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Heroes and Villains: Jacqueline Natla

Survivor Reborn is pleased to bring you a new series of articles featuring some of the most iconic characters to ever star alongside Lara Croft during her twenty-year Tomb Raiding career. Today, we cast the spotlight on Lara’s recurring arch-nemesis, Jacqueline Natla.

 

SR Jacqueline Natla montage 01

Natla through the ages

Profile

Name(s): Jacqueline Natla; Natla
Occupation(s): Queen of Atlantis; CEO of Natla Technologies
Defining characteristics: Unusually tall, blond hair, blue eyes (human form); handsome wingspan, various mutations (primary Atlantean form)
Appears in: Tomb Raider (1996), Tomb Raider: Anniversary (2007), Tomb Raider: Underworld (2008), Lara’s Shadow (2009)

 

First appearance

Natla made her debut in 1996’s Tomb Raider. The CEO of Natla Technologies, she commissioned the services of Lara Croft, archaeologist-adventurer, to retrieve a ‘little trinket’ from the lost tomb of Qualopec, deep in the Peruvian Andes (note that the laptop video conference in the game’s opening FMV was high technology back in 1996!).

SR Core Design Natla 01

Core Design’s 1996 Natla models

Lara soon learned that this ‘trinket’ was merely one piece of a larger, and vastly powerful, relic known as the Scion. Lara hunted down the other two missing pieces – in Greece and Egypt, respectively – and discovered that Natla had, many thousands of years ago, been one of three co-rulers of Atlantis. She had abused the power of the Scion to breed legions of monstrosities within the Atlantean Pyramid, before unleashing them in an attempted coup upon her two co-rulers, Qualopec and Tihocan. Upon Natla’s defeat, Qualopec and Tihocan condemned her to eternal imprisonment in a cryostasis chamber deep beneath the desert.

However, Natla escaped from her frozen tomb during a US nuclear test in New Mexico in the 1940s. Natla believed that ‘evolution [was] in a rut’, and wanted to kick-start a new struggle for existence by unleashing hordes of Atlantean mutants – courtesy of the reassembled Scion. Of course, her plans for world domination did not take into account a resourceful Miss Croft…

Natla’s first physical incarnation, courtesy of Core Design, was as a seemingly ordinary American businesswoman. Her blond hair was cut in a simple bob, and she habitually wore a straightforward dark skirt and jacket, low-cut blouse, and heels. Nothing in her early appearance hinted at her non-human origins. Nor did the game ever explicitly state that Natla was immortal or invincible. In the final boss level of Tomb Raider, we bumped into Natla for a climactic showdown. Fresh from a supposedly fatal fall, Natla had somehow acquired fleshy wings, bony out-growths, and a flame-spitting hand cannon. From looking at the character model, it’s hard to tell whether these mutations were actually part of Natla herself, or if an Atlantean mutant had somehow attached itself to her body. There is also some disagreement about who provided Natla’s voice. Both Vicky Arnold or Susie Hamilton (both Core Design employees at the time), are generally credited with bringing Natla’s Texan accent and smug superiority-complex to life.

 

Natla 2.0

Natla made an instant and lasting impression on Tomb Raider. When Crystal Dynamics acquired the development rights to the franchise for Tomb Raider: Legend (2006), sharp-eyed fans were quick to spot wooden crates bearing the Natla Technologies logo in the final level, Bolivia: Redux. As Easter Eggs go, it was quite affectionate. However, the developers did not stop there.

In 2007, and to mark Tomb Raider’s tenth anniversary, Crystal Dynamics released the appropriately-titled Tomb Raider: Anniversary. This was essentially a remake of Lara Croft’s first outing, but with some significant differences in both Lara’s background and the unfolding story. Some of the most striking differences were to be found in the re-imagined version of Natla and her connections to the Croft family.

In Anniversary, there were subtle hints to Natla’s Atlantean origins right from her first scene. Anniversary Natla’s basic appearance preserved the blond hair and blue eyes of her first incarnation. But her overly-long fingers and claw-like nails hinted that her true nature was not completely human. Her performance this time around was brought to life by the vocal talent of Grey DeLisle (sometimes known as Grey Griffin), who brought an air of sophistication and mystery to the character. Moreover, she explicitly named Lara’s goal in Peru as ‘the Scion of Atlantis’, rather than ‘this little trinket’ or an ‘age-old artefact’.

SR Anniversary Natla 01

Crystal Dynamics’ 2007 Natla models

Intriguingly, Natla also stated that Lara’s father, Richard Croft, had been obsessed with finding the Scion. As we learned in Tomb Raider: Legend’s re-imagined backstory, Lara’s mother, Amelia, had vanished after touching a mysterious sword in a Nepalese temple when Lara was only nine years old. We had hints in various Anniversary cutscenes that Richard had wanted to find the Scion because he hoped it would contain clues to finding Amelia. The significance of this would not become fully clear until Tomb Raider: Underworld.

When we eventually caught up with Natla near Anniversary’s climax, we were left in no doubt as to her Atlantean origins. The crisp business suit was swapped for an ornate dress and crown ensemble, as befitting a Queen of Atlantis. She also sported slender, bat-like wings – demonstrating that she had some degree of shapeshifting ability. After an untimely dunk in lava (as opposed to simply falling from a great height, as in the 1996 original), Natla revealed yet another form. In the final boss fight, Lara was pitted against a gaunt demoness with black, cracked-lava skin. Natla’s now-ragged wings and charred body were highlighted with glowing Atlantean runes, and her horned head was wreathed in burning radiance. Most peculiarly of all, this version of Natla had a greenish, glowing vortex right in the middle of her spine. This version of Natla boasted ‘I cannot die, you fool’, and indeed she took one heck of a pounding before Lara managed to escape. Indestructible she may have been, but it’s probably a safe bet that being submerged in lava, riddled with bullets, crushed under a granite pillar, and then caught up in an exploding pyramid would have had even Natla reaching for the paracetamol.

Colour us cynical, but more than a few Tomb Raider fans at the time thought – even hoped – that Natla would return. And, in 2008, she did.

 

Resurrection

Tomb Raider: Underworld marked the final chapter in Crystal Dynamic’s Legend-Anniversary-Underworld trilogy. It brought Lara’s quest to find her mother, Amelia, to a dramatic conclusion, and Natla once again took centre stage.

In this climactic chapter, Amanda’s ‘pet Atlantean God’ wore a clinical white jumpsuit (with convenient openings for her wings), and her blond hair was cut short and worn in a basic ponytail. If anything, Natla’s design in Underworld was one of the most striking of the whole franchise. Its simplicity was an excellent reflection of her cold, calculating nature. Grey DeLisle once again voiced the character, and perfectly captured Natla’s unique mixture of chilly disdain and smouldering allure.

 

SR Natla 01

We’re pleased to see you, too.

In Underworld, Natla was after Thor’s Hammer, Mjolnir, as part of a complicated plan to bring about Ragnarök. We discovered that Natla had attempted to manipulate Richard Croft into finding the Hammer, and killed him when he refused to cooperate any longer. Lara’s journey in Underworld brought together a lot of disparate story threads that had been building up throughout the previous two titles, but even then Natla’s full story was not yet over.

Lara’s Shadow was one of two Xbox 360-exclusive expansions to Tomb Raider: Underworld. Released in March 2009, it – along with Beneath the Ashes – explained what happened to the Doppelganger and to Natla after the cataclysmic events of Underworld. You would have thought that being struck by Thor’s Hammer and immersion in the Eitr would finally be enough to finish Natla off but, as Lara herself remarks, ‘Jacqueline Natla. You just don’t know when to die!’

In Lara’s Shadow, we discovered that Natla was still alive, if not precisely her old self. Her immersion in the Eitr had partially dissolved her flesh, giving her a corpse-like, rotten appearance. Taking the role of Lara’s sinister but oh-so-cool Doppelganger, we helped Natla to activate a regeneration chamber where the former Atlantean Queen presumably intended to hibernate her way through this troublesome era of Earth’s history. However, after Lara Croft freed the Doppelganger from her mystical enslavement, the Doppelganger returned and trapped Natla in a pool of Eitr beneath the chamber’s heavy machinery. As Natla spluttered and drowned in the corrosive liquid, many Tomb Raider fans couldn’t help but feel a twinge of satisfaction mixed with regret.

We have to wonder: Is this really the end for Natla, or will she cheat death and return one more time?

SR Natla and Lara 01

Well, Lara?

Character and fan reaction

Natla’s blend of sophistication and viciousness is, in some ways, a dark counterpart to Lara herself. Both characters are wealthy, cultured individuals who come from privileged backgrounds. Both possess exceptional willpower and ambition. Both, in fact, will go to whatever lengths it takes to achieve their goals. However, Natla was always motivated by personal ambition and only ever sought to destroy and rule. Core Design-era Lara was initially motivated by her lust for adventure and personal gain, but had no hesitation in confronting Natla once her plans for world domination were revealed. Crystal Dynamics-era Lara’s motivation was slightly more complicated, but she still put her own life on the line to thwart Natla’s plans. No matter which incarnation she appears in, Natla always serves to push Lara into saving the world – whether that was Lara’s original intention or not!

Natla was the first villain of the Tomb Raider franchise, and remains one of its most easily-identifiable characters. She also has quite a well-established fanbase. This can be aptly demonstrated by the multitude of fan-made tributes to her, in everything from artwork to music videos. Whatever form she takes, Natla will always have a special place in the hearts of the Tomb Raider fan community.

Survivor Reborn would love to read your memories of this iconic Atlantean Queen, so feel free to leave comments below – or head on over to the Survivor Reborn forums to join in the discussion!

 

Written by J. R. Milward.

References

Creative Commons Licence
Heroes and Villains: Jacqueline Natla by J. R. Milward / Survivor Reborn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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About jrmilward (19 Articles)
Researcher, writer, editor, proofreader, voice actress, science graduate.

1 Comment on Heroes and Villains: Jacqueline Natla

  1. I have always loved Natla’s backstory and attitude – especially in TR1 where she had this sort of nonchalance, going as far as calling the Scion a “little trinket”. This made her kind of similar to Lara, which was interesting especially in their final confrontation at the top of the Pyramid (“Too late for abortion now!”), and I have always thought that having both a female protagonist AND a female antagonist was a great and courageous idea back in 1996. Also loved the voice acting for Natla in TR1 (both in English and in French, her voice is somehow iconic). She became more manipulative and also more mysterious in TRA and I love how they made her look not-so-human, as you pointed out. I also loved how they reimagined Natla’s judgment scene, with Lara opening her mouth in astonishment as she discovers Natla’s true identity. What bothered me however was the (pretty lame in my opinion) twist about Natla being *SPOILERS* Richard’s murderer *SPOILERS OFF*. And for this reason, I hated Natla in Underworld. I really thought her presence in this game was not needed (but that wasn’t the worst part of Underworld’s plot to be honest…). Anyway, I liked this article about one of TR’s most charismatic villains 😉

    And I cannot conclude this comment without this wonderful song: https://youtu.be/o28cGVLKLFw

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