Back in October of 1996, the world was first introduced to now gaming icon legend – Lara Croft with the release of the original Tomb Raider. So I’m going to spend some time looking back at the main games in the franchise and its ups and downs as well as Lara herself over the last 20 years.
The Original Trilogy
Tomb Raider was the game that started it all. Developed by Core Design while being published by Eidos Interactive. Tomb Raider was a melding of action, platforming, puzzles and exploration. Borrowing gameplay elements from the 1989 classic Prince of Persia. You play as Lara Croft who sets out to recover a mysterious artefact called the Scion. The first part of which she finds in the lost tomb of Qualopec in Peru.
Lara is then send around the globe to seek out the rest of the Scion in locations such as; Greece Egypt and the lost city of Atlantis. Lara was a nimble character as she could run, jump, flip, climb, dive, swim and she also had a small arsenal of weapons too. Pistols, uzis, shotguns and even a magnum. Lara would spend most of her gun skills killing a variety of animals like; wolves, bats, bears and gorillas. There is even a T-Rex battle because… why not?
The game was a huge success and the inevitable sequel, Tomb Raider II was released in 1997. This time, Lara investigates the legend of the Dagger of Xian a mythical weapon which was said to be used by an Emperor of China. It was pretty much more of the same with a bit more polish. Lara was as nimble as before and was packing even more weapons too like; a speargun, grenade launcher and an M16 rifle to kill even more animals around the globe. Lara’s travels took her to Venice, Tibet and China. She could also use two vehicles in the game a snowmobile while in Tibet and a motorboat in Venice.
By 1997, Lara Croft had become a pop culture icon as she turned up on the cover of magazines often not associated with games as well as appearing in TV adverts for SEAT cars, Lucozade energy drink and even showing up at U2’s Popmart live tour in 1997.
The last game in the original trilogy, Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft was released in 1998. Lara’s move set had yet again been improved as she could now sprint and even ‘monkey swing’ on overhead bars and vines. This time, Lara’s globetrotting takes her to India, the South Pacific, Nevada, London and Antarctica as she searches for meteorite stones. This marked the end of the original numbered trilogy, but there was plenty more Lara to come.
The No More Numbers Trilogy
Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation was the fourth entry in the series, the start of the numberless sequels and was released in 1999. While in Egypt, Lara uncovers an ancient tomb where an Egyptian God was once imprisoned. She accidentally releases the god who threatens to unleash an apocalypse on Earth. So Lara sets out to entrap the god back into its resting place.
To be honest, by the time this game was released – the whole Tomb Raider/Lara Croft thing was wearing a little thin. The games were hardly evolving and were little more than just Lara ‘wearing a new hat’. A handful of new features and cosmetics were all that was on offer. Gone is the globetrotting element of the first three games as this one takes place solely in Egypt. Aside from an opening prequel where you get to play as Lara when she was 16 years old set in Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Oh and Lara is (supposedly) killed off at the end too.
But Lara didn’t stay dead for long as the release of Tomb Raider: Chronicles in 2000 proved. Set just a few days after Lara’s (supposed) death, a memorial service is held at Croft Manor as friends of Lara gather to reminisce on some of her past adventures… and this is where you get to play as Lara once more. The first story has Lara in Rome searching for the fabled Philosopher’s Stone. The second tale has Lara exploring the Pacific Ocean for the Spear of Destiny. Story three is set during Lara’s childhood where a 16 year old Lara is exploring the Black Isle of Ireland. In the final yarn – Lara infiltrates Von Croy Industries HQ in New York to gain possession of the Iris, the artefact that began the events of Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation.
The game wraps up with an expedition in Egypt where an excavation of the collapsed temple Lara (supposedly) died in from the last game reveals Lara’s iconic backpack and the game ends presuming that Lara has been found alive.
Was the game any good? Well here is what Andy Sandham, a designer for the game stated years after it was made…
“Tomb Raider 5 was effectively a load of old shit. That was the most depressing one for us. We were effectively just doing that for a paycheck because no other team wanted to take it on. So we had to do it, basically. By that time it had taken its toll. Three years of hammering it, and we were burnt out. That shows in the product.”
The game wasn’t very good and it looked like the Lara Croft bubble was about to burst. There was just a lack of innovation (again) and the Tomb Raider series was becoming stale – very stale. Core Design had developed every game in the franchise so far. The franchise was in need of some new ideas, but Core Design had one more game up its sleeve.
The sixth and final game from original Tomb Raider developer Core Design was released in 2003. Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness has Lara alive and now in Paris as she is dragged into an investigation of a serial killer known as ‘The Monstrum’. All of which tie into the discovery of some Obscura Paintings linked to black magic. Light RPG elements were added to the game as well as some instances where you could chose replies in conversations such as polite questions, bribery or even threats.
The game was delayed, twice and when finally released it met with average to poor reviews. Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness was the worst selling game of the franchise so far, it was full of bugs and plans for a sequel called; The Lost Dominion were quickly scrapped.
Out With The Old And In With The New… Trilogy
The large criticism that Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness received prompted the Tomb Raider franchise publishers, Eidos Interactive, to replace developer Core Design with Crystal Dynamics. So what did they have planned to breath new life into the dying franchise?
Tomb Raider: Legend was released in 2006 from developers, Crystal Dynamics. This one was a reboot to the series and disregarded all previous continuity. Lara searches for the mysterious Stone Dais that was responsible for the disappearance of her mother several years ago. Lara was back and Tomb Raider: Legend managed to revive the ‘dead on its legs’ franchise. The new game engine was sublime and allowed Lara to be much more athletic and dynamic. The core gameplay remained largely the same and yet it all felt very fresh at the same time too.
Crystal Dynamics successful reboot meant the future of Lara looked good. But who knew her future lay in her past?
Tomb Raider: Anniversary hit the shops in 2007. It had been 11 years since the release of the original Tomb Raider so what better way to celebrate than a remake of the very first game? Yes, Crystal Dynamics remade the original game… but did it work?
Well yes it did. It wasn’t just a graphical upgrade. This game used the much improved game engine from Tomb Raider: Legend and all that brought with it. The plot is the same as the original Tomb Raider with Lara travelling around the globe searching out parts of the Scion artefact. All the original’s game locales have been beautifully recreated and yes, that damn T-Rex is back too, only now looking a lot better…
The third and final game in this trilogy was Tomb Raider: Underworld released in 2008. This one is a direct sequel to the first game in this trilogy, Tomb Raider: Legend. With the second game, Tomb Raider: Anniversary, being a prequel… confused yet? This time around – Lara is tasked with finding the Entrance to Avalon, where she discovers a link between the Saxon Legend and Norse Mythology. As Lara seeks out the Hammer of Thor.
When it was released, Tomb Raider: Underworld was met with positive reviews and critical praise. Lara was on top once more and the franchise was back on track. The Tomb Raider name then lay dormant in terms of main games in the series for 5 years before yet another reboot was released…
The New, New, New Trilogy
It was all quiet on the Tomb Raider front for half a decade until an all new Lara was reborn in an all new game.
Tomb Raider was the second reboot the franchise and released in 2013. Lara is back but much more gritty and ‘realistic’ than before. Lara is on an expedition that goes very wrong and leaves the young and inexperienced Lara Croft stranded on an island. An island full of savage animals and bizarre cultists as Lara uncovers the mystery of the Shaman Queen, Himiko.
As previously mentioned, this one is much more grounded and Lara feels like a genuine character with real emotions and a personality. The violence is far more bloody, graphic and visceral then before. In fact, this is the first game in the franchise to be given an M rating in America.
Tomb Raider was critically acclaimed and met with very positive reviews. Which all meant a sequel would be coming soon and in 2015, Rise of the Tomb Raider was released.
This one was pretty much more of the same as before, but with several refinements… which was not a bad thing at all as the previous game was great. This time around, Lara continues her late father’s research into myths of immortality. As her travels take her to the Siberian tundra where she crosses paths with a ruthless shadow organisation called Trinity.
Once again, this title met with high critical praise. This sequel just built on what was already great about the the first Tomb Raider game… the second reboot first game from 2013 and not the original first Tomb Raider from 1996… confused again yet? The combat had been improved as well as the upgrade/crafting system. Even the acting and story was much better this time around too. Everything just felt much more fluid and natural which led to a more organic gameplay experience.
And that just about wraps up Tomb Raider’s 20 year legacy in games. Yeah there were a few spin offs and other titles I didn’t mention, but as I said at the start, I just wanted to concentrate on the main games in the franchise. But wait a second, didn’t I imply this was a new trilogy but only mentioned 2 games? Yes I believe I did. Well back in August of 2015, Square Enix of America CEO, Phil Rogers let slip that this new Tomb Raider reboot would be a trilogy. Then more recently, an image popped up claiming to reveal the title of the new game as being Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
Its all rumour and speculation right now. But I don’t think a third game in this reboot would be a big surprise to anyone would it?
Well there you go – 20 years of Tomb Raider and I now feel old. I can’t believe it was two decades ago when I was first introduced to Lara Croft and her tomb raiding adventures. But just to finish, I’s like to take a quick look at the star of the show itself…
Well, Lara certainly has changed over the years and I don’t just mean graphically. Her breasts have gotten less pointy and smaller as she has grown from a sexual gaming icon of the mid 90s that late teen early 20 somethings like myself drooled over, to a genuine and honest character with a real personality and emotions in more recent years. But did you know she was never originally intended to be female at all?
When Core Design first came up with the idea to create a game with an Indiana Jones inspired archaeologist that travelled the globe in search for artefacts. Lead graphic artist, Toby Gard originally pitched the idea for a male character complete with a fedora hat, bullwhip and everything. The original character design was Indiana Jones in all but the name. It was Core Design co-founder, Jeremy Smith who asked for more originality and that was when Toby Gard changed the character to female and created the Latino sociopath named Laura Cruz. Yes, the first idea for the now iconic Lara Croft was going to be muscle bound cold blooded killer called Laura Cruz.
It didn’t take too long before that idea was dropped in favour of a more erudite character we have now, but where did they get the name from? Well, a phone book. Seriously, they wanted something that sounded like Laura Cruz but more ‘English’. It was publisher Eidos who pushed for the English angle and it was someone there who picked up a phone book for Derby, England and found the name Lara Croft. So technically, Lara Croft is named after a real person and there is/was someone living in Derby with a now very famous moniker.
The original Lara from Tomb Raider 1996 only consisted of around 540 polygons and the Lara from Tomb Raider 2013? Over 40,000. It was due to the tight polygon count for the original game the lead to Lara not having a ponytail in-game, though she did in the cut-scenes and promotional marital. It has also been said that Lara’s unnatural pointy and large breasts came about because lead graphic artist, Toby Gard was just ‘messing around with Lara’s model one day and accidentally made her breasts 150% larger’. He intended to reset it back to how it was, but others on the team saw the model and decided to keep it as it was.
Not only has Lara changed in-game, she has been played by numerous actresses over the years too. Starting with Shelly Bond in the original Tomb Raider from 1996, Lara has been portrayed in the games by Judith Gibbins (1997-2000), Jonell Elliott (2001-2006), Keeley Hawes (2007-2012) and finally, Camilla Luddington (2013 – present). As well as being played by a number of models outside of the games and of course Angelina Jolie in two live action movies.
I think it best to end this article now as its dragging on a bit. But I’d like to finish up by just wishing Lara and Tomb Raider a happy 20th anniversary… and end with a sexy shot of Lara just to remind me of when I was 20…