Many thousands of words have been dedicated to this icon of gaming and at least a good portion of them were in relation to her appearance. This is going to be one of those times...
Today I received Underworld and while sitting there looking at the cover and not playing the game it struck me that something was different this time:
First off.... someone dislocated their hip! It's almost half a foot lower than the other one and she's not doing that slanty hip thing that models do. Secondly, she has a tummy! A realistic tummy too and i found myself strangely hypnotised with this bared midriff. Then it struck me - is this the first time i've seen a realistic female character? Fortunately not, Half Life 2 had Alyx and Dr. Mossman, Mirror's Edge has Faith - though i can't think of any others off the top of my head. What it was that had me though was that i was seeing 'realistic' body proportions on Lara.
Look at the evolution of Lara's appearance over time. What's strange is that Lara pretty much stayed the same over the first 5 games up until Revelations/Chronicles, gold belt buckle and all then there was a sudden transformation as Eidos tried to invigorate their franchise in the Angel of Darkness (a game i enjoyed) and which unfortunatey fell foul of critical and general gamers' ire due to Eidos forgetting to update the movement controls along with the rest of it. Lara's look for AoD was that of a more serious and strong character. It was as if she had suddenly listened to the Spice Girls for the first time and realised that she wasn't quite 'girl power' enough so toned down the large eyes, thick lips and made herself have a more realistic figure - which included a reduction in the size of her breasts though she also lost quite a lot of her waist and hips too. Generally I liked the look - thought it was good.
Ever since Crystal Dynamics (of the fantastic Legacy of Kain series) took the reigns of the franchise, Lara has been more dynamic, slick and increasingly realistic... along with the graphical and gameplay reboots they also re-worked the story of the original game into the middle of a trilogy. Legend was pretty much the best 3rd person game i'd played since Prince of Persia and her khaki-style getup was pretty modern and individual. However, she still suffered from a few of the old traits of 'idealistic' character design, namely her waist which was pretty thin and her stomach was unrealistically shaped/toned. Anniversary, the remake of the original, left her basically unchanged with the exception of (i think) her face which was altered slightly. Strangely, despite Underworld taking place in the same story arc with basically the same engine they have completely revamped her physique.
Gone are the impossibly thin hips, she has good proportion between chest-waist-hips and her breasts seem more natural - these are all good things - and to my point above her stomach seems real, like as if it were actually based off a real woman who wasn't super muscled or anorexic. Most alarmingly though they've completely redone her face which was really off-putting when i tried out the demo and it seems to be in relation to her new official real life model who is a gymnast. Now though, Lara is about as close as we can get to being based on a real woman there's not much more that can be done except alter between different shapes and sizes - for which there is no need. However, looking at the pictures of Underworld's Lara i couldn't help but notice the striking similarities between her and the Lara from Angel of Darkness; similar sort of composition to the character from her clothing to her hair including the bangs in her 'fringe'. There's also the tone of the game - what with the intro of her house exploding and her walking away from it.... It's like history is repeating itself.
Are Crystal Dynamics doing a mini-homage to the worst received Tomb Raider game? If so, i'm cool with it. I'm also cool with attractive, realistic female protagonists/antagonists/any roles in games. I can't imagine what my 15 year-old hormonal self would have made of the current Lara considering what he actually thought of the original (yeah, i'm a sad, sad nerd/geek who needs to get out more) but let me tell you one thing.... kids these days don't know how lucky they are to have better graphics, and better female role models in games. Now we just need to work on the male role models in games. I think the Prince of Persia is the best character i can think of to be an inspiration to young men.... otherwise what else do we have? Duke Nukem/Gears of War?
Yeah.... and people wonder why i tend to prefer playing female characters in games.