 ton armoured combat vehicle.

At the moment I'm having a blast playing Tomb Raider Anniversary, but I'm wondering how much of my enjoyment is tainted by nostalgia. The shooting is still pretty boring and repetitive. I wouldn't mind if they scrapped the combat aspect of the game altogether, although Lara's twin pistols are so iconic that I doubt they'll be going anywhere. I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do on the new generation of consoles. They'd better pull out something special (not just improved breast physics, though that'd be nice) if they want Lara to regain her crown, because 3d platformers like Prince of Persia have been running, jumping and climbing circles around Tomb Raider for years now. For now I am content in looking forward to a Tomb Raider sequel, which is a sensation I haven't felt in some time.

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