She screams in pain, clinging to the edge of a rickety bridge. An assailant throws her up against a wall in a vicious chokehold. She laments her fate in the world, expressing deep insecurities -- and then decides to soldier on.
In the new version of video game franchise Tomb Raider, out in two weeks for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the character you know from the movies and previous games is long gone. Lara Croft starts out as a hapless survivor with few skills but grows into a butt-kicking heroine.
'They changed her out of the hotpants and made her more real-looking.'
- Camilla Luddington
“The creators wanted me to depict the journey she goes on” Grey’s Anatomy co-star Camilla Luddington told FoxNews.com. “To start her off as ultra-confident would mean there wasn’t anywhere for her to go.”
Luddington provided the voice and – by wearing a motion-capture suit – the physical animations of the new Lara Croft, a role she acted out over a three-year period, living in her virtual skin on a weekly basis. That motion-capture work meant actually acting out the action stunts: crouching and hugging the dirt, sliding into tight crevices, and even falling a few feet to the ground.
To bring the iconic action hero to life was unlike any other role. Luddington spent an entire day doing nothing but “death scenes” where she pretended to drown or fall off a cliff. The developers tied a rope to her and jerked it (lightly) to get her to gasp or shriek. In later levels of the game, she lowers her voice to make Lara seem more experienced and determined. The shrieks of pain almost seem real.
That’s because, unlike plain-vanilla shooters, Croft actually changes as a character. Early on, she questions her own abilities (whispering “I can do this” to herself). She pauses to shiver by a fire. She has to gut a deer, but acts relieved when she’s done. In a pivotal scene, she climbs a massive radio tower, barely making each tenuous jump.
“By making her have self-doubts early on, they made her more relatable,” Luddington said. “Lara is inexperienced – she’s never killed anyone before! You end up rooting for her because she’s not only saving her own life but everyone else’s.”
Loss is a recurring theme in Tomb Raider; Lara lost both her parents at a young age and often feels lonely or abandoned. Luddington says, at 19, she lost her own mother. Both Croft and Luddington are British, and both are about the same age. And, she says, the new Croft is a bit more human.
“They changed her out of the hotpants and made her more real looking, which is much more relatable,” she told FoxNews.com. That’s important, she says, because female gamers will see Lara as vulnerable but, eventually, will feel empowered. They’ll see how the main character evolves and starts kicking butt against the bad guys. That growth is important, analysts say, because too many games have a paper-thin plot.
“If you have story, and it’s a well-conceived and written story, then you care about the characters, you associate with them, and in some sense you become them,” said Jod Peddie, a gaming analyst. “Lara is the best looking so far [in the series]. Her movements are terrific, thanks to the motion-capture system.”
In the end, the character development and Luddington’s role in creating the new Lara Croft is one thing, but Tomb Raider also adds a survival element, puzzle-solving, and even tomb-exploration levels to add some variety to the storyline. The highlight throughout the game, though, is seeing the character come to life.
“It’s strange to watch at times, to hear your own voice even though she doesn’t have all of my facial expressions,” Luddington said. “I kind of feel like she is a part of me, and it’s almost emotional to watch what she goes through in the game.”