This video of the next Tomb Raider game caused some concern. Is that creepy guy at 2m20s trying to rape Lara Croft? Anyone wondering was given their answer by executive producer Ron Rosenberg, who told Kotaku that these scavengers do "try to rape her".
Developer Crystal Dynamics released a statement saying he mis-spoke, and that sexual assault is not a theme at any point. But it didn't seem to persuade many - the barrage of opinion pieces condemning the inclusion of attempted rape in a videogame barely slowed .
If we were discussing a film, the debate might rage on for years. But Tomb Raider is a game, and in this case we don't have to deal in hypotheticals. What would this guy have done if Lara hadn't fought him off? I played it, and found out.
This is about the creepiest thing I've had to do in the course of previewing a game: refuse to instruct my female character to defend herself against a guy who's already touching her inappropriately. There are two prompts to fight back: hit one button as he leans in to knee him in the groin, and hit it again when he moves close to her face to bite his ear.
I ignore both. He leans into Lara's ear to yell threats at her, then puts his hands around her neck and throttles her. When she falls to the ground, he shoots her in the head.
Hurray! It's just a harmless murder!
I verify with Crystal Dynamics' global brand director Karl Stewart: there's absolutely no sexual element to his intentions?
"No sexual element. He doesn't care who you are. He has got you cornered and you are female, so there is an element of 'oh he's creepy, and this is slightly intimidating', but straight out it's: bite his ear, kick him in the nuts and shoot him in the head."
And the controversy?
"Unfortunately someone mis-spoke, rather than was mis-quoted, and said a word that isn't in our vocabulary and shouldn't have been said... We're not trying to create something that causes a stir, what we're trying to create is something that's still in a mature world but still feels real."
The extreme sceptic could of course suggest that the scene was changed to add in this non-sexualised fail state some time between the E3 demo and me playing it on the 22nd of June, in response to the kerfuffle. I can't really see that. Each possible outcome of the scene has its own motion-captured animations, voice-acted lines, and consistent cinematic direction. The on-screen control prompts aren't shown in the E3 video, but you do see it go into slow-motion before Lara knees her assailant, to give the player time to press the button.
The section I played, an early one, is very pretty, very cinematic, and not very interactive. You're funneled pretty tightly down one path, apart from a small open area with some deer to hunt. There are more quick-time events than platforming challenges. Karl says this isn't representative of the amount of control you have in the rest of the game, which makes me wonder why it's the bit they gave us to play.
I'll talk more about the game's systems - and why it's still somewhat promising - for my full preview in the next issue of PC Gamer.