... and I'm not sure how I feel about it.
At last night's VGX awards, Square-Enix and Crystal Dynamics announced a 'definitive edition' of this year's Tomb Raider reboot, coming to Xbox One and Playstation 4 in January. Here's the full, explosion-filled announcement trailer:
Whilst perhaps not as visually stunning as dedicated-next-gen titles such as Killzone Shadowfall or Ryse, it's certainly a striking game - but hidden amongst the sparkly lighting effects and the floaty foliage in Crystal Dynamic's updated engine is a change that is making me feel a bit uncomfortable.
The trailer helpfully informs me that 'LARA CROFT WILL STUN YOU', but I don't think it quite has in the way that the developers were perhaps expecting. There's more than a visual facelift in Lara's new model for her transition to Xbox One and PS4 - there seems to be an actual one too:
There's a few subtle differences between the old (left) and new (right) - thicker, shaped eyebrows. A fuller face, blurring her previously defined jawline with some baby fat. Larger, fuller lips. A flatter chin. A tweaked nose. Eyes that are now bigger, and with darker colouring. On their own they're minor changes, but they come together to form a significant change to Lara Croft - and a change that feels like it's subtly reneging on some of the aims of the original game. The first Lara Croft looks like an attractive, but ordinary young university graduate. The new one looks, well... a bit sexier. A bit less fresh-faced student, a bit more action heroine. A bit more like the Lara of old, the pin-up girl of 90's video games.
And in a way, I feel like that betrays some of what Crystal Dynamics did when they rebooted Tomb Raider.
Whether or not they were successful is up to us as the player (and it's not like Crystal Dynamics didn't put their foot in their mouths about this a few times leading up to release), but one of the original intents of this new Tomb Raider series was to give us a Lara that distinctly wasn't the sexy action hero the character was famous for being. She was young, inexperienced, a woman who is thrown into dangerous and extraordinary circumstances and emerges stronger for it. For me, the original design reflected that - she was attractive, sure, but not perhaps conventionally so, and definitely not as 'sexed up' as her former incarnations were. If this was saved for the sequel - and purportedly this model is meant to be a basis for the 'true' next-generation follow up to Tomb Raider 2013 - I might not be as bothered as I am about these changes, admittedly. But to go back and retroactively replace that old design with a new one that looks a little less archaeology student and a little more glamour model feels to me like it undermines what was originally set out for this re-imagined Lara Croft. And then there's further subtle changes like these:
The new Lara Croft isn't just prettier, she's noticeably, well... cleaner. Gone is much of the dirt and muck that she collects over the course of her hellish island adventure, and gone are the scrapes - the cuts on her arm and her chest that she earned from her survival in the original version are noticeably absent in the new one. Our new Lara isn't just a pretty face, but also someone who seemingly emerges from her ordeal in a bit better shape than she originally did.
And in a way, without those cuts and bruises, she's a little less interesting. Less the young girl who ends the game battered but not broken, and more of a typical hero - escaping her trials with nothing more than a few flecks of mud here and there. There's something that feels disappointing about that.