If you weren’t aware, Lara Croft turned 22 on 25 October, so happy birthday to her! If you know of the origins of the Tomb Raider, then you’re more than aware that Lara has gone through several changes throughout her life – some of them very similar to phases that most individuals goes through. So, to commemorate 22 years of Lara Croft, and in line with the recent release of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, here’s a lovely reflection on her “growth” over the years. So prepare yourselves as we attempt to raid the (pardon the following gross innuendo, it’s not intended) greatest tomb of all: Lara Croft herself.
The originals – Newborn Lara Croft
When we speak of the originals, we speak of the golden age: the holy trinity. That is, Tomb Raider, Tomb Raider II: Adventures of Lara Croft, and Tomb Raider III. These games weren’t the easiest to play, Lara was barely able to speak at this point – so of course she’s still in the process of finding her legs and learning to walk. Croft controls like a tank, you have to carry her and hold her hand the entire time, and chances are she won’t listen to a word you say and will send herself to her untimely demise.
Lara Croft started with no real motive other than curiosity and greed. She wanted relics and artifacts and would stop at nothing to get them. In Tomb Raider II she wages war with an Italian mob boss who wants to use an ancient dagger to turn into a dragon, not because she wants to stop him causing cataclysmic destruction to the world, but because she wants it instead.
These games encompassed exploration perfectly. There were no markers on where to go or any real rules on how you would get there, much like how as a baby most societal rules don’t apply to you yet – because you’re a baby.
One thing that the originals were that a newborn isn’t (sorry to all newborn babies reading this) is clever. The puzzles were not at all easy to figure out: Lara didn’t often stop to explain to you what she needed to do next – in fact, she rarely talked unless she was saying things like “no” and “aha!”.
Lara was proficient at tomb raiding and the games were just that, there were no complexities other than the puzzle solving themselves. There weren’t hundreds of different aspects of gameplay to dip in and out of whenever the developers wanted you to. It was an easy and simple life for Croft in the early years.
The rise and the fall – The toddler and early childhood Lara Croft
Tomb Raider and Lara has finally started to learn things, and boy is she good at doing them. Cue, Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (the fourth in the series).
Lara Croft has become a bit more of a character come this entry to the series, with the introduction of Werner Von Croy, her mentor. To avoid spoilers (although this game is old, you should be playing it already!), a lot of stuff happens with Werner and Lara, which The Last Revelation is driven heavily by.
The game drops a lot of the jetsetting themes that the previous three had and instead Lara resides in Egypt for the majority of the game, exploring different areas iconic to the region, but she still explores them well. There’s a few new mechanics added in, where Lara has learnt more ways to get around the world, and the game feels the most polished it possibly could be.
No other way to go but up, right? Wrong.
Lara has learnt to walk with The Last Revelation, but what she’s also learnt to do as a result of this is fall down. She’s learnt to fall down hard.
Tomb Raider: Chronicles is evidence that Core Dynamics and Eidos were losing a hold of Lara – she’d become disobedient. Chronicles is an illegible mess that tried to be several things that Lara never was, and in its final product we see a Lara that’s not at all distinguishable to the adorable baby she once was. She’s a rebellious toddler that is doing everything the fans don’t want, and it’s heartbreaking to watch.
This game is in no way horrible, but it’s certainly flawed. The cracks in the Tomb Raider series are getting bigger and disconcerting and people prayed that Lara would learn to do what she’s told and listen!
Oh. Wait. Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness? Nevermind. She’s not listening. She’s not listening at all.
Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness – Puberty’s coming
Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness is the little game that could – except it didn’t. The development and the effort you can see was put into this game is sad to look at in retrospect. Eidos and Core Dynamics wanted to do a great deal with this game, it was the first of the series that looked vaguely similar to the games of today – but it completely missed the mark.
Lara controls somehow even worse to the young version of herself, her general control scheme is harsh, awkward, and rigid – but it’s evident the intention was not to be.
The tone of the game has drastically changed, though. Lara has become a woman fans didn’t recognise – not in a bad way, however, as there were still elements of the spunky Tomb Raider that people could see – and that rose questions. What had happened to Lara since the events of the other games?
There was a lot of new ideas with Tomb Raider in this new entry, but none of them truly landed. The dark, edgy Lara Croft which the game presented wasn’t hated by, well, anyone really. But the game was rushed to its completion, left out half of the story, had clunky gameplay, and left everything it tried half-baked. The series and Core Dynamics died with this game, there was even two more games planned to follow.
It was thought to be the end of Lara, or at least a very scary, rocky period for her.
The Crystal Dynamic trilogy – Lara’s a big girl now
It was presumed that the end was nigh when she went through the Angel of Darkness phase, but Tomb Raider fans were reinvigorated with hope when suddenly, Lara was back! It took her three years of relaxing, and suddenly Tomb Raider: Legend was here.
This game and the next two that join it form a trilogy of a whole new Lara, which caused quite a stir and debate between fans of the series, because this Lara is not only very different to the previous iterations, she’s simply not the same woman.
Lara has more motive this time around. She, having had some terrible things happen to her parents, searches and peruses relics and artifacts as she follows in the footsteps of her father, while also trying to figure out what happened to her mother. She’s a lot more driven, which to some people is a good thing, but to others it’s not at all what their Tomb Raider is.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary stood as Crystal Dynamics attempt of appeasing the fans that clung so tightly onto the originals by remastering and remaking the first game: and it did well. The game didn’t stray too far from what the very first Tomb Raider was like, but also fit comfortably in the era of games it was created in. The Lara in it was still very much the character that had come with Tomb Raider: Legend, but there was a nice sense of warmth and home for hardcore fans that loved the originals.
Tomb Raider: Underworld (my personal favourite) rounded off the three and finished off the story of Lara’s parents – specifically her mother – very effectively. The games stood as three different stories and yet Tomb Raider: Underworld joined them all together neatly and smoothly, bringing a satisfying and enjoyable conclusion to anyone that did enjoy this trilogy. There were some inclusions that people didn’t appreciate, like the two companions that joined Lara during her adventures: Zip and Alistair. They spoke to her a lot during Tomb Raider: Legend but Crystal Dynamics became aware that their presence wasn’t appreciated by fans and so their contribution died down sensibly come the next two.
Lara had grown up and become a girl different to who she was, for better or for worse.She was trying new things and was comfortable in her skin, but it was heavily questioned whether people liked her more or less.
Order had been restored and Lara became something people were happy with – things were looking up.
Or were they?
Survivor Reborn Trilogy – The Lame Adult
Clearly the first trilogy wasn’t good enough for Crystal Dynamics, and so they remade Lara a second time. They coined it an “origin” story that’d explain how Lara became the Tomb Raider we all knew. People titled this trilogy the “Survivor Reborn” series – and it was lead by Tomb Raider 2013. It was highly anticipated, and people were excited to see a game that told the story of how Lara became Lara.
Except when it released, Lara was someone hardly recognisable to most fans and she hurt herself a lot. I mean that. She hurt herself in this one game in more ways than you can imagine. There’s a potential way for Lara to die that consists of her being entirely impaled on a tree branch. It’s horrific.
This game ended up coming across as a “How many ways can we murder a memorable, iconic female protagonist and make it seem like it’s ‘weakness’ and ‘character development’?” It seemed gratuitous and it upset a lot of fans. This Lara shared very little in common with the Lara we loved, and they insisted that she’d become more recognisable through the course of Rise of the Tomb Raider, then Shadow of the Tomb Raider. But there’s still heavy debate whether this Lara is anything anyone wanted or asked for – and I tend to agree. There was a distinct lack of comedy and happiness in her character. Shadow of the Tomb Raider was the only iteration of the three that gave me a Lara I remotely liked, one that actually made a joke, but even then I didn’t like her as a person, I liked her as a character.
These games aren’t at all bad. There’s regular criticism that they’re too similar to other adventure games such as Uncharted. People forget to acknowledge that Uncharted, however, was inspired by the legendary original Tomb Raiders that set the foundation for adventure games from then on.
Lara’s had a rocky, tumultuous lifespan and I hope that despite my dissatisfaction with some of the recent entries to her story/stories that there are good things still to come for our tomb raiding beauty. There’s some external projects being driven for and pushed at the moment, such as “The Dark Angel”, a remastered symphony of the soundtracks composed by Peter Connelly, and they show that love for Lara is nowhere near extinguished. Right now she’s here to stay and I hope that doesn’t change anytime soon.