After 22 years of evolution, just who is Lara Croft?Eidos Montreal/Crystal Dynamics/Square Enix
Since her debut in 1996, the rise of Lara Croft — the star of the mega-popular “Tomb Raider” franchise — as the unofficial poster child for video games has been both unstoppable and inevitable.
Croft’s blend of sex appeal and gunslinger action-hero attitude spoke directly to a generation of gamers eager to prove that their hobby wasn’t just for kids. With pre-rendered cut scenes, voice acting, and no shortage of violence, “Tomb Raider” was one of the first video game franchises to maintain a mature, cinematic aesthetic that continues to serve as an influence for countless action games.
The newest game in the franchise, “Shadow of the Tomb Raider,” comes out for the PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on Tuesday. Here’s how Lara Croft, and “Tomb Raider,” has evolved over the decades since her grand debut.
“Tomb Raider” (1996) – Lara Croft’s First Appearance
“Tomb Raider Gold,” a version of the original game with some of its downloadable content built in.Amazon
The success of the original “Tomb Raider” in 1996 can be credited to the fact that it really showed off the power of the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn consoles, which were released worldwide just a year earlier.
Lara and her environment were rendered in full 3D with an orchestrated score, helping create an atmosphere that was way beyond what was possible with earlier technology.
“Tomb Raider” (1996)
The graphics of “Tomb Raider” were once considered revolutionaryTomb Raider/Eidos Interactive
Still, the gameplay of the early “Tomb Raider” games remained heavily influenced by the platforming of the 16-bit gaming era, the gaming genre ruled by Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog. Lara was always more focused on solving puzzles and avoiding pitfalls than blasting her way through the enemies she met in the ancient ruins.
The original game got four sequels in as many years, with “Tomb Raider II” dropping in 1997, “Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft” releasing in 1998. “Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation” came out in 1999, and “Tomb Raider Chronicles” in 2000. However, Lara’s look didn’t change much — the graphics got a little sharper, but Lara stayed the same.
“Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” (2001) starring Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie as the titular character in “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” (2001)Paramount Pictures
As the series quickly became a smash hit, production for a “Tomb Raider” film began as early as 1998, with Angelina Jolie eventually being chosen to play the titular role. Despite Jolie’s own mega-celebrity status, some fans of the game suggested that she still couldn’t compare to the video game heroine. Regardless, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” was released in 2001 and earned more than $270 million at the box office on a budget of $115 million.
“Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness” (2003) – A misstep for the franchise
“Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness” was the last game in the series made by original developers Core Design“Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness”/Eidos Interactive
Released in June 2003, “Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness” was the sixth game in the main Tomb Raider series, and marked Lara’s first appearance on the PlayStation 2.
By 2003, the aesthetics that had set the “Tomb Raider” franchise apart from other series had become fairly commonplace, and cut-scenes and cinematic action had become par for the course.
Despite the efforts of a new design team, and a new look for Lara Croft herself, “Angel of Darkness” failed to have the narrative or visual impact of the original “Tomb Raider” titles, even with several portions of the game taking place in urban environments. The gameplay also suffered in the transition to the new console, with developer Core Design struggling to implement a number of ambitious ideas.
“Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness” (2003)
“Angel of Darkness” changed the “Tomb Raider” formula with urban destinations.“Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness”/Eidos Interactive
Critics laid into Angel of Darkness for hollow and incomplete gameplay elements, as well as outright glitches and bugs in the game. One month later, “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” was released to similarly poor reviews, though it was financially successful. With her own career on the rise, Jolie opted not to reprise her role as Lara for a third time.
“Tomb Raider: Legend” (2006) – Lara goes back to basics
Lara returned to remote locales in “Tomb Raider: Legend”Tomb Raider Legend/Eidos Interactive
In the wake of the “Angel of Darkness” disappointment, publisher Eidos Interactive decided to turn the franchise over to a new developer, Crystal Dynamics.
Best known for the fan-favorite “Legacy of Kain” series, Crystal Dynamics brought the series back to its roots with more puzzles and exploration, and revamped the control scheme to meet modern standards. At the same time, Eidos shifted its aggressive marketing practices to focus less on Lara’s sex appeal.
“Tomb Raider: Legend” (2006)
In “Tomb Raider: Legend,” Crystal Dynamics worked to refresh Lara’s animations.“Tomb Raider Legend”/Eidos Interactive
The Crystal Dynamics team delivered three Tomb Raider games between 2006 and 2008: “Tomb Raider: Legend,” “Tomb Raider: Anniversary” (a remake of the original) and “Tomb Raider: Underworld.”
Those games helped restore the reputation of the series and took steps towards creating a more sustainable image of Lara as a character. While she was still featured in her signature shorts and crop top, Lara’s figure was adjusted to better match the proportions of real women, and was given more of a personality.
“Tomb Raider” (2013) – A reimagined Lara Croft is the biggest change yet
Eidos was acquired by Square Enix in 2009, and in December 2010 it was announced that another “Tomb Raider” reboot from Crystal Dynamics was in the works.
“Tomb Raider (2013)” brought the series back to square one, introducing a new generation of gamers to a young Lara Croft on her first adventure.
Along with the familiar exploration and puzzle gameplay elements of “Tomb Raider,” the reboot placed a strong emphasis on Lara’s survival instincts, and the story focuses on how the harsh remote island environment helps Lara evolve from a survivor into a warrior.
“Tomb Raider” (2013)
Though it’s technically her first adventure, Lara seems deadlier than ever in “Tomb Raider” (2013).“Tomb Raider” (2013)/Square Enix
The reboot arrived with all the fixings of a modern AAA action title, investing heavily in cinematic storytelling and providing a full island to traverse and explore, rather than a series of cramped tombs. With the shift towards more action, the game has a larger focus on combat, giving Lara dozens of ways to dispose of her enemies, both stealthy and…not.
“Tomb Raider” (2018) – Alicia Vikander stars in the rebooted film
The “Tomb Raider” film reboot borrows heavily from the 2013, including the use of Lara’s signature bow and climbing axe.Warner Bros.
While the original Lara Croft seemed ineffable throughout her adventures, the rebooted Lara is younger, more fragile and considerably more relatable.
Her confidence does falter and her physical strength occasionally fails her, but it makes the character feel more real in a medium where players are often made to feel invincible. Lara’s rebooted design was well-received enough to fuel a new “Tomb Raider” movie in 2018, following the story of the 2013 game.
“Shadow of the Tomb Raider” (2018) – Lara is still a survivor
Shadow ofShadow of the Tomb Raider/Square Enix
With “Shadow of the Tomb Raider,” which will be on physical and digital store shelves by the time you read this, Eidos Montreal will close out the trilogy of the latest reboot by diving deep into the mind of Lara Croft.
Forced to survive once more in the jungles of South America, the game helps bridge the gap between the vulnerable, inexperienced Lara Croft seen in the “Tomb Raider (2013)” and the globe-trotting adventurer Lara Croft who debuted all those years ago in 1996.