Since bursting onto the PlayStation and Sega Saturn back in 1996, Lara Croft has become one of the most iconic female protagonists in gaming history.
Despite her titillating appearance, those 230 polygons would go on to smash gender roles on the gaming scene, with original lead graphic artist Toby Gard pioneering a female character that fitted in with neither the “bimbos” or “dominatrix” types that plagued game releases of the time.
The game’s studio Core Design had little faith in the success of Tomb Raider, and with parent company Eidos in millions of debt the aristocratic adventurer’s future didn’t seem too hopeful. Much to Core’s surprise though, when the game hit the shelves in November it shot straight to the top of the charts and even snatched coveted ‘game of the year’ awards.
The franchise was set to boom further, with more incarnations, two film adaptations and themed games such as the Butlers Bingo Slot becoming popular hits on the net. Six Guinness World Records followed and so did the accolades.
But this doesn’t mean it was all smooth sailing. After creator Toby Gard left over “creative differences”, two Tomb Raider sequels were pushed out in quick succession. Though the 3D worlds and new features did entice players, the pressure eventually became too much for Core Design. In 1999, it decided to kill off Lara at the conclusion of The Last Revelation.
Despite her on screen demise, Lara resurfaced again in the 2000 release Tomb Raider: Chronicles. Consisting of flashbacks and funeral scenes, it failed to emulate the previous success and received average reviews by critics and users alike.
But Core Design was to give it once last ditch attempt, reviving its flagship heroine three years later for The Angel of Darkness. Unfortunately, it was to taste failure again. Rushed to the next-gen PlayStation 2 and handled by a whole new team of developers, the infamously darker release was plagued with bugs and drowned in criticism. This was when Core Design let the series finally slip through its fingers once and for all.
Enter Crystal Dynamics, which hired Toby Gard to return his masterpiece to its roots. Supported by a team 10 times larger than his original, Gard introduced a new appearance, improved mechanics and created a richer backstory for the 2006 release Legend.
With fan support returning in waves, Crystal Dynamics commissioned a sequel to celebrate a decade of adventure. The aptly named Tomb Raider: Anniversary launched (a year late) in 2007, building on the script set out by Legend and paving the way for the final instalment of the trilogy, Tomb Raider: Underworld, which would follow just one year later.
In 2010, Crystal Dynamics partnered with Square Enix to release a download-only title that departed from the norm. For the first time the title would not feature the name Tomb Raider, instead named Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Boasting beautiful 3D landscapes and challenging puzzles, the stand-alone game became a commercial hit.
Now in the hands of Square Enix, 2013 welcomed a grittier and more in-depth reboot. For the first time, Tomb Raider was headed by a female scriptwriter and Rhianna Pratchett presented audiences with a younger and more characterised incarnation. This shipwrecked Lara captivated fans, whose enthusiasm was reflected in the sales. A million copies sold in just 48 hours of release and a Definitive Edition was made available for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in January of this year.
With such a rich and important legacy behind her, Lara is unlikely to ever disappear from our disc drives. Time can only tell what the future holds for gaming’s biggest and most-loved heroine.