Anyone who has played Tomb Raider watched the movies or has a passing knowledge of the franchise, probably has an iconic moment, soundbite, or image that they associated with it. This isn’t something unique to Tomb Raider, Super Mario Bros, Metal Gear, Assasins Creed and Elder Scrolls, to name just a few, all have this effect on me and others. Of course, this is not unique to video gaming either, songs, movies, places, and books, etc. all can have this impact on people.
Tomb Raider is one of many in video gaming. The franchise has a checkered past and a promising future. At least, I hope the future is promising.
Everyone knows Tomb Raider was a rip off of Indiana Jones, they also know Lara started out as a Laura Cruz, a Latin American explorer. Before she was reimagined as Lara, a rich, British woman with serious problems solving and gun skills. Core Design, even before Lara was known as Laura, named their main character Fletcher Christian. Obviously, a bloke too. But Lara won through in the end, and was modelled on Tank Girl and the Spice Girls amongst others.
Launching in 1996 Tomb Raider became an instant hit and, for Sony, a console selling game. Cementing PlayStation One and Sony in the console market, as we know it today. Yes, you could buy Tomb Raider for the Sega Saturn and PC, but people wanted to play it on PlayStation.
The game was innovative in the use of 3D graphics, puzzles elements tied in with action, and a female lead character, a big decision that some may have called a risk. Of course, many people will say that Lara was designed to titillate as opposed to promoting female characters being strong leads in games. But despite the criticism, Lara did portray a strong and mysterious persona that had never been tried before. Girl Power hit mainstream gaming.
Lara was animated like a real person, rag doll effects for when she met her demise and diving into water were all realistic, to an extent, which no-one else seemed to be doing at the time. Around 540 polygons were used to build the character model for Lara, a number that increased dramatically as the franchise progressed.
As the 90s pressed on, Lara became a cover girl for various products. She went on to appear on the cover of The Financial Times, Time and Newsweek to name but a few. While also appearing in numerous adverts around the globe, and as collectible dolls.
In a Weird Science-esque mishap, Lara received an extra 100% enhancment to her curvier assets and designers decided sitck with the mistake in the final game.
One thing was for sure, Lara had the X factor, and Hollywood had taken notice.
Butler Cruelty Must End!
Everyone did it, admit it! Everyone locked the butler from Tomb Raider 2 in the Croft Mansion freezer.
Not long after the release of Tomb Raider 2 1997, scriptwriters had shifted their focus to Lara and her adventures. By 1999 a script had been agreed, and shooting began in July 2001. Angelina Jolie took on the role of Lara, with Chris Barrie playing the butler (see I had a point to make). Daniel Craig and Jon Voight playing key roles in the movie which was savaged by many critics and failed to live up to expectations.
However, failing to live up to expectations and critical panning do not mean the end of the road for a film, as demonstrated many times in the past and since. Tomb Raider made enough of a profit to spawn a sequel in 2003. By then Tomb Raider had six entries in the franchise, each proving to be less of a draw and less acclaimed than the last. As the movie took a panning, this time proving less profitable than the original movie, so did the games.
While Angelina Jolie was punching crude CGI sharks, digital Lara had failed to move the game on any further, and many felt it lacked innovation. Although three years in development Angel Of Darkness struggled to achieve even average scores from critics. GamesRadar awarded the highest score for the game at 78%, while others kept the score down at between 50% and 65%.
Angel of Darkness was expected to catapult the series forward, reviving the fortunes of Lara and her tomb raiding exploits. In fact, key Core Design staff resigned, sequels were cancelled and Eidos moved the series to Crystal Dynamics.
Angel Of Darkness ended the year making worst sequel lists and has continued to be added all time lists since. Failure of the movie was also, in part, attributed to the poor reception the game received. Of course, punching a shark had nothing to do with the way the movie was received at all.
In 2006 Crystal Dynamics masterminded the soft reboot of the series, which was now seen as terminal, with Tomb Raider: Legend. The game set about rebuilding Lara and her back story, a plane crash and her mother dying as an early introduction to the game. The game then fast forwards to veteran explorer Lara and commences in a similar way to the previous titles, but this time the magic was back.
The game was a success selling over 4.5 million copies, and being included in a remaster. It also spawned a sequel, Tomb Raider: Underworld in late 2008, which was met with a generally positive reception and completed the reboot of Tomb Raider.
The positive buzz around Underworld didn’t result in huge sales initially, Eidos reported early 2009 the game was failing to meet expectations with 1.5 million sales. However, by May 2009 2.6 million copies had sold, and Eidos were happy that sales targets had been met.
The sales figures reception demonstrated how a game can quickly can go from being in trouble and subsequently saved from being a failure.
Underworld had followed the positively received Anniversary Edition, a remake of the original Tomb Raider.
Crystal Dynamics would go one to make the spin-offs Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light in 2010, and the sequel Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris in 2014. Both were warmly received and sold well.
2013 arrived on the back of a disappointing 2012, in terms of gaming. Mass Effect 3 and Assasin’s Creed 3 had been savaged by many and left a bitter taste. I remember Tomb Raider being mentioned in passing and thought it would be another waste of time. I still hadn’t recovered from Angel of Darkness.
Crystal Dynamics released (with the help of Square Enix) Tomb Raider on the 5th March 2013. Delays and hype had turned off many gamers, and the series needed to be a hit in the new generation of games consoles. Failure to meet targets would probably result in Tomb Raider, and Lara, disappearing for a long time, if not for good.
The game launched to overwhelmingly positive reviews, I even bought a copy, and the hype seemed to be right this time. Lara was reinvented again, this time being shipwrecked on an island and having to search for other survivors while trying to uncover the mystery that lies beneath and escape the island too.
The storyline was well constructed, and the flow of the game gave it an open world feel. Graphically the game took a huge step forward, setting the
benchmark for others, such as Uncharted 4, to follow. The gameplay combined combat and stealth well, along with some quick time events. All of this wrapped into one package made protecting rookie Lara an engaging experience. The potential for gruesome deaths and bond you had with Lara made you think and fight to protect your new lead.
The mystery of the island and design of the missions kept the game moving forward at a comfortable pace as the incredible landscapes opened up in front of you.
By April 2015 Tomb Raider had sold 8.5 million copies and had spawned another sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, due for release later that year.
The Continued Rise of the Tomb Raider
Rise of the Tomb Raider released in later 2015, exclusive to Xbox One and 360. A Windows version followed in January 2016 and PS4 got the definitive edition in October 2016.
Sales, although strong, were lower than expected. Launching when Fallout 4 did was likely to have been a factor, along with the Xbox exclusivity deal. Critical response was as high as the previous instalment, and the game continues to sell relatively well.
The game built on the graphics, story and gameplay of the earlier version providing an open world feel, but retaining focus on the tasks at hand.
A third installment, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, is due in late 2017 or 2018 proving Tomb Raider has the staying power for video gaming. However, what about movies?
Alicia Vikander will take over from Angelina Jolie in the new Tomb Raider movie. Again, as with the games, this will be a reboot. Will Vikander be a successful Lara Croft? We’ll find out in March 2018
when the movie is released.
I really do hope the new movie is a good one.
Have you played all of the Tomb Raider games and watched the movies? What do you think of the upcoming movie and game?