One of gaming’s biggest female icons, Lara Croft, has begun her career in Tomb Raider, a platform-jumping puzzle game released in 1996. Since then, she has been featured in a number of titles spanning most of the popular gaming devices, and starred in two movies. Books, comics and action figures have further extended her life. Here is a brief history of the Tomb Raider franchise, from blocky pixels to the big screen and back.
The first title, published by Eidos, received critical acclaim for its well designed (albeit often unforgiving) gameplay and beautiful, at the time, visuals. The player controlled Lara Craft, an ambitious adventurer raiding tombs and ruins in search of valuable artifacts. Jumping around pillars, solving puzzles, and battling diverse enemies (including dinosaurs) created an engaging experience. Several sequels followed, frequently ported to the popular gaming consoles of the time, even receiving a portable version on the Game Boy Color and other handhelds later.
It was around that time when Lara debuted on the big screen, played by Angolina Jolie. The 2001 release of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider received poor reviews, however, currently holding a 5.7 rating on IMDB. The sequel Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life followed in 2003, but did not do much better unfortunately. A new film is supposedly in production by MGM, which acquired movie rights to the franchise. There have also been several Tomb Raider comics, books, action figures and other merchandise related to the franchise. Needless to say, Ms. Croft definitely likes the spotlight.
Unfortunately for Lara, some of the later sequels of the game shared the poor ratings of the two movies. Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness released in 2003, for example, has an average score of around 50 percent on MetaCritic. Eventually, Crystal Dynamics took over the development of the game, releasing Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend in 2006. With a new engine and coat of paint, the title received favorable reception by the community, despite a few small kinks such as occasional camera or control issues.
Through the different titles and platforms, from pixels to big screen and back, Tomb Raider has always stuck to its addictive formula of exploration, puzzles and ancient artifacts. One notable exception was Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light released in 2010, which was an isometric, cooperative puzzle-shooter. Despite a different format, the game did very well in reviews.
In 2013, Lara had a bit of a makeover with the reboot of the franchise. The new game, still developed by Crystal Dynamics, was now published by Square Enix, famous for its Final Fantasy series. Confusingly titled Tomb Raider just like the very first one, it tried to re-frame Lara as far more frail and vulnerable than in the previous titles, exposing her human side. The reactions from press and the community were a bit mixed, but the sequel Rise of the Tomb Raider has just been revealed at this year’s E3.
It is hard to believe that Lara Craft really is 18 years old now. From the blocky pixels, through the big screen performance, and back to games with the recent reboot, Tomb Raider is one of the longest and most beloved franchise in the gaming community. It has established itself as one of the role models for the third person, platform-jumping and puzzle-solving genre. On top of that, it has spawned one of the strongest and most prominent female characters in the gaming history. And with a new title announced and another movie in the works, Lara’s growth is only just beginning.
By Jakub Kasztalski