Spanning 23 years across multiple media platforms, Lara Croft’s brazen adventures and notorious tomb raiding has made her a legendary cultural icon. Initially released way back in 1996 on the PlayStation, Sega Saturn and MS-DOS, Tomb Raider received so much acclaim and praise that it’s still considered among the greatest video games ever made. Although initially meant to be male with a whip, almost exactly like Indiana Jones, Lara’s now well-known spunky wit, British background, and dual pistols have made her one archeologist you don’t want to piss off.
As the franchise grew in record time, beckoning in a new title almost every year until 2000, Lara lost the most important part of her zeal, as her heroic qualities morphed into sexual overtones. With the previous developer, Core Design, tossed by Eidos Montreal in 2004 for Crystal Dynamics, a new era of the Tomb Raider was ushered in with the soft reboot, Tomb Raider: Legend. This game modernized the obtuse tank controls and clunky combat, while still retaining the franchise's signature puzzle rooms, hidden traps, and convoluted narratives. It was an early smash hit for the Xbox 360, and gave rise to a direct sequel - 2008's Underworld.
Then, in 2011, a gritty new origin story was announced out of the blue. With Crystal Dynamics still developing the franchise, a more survival-themed prologue to the life of Lara Croft was unveiled with pronounced enthusiasm. Released in 2013, Tomb Raider was extraordinarily well-received. A mature storyline with enhanced visuals gave Lara a proper reentry to the cultural zeitgeist, and even displayed to new and old fans the very first life she had ever taken. Despite the disappointing initial Xbox exclusivity Rise of the Tomb Raider in 2015, which still fared pretty well all things considered, fans were still breathlessly anticipating the follow-up and finale to this reboot trilogy.
Lara has experienced a plethora of changes, from polygon counts and pigtails to an arsenal of weapons and nothing but a bow. Both Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider gave fans a far darker story, and while tomb raiding may not have been a huge focal point as in previous iterations, this new trilogy was examining Lara’s humanity and focuses on the repercussions of her actions. The lead writer for Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider, Rhianna Pratchett, spoke about these very changes to the character.
"They’re showing you who she is as a person, rather more than who she is as an object,” she said.
This reimagining of Lara's heroic persona as the creator, Toby Gard, had envisioned from the very start is what made the reboot series an instant classic. After he left Core Design in 1997, Gard's character turned into exactly what he had feared, a "page 3 girl," with no redeeming qualities, no independence, none of what actually made her the Tomb Raider. Not only was Lara given large breasts and beautiful features, but so too was violence itself sexualized to the point of no return. The use of Lara as a sex icon became the focal point of Eidos, which cared more for profits than storytelling and character development.
It was arguably for the best that these highly seductive marketing practices for Lara, as well as her over-sexualized nature in the films, were phased out. What mattered most to the new developer was how Lara Croft became a tomb raider, and what made her a legend. A part of those questions can be answered in the fandom’s long-time love for the character. Even after the near-collapse of the franchise in 2003, thanks to the notorious release of Angel of Darkness, Lara’s story continues to thrive well into 2018 and beyond thanks to active fan engagement with the series.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider was well-loved, though suffered from minor bugs and other issues, such as spotty stealth mechanics. There was even an issue with the ending, showing different footage for fans who didn’t patch it with an update. The alternate post-credit scene had, like the original, Lara reading from a letter from one Jacqueline Natla. Avid fans of the series will remember her as an antagonist from the original Tomb Raider. The reason for its presence in the game remains a mystery, as Eidos Montreal even stated that it was never meant to appear in the game.
So, what's next for Lara? Many hopeful fans speculate that a new game is on the horizon, despite the fact that the origin trilogy has been completed. Some believe a remake of the 1996 game is in the cards, though there’s a slim possibility. Crystal Dynamics already did this way back in 2007 with Anniversary, a beautiful and nostalgic callback to the original. What's next for Lara may be more exciting than you think. Intriguing words were said to Variety by Camilla Luddington, Lara’s voice actress in the reboot trilogy:
“I want to know what her relationship would be with her daughter, see her having that experience,” she said. “It would be super complicated. I think you would find out more about her relationships. Who is the father? Does Lara still have a relationship with him?”
As a follow-up to the 2018 Tomb Raider film, the as-of-yet untitled sequel will feature returning lead Alicia Vikander and a new writer, Amy Jump. Having amassed $270 million worldwide, Tomb Raider was a solid success. It’s unclear when the new film will be released, or even what it will focus on, but since the first had correlated with the 2013 video game, this new blockbuster will likely adapt Rise of the Tomb Raider in some capacity. At least this new and invigorated persona will once again see the big screen.
Lara’s character will always be remembered as a group of polygons in a 1996 puzzle-adventure video game, though she’s become far more than anyone could have ever imagined. As she reaches all new heights in her career, now becoming a survival-action hero, her stamp on pop culture only grows. Until the next tomb gets raided, I’ll be busy practicing my archery and rock climbing maneuvers. Here's to hoping the next installment honors her as she should be: a treasure in video game history, one not meant to be ogled over, but cherished for years to come.