RETRO – Let’s go back a bit in time, back to an age when 3D elements that were moving in front of pre-recorded backgrounds, but textures and shapes made of square grids couldn’t move through our screens. In fact, our journey takes us to an era where there was no space at all, only the mere illusion of space. Video games were seen as fun for kids, a purposeless and pointless waste of money. This dynamically evolving new medium has simply not reached the larger masses.
In 1993, British team Core Design, led by Toby Gard, dreams of launching an atomic bomb (or sex bomb) into the game market for male-dominated 2D action platformers, a British aristocratic archaeologist who, in her spare time, saves the Earth from all sects and crazy scientists, while at the same time insuring her insatiable collecting passion, she safely preserves the magical treasures of the world at home. Of course, the concept wouldn’t have popped up if the Gards hadn’t imagined all this in a revolutionary three-dimensional way, with all the power of a Sony PlayStation with its stunningly successful controller, almost designed for Tomb Raider.
Sunglasses, holster on the thighs, brown line, and navy top: a digital sexy icon is born
We are in the age of playing discs. As technology evolved, PS finally comes out, and the legendary Prince of Persia’s successor, Tomb Raider, finally follows the trend in 1996, with bombastic 3D, high standard textures, high polygon numbers, and a very sexy Lara Croft, the dream of every geek. And that was just the sight. The true secret of Lara Croft was her unique style. The aristocratic origins could have been alienating if not coupled with an astonishing “coolness”, a degree of laxity and intelligence that made our heroine of the fate of the world identifiable. Her adventures from Peru later led to the Lost Valley ruled by dinosaurs, then to Miss Croft’s visit to the hidden tombs of Greece, and eventually to the pyramids of Egypt and Atlantis, which was thought to be missing.
The strongest side of the game was perhaps that Lara, though she had all the skills to overcome obstacles that she was facing, still seemed fragile and vulnerable against her much bigger and physically stronger opponents. And what upped that bad-ass feeling: Lara wandered alone all the time, with only us behind her, while the overwhelming silence was only broken by the sound of water dropping on the stalactite caves, the roar of distant wolves and the pieces beautiful classical-like music. Lara works alone, solving puzzles using the genre’s spatial innovations, while we – the player – are controlling her: we think, run, jump, swim and shoot with guns. Thanks to the perfectly balanced gameplay, the first game immediately became a classic, followed by Lara’s unexpected worldwide success, and the games becoming adult … And of course, a lot followed.
Italian sect? See you in Venice, boys!
We didn’t have to wait long for Tomb Raider 2. Toby Gard has left the building, but Lara’s return was all the more glorious. After Lara’s outing in Atlantis, a team goes crazy to get the Chinese Xian dagger. Lots of new venues, first-in-the-line, location-specific clothing, driveable, parked vehicles (all in 3D! 1997!), Physics fluttering Lara’s hair (previously tied up, now getting pigtails), tons of new weapons and motion options characterize the game. The music became looser, blending the light classics with the early classical music in a spirit of the era, creating a frenetic, feminine effect.
Lara’s home has been expanded from a simple tutorial into a character crawl through, a special path for anyone who wants to see for themselves where our heroine spends her free time, and especially when. Among the novelties is the appearance of the sky and dynamic lights (1997 !!), the lack of which may not have been noticed previously. Originally designed for SEGA Saturn, the first episode was already fully PlayStation / PC exclusive and the game represented the highest technology of the era. Together with the previous instalment, she has earned himself the British BAFTA prize and, in addition to sitting down a little and big in front of the machine, has created the next-to-be-known figure in the gaming industry, such as Mario at Nintendo. Of course, this had to be continued!
From Peak to Ugly Fall: Tomb Raider 3, Last Revelation, Chronicles, and a botched generation change
We are one year after TR2. In fact, Tomb Raider 3: Adventures of Lara Croft is the logical continuation of the first two parts: bigger, more beautiful, more colourful, and freer. With arbitrary locations to explore, the freedom to travel is a speciality in the history of the series so far, while its new vehicles already show the limitations of an ageing engine, they can still be exciting and the atmosphere sucks with ever greater difficulty. The story is so-so, but by this time everyone is wondering about Lara Croft, not a Tomb Raider story! Perhaps this shift in emphasis was felt by Core Design as well when, light-years drifting away from the original puzzle-based gameplay (Tomb Raider 2-3 was more action-oriented), they decided to end Lara’s story and kill her with a superb ending in Egypt.
The revamped engine of Tomb Raider 4: The Last Revelation was beautiful, bringing in new logical puzzles, and Lara had to be more acrobatic than ever before to stop the apocalypse. Still, the wonderful, sad, but beautiful finish could not have been what it was intended for, as the money intervened: in spite of milking the series like a cow with yearly appearances, Eidos still decided that it was worth to throw out another sequel to Part Four’s engine to the mummified PS1 and for the weaker PCs… Leaving the developers for another year. Of course, the industry called for a disaster, and while I grew up with, loved, and I knew all the maps of Tomb Raider 5: Chronicles, critics hated the game at the top … most fans thought it was an abomination as well. Lara should have been left where she was: in the grave. So Core Design became a grave robber himself, bringing back Lara Croft’s body from death, her body but not her soul: Tomb Raider 6: Angel of Darkness was released.
A dark chapter in game history
Angel of Darkness is bad. No, that’s an understatement. It’s terribly, brutally bad, buggy, half-finished, unfinished, and even the wonderful soundtrack with the symphonists couldn’t save it. And all that after an awful movie: Tomb Raider in 2001! Core does not seem to have much to do with the timelessness of leaving the building block design, and PlayStation 2’s revolutionary technology collapsed with an apparently complete concept of old-fashioned engines. The music mentioned used the DVD format (wonderful in Dolby Pro Logic II) and when the graphics didn’t go mental because of the bugs, they were nice, but all in vain. All the movements, the gameplay, everything was frustrating, the story didn’t make sense and we were also bored with the abhorrent dialogue options in the game trying to copy role-playing games. With the second Tomb Raider movie, it all seemed to end, the first celebrity in the virtual world to ever fiddle with the U2 band’s concert projectors, now in disgrace, was laid into tombs herself. Eidos has ruined a once award-winning team, and the development of a new TR has been stuck in limbo for a while …
Birth of a Legend
Let’s jump in time again. So we’ve seen the creation and demise of an idol, and we’ve seen the impact that greedy publishers can have if profit maximization is the goal. We’re on PS2. Sony’s new baby is saver, crushing all previous generation rivals. The SEGA Dreamcast bleeds over the success of the Sony machine, but the black demon does not remain without challengers. Seeing the financial potential of the console market, Microsoft is also choosing to enter the machine manufacturing business with its own Xbox, and Nintendo with GameCube as well. Although the two alternatives, the purple little cube and the greenish-black box, are not an undivided success, both companies are returning, quite surprisingly, with a new Tomb Raider. Nobody’s in control of the next-gen title: Toby Gard’s character designer, the father of the original Lara, is back to put her child in order!
The Xbox 360 exclusive Tomb Raider: Legend is just for the Xbox and the PC with an amazing modern look that makes Lara more beautiful than ever. Following the James Bond intro, our heroine traverses the entire planet, exploring the legendary sword of the Arthurian phrase Excalibur, struggling to save her dead mother in space and time. Fantastic music, spectacular action, modern title, lighter, adventurous gameplay that the brave Tomb Raider: Anniversary celebrates its 10th anniversary, revolutionizing the first game, this time with T.G. got a bigger role than before. The success is huge, and it’s no wonder that the new TR development team, Crystal Dynamics, is hitting the iron while Tomb Raider: Underworld comes to end a trilogy. The wholly next-gen and high-tech Underworld specifically for the next-gen is not achieving the expected success, perhaps because its narrative relies heavily on Legend and Anniversary script. Maybe the time was over for Lara? Maybe it’s time to tell what makes someone as stubborn as Lara Croft?
Free after Toby Gard: The Survival Trilogy
The reboot of Tomb Raider in 2013 restarted the series as one of my favourite games. In its simplicity, it is the grandeur of an extremely young Lara in her early twenties who stays shipwrecked in the Japanese Bermuda Triangle, with her friends on Yamatai Island, and also some old survivors who, like in The Lord of the Flies, have fallen back into a state of the dark tribal past. In the struggle for survival, we can live through Lara’s innocence of childhood, and the prospect of a violent but curious woman popping up in her place … in which Lara calms down in search of her father’s murderers and finally accepts that there are no explanations for certain mysteries in the world, and that her father was right, the world is a mysterious place. The third and final episode, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, was released three years after the previous episode in 2018, focusing on faith. In SoTR, Lara is still reluctant to accept that miracles do exist, that there is magic, or that myths can have a basis.
In Rise of the Tomb Raider she experiences miracles, and in Shadow she already accepts them. The seriousness of the new series, by the way, really culminates here: while the first two episodes are blasting Michael Bay with a lot of action, Shadow is a more subdued game where we see for the first time a really deep interest in foreign cultures and wonderful relics. Lara goes through a well-constructed coming-of-age story in this trilogy, which she lives as a girl, as a woman can do. This Lara is truly irreplaceable with a guy. While we fight against Trinity: Rise’s bad guys, we are not only avenging Lara’s father, but we also spend a lot of time in real graves (deserted industrial, military facilities don’t really qualify), and even more locals. Very well-crafted graphics, atmospheric music, thoughtful gameplay are the modern features of the series, and thanks to God, the game has been brought back from death and sordidness, making it exciting again not only for new entrants but for Lara’s old fans as well. She survived, was born again, and rose to maturity. And the Phoenix Bird is hoping this time it will be soaring!
Perspectives and closing words
In the meantime, Lara has gone through some great logic titles, both on console and mobile, and the 2013 rethinking has received a movie that hasn’t been a great success, but for some reason, it gets a sequel. What happens next? I think Lara’s reinterpretation is still in the making somewhere in the offices of Crystal Dynamics. Who knows, maybe the pop culture icon of the ’90s will return as a cool thirties action hero? Or will the adventures of our 20-year-old archaeologist continue? Which Lara will back? Does either of those characters need to come back at all? In whatever form or interpretation: cosplayers, or even digital divas, Angelina Jolie or Alicia Vikander, we are all in love with Lara Croft.
– Praesagus –
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