March 5, 2013 at 12:34 PM ET
If you think you know Lara Croft of Tomb Raider fame, you might want to think again.
With the launch of the new "Tomb Raider" game Tuesday, there's a brand new Lara in town. Development studio Crystal Dynamics has rebooted the leading lady specifically and the Tomb Raider franchise in general (more on that here), and while much will seem familiar when it comes to the adventuress who has starred in more than a dozen games and two feature films since 1996 ... much has changed as well.
NBC News chatted with Darrell Gallagher — Crystal Dynamics studio head — about giving new life to Lara Croft, and about how they decided what iconic items and imagery remained and what iconic imagery was given the boot in the process of making the reboot.
Here's a look at what stayed, what went, and a few things that might have been had this "Tomb Raider" gone down a different path.
Lara Croft, smarty pants archaeologist: Throughout the Tomb Raider games, Lara has always had a brilliant mind, and in this way she has not changed. Sure, the new "Tomb Raider" is an origin story and so we meet Croft at the not-so-worldly age of 21. And in this gritty, more realistic game, that means young Lara (like almost any young person) is uncertain of herself and even frightened when faced with danger. But her mind is sharp and fast, as always.
"Obviously we wanted to make sure that she was still recognizable as Lara and that it was still Tomb Raider," Gallagher says. "So there's still that sense of archaeology and of her being a brilliant mind at her core. That was something that we felt made her unique — her brains, as well as her physical abilities.
Speaking of her physical abilities, once young Lara finds her footing (and it doesn't take long) players will be able to take her leaping across chasms and climbing rock walls (skills we've come to expect of her over the years).
That iconic ponytail: "The ponytail was something we couldn't let go off even though we discussed it," Gallagher says of Croft's signature hair style.
They tried giving her short hair, a bob and they tried putting her hair up in a bun (pictured above). But the ponytail (minus the braiding that has appeared in past games) won the day.
WHAT GOT THE BOOT
Goodbye outrageous curves, hello (more) realistic female figure: Let's get this out of the way — Lara Croft's enormous bust has been given the boob, er, boot. And so has that preposterous waistline of hers.
Her unnatural proportions have given way to what looks like an (almost) real woman.
"We wanted to make a more believable, more human character in Lara, so the physicality had to change," Gallagher says. "But still we tried to maintain this easy-to-recognize DNA where you look at her and say, yeah, that's Lara. It’s a more real version and it’s a different flavor, but we hope it doesn't feel like some different actress is playing her and you don’t really know who it is."
Goodbye short-shorts, hello adventure pants: On a related note, Lara's absurdly short shorts have been tossed out with the dirty laundry. And we approve. (C'mon, what were those things any way? Underwear? A bikini bottom masquerading as shorts?)
Surely an adventure-loving woman who climbs rock walls and slides through tunnels would want to protect her athletic gams from scrapes, cuts and bruises. And those cutoffs weren't cutting it.
Speaking of which ...
Goodbye backpack, hello pockets: We gotta admit, whether you're raiding tombs or carrying your books to class, a backpack makes good sense. After all, where else are you going to store all that gear you use to climb mountains and fight bad guys? But Lara Croft's decidedly unsightly backpack has been tossed out with the shorts.
So where does all the stuff you collect as you play this new "Tomb Raider" game go? Since Lara is now wearing the far-more-reasonable cargo pants, that means she has pockets. Throughout the new game, you'll see her shift items she finds into her (seemingly bottomless) pockets with nary a bulge in sight. Perhaps it doesn't make quite as much sense logically, but it does make sense fashionably.
Goodbye dual-wielded guns, hello bows and arrows: Lara Croft has been a gunslinger since she got her start way back in 1996. And she prefers two guns to one. But this new Lara has tossed aside her signature handguns in favor a new weapon.
This time around, Lara gets her Katniss Everdeen on with a badass bow (and an extremely useful climbing ax). Having played the game, I have to say the bow is a fantastic change-up. It is a joy to use when taking out enemies — understated yet powerful, silent and deadly.
Gallagher says they went with a bow as Lara's new iconic weapon because it seemed appropriate to the theme of survival that drives the entire game. But not to worry, if you love Lara with guns, she does gather some as the game goes on — though players won't use them in the two-handed style of yesteryear.
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN
If the "Tomb Raider" reboot had gone differently, the new Lara Croft would have gone horseback riding. She also would have had a young child companion to tend to, says Gallagher. In another version considered, the game was tinged with more of a horror flavor.
The team considered — and even fleshed out — a variety of possibilities but ultimately decided they weren't right for the reboot. But take a look at some of Crystal Dynamics' early art work below to get an idea of what might have been...
Winda Benedetti writes about video games for NBC News. You can follow her tweets about games and other things on Twitter here @WindaBenedetti and you can follow her on Google+. Meanwhile, be sure to check out the IN-GAME FACEBOOK PAGE to discuss the day's gaming news and reviews.