20 years ago today, Core Designs and Eidos introduced the world to Tomb Raider. Lara Croft, her short shorts, and her dual pistols made their debut in 1996 on the Sega Saturn. Since then, she has graced our consoles and and PCs in over a dozen titles. The creative team behind Tomb Raider had to fight for their female protagonist. Heather Gibson, of the original six developers, recalls her colleague Toby Gard’s struggle to put Lara in the lead, “Up until then they were quite masculine characters because your main market was men or boys”. Toby continued to push and eventually made the First Lady of action platformers a reality.
It was a decision that turned out to not be as big a risk as they thought. Early data from Eidos, Core Designs’s parent company, suggested that 40% of players were women. There were a lot of things that made Tomb Raider stand out. Lara’s ability to swim was uncommon in that era, the action platforming and puzzle solving were great, and (of course) that outfit. Tomb Raider was destined to be a significant piece of gaming history, but perhaps one of the things that made it stand out was Lara. Meagan Marie, author of the official 20 Years of Tomb Raider, explains her connection as a young player, “The initial attraction to the game was feeling represented”.
For a time, Lara Croft was everywhere. Not only on the cover of video game magazines, but also lifestyle magazines, movies, and all manner of merchandise. Even the British government got on board, naming her as an Ambassador of British scientific excellence (I assume they never actually played the game). Eventually, Tomb Raider fell out of pop culture and Crystal Dynamics would take the reigns of Lara’s adventures as game sales slowed. Crystal Dynamics produced several Tomb Raider titles including Legend and Underworld before taking the iconic platformer back to the drawing board.
Tomb Raider returned with stunning new visuals and storytelling designed to humanize Lara. Simply titled Tomb Raider, the reboot from Crystal Dynamics gave players the opportunity to experience Lara’s journey from naive university student to survivor and adventurer. One of the most satisfying moments in that spectacular game is when you are given the chance to dual wield pistols again during the games epic conclusion. It was the culmination of a dramatic reconstruction of Tomb Raider. Lara was now far from infallible, but still a complete badass.
Fans may have been initially nervous about rebooting Lara, but 2013’s Tomb Raider was the best selling game in franchise history and reignited our love of the adventurer. It will also very likely be the basis for the new film due in 2018.
She has seen a lot of changes over years, from upgraded graphics to free run controls. Lara forgoes the hot pants in the newest installment for open world exploration, but some things haven’t changed. Tomb Raider still takes us to fantastical locations to solve ancient puzzles and apply questionable archaeological practices.
Happy Birthday, Tomb Raider. I’m looking forward to the next 20 years of mysterious tombs, Lara’s acrobatics, and narrowly avoiding death traps. What are your favorite Tomb Raider memories? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook.