It’s difficult for many to imagine gaming heroines without adding everyone’s favorite British “archaeologist” somewhere near the top of the list. For many she was their first gaming crush, for others a possible beacon of female strength in games (arguably), but one thing is for certain: Lara Croft is an integral piece of the gamescape.
Forgetting the part where her archaeological skills leave much to be desired (nudge nudge, Drake) its important to remember that Lara is responsible for a great many of the things we see and love in gaming today. She rocked dual pistols four years before some bald agent dude did. She was obliterating ancient sites of great historical importance eleven years before Nate Drake dredged up some silly coffin. She fought dinosaurs in ridiculous fashion three years before Dino Crisis. In short: Lara is responsible for many of the different elements of modern gaming we see in gaming, from modern platforming elements, weaponry usage, movement systems, environmental traversal, and combat systems.
Originally released in 1996, Tomb Raider told the story of Lara Croft, the inappropriately dressed, eternally spotless and notably busty British archaeologist as she treks across the globe in search of a powerful artifact, before being betrayed by her employer. Channeling her inner Doom Guy badassery she charged through oodles of wildlife with a pair of hitherto unnamed pistols with bottomless magazines and eventually manages to track her previous employer, locate Atlantis and…well you really should play the game to sort it yourself, it’s a very meaningful part of gaming history after all. If you absolutely can’t muster playing a game that’s 16 years old, then at least start with Tomb Raider: Anniversary, a worthy remake that’s a little more modern in styling.
The series continued on for many years, spawning hit after hit, the second game introduced more maneuverability and weapon sets, and remained snarky and lighthearted throughout, though now Lara had been tasked with killing other humans as well, an intriguing foreshadow into the direction the series would ultimately take. It, too was lauded by critics for its original puzzle elements and robust visuals (for the time). The third game could be considered a turning point for the series, drifting further and further away from the underground caves and into the civilized world, a portent of the supposed “realism” that the now growing games community had begun to desire. In spite of the shift away from the geographical roots toward a more action and combat based game, critic and fan reviews remained high through the first four games. Even spawning an expectantly terrible movie adaptation.
It was Lara’s jump to the PS2 that marked her lowest point. Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness released in 2003 and was met with curiously split fanfare. Accused of murdering her former mentor, Lara sets out to clear her name, but instead sets out to save the world once again, this time from a group that desires immortality, and seeks to obtain by reviving an ancient biblical race. The story of the game was set to be must more involved than before, and the technological jump made promised much more usability than previous iterations. Hype ran high among the fan base. Those who were anticipating the game were severely disappointed by a game riddled with bugs and awful controls. The game has undergone several delays and still felt heavily rushed by the long time developers, Core Design. The plot was riddled with holes and inconsistency, indicating that chunks of the game had been cut out wholesale, and Lara’s trademark dual pistols were nowhere to be found (It was later revealed that they were supposed to be a hidden aspect of the game that never made it to release). Those that were able to overlook the drastic flaws in the game claim that it still had one of the best stories in the series to date. It also embraced the growing trend to a darker and grittier direction. The Angle of Darkness proved to be the death knell of Core Design, but paved the way for a new direction for the series.
In 2006 Crystal Dynamics (Of Legacy of Kain fame) release Tomb Raider: Legend, a standalone entry into the series not meant to connect to the other games. With a triumphant roar, Lara returned in full force, and many of the issues with Angel of Darkness had been solved by a new dev studio and the return of Toby Gard, one of the original Tomb Raider team. The game got many of the aspects of Tomb Raider right. It got out of the city for a more significant portion of the game, smoothly introduced controls as necessary and explained said controls with more volition. The visuals were tightened, items had visual representations on Lara’s model, and some of the more ridiculous elements from the game’s origins returned.
Crystal Dynamics has performed fairly well with the series since then, releasing a 10th anniversary remake of the original game before the latest entry in the series, Underworld, tread down a much darker path than any of the games before it. Amid “generally favorable reviews” the game attempted to weave all the elements of the game together in a reactive environment. To this end, Tomb Raider appeared to be floundering. More and more it seemed like Lara was drifting from relevance in a Space Marine fueled field of shooters, while platforming games were considered more and more childish.
Enter Tomb Raider.
Crystal Dynamics has taken off their gloves and is aiming for the balls with this one. While many of the Tomb Raider games have connected to at least some of the others in some way, it is widely accepted that there are at least two different universes in which Lara exists (two timelines, as it were), and to continue the tradition, Crystal Dynamics has created what appears to be a third origin for Lara. And it’s a grim one. We’re not here to debate females in gaming, we can do that on my other page facebook.com/thereasonablegamer. The new Tomb Raider seeks to make Lara a more realistic individual in several ways. Most notably missing is the pair of pistols normally at her side. Kidding, it’s the boobs. The origin story of Lara Croft’s bountiful bosom is an entertaining tale of a model slider gone too far (someone accidentally dialed her breasts up to eleven and everyone just decided to leave it there) that’s just as intriguing as the reasoning behind her new proportions. The team showed various focus groups pictures of the new Lara at multiple… endowment levels until more people focused first on her eyes before her chest. Lara is stranded on an island when her ship goes down in a storm, forcing her to grow from the reluctant daughter of (what I assume is) a globetrotting father to the rampaging female badass we’ve grown to know over the years. Time will tell, but aside from all the talk of rampant misogyny in games, the trailers for the game so far have been pretty impressive. Check one out below, and consider familiarizing yourself with one of the most influential game series that exists today.