Those who pick up a copy of the new Tomb Raider might notice that Lara Croft doesn’t sound like the plummy-voiced English aristocrat of old.
While the actress Camilla Luddington is providing the English voice-over, the game has also been localised, with the Lebanese actress and model Nadine Njeim stepping in to give an Arabic lilt to the character, a first for an action-adventure title. “They just took out the English and translated it, but we had to adapt it to the tie frame we have and the lip synching we have,” says Njeim. “It was hard work because we tend to elongate things. A one-syllable word in English takes about 10 minutes in Arabic!”
Although she was named Miss Lebanon in 2007, Njeim admits it was a somewhat daunting task to take on Lara Croft. “It was kind of amazing to see yourself acting out a character who has a legacy in the international community, not to mention the fact you’re presenting a new version of her this time,” she says. “I was obsessed with the thought that millions of people are going to play this game, millions of people are going to hear my voice. What if I get it wrong?”
No matter what language she is speaking in, Croft is arguably more girl power than the Spice Girls, as renowned an archaeologist as Indiana Jones and about as famous for wearing grubby singlets as Bruce Willis. She adorned teenage boys’ walls, was lauded as a feminist icon and slammed as a “distorted, sexually ambiguous male fantasy… a sergeant-major with balloons stuffed up his shirt,” by Germaine Greer, and helped bring to fame one of the world’s biggest A-listers, Angelina Jolie.
And she did all this as a collection of animated pixels. And she’s coming back. One of the year’s most eagerly awaited video games, Tomb Raider, comes out on, and sees Ms Croft make a sensational return to the console world she exploded on to with the first Tomb Raider in 1996.
Times have changed since the late 1990s, and not just in the technology (the first Tomb Raider was launched on the Sega Spectrum, if you can remember that). While the idea of a tough-talking pistol-toting woman may have been something fresh back then (funnily enough, she was launched the same year as Pamela Anderson’s Barb Wire), these days it’s largely considered clichéd, possibly due to the success of Tomb Raider and subsequent rip-offs.
And these changing perceptions are reflected in the new Lara, who on the first Tomb Raider cover artwork was a blocky woman in an excruciatingly tight vest and tiny shorts, aggressively clutching two pistols, but who is now portrayed as a timid, lonely-looking girl with a bow and arrow in a dark cave. “The idea was to just bring back some dimensionality to the character. When you’re asked who Lara is, most people recognise her as Angelina Jolie on the movie side and as a woman with a pistol and a braid for the game,” says Noah Hughes, the creative director of Tomb Raider’s publisher Square Enix. “I guess the goal was to sort of peel back the surface layer icon and try to expose the character as a person going through extraordinary challenges. It wasn’t so much about ‘let’s re-envision Lara as a vulnerable character’, it was let’s start from ground zero, which is that she’s fresh out of university, a brilliant archaeologist, athletic, but not confident, she’s not well versed in any of these aspects of the character she becomes more comfortable with.
”The new game begins with Lara shipwrecked on an isolated tropical island where she must use her instincts to survive, battling the elements, wild animals and, eventually, human foes. Her first kill, in fact, comes in the form of a deer she has to shoot with a bow and arrow for food, something she actually expresses remorse for in the game (those who remember the first titles might recall that she unnecessarily and unflinchingly slaughters a worryingly large amount of endangered animals).
But while the WWF might not be as upset this time around, Lara does grow and becomes more confident with her weapons and at ease with what she has to do.“It’s funny how she basically used to go around killing endangered species and smashing ancient relics,” says Hughes. “But as much as that became a bit caricaturised, it is important to Lara’s character that she is an adventurer, a tomb raider. She’s not a pure archaeologist, the games aren’t going to be carefully digging and brushing things, so there is a bombastic combat and action element that is important to infuse in the story.
”Lara’s personal growth is an essential part of Tomb Raider, in which she evolves dramatically as a character to someone perhaps closer to the individual we first met some 17 years ago. “At the end, she is different to who she was at the beginning,” says Hughes, who adds the actual scars and bandages she collects along the way remain with her. Naturally, there are plans to keep the game going after this reboot, with the new, resurgent Ms Croft now equipped to embark on another series of adventures. “We definitely intend to carry it forward. This isn’t a small detour into the origins, this is ‘let’s start from scratch and let’s tell the next story from where we leave this one’,” says Hughes. “Our goal is to put Lara back shoulder to shoulder with all the great games out there.”
Someone better warn Germaine Greer.
While reboots might be the flavour of the decade in the film world, they’re not so prevalent in gaming, especially with characters as iconic as Lara, who largely fell from grace with the unsuccessful 2003 game Angel of Darkness (although subsequent releases still sold well). But the new Tomb Raider is every inch the reboot, going back to the start and bringing us a fresh-faced archaeology graduate as yet inexperienced in the butt-kicking, chasm-jumping and cave-exploring elements that made her so well known.
“Doing a reboot is a challenge no matter what you’re doing, but it’s especially a challenge when you’re doing a reboot and you’re committed to making it different enough that people notice, but still true to what it’s always been,” explains Noah Hughes, the creative director of Tomb Raider’spublisher Square Enix. “It’s like threading a needle; you change it too much and people say ‘that’s not Tomb Raider enough’, but you don’t change it enough and there’s really no point.”
Tomb Raider facts
• The former Liverpool and England goalkeeper David James blamed late-night sessions playing Tomb Raider for a poor run in form.
• Lara Croft was originally inspired by Neneh Cherry and Tank Girl, and was originally going to be a South American explorer called Lara Cruz.
• The UK town of Derby, where Tomb Raider was first designed, has named a road the Lara Croft Way after a public vote (she took 89 per cent).
• Time magazine put Lara Croft on its cover and once placed her higher than the Pope in a survey of most recognisable people in the world.
• Liam Howlett of The Prodigy admitted that the band’s 1997 album The Fat of the Land was delayed because he’d been playing Tomb Raider.