Lara Croft was awesome. She was a highly intelligent, badass archaeologist countess from Surrey who raided ancient tombs and battled mythological monsters and gods and goddesses in order to get her hands on some of the most powerful legendary weapons known to humankind.
Yes, when she first appeared on our screens in 1996 she was depicted with unrealistically large breasts and small waist (rendered to more realistic proportions over the years), but she was a fearless, witty, and strong-minded woman. She always was until recent portrayals which explores Lara's "origins" (which has already been done, by the way, in Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation first released in 1999, and again in Tomb Raider: Legend in 2006). Reducing her curves and making her cheeks bigger, thereby giving her a more vulnerable, adolescent look, she spends most of her time screaming and crying, falling over, panicking, getting hurt, and she's even almost sexually assaulted - because these are the origins of a strong woman in the minds of feeble writers. Is distress and suffering, even rape, really the only way to make female characters strong?
Thankfully, this doesn't occur as much in the new Tomb Raider game, Rise of the Tomb Raider. But Lara has still been diminished in much the same way as the first game because Lara's new writers are determined to, in the words of the new lead writer Rhianna Pratchett, "connect more to her human side" - an aim she fails miserably in. Despite the new team's lofty ambitions, the writing is predictable and lazy. The earlier games, even as recent as Tomb Raider: Underworld (released in 2008), had fantastically portrayed her human side, her ambitions, her love for her mother and her father and her friends, her disappointments, and her morality when she manages to wield incredibly powerful weapons found in dangerous, long-forgotten tombs. (How would the legendary Thor's Mjölnir or King Arthur's Excalibur weapons have been used in the hands of anyone else but Lara?)
But this wasn't good enough, apparently. In order for Lara to become the Lara that Tomb Raider fans have been playing for almost twenty years, she needed to be seen suffering both physical and mental trauma. This is a Lara who is doubtful of herself and repentant for killing - not that that stops her killing more and more enemies in an expanding variety of ways. This has been the cost of connecting more to her human side.
It seems that her new writers really don't like the old Lara's killer instincts. But it's part of her ruthless persona that she won't hesitate to kill any baddie, whether a lowly thug or an evil Ancient Egyptian goddess. Lara is cunning and charismatic, yes, but she is a killer - a stone-cold killer. And someone who actually quite enjoys killing (as long as it's the bad guys). That's the sort of person I want to play as in video games, because it's fun to kill things in video games. Killing baddies in video games doesn't compare to killing things in the real world; the mercenaries in their generic Kevlar vests are hardly different from the aliens falling down the screen in Space Invaders.
Being an efficient killer makes Lara a great game character. But getting rid of this side of her, as the two latest games have done, has left Lara as a much weaker, not stronger, heroine, and created a paradox in which you're playing as someone who seriously regrets killing, and yet keeps putting herself in situations where she has to kill things in order to make the game more fun. By introducing a moral side to killing baddies, albeit video game baddies, the writers have just ended up diminishing the fun of playing Tomb Raider: killing things, which accompanies all the other aspects that makes the Tomb Raider games superior to others, such as the puzzles, the dynamic plots, in-game discoveries, and the gadgets. This has resulted in a feeble rendition of one of gaming's best heroines.
Judging by the two latest portrayals, I can't see the new younger Lara growing into the brilliant Lara of old.