Tomb Raider Hopes to Recreate a Gaming IconS

Don't think of Tomb Raider as an origin story, think of it instead as a sort of metaphorical creation myth, a game that won't redefine just who Lara Croft is, but also the world in which she exists.

Gone not only is her over-sexualized physique, two guns and ponytail, but also her past, her way of fighting and abrupt personality.

The creation of a new Lara Croft in a new Tomb Raider is so complete that it means no more real-world models for Croft, no more broad support of multiple platforms, no consideration of multiplayer.

"We looked at the franchise, what bogged it down in the past, what things detracted from the story and we took them out," said Tomb Raider global brand director Karl Stewart. "We're not going to worry about her parents, her background. This is about the here and now. You might not know anything about her parents throughout the entire game.

Tomb Raider the reboot opens with a young, fresh-out-of-college Croft shipwrecked on an island, alone, trapped in a cave. She is frightened, vulnerable, but in the end able to fight her way free of that cave and it's frightening denizen and burst out onto the surface of the island that serves as the backdrop of her personal journey.

"We are not creating a character that just appeals to men," Stewart said. "We want to have an effect that is deeper, that has highs and lows. You can see it's not just about sex appeal. She can't be huge chest and tight shorts. That was the vision of old Lara Croft. We needed to make substantial changes."

Stewart and I are sitting in a pre-fab lounge of sorts at E3. We're sitting on low chairs around a coffee table surrounded by temporary rooms built to show of Square-Enix's latest line up of games. I've just finished watching Croft fight her way through a figurative rebirth of sorts that leaves her standing on the side of a mountain staring down at a bay of shipwrecks and a world of jungle. It is my third or fourth time watching a Crystal Dynamics developer play through this particular slice of the game.

I can't get over how easily this single demonstration has managed to completely uproot my dismissal of a series I once loved but came to ignore.

Four years ago, when Square-Enix was just starting to show off Lara Croft Underworld, I had finally decided that Tomb Raider was a series I no longer cared about, I told Stewart. When I heard this latest Tomb Raider was making the rounds this year, I wasn't looking forward to it.

It sounds like I wasn't the only one who felt that way.

"Combat is ambitious. It was ambitious when i first saw it and now it just feels natural to the game."

But Crystal Dynamic knew that had something special. They had a reboot, a real reboot that seemed to toss everything we knew about the series out and start over.

The most obvious change is to Croft herself. Gone is the buxom, sharp-tonged, self-assured Croft portrayed in movies by Angelina Jolie. In her place is a young, frightened college kid. She doesn't run around a room firing two guns at the same time, taking out a room full of enemies. She doesn't even have two guns, at least not initially.

Stewart says they decided to toss that iconic gunplay, and her ponytail, out for the same reason that James Bond, in Casino Royale, suddenly doesn't care if his Martini is shaken or stirred.

"We're not going to start the game and say, ‘Here are two pistols and lets tie her hair up in a braid' because that doesn't stand for anything," he said.

It wasn't until we see Bond ordering a Vesper Martini later in Casino Royale that we learn of his particular penchant for drinks served a special way, Stewart points out. That made it feel like it had meaning and wasn't just an actor saying a line that's been said many times before.

Croft will be getting those dual guns back, but not until they have some meaning to her character.

"We hope to bring gravity to those items," Stewart said.

Croft may also become the women we all came to know in her games, though that seems less likely.

"In the past Lara has never had a personal attachment to any character," Stewart said. "She's never had a relationship beyond telling someone what to do.

In Tomb Raider, Croft will have a very close relationship with Captain Conrad Roth, her mentor, the man who brought her on the doomed expedition and the man, now gravely injured, who she is trapped on the island with.

"We use that in a very psychological way," Stewart said. "She loves Roth. She's known him since she was very young. She knows she has to save him."

It is Roth who first has faith in Croft, even before she has faith in herself. It is Roth who we first see holding two familiar guns, pulled from two familiar holsters.

Stewart won't say how long Tomb Raider's story will be, instead defining it by what the developers hope to do with it.

"In the story that we've got there is a set number of experiences we want players to go through," he said. ‘Our goal is that when you finish the game you've had a journey.

And it's through that journey that Croft will be redefined, not just for this game, but all future games. This is a new path for Croft, a new beginning that will essentially wipe the slate clean of any of her previous game's adventures, he said.

Tomb Raider Hopes to Recreate a Gaming IconS

"We are very proud of the history that Tomb Raider has," he said. "But this will never tie into whatever she's done before.

"When you start this game you will go off and be the Lara Croft that was defined here. It also defines the future of that franchise."

The gameplay show in videos, and that I witnessed several times, is meant to be a "vertical slice" of the game, something that gives those watching it a sense of most of what they can expect from the game.

Currently, that is also what will likely become the opening of the game, Stewart tells me.

What it didn't show, not really, though was combat. Instead we see a single encounter with a wolf, something that looks more like an interactive movie than a fight.

Stewart says that was intentional.

"If we're going to re-imagine the franchise, we want to get people to digest why we are doing it and who she is first," he said.

So far the team is trying to show people two of the pillars of the game. The game's third and final pillar is combat.

"Combat is very, very dear to our hearts," Stewart said. "We have built an entirely new combat team at the studio to work on it. It is very competitive."

He tells me that the team has moved completely away from the old lock-on gunplay of the original Tomb Raider and toward something more analog, something more akin to the modern third-person shooter.

"Combat is ambitious. It was ambitious when i first saw it and now it just feels natural to the game."

Tomb Raider Hopes to Recreate a Gaming IconS

There are other concepts in the game that haven't been fully explored too.

For instance, the island of Tomb Raider will, by game's end, be dotted with basecamps. In these basecamps players will be able to upgrade Croft's survival skills, salvage found equipment to build new items and fast travel between basecamps.

The fast travel will allow gamers to re-explore areas with newly unlocked equipment. When Croft hops from basecamp to basecamp it doesn't change the day or time, just her location.

This is a new Tomb Raider, a new Lara Croft. It is the beginning of something new. hopefully something great.