ON SHOULDERS OF LARA
Copyright 2002 www.guardianunlimited.com
[ March 28th 2002 ]
games publishing industry's saviour has unfeasibly
large breasts, wears a ponytail and hotpants and
has been missing, presumed dead, for two years.
She is, of course, Lara Croft, and is due to make
her comeback exclusively on the PlayStation 2
on November 15, as the star of the game Lara Croft
Tomb Raider: The Angel Of Darkness.
British publisher Eidos, The Angel Of Darkness
will be the most important release in the company's
history. The past two years have been a struggle
for Eidos: its shares have performed badly (in
the past fortnight, it downgraded a quarterly
forecast due to the delay in the release of games)
and it has been dogged by rumours of takeover
bids. But the five previous Tomb Raider games
sold 28m copies worldwide, and Tomb Raider is
arguably the hottest franchise in the games industry.
Can The Angel Of Darkness revive Eidos' flagging
fortunes? Early indications at a sneak preview
last week were good.
is the first Tomb Raider specifically designed
for a next-generation console - it is exclusive
to the PlayStation 2 - and looks set to be vastly
more interesting than its predecessors. Jeremy
Heath-Smith, who juggles being managing director
of Tomb Raider developer Core Design with his
role as Eidos' head of global development, was
keen to differentiate The Angel Of Darkness from
Tomb Raiders of yore: "Lara is still the same
character, but we're putting her into an environment
that is darker and deeper. She's far more mobile:
she crouches down and sneaks a lot more and has
hand-to-hand combat for the first time. She'll
be able to talk to characters. The game starts
as an adventure, goes into classic Lara gameplay
and then into arcade-style action."
Of Darkness should, then, provide a much richer
gameplay experience than its predecessors. But
does Eidos' future depend on it? And, indeed,
that of the whole British games publishing industry?
The likes of Codemasters, Rage and SCi may disagree,
but Eidos is the only British games publisher
with a major international presence.
predictably, is at pains not to overstate the
game's importance: "Of course the game is important
to Eidos. But we've survived the past two years
without Tomb Raider, so we could survive the next
10 years without it, but we're happy we've got
it." Any delay beyond the scheduled release date,
though, would clearly hurt the company. Core Design
churned out a game each year during Tomb Raider's
PlayStation days, and many felt the games would
have benefited from longer development periods.
tacitly agrees: "The commercial reality was that
we wanted a game per year and we were using an
engine that was never designed to do that. But
today, we are smarter and we know what to do."
It must be so tempting to milk such a franchise
though, and Heath-Smith will not be drawn on the
frequency of Tomb Raider releases for the PlayStation
2: "We are going to see what happens. The game-playing
public seems to want to play sequels after a short
amount of time."
there are the Tomb Raider films, the first of
which was a commercial success despite being savaged
by critics. Eidos has sold the rights for three
movies (keeping script veto rights) and Heath-Smith
confirms work has started on the next Tomb Raider
film: "The second film is in the script-writing
process, and we're fact-finding for locations
and storyboarding. I think a lot was learned from
doing the Tomb Raider movie."
Angel Of Darkness fulfils its potential, it should
provide Eidos with a much-needed smash hit and
regain credibility with hardcore gamers. To retain
the latter, Eidos must resist the temptation to
rush out sequels, but the way Heath-Smith tells
it, Lara's two-year sabbatical has brought about
an overdue reappraisal of the company's attitude
to its prize asset. If any character has the power
to steam back in like a modern-day conquering
heroine, both guns blazing, and restore the British
games publishing industry's fortunes, that character
is surely Lara Croft.