In 1996, it was the first PlayStation to run on a quiet fire in the homes of many gamers. So people have been largely looking for new virtual experiences to lose themselves in. In that regard, the launch of the Tomb Raider came at an opportune time. The undersigned got a taste of the game for the first time with a demo that came with PlayStation Magazine (those good old days!).
The demo consisted of an entire level of the game, City of Vilcabamba, which contained all kinds of different elements that made the final game so great: open-ended, adventure-filled levels filled with puzzles that require you to break your mind every now and then, enemies in the form of wild animals, cover music Aerial used sparingly but effectively and of course acrobatic Lara Croft herself, despite her divided appearance, immediately captured the imagination. It was enough to convince millions of players.
Tomb Raider was developed from 1994 and appeared in 1996 – on October 25 to be exact on Sega Saturn, and a month later also on PlayStation and PC. The game concept – and its protagonist – was designed by Toby Guard of the now-defunct Core Design, and the title was eventually published by Eidos Interactive. Although 3D gaming has been around for as long as 1996 and has become more mainstream thanks to the release of the Nintendo 64, the technology was still relatively in its infancy. So Tomb Raider was one of the first games to showcase what was possible in three dimensions.
Logically, if you were to start the original Tomb Raider now, you would not only have to get used to the old graphics, but also the strict controls. Despite Mrs. Croft’s appearance, players often joked that she allowed herself to control herself like a cow. However, the appearance of a fictional British archaeologist, who seemed to be based in part on the adventurous Indiana Jones, was enough to make Lara Croft a global icon.
This ensured not only the successful first part – the game sold 7 million copies and received various awards – but also many sequels. Core Design worked as a bullet train and developed several sequels in the next four years. Tomb Raider 2, Tomb Raider 3, The Last Revelation, and Tomb Raider Chronicles improved the concept in many ways and Lara Croft flew around the virtual world visiting all kinds of locations, from cemeteries to exotic cities.
In addition, Lara’s appearance has made Tomb Raider games an irresistible attraction for millions of teens. It’s no coincidence that game magazines – including those of sister site Power Unlimited – quickly fed up with rumors about cheats to make Lara run naked across the screen, something that was later made possible with mods on PC. Core Design itself helped with that, of course, by making Croft’s lap more and more consistent with each part.
This does not detract from the importance of Lara Croft’s popularity for representing women in games. Before the arrival of Tomb Raider, players were mostly controlling male characters. Lara proves it’s cool to go on an adventure with a virtual female character.
Lara’s appearance made Tomb Raider an irresistible attraction for millions of teens
The move to a new generation of consoles didn’t help the Tomb Raider franchise. Logically speaking, Core Design had a hard time introducing so many new games in such a short amount of time, and when The Angel of Darkness came out in 2003 as the first Tomb Raider game on PlayStation 2, the quality that made the series was outstanding. shorter than it should be. Other PS2 games seem to perform better and Core Design has been pulled from the franchise by Eidos.
Meanwhile, Lara Croft’s legacy has only grown thanks to a companion movie franchise. In 2001, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was released, in which Angelina Jolie played the role of Lara. Jolie seemed made for the role and a sequel was released in 2003. While Tomb Raider and Lara have become increasingly known to both hardcore gamers and touring in recent years, films have made these names known to the general public.
Crystal Dynamics took over and created Tomb Raider: Legend in 2006. A new generation of consoles brought more realistic graphics, Lara’s backstory was tweaked here and there, and the focus returned to the adventurous locations that helped the franchise grow. The following year, Tomb Raider Anniversary, a remake of the first game, was released to celebrate its 10th anniversary, and in 2008 the new Tomb Raider Underworld trilogy concluded. The game followed events from Legend.
Aside from a few spin-offs, we only heard from our beloved adventurer back in 2013. Crystal Dynamics and Eidos, which were acquired by Japanese company Square Enix, decided to completely reboot the series, preparing the franchise for a modern audience. The result was simply “Tomb Raider”. Ironically, the game borrowed heavily from the Uncharted series, an adventure series by Naughty Dog that drew a lot of inspiration from the old Tomb Raider games.
Although Tomb Raider didn’t win an Originality Award as a result, the game is a crazy rollercoaster ride full of cinematic moments and adventurous locations. During the game, the still young and relatively inexperienced Lara Croft learns the tricks of the trade on a mysterious and extremely violent island. A few years later, the sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, appeared temporarily exclusively on Xbox One, although the game later also came to PlayStation. The recent trilogy concluded with the 2018 game Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Despite disappointing sales numbers according to Square Enix, the game has been praised in the game and is a worthy result of the series.
Incidentally, the game series wasn’t the only thing that got a reboot: the movie series also got a second chance with Tomb Raider released in 2018. Alicia Vikander plays Lara in it, and more or less the story of the game that came out in 2013. The sequel has been advertised for quite some time, but not much has been said about it.
But what does the future of Lara and the Tomb Raider look like? It is very difficult to evaluate it. The franchise – and Lara as a character – is clearly not woven into the zeitgeist today as it was in the 1990s and 2000s. In particular, the mixed quality of the first replay trilogy caused a slow but perceptible drop in interest among gamers. The second reboot trilogy partially closed the holes in the ship, but Lara didn’t get as big as it had at the turn of the millennium.
Square Enix is working on the mobile action game Tomb Raider Reloaded, which is slated for release in 2022. Also, two spin-offs – Guardian of Light and Temple of Osiris – are coming to Switch next year. While these are good games and the quality of the mobile game may surprise you, this is not the answer to the identity crisis the franchise is facing. However, if we’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s that Lara Croft is an absolute comeback queen and that the character is – literally and figuratively – flexible enough to reinvent themselves and become fit by modern standards. When the time comes, we can undoubtedly meet a new Lara and rob many graves with her again. Anyway, we can’t wait!
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