Welcome back for another time-travelling dose of nostalgia! Today, Survivor Reborn takes us back to the game that was itself composed of a series of retrospectives. Settle in as we blow the dust of Lara’s history once again and take you back to Tomb Raider: Chronicles.
To absent friends
Tomb Raider: Chronicles was set a few weeks after the thrilling climax of Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation. Lara Croft was missing, presumed dead, under tons of rubble that had collapsed upon her as she tried to escape the Great Pyramid. Lara’s one-time mentor, Professor Werner Von Croy, was consumed with remorse at the part he had played in her untimely demise; he would not rest until he had found her body.
Meanwhile, back in a rain-soaked English churchyard, Lara’s parents and her faithful manservant, Winston, gathered to pay their respects at a statue of the ‘once and future adventurer’. Winston, accompanied by Catholic priest Father Patrick Bram Dunstan, then returned to Lara’s manor. Together with another of Lara’s friends – her former history teacher Charles Kane – the companions gathered round the fire to reminisce about Lara’s extraordinary exploits.
It was a dark and stormy night…
Winston recounted one of Lara’s earliest conquests – her retrieval of the Philosopher’s Stone from its resting place in Rome. Taking place in 1995, the story reacquainted us with Pierre DuPont and Larson Conway from Tomb Raider (according to the original timeline, this was Lara’s first official run in with the dubious duo). Lara first stole the show at a theatre after taking possession of the Mercury Stone from Pierre and Larson. We then followed her quest through the streets of Rome, including a jaunt to the famous Trajan’s Markets, in search of the Saturn, Venus, and Mars Stones. Once all of the Stones were ensconced within a gateway (guarded by a trio of fire-breathing stone serpents), a portal opened that transported Lara to Rome’s Colosseum. After defeating Larson (and leaving him behind as a serpent’s chew-toy), Lara ran into Pierre – but being such a busy girl, she couldn’t keep him hanging around for long! Lara then battled gladiators, lions, and animated statues to scoop her prize – the Philosopher’s Stone.
Busy girl – Lara and some familiar faces appear in Rome
Charles Kane then stepped in to recount the time when Lara went after the fabled Spear of Destiny from its resting place aboard a sunken German U-boat. In 1998, Lara travelled with Kane to the Zapadnaya Litsa port, near the Russian-Norwegian border. Lara stowed away aboard a Russian nuclear submarine that had been chartered by Mafia boss Sergei Mikhailov to go after the Spear. The submarine’s commander, Admiral Yarofev, nurtured a deep distrust of Mikhailov, but accepted the commission in order to keep his crew paid and fed. However, Lara’s presence was soon discovered, and she was locked in the brig. Naturally, Lara escaped and was soon stealing a deep-sea diving rig in order to venture into the ocean and retrieve the Spear. Upon her return, Mikhailov took possession of the Spear – but was quickly killed for his insolence by the Spear’s tremendous power. The submarine was badly damaged, and Lara had to move quickly to get to a working escape pod. She was aided by Admiral Yarofev, who charged her to tell his story as a tribute to his men’s bravery. Lara only just managed to flee the submarine before it impacted the ocean bed and was destroyed – leaving the Spear behind.
Lara had a chilly reception on board the Russian nuclear submarine
Father Patrick was next, and he launched into a tale from when Lara was just sixteen and on holiday at Winston’s home in Connussie, Ireland. The locals had recently started seeing strange apparitions and other paranormal goings-on at a small island not far off the coast, called Black Isle. Being a priest, Father Patrick offered to go and take look. However, his conversation with Winston was overheard by Lara who, ever curious, stowed away on Father Patrick’s small boat to see the island for herself. She encountered many bizarre and disturbing entities – including a hanged (but very talkative) corpse who charged her with retrieving his petrified heart. However, Lara’s goodwill resulted in her inadvertently freeing a demon – Verdilet – who took Father Patrick hostage and demanded that Lara stop the flow of a local stream. This flowing water was anathema to demon-kind, and effectively trapped Verdilet on the island. Fearful for Father Patrick’s life Lara complied, but managed to defeat the demon by reciting his name from the Bestiary – a weighty tome she had found in the island’s labyrinthine catacombs. It was Lara’s first real brush with the supernatural, and Father Patrick wisely pointed out that it should stand as an important lesson for the future.
Finally, Winston led the companions into Lara’s infamous trophy room, where he unfolded the tale behind the Iris – the artefact that led to the animosity between Lara and Professor Von Croy. Despite being injured, Von Croy had managed to escape Angkor Wat with the Iris; a fact that Lara resented, having been ‘rewarded’ for her skills with the promise that the Iris would be hers. By 1997, Von Croy had handed the Iris over to a team of scientists based at his Von Croy’s Industries building in New York, and Lara saw the chance to take back what she (rightfully) viewed as hers. Lara hired the services of ex-VCI employee and computer-security systems wizard Zip, and calmly carried out a heist on her former mentor’s property. Using every ounce of her skills – plus Zip’s electronic assistance – Lara successfully stole back the Iris and left Von Croy facing a hefty insurance bill for the damage to his building. The VCI incident stoked the already simmering hostility between Lara and Von Croy, and set the scene for their reunion in Egypt. Still in a state of grief, the three companions gave a toast to Lara and her memory.
If you are captured or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. Good luck, Miss Croft.
Meanwhile, in Egypt, Von Croy was summoned to the digs under the Great Pyramid. When he arrived in the dark passageway, he was overcome with excitement at the sight of Lara’s backpack. He had found her body at last!
Or had he?
The development of Tomb Raider: Chronicles
Tomb Raider: Chronicles debuted in November 2000 on the PlayStation, Dreamcast, Microsoft Windows and Mac OS, and was the fifth Tomb Raider title to be developed by Core Design and published by Eidos Interactive. It was also the first Tomb Raider game to be a direct story-based sequel to the previous title (The Last Revelation).
The game retained the engine used in The Last Revelation, with minimal tweaks or improvements. These included the largely cosmetic tightrope-walking skill, nerve-wracking horizontal bar swing, and the ability to somersault forwards out of crawlspaces (no more need to shuffle around and exit them backwards – ah!). Secrets took the form of thirty-six golden roses (a nod to the collectible dragons in Tomb Raider II), and players who collected them all were rewarded with bonus content – storyboards, a stills-gallery, and concept art – accessible from the main menu screen.
You DID find all those Golden Roses, didn’t you?
Originally, the character of Jean Yves from The Last Revelation was supposed to have been one of the companions gathered at Croft Manor. However, the legal fiasco surrounding the real Dr. Jean Yves Empereur (who stated that Eidos had used his likeness with his consent) meant that the character was dropped and a newcomer – Charles Kane – took his place. Charles Kane was supposedly Lara’s history teacher whilst she was at Gordonstoun’s boarding school.
Jonell Elliot and Kerry Shale reprised their voice acting roles in Tomb Raider: Chronicles. Other returnees included (but were not limited to) Peter Connelly for music and sound effects, and Richard Morton and Andy Sandham as both story writers and level designers. Jeremy Heath-Smith and his brother Adrian Smith continued to helm Core Design as Executive Producers.
Another special feature in Tomb Raider: Chronicles was the inclusion of the Tomb Raider Level Editor (or TRLE). For the first time, players could install and use the same tr4-engine as the official developers to build and play their own custom Tomb Raider levels at home. With the expansion of the Internet, fans were soon creating websites to host and share their levels. The TRLE community is still very active to this day, and has given birth to new and improved engines, tools, objects, and techniques that support the creation of increasingly sophisticated and brilliant levels.
Trouble in paradise
Tomb Raider: Chronicles received mixed reviews and poor sales compared to its predecessors. As of April 2009 it had sold 1.5 million copies – the second lowest sales record for a Tomb Raider game to date. Many reviewers praised its gameplay and graphics (which were pushing the PlayStation to its absolute limits), but were less impressed with its short length and ‘more of the same’ lack of innovation.
Tomb Raider: Chronicles was never really intended to be anything more than a filler-title. A new, and very different, Tomb Raider was stirring in the wings of Core Design – with its sights set firmly on the newly-launched PlayStation 2 (PS2) console. Completing two Tomb Raider games simultaneously meant that Core Design’s developers were split into two teams: One team would work on Chronicles, and the other set to work on the upcoming sequel – Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness.
From discussions with members of the development team, and articles such as Richard Moss’s Ars Technica article from March 2015, ““It felt like robbery”: Tomb Raider and the fall of Core Design” , it is clear that the creative heart of Core Design had already been fatally struck by the iceberg, despite its high revenues – and that without a strong intervention, it was only a matter of time before it sank. The Tomb Raider franchise had grown bigger and more profitable than anyone could have dreamed back in 1996. However, the influx of money did not correspond with tighter organisation or improvements in leadership.
The morale in the Derby-based Core Design studios was already in sharp decline by the time Tomb Raider: Chronicles began development. 5-6 years of relentless pressure to produce an annual release for Tomb Raider, one after another, was taking its inevitable toll. Creative burn-out clashed with increasingly stressful working conditions and confusing management. Compared with today’s triple-A gaming studios, the Core Design of almost twenty years ago seems less of a professional studio and more of a loose collection of highly-talented, highly-skilled people who suffered from poor management and the demand to produce games like clockwork rather than as products of their inspiration and creative passion.
Lara in the limelight
Eidos Interactive continued their use of official Lara Croft models for their promotional material. In 2000, it was the turn of Lucy Clarkson – aged just seventeen – to take on the mantle of the world’s most famous (and buxom) archaeologist.
The year 2000 was also the year when principle filming took place for the upcoming film, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. A script had finally been agreed upon – with one of the writers, Simon West, also directing the film – and the lead role had gone to American-born actress Angelina Jolie. This casting choice was controversial amongst fans, but they would have to wait until summer the following year to judge for themselves whether Jolie could comfortably fill Lara’s boots.
Despite its flaws, Tomb Raider: Chronicles continues to hold a fond place in the hearts of many fans. They cite its atmospheric quality, challenging yet fun puzzles, and the way it gives a glimpse into Lara Croft’s wider story as reasons why this is one game no Tomb Raider fan should overlook.
Farewell, Miss Croft… for now.
What are your fondest memories of this entry in Miss Croft’s adventures? Which area did you enjoy the most and why? We’d love to hear from you over at Survivor Reborn’s forums!
Written by J. R. Milward.
Images courtesy of J. R. Milward.
Special thanks to Stella’s Tomb Raider Site.
- Survivor Reborn Tomb Raider: Chronicles
- Tomb Raider original timeline
- Tomb Raider: Chronicles on Wikipedia
- Charles Kane on WikiRaider
- Tomb Raider: Chronicles on IMDB (full crew list)
- The TRLE on WikiRaider
- The PlayStation 2 on Wikipedia
- Opposable Thumbs (Ars Technica gaming and entertainment website) by Richard Moss 31st March 2015 article “”It felt like robbery“: Tomb Raider and the fall of Core Design”
- Lucy Clarkson on Wikipedia
- Lara Croft: Tomb Raider on Wikipedia
- Angelina Jolie on IMDB
Retrospective: Tomb Raider: Chronicles by J. R. Milward / Survivor Reborn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.