The one-two of the Pre-E3 trailer and the gameplay trailer for Tomb Raider 2013 leaves an icky aftertaste. The former starts off looking like a queasy entry of torture porn splatter fests, with ruddy blood, a dark, occult cave setting, bandages, and impalement galore. A companion strung up dead by the wrists and ankles. A QTE to stop a near rape. This is all part of a gritty origin story for Lara Croft, stranded after a plane crash and fending on her own against handsy men, jutting branches and foothold traps.
Today’s gameplay demonstration starts off much less licentiously as Lara stalks her environs with a bow and arrow (because you like The Hunger Games and assuredly will like Revolution!), replacing her typical dual semi-automatic pistols. Lara systematically takes out her foes graphically, setting them aflame and also impaling one poor sucker with her arrow up-close. But in trying to reach a survivor, whoops! The river sweeps her away! Downed trees and branches are everywhere! Lara slides into the skeleton of the plane and hits the glass, reaches for her parachute, it breaks, she struggles with the ‘chute, smacks into some trees…
Some footage is thrilling in the way any action game is fun and enthralling—sliding down a mountainside to escape a loose plane nose, for example, takes a page from the Indiana Jones playbook—but for each moment Lara gets the upper hand or kicks ass, she gets a gratuitous beating herself. If this is all supposed to come across as a seamless string of high-octane events for this young lady adventurer, that effect is masked by the sexual seediness. It’s pretty gross.
With this installment, we get sublimation of violence—against a woman—for sex, smack in the middle of a presentation full of male oriented franchises. Halo 4. Splinter Cell: Blacklist. Resident Evil 6. They’re not necessarily ostracizing the female audience, but the only game with a significant female lead provides its protagonist with a disgusting genesis, wildly uncomfortable to witness with near pornographic bludgeoning, lots of moaning ahhhs! and oooohs, and all her adversaries being older, more physically imposing men. And the closing line in the Pre-E3 “Crossroads” trailer? “I hate tombs.” Oh ho, isn’t that just a cheeky, dismissive thing—as if to say I Spit on Eidos’ Grave.
Why should gritty hardships a tough, savvy woman make? Lara is 21 here, which for some reason translates to Vulnerable Piece-of-Ass. Boy Scout Indiana Jones gets to outwit robbers in the beginning of The Last Crusade. In Uncharted 3, Nathan Drake swipes a ring, flees agents and gets a mentor out of the whole ordeal. No reason a female lead can’t have the same lighthearted, spirited origin story, piquing her interest in adventure. Lara’s original background saw her cast off her high-falutin’ upbringing to travel the world following that plane crash in the Himalayas; we should be able to engage in such a story. It wouldn’t make the game soft—we’re much smarter than that.
Thanks to Scott C. for The Lost World parallel
And for your E3 education: