Few characters, with big exceptions like Mario, have been as stable a part of video games as Lara Croft. We’ve been able to watch the character and the technology that powers her games evolve over the last 19 years – that’s right, 19 – and her newest adventure is just six weeks away.
With it lingering so close by, this is a good opportunity to look back through her history and see where she’s been and where she’s going.
Lara started life in 1996 on PC, PlayStation, and the Sega Saturn. Lara was one of the first polygonal game protagonists, as well as one of the first to be framed as a sexy character. Since the beginning, a few traits have remained steady. Lara is a young British woman from a wealthy background. She has brown hair and, quite often, sports a blue tanktop. Meant to be a combination of Indiana Jones and James Bond, she has, throughout each game, explored ruins in a variety of locations across the world, touring cultures like ancient Egypt, Japan, and in her newest adventure, Afghanistan.
The first screens in the gallery above can hardly convey why she was a sex symbol – it was really all about the cover art back then. As the game progressed through the generations – we have shots from the first two Tomb Raider titles, then Last Revelation and Angel of Darkness toward the front of the gallery – Lara got closer and closer to the look designers had planned for her all along. When Tomb Raider: Legend, Anniversary, and Underworld came out in the mid to late 2000s, the goal was actually achieved of making Lara look like fans expected.
Unfortunately, the core game started to show its age quickly after the first game. When these games were new, the primitive controls were excused thanks to the sheer novelty of the concept. More and more, though, fans were rejecting the new entries in the series. After Angel of Darkness in 2003, it seemed like Lara Croft might be done for good.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary, released in 2007, was somewhat of a resurgence and was a remake before remakes were a thing, bringing an updated vision of the original Tomb Raider that looked and played how fans remembered the original, not how it actually was. 2008’s Underworld followed that up, and was mostly a good game but, again, felt tired. The revival was short-lived, as the games felt like little more than an update on an aging game.
Things didn’t really pick back up for Lara until 2013. This time we got a true, full reboot for the series. The core remained: Lara Croft of 2013’s Tomb Raider sported the British accent, brown hair in a ponytail, and blue tanktop. This Lara, though, was a beginner. Incredibly smart and quick witted, but utterly inexperienced. Set in an open world instead of a level-based structure, Lara was finally able to develop as a character instead of just being a sort of shorthand for “cool badass.” More emphasis was put on the survival aspect, as Lara was in grave danger anywhere she went on the storm-battered Japanese Yamatai island.
The focuses on climbing, exploration, and combat worked well for the series, and turned a cardboard cutout into a believable human, much the same way Daniel Craig’s take on James Bond gave the character a new, dark humanity to replace his predecessor’s cartoonish unflappability. Similarly, by the end of Tomb Raider, not only was Lara a badass, but it felt like she’d earned it. She wasn’t just that way because the marketing campaign said so.
The one big mark on Tomb Raider 2013’s record was, well, the tombs. Lara didn’t really raid any. Sure, she found her way into some ancient structures, but she spent a lot of time outdoors shooting guys. With this year’s entry, Rise of the Tomb Raider, we’ve been assured that tombs are back in force. Finally, we’ve come back around to the beginning – Lara Croft is a tomb raiding badass. Only now she’s earned it and the sales for the game show it.
Rise of the Tomb Raider hits Xbox One and Xbox 360 on November 10, 2015, and PC and PlayStation 4 in 2016.