Few video game characters reach such a large cult following that they become an icon for the entire industry. As well as Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog, Lara Croft is probably the most well-known gaming character in the world and familiar even to non-gamers. 2016 marks a milestone and big year in the success story of Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider series. First, this year marks a significant anniversary, as exactly 20 years ago on October 25 the first Tomb Raider for the Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn and PC appeared. Second, the current title Rise of the Tomb Raider for PS4 will be released this year as a Tomb Raider Anniversary special edition. In the PS4 release of the game, the developers celebrate the Tomb Raider Anniversary with exclusive DLC called "Blood Ties," where players can explore the famous Lara Croft Manor. This will also be possible in a virtual reality version using the PS VR. Lara Croft fans and PS4 owners can therefore look forward to two great reasons to celebrate the birthday of the Queen of Games.
The Beginning of Lara Croft
Working on the first Tomb Raider began back in 1993 at the former development studio Core Design (part of the former publisher Eidos, which has since been acquired by Square Enix). Originally the game was meant to have a male main character, but in order to move away from the popular and iconic Indiana Jones character, the group decided on featuring a woman in the lead role. At this point Laura Cruz, a tough woman with South American roots, was born. Laura Cruz was then by request from Eidos slightly adapted: the heroine was given British roots and a correspondingly slightly different name – Lara Croft. The first game was so successful that in the following years Eidos published Tomb Raider 2 and Tomb Raider 3, remaining faithful to the classic formula. In 1999, developers ventured into new territory as they incorporated flashbacks narrated by a young Lara Croft in Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, giving players more insight into Lara's background. This was followed by Tomb Raider: Chronicles (2000) and Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (2003), whereby the first era of Lara Croft came to an end.
Crystal Dynamics and the Tomb Raider Reboot
Lara Croft experienced a break from consoles and PCs for three years before Tomb Raider: Legend, the seventh game of the series appeared. However, with the release of this series edition, everything changed. First, Legend was the first game in the series that was not developed by Core Design, but was instead designed by Crystal Dynamics. The reason was that Eidos was afraid of another flop, since the expectations of Angel of Darkness were far from being met. Indeed the change in developers paid off, as Legend received high-praise from critics and fans alike and is still considered to be one of the best Tomb Raider titles today. Lara Croft’s background story was retold and didn’t simply follow the established game design. One year after Legend was published, Crystal Dynamics and Eidos created a remake of the original game from 1996 for the Tomb Raider Anniversary. It wouldn’t be until 2008 when the studio could release another Tomb Raider subtitled, Underworld, permitting the long-term series to once again break new ground.
Back to the Beginning: Lara Croft‘s Second New Start
Despite the successful first reboot from Crystal Dynamics, the Lara Croft story would once again be reissued and updated or modernized. The acquisition of Eidos by the Japanese company Square Enix in April 2009 probably played a role in this. Aside from the summer 2010 spin-off, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light – which relies on an isometric view, two player co-op and platform sequences – the Lara Croft legend was rather quiet. It wasn't until the end of 2010 that Square Enix announced a complete reboot of the Tomb Raider series. Three years later, the new Tomb Raider with a completely new Lara Croft finally appeared. In contrast to earlier Lara Croft, this Lara is no hardy adventurer, but a young woman who has just completed her studies in archeology and is suddenly pulled into an adventure. She stands both physically and mentally unsure before a huge, unfamiliar challenge. The new Lara was more realistic and emotional than the old, which was very well-received and proved that Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics had followed good sense. The sequel Rise of the Tomb Raider was accordingly released not long after and the legend of Lara Croft was successfully revived.
Lara Croft and Pop Culture
Lara Croft hasn’t only played an important role over the last 20 years within the video game world, but has also seeped into pop culture as well. She holds a whopping six Guinness records, has graced the cover of more than 1,100 magazines – a number that supermodels can only dream of – and is considered a sex symbol of the video game scene. In addition to games, Lara Croft has made appearances in other media and been ingrained into the memory of the masses. One unforgettable example includes the "Men are Pigs" music video by the Berlin band The Doctors, in which Lara Croft plays a part amongst the three musicians. Also, on the rock band U2’s 1997 tour, Lara Croft was projected as a video rendition on stage with the band. And of course in 2001, the Hollywood blockbuster film adaptation of the video game, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, starring Angelina Jolie as the lead actress, was released. Lara Croft was finally represented in all of the key areas of the entertainment industry. The film and the sequel, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, although perhaps not highly-praised by critics and fans, are nevertheless regarded as good examples of video game adaptations to film. It’s no wonder then that they are at work again on a new Tomb Raider movie with Alicia Vikander taking on the iconic role of Lara Croft.
Conclusion: Lara is Forever
As video game heroine, movie star, model, sex symbol and more, Lara Croft is an iconic phenomenon that has thrived for the past 20 years and will remain iconic for years to come. With the realignment of the games, Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics let go of the sex symbol of the late 90s in order to embrace a new and modern character which has grown far beyond and has emancipated itself from its old image. This is interesting not only for the PS4 Tomb Raider Anniversary Edition and possible sequels to come, but also for the live-action adaptation of Lara Croft, which was officially announced this year. We are excited to see what the next 20 years with Lara Croft will bring.