October 25 marks the 25th anniversary of the first Tomb Raider game and therefore the franchise as a whole. And what a journey it has been! The series paved the way for combining shooter-style and adventure gameplay into an effective and now-common genre of video games. Sure, it’s easy to look back at the graphics and design of the 1996 game and laugh, but back in the day, it was kind of groundbreaking.
As mentioned, it was an early instance of creating a third-person shooter game with the adventuring backdrop, which was difficult to achieve. In an interview with the Core Design team in the Tomb Raider: Game Secrets book, they said “First person has been fairly well represented so far, but third-person games have just not come in on their own yet. We just hope that Tomb Raider will help move that genre along a bit.” They added on, explaining the difficulties with third-person programming “For a start you can see your character all the time, so any imperfections in the animation or movement are obvious. Also, the camera has to be able to react intelligently for any possible circumstances. Programming this was a real challenge.”
Tomb Raider as a franchise has been passed through various hands since 1996. Originally, the initial idea for Tomb Raider came from Toby Gerard at Core Design. The premise of Tomb Raider was “taking a corridor style game and introducing a main character, moving away from the first person feel” with the goal being to “create a game that would look as visually exciting as a cartoon but that offered the same complete freedom of movement that [Ultima] Underworld had.”
And then speaking of the protagonist, Lara Croft is arguably as or more famous than Tomb Raider itself. When speaking to the BBC, Gerard said of her influences “I was a fan of movies such as Tank Girl, Indiana Jones and Hard Boiled – the John Woo film. These helped give me the idea for Lara.” And you can absolutely see the parallels at the core of the characters.
That being said, where the franchise has faced some criticism, especially over recent years, is the sexualisation of Lara Croft due to her exaggerated features. Lara Croft became a prominent ‘sex symbol’, which led to criticism over her design and outfit choices once this picked up. You can see how this criticism manifested in the reboot prequel trilogy where Lara Croft was designed to be more slender and realistic, without the revealing costumes.
Tomb Raider undoubtedly evolved with technology, with each instalment appearing increasingly more detailed and sporting improved graphics. That being said, some of the gameplay controls even just prior to the reboot trilogy, were clunky without the intuitiveness of modern-day gaming. I particularly found this when I installed Tomb Raider: Underworld onto my Xbox One through backwards compatibility and the controls were a complete pain to play with, especially compared to modern seamless gameplay. I can’t even count the number of times I tried to jump or grapple swing Lara across pits only to have her fall off or just jump in the completely wrong direction. This is where I really feel the reboot trilogy fixed issues as although I personally preferred the puzzle-solving and overall unique experiences and surroundings in the older games, the reboot certainly improved on gameplay and the gaming experience. Regardless, most of the instalments in the Tomb Raider franchise offered something new for the series.
Tomb Raider has ingrained itself into pop culture, delivering on one of the most iconic heroines of all time. Even if you had never played the games, you are bound to have seen Lara Croft in her signature turquoise tank top, brown shorts and combat boots, at some point. Tomb Raider was also one of the first video game franchises to be taken to the mainstream big screen with varying degrees of success. First to take up the mantle was Angelina Jolie, who portrayed Croft in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life (2003). Alicia Vikander then went on to portray the character as the adaption from the reboot trilogy in Tomb Raider (2018) and is due to reprise the role in a sequel. Whilst the films were nothing revolutionary in terms of cinema, they did introduce gaming and the character to a wider audience.
And that’s where it comes back to Tomb Raider and Lara Croft’s legacy, as it’s apparent she’s not slowing down. With a Netflix anime series in development with Hayley Atwell set to voice the adventuring archaeologist, as well as spin-offs and games blossoming on other platforms such as mobile, the character and franchise are as popular as ever. The franchise has been able to respond and adapt to the times, exploring new opportunities, most notably by responding to the criticism with its protagonist’s sexualisation by re-designing Lara’s figure and outfits for the reboot trilogy. Then we come to the visuals, when comparing the 1996 original game to the latest Shadow Of The Tomb Raider release, you truly see how far technology and gaming have come. You can certainly appreciate the visual depth far more, especially when considering all of the incredible locations you visit across the course of the franchise.
The beauty of Tomb Raider is that you can get transported off away from the real world and just enjoy being a kick-ass heroine solving puzzles and exploring tombs, because who wouldn’t want to do that? The different settings, myths, and folklore elements often felt inspirational for me to get out and see exciting places. Across the series, Lara Croft has adventured every terrain you could think including underwater in the Mediterranean Sea, Venice, Antarctica, Siberia, Egypt, Bolivia, Thailand, China, Paris, Prague, England, Mexico, Japan, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
And it seemed that my love of Tomb Raider was destined before I was even born. When my mum was pregnant with me, she would (in classic-gamer style) stay up until the early hours of the morning playing the early Tomb Raider games on our PlayStation 1. And that is the beauty of the franchise, it has seen so many different generations of players be sucked into Lara Croft’s daring adventures and just enjoy taking some time out from day-to-day life. As the franchise continues to gather momentum, it should be unsurprising that we will continue to see generations bond over Lara and her adventures, or is that too sentimental? Either way, I am personally intrigued to see where the video games go next.
So what are my closing thoughts? Ultimately, where Tomb Raider found its ground and continues to this day is that it adopts a fun combination of play styles. I love being involved in the combat in games, but I’m also a sucker for puzzles and incredible scenery. And that is where Tomb Raider truly excels, the games have intriguing stories whilst also delivering on the action and adventure, but still letting you have time to use your brain. For me, this has always kept the games interesting as I love how there’s always plenty to do. Even if Tomb Raider is not an RPG in the most traditional sense, it often feels that way. All of these factors have fluctuated in prominence in the series, with the original games having a fair balance between combat, story and puzzle-solving but the first reboot, in particular, was far more action-centred than the previous games with tombs being a side-quest in a sense. So with this in mind, I am curious to see where the franchise heads next.