When home video game popularity exploded in the late ’80s, men were the main heroes with a gun in their hand and a wink in their eye — but it was only a matter of time before women made their presence felt in games. Starting with Samus Aran in 1986’s “Metroid,” powerful female protagonists are now a staple of video games — and there’s one that stands above the pack. In 1996, gamers everywhere were introduced to the pistol-slinging archeological adventurer Lara Croft in “Tomb Raider.” Lara has gone one to become one of the most iconic video game characters of all time with a long-running series of adventure, action and exploration.
The series has been a staple for Eidos Interactive — who would later be purchased by Square Enix — creating nine hit releases featuring the venturous Croft as she defeated enemies and solved puzzles using her own adventurous savvy and a pair of twin pistols.
2012 looks to be the biggest year for Lara yet, with a new “Tomb Raider” game in the works under Crystal Dynamics’ watchful eye and a possible new movie production coming soon with Olivia Wilde rumored to be in the title role. However, Lara’s journey wasn’t always an easy one. CBR looks back at the rough-and-tumble history of Ms. Croft from her humble beginnings through her evolution as one of pop culture’s most recognizable femme fatales.
Lara Croft got her start in 1996, when Core Design and Eidos Interactive released the original “Tomb Raider” for Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation. The game would introduce a new level of 3D action/adventure that had only been seen before in a few other releases like “Super Mario 64.” Unlike Nintendo’s kid-friendly effort, “Tomb Raider” reflected the type of gritty action/adventure players had been waiting for. As a result, the game become a colossal success and Core teamed up with Eidos on a number of sequels, including “Tomb Raider II,” “Tomb Raider III” and “Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation,” all PlayStation exclusives, following an agreement with Sony.
Unfortunately, Lara wouldn’t stay on top for long. In 2003, she made her PlayStation 2 debut with the long awaited “Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness,” a game that looked to be a surefire hit but showed significant problems after release. Gameplay stuttered in many places — particularly gunplay — and Core’s visual design couldn’t hold up to the PS2’s potential, leaving adventurers who bought the game feeling cheated. The project would be Lara’s last adventure produced under Core’s watch.
Following the critical flop, Eidos Interactive turned over development to Crystal Dynamics, who had worked on 3D efforts such as “Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver.” Crystal Dynamics’ direction would team up with original series creator Toby Gard to release “Tomb Raider: Legend” in 2006. The game became a huge success and was awarded the series’ highest ratings since “Tomb Raider II.” “Legend” included releases for both PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360, marking Lara’s debut in the next generation on consoles. Following the success of “Legends,” Crystal Dynamics went back to basics with “Tomb Raider: Anniversary,” a “remix” of the original game, in 2007 with touched-up high-definition graphics and improved gameplay.
Since “Anniversary,” Crystal Dynamics has tried its hand at newer adventures, involving Lara in a more intricate tale with the 2008 release “Tomb Raider: Underworld” before trying something more old-school with the downloadable “Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light,” which garnered huge success with its cheaper $15 price tag.
For Lara’s future, Crystal Dynamics is looking back to the past. The developer revealed the next chapter in its series, “Tomb Raider,” in mid-2011, but instead of taking control of the confident and dangerous Lara Croft, players instead guide her at the younger age of 16 as she first discovers her capabilities, thwarts danger for the first time and comes to realize where her survival skills truly lie. The game has been in development since 2009 over at Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix expects to release the game later this year. From what we’ve seen so far, it has the potential to be a massive hit, giving players a grim and gritty look at Lara’s humble beginnings.
Capitalizing on the success of the “Tomb Raider” games, Paramount Pictures picked up the movie rights for the series in 2000, and hired actress Angelina Jolie to fill the role of Croft in “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.” Directed by Simon West, the film released in 2001 and made over $100 million at the box office — no small feat for a video game licensed film. The movie wasn’t entirely a critical success, due to the lack of a sufficient villain and a lacking story. Still, critics did enjoy Jolie’s performance in the role, as she had adapted a natural British accent, just like Lara Croft.
Despite the critical reaction, Paramount released “Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” in 2003, helmed by “Twister” and “Speed” director Jan De Bont. Despite bigger special effects and the involvement of soon-to-be-popular actor Gerard Butler (“300”), the film didn’t fare well, grossing only about $65 million at the box office (compared to its $95 million budget) and with an even worse critical reaction. A third film was under development, but was dropped and with it, Jolie’s interest in continuing the role.
Now there’s word Paramount is interested in a “reboot” of the series, along the same lines of Square Enix’s anticipated game. Word has it the studio is attempting to woo Olivia Wilde (“Tron Legacy”) for the role but nothing has been finalized as of yet.
Along with video games and films, Lara Croft also left her mark in comics. From 1995 to 2005, Top Cow Productions ran a number of “Tomb Raider” books, featuring writers like Dan Jurgens, John Nay Riber and James Bonny with artists Andy Park, Michael Turner, Billy Tan and Adam Hughes. The stories followed a different storyline than the games with the adventurer losing both of her parents, as well as a fiancee, while struggling with her up-and-comings as a young girl. The original issue in 1999 became a best seller for the publisher and the following books had a small fan following as well.
To please fans who might have missed out on previous adventures, Top Cow published a full “Tomb Raider Compendium” in 2006 — a large, single volume compilation of all the “Tomb Raider” books, weighing in at over 1,000 pages with a hardcover edition available for hardcore collectors.
Since that time, “Tomb Raider” comics were supposed to make a comeback alongside “Tomb Raider: Legend,” but they were held up due to licensing issues. Hopefully, Top Cow will get those worked out when the new “Tomb Raider” game makes its debut this fall on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC, but nothing about new “Tomb Raider” comics has been confirmed.
Over the years, Lara Croft has emerged as a huge pop culture icon, standing apart from her video games to model in a number of other projects, including magazine covers, calendars, magazine pictorials and other media opportunities. Lately, that’s died down in favor of other models — both realistic and virtual — but with the new “Tomb Raider” game slated to debut this fall, she’s bound to make her return somewhere.
Surprisingly enough, Lara Croft even had her own amusement park ride. Back at the height of her popularity, she was featured in a number of Paramount Parks in “Tomb Raider: The Ride” and “Tomb Raider: Firefall.” However, ownership of the parks has changed as have the names of the “Tomb Raider” rides. They’re now known as “The Crypt” and “Time Warp,” respectively. Still, how often does a video game heroine have amusement park rides named after her?
Lara Croft has amassed a great deal of popularity over the years, and remains one of the video game industry’s most respected icons, despite the fact her adventures aren’t as high-profile as they used to be. 2012 is going to be a big year for her, due to the upcoming game from Square Enix, the proposed movie announcement and the continuing hope of fans for her return to comic books. Never count a good adventurer out.
“Tomb Raider” releases for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Mac and PC in 2012.