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Retrospective: Tomb Raider: Legend

Welcome back to Survivor Reborn’s humble abode. Today we take you on a retrospective tour of the first game in a new Tomb Raider era – the first title produced by Crystal Dynamics, and one that rebooted Miss Croft and her backstory – Tomb Raider: Legend.



In 2003, Derby-based Core Design’s latest Tomb Raider title, Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness, was a commercial and critical failure. Although the game went on to acquire a loyal cult following, its development had been fraught with difficulties. After producing six Tomb Raider titles in seven years, Core Design’s employees were exhausted both physically and emotionally. Eager to avoid a repeat of the Angel of Darkness experience, and its concomitant financial insecurity, publisher Eidos Interactive took the decision to switch studios. Lara Croft travelled across the Atlantic to the studio that had made its name with the Legacy of Kain series – Crystal Dynamics. Rather than try to untangle and continue the story from The Angel of Darkness, Crystal Dynamics decided to completely reboot the entire franchise. Lara Croft would undergo a head-to-toe makeover – from her backstory and personality to her looks, animations, and control system. An entirely new era in Tomb Raider history was about to unfold with Tomb Raider: Legend.


From Tomb Raider to Legend

Tomb Raider: Legend opened with a nine-year-old Lara Croft on a plane journey across Nepal, accompanied by her loving mother, Lady Amelia Croft (voiced by Eve Karpf). The journey was interrupted, however, when their plane unexpectedly crashed in the snowy mountains. Lara and her mother took shelter in some temple ruins, where Lara discovered a curious stone dais with a mysterious sword embedded in it. Upon touching the sword, the dais sprang to life and a glowing portal appeared in the air, together with ghostly voices. Terrified, Amelia heeded their order to ‘take… out… the sword!’ and vanished, leaving young Lara behind.

Lara and Amelia 01

You can look, but you REALLY shouldn’t touch

Skipping forward to the present, and a fully-matured Lara Croft was ascending a cliff face in Bolivia while simultaneously chatting to her technician, Zip, and historian Alister, over a headset link back to Croft Manor. Lara was following up a friend’s tip-off about a stone dais at Tiwanaku – a ruined pre-Incan civilisation – that seemed to match her memories of the dais in Nepal.

Over the course of the game, we learned that Lara’s father, Lord Richard Croft, had become obsessed with discovering the truth behind his wife’s disappearance. He believed that she had been somehow transported to another place, maybe even another dimension; this belief had, we would later learn, spelled the undoing of his academic career. His daughter Lara, however, thought that her mother had died, and she pitied Richard’s obsession. Despite the differences in their opinions, this hadn’t stopped Lara from pursuing a passionate interest in archaeology, and following up on ‘a rather promising lead’ about an ornate stone dais in Bolivia…

Bolivia dais 01

Déjà vu, Lara?

After exploring Tiwanaku, Lara found the dais in question – only to discover that others had gotten there first. Surrounded by mercenaries, she held a brief and cryptic conversation with their leader – a young American named James W. Rutland Jr. (voiced by Reno Romano) He insinuated that an old friend of Lara’s, Amanda Evert, was still alive – despite Lara’s belief that she had drowned during an excavation in Paraiso, Peru, many years ago. He also held aloft an object that Lara recognised as a piece of the sword from Nepal. After dispensing with the bothersome mercenaries, Lara examined the dais and found it to be twin to the one she had discovered in the Nepalese temple as a child.

Curious about Rutland’s insinuations about Peru, Lara travelled back to Paraiso in search of information about the sword fragment. She met with another old companion, an engineer named Anaya Imaru (voiced by Melissa Lloyd), and the two of them were pursued to the dig site by more mercenaries. The site triggered Lara’s memories of her previous visit, in which several of her friends were killed by a monstrous, ghost-like creature. Amanda had apparently made the creature vanish when she grabbed hold of a fist-sized ‘wraith stone’, but she had been buried under rubble and drowned soon afterwards – or at least, that was what Lara had believed up till now.

Lara and Anaya 01

Corpses generally don’t untie their own shoelaces

As she explored the tomb, Lara encountered inscriptions about the last Queen of Tiwanaku, whose life-story seemed eerily similar to the King Arthur legend. Upon entering the Queen’s tomb, Lara found a ceremonial replica of the Queen’s sword and discovered that it was the same as the one she had found embedded in the Nepalese dais. Rutland’s fragment matched up with the replica, and so did a piece that Lara recognised as an artefact she had seen many years ago in Waseda University in Japan. Unfortunately, as Lara explained to Zip, said piece had been stolen by a Yakuza boss named Shogo Takamoto some time ago. With Zip’s help, Lara arranged a meeting with Takamoto (voiced by Michael Hagiwara) to take place at the penthouse suite of media mogul Toru Nishimura (voiced by Paul Nakauchi), another of Lara’s close friends.

Unfortunately, Takamoto was not in the mood to bargain for the artefact. After he retreated from Nishimura’s, Lara managed to track Takamoto down, battle her way through his Yakuza guardsmen, and take the artefact from him by force. In the process, Takamoto demonstrated the artefact’s fabulous – and lethal – powers.

Japan 01

Takamoto learns that Lara doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer

Following Zip’s detective work in tracking down Rutland, Lara then headed for a location deep in the jungles of Ghana, West Africa. Lara cautiously worked her way through an ancient temple complex, circumventing more of Rutland’s hired thugs (losing her connection to Zip and Alister in the process), until she confronted Rutland in person once again. He explained that he was looking for an object, known as the Ghalali Key, that would put the sword fragments back together. He assumed that was also Lara’s goal in coming to Ghana. However, the Key was nowhere to be found. Rutland speculated that Lara’s father might have found the Key on one of his expeditions, and taken it back to Croft Manor. Rutland also taunted Lara with the fact that Amanda was at Croft Manor even now, tearing it apart in search of the Ghalali Key.

Rutland in Ghana 01

I don’t suppose you kept the receipt?

After beating Rutland into submission and taking his sword fragment, Lara re-established contact with Zip and Alister. She learned that Amanda had indeed broken into the manor but had left empty-handed. According to Zip, she was heading for an old Soviet research station in Kazakhstan in search of another sword fragment. After the others reassured her that everything was all right back home, Lara headed straight for Kazakhstan to intercept Amanda.

Deep in the bowels of the Kazakh research base, Lara finally came face-to-face with the friend she had long thought dead. Amanda, however, was not in the least bit interested in reestablishing friendly ties with Lara. She resented the fact that Lara hadn’t even bothered to try and recover her body after the cave-in. Amanda (voiced by Kath Soucie) had managed to survive thanks to the magical properties of the wraith stone – a powerful vessel for the terrible ghost-like creature that had slaughtered all of their friends. The two had become allies of a sort; Amanda now wielded uncanny powers and could unleash the creature at will. Amanda had always been fascinated by mysticism and metaphysics, believing that spirituality, not science, held the key to understanding the nature of reality and the multiverse. She scorned Lara’s scientific approach to discovery, and claimed that the sword fragments were inextricably linked to legends of King Arthur and the paradise realm of Avalon. The Soviets had been studying one of the fragments fifty-something years ago, but the research, code-named Carbonek (after the castle where Lancelot sought the Holy Grail), was shut down after a mysterious accident.

Amanda and Lara 01

Amanda remains somewhat sceptical

Despite the efforts of Amanda’s pet monster, Lara successfully grabbed the sword fragment and escaped the research base. While pondering her next move, Zip and Alister made contact. They had been trying to decipher a map Lara had found engraved on a shield back in one of the labs. The shield, it turned out, had belonged to the 11th-century knight – the previous owner of the sword fragment. Lara was shocked to learn that the map led to the exotic and remote location of… Cornwall.

Lara and her friends drove out to the location on the map, only to find a derelict ‘museum’ dedicated to King Arthur. The site in question had apparently caused a fuss several decades previously with the discovery of the ‘real’ King Arthur’s tomb – but was soon discredited by the world of academia. Lara broke into the museum and confirmed that the so-called tomb was just a cenotaph – a diversionary tomb to mislead grave-robbers. However, Lara – with the help of a handy forklift – soon penetrated the cenotaph’s secrets (literally!) and discovered much-older catacombs hidden right under the museum. She eventually uncovered a grand mausoleum and the REAL tomb of King Arthur (‘they’re all here – the court of Camelot’). Clutched in King Arthur’s dead hands was the final sword fragment.

King Arthur 01

Wouldn’t take it unless you absolutely, positively HAD to, Lara? Hmm…

Lara made her way back to the surface, after battling her way past a gigantic serpent and yet more stubborn mercenaries (just how many hired muscle does any self-respecting occultist or West Point graduate NEED, for crying out loud?). The trio headed back to Croft Manor, where they laid out the four sword fragments. However, they still lacked the Ghalali Key, and hence the means to fuse them back together.

Studying the laid-out fragments, Lara suddenly realised that she HAD seen the Ghalali Key before; her father had given it to Amelia as a gift, and she had been wearing it as a brooch on the day the plane crashed in the Himalayas. There was nothing for it but for Lara to return to the site of the crash.

Nepal sword 01

Definitely not your average brooch

Weighed down by memories, Lara returned to Nepal and explored the site of the plane crash. She quickly found the Ghalali Key, and decided to explore the temple ruins. There, just as expected, she found the stone dais – missing its sword. Reverently, Lara assembled the sword fragments and, with the Ghalali Key, reforged them into the legendary weapon Excalibur. She then tried to emulate the incident of her childhood and impaled the dais with the sword – only for the damaged dais to shatter. Unperturbed, she decided to head to Bolivia and try her luck with that dais instead.

Back in Bolivia, Rutland and Amanda were naturally not very keen to share either the dais or the newly-reforged Excalibur with Lara. A fierce battle took place between Lara and the duo’s mercenary protectors – but against the might of Excalibur, they never stood a chance. Lara waded through their ranks, killing and incapacitating them all – including Rutland. Enraged, Amanda called upon her wraith stone and merged with her monstrous companion to fight against Lara. However, even this was not enough to overcome her, and Amanda was eventually knocked senseless to the ground.

Bolivia redux 03

Lara contemplates the dais in Bolivia

Carefully, Lara once more re-enacted the ‘activation sequence’ that she had witnessed with her mother in Nepal. The unbroken dais came alive and once more formed a fantastic portal-like aperture in the air. This time, however, Lara recognised the ghostly voices as those of her mother – and her younger self. Horrified, Lara realised that the voices that had been pleading and scolding her mother were her own words here and now. Groggily, Amanda awoke and, realising what was happening, ordered Amelia to take out the sword, screaming that the dais would explode if she didn’t comply. Past-Amelia, just as Lara remembered, panicked, pulled out the sword and vanished – causing the dais in the present-Bolivia to explode. The sword, still intact, was hurled away and narrowly missed Lara.

Furious, Lara turned on Amanda – understanding, finally, that it was her old friend’s orders, transmitted somehow back in time, that had killed her mother. But to Lara’s bafflement, Amanda was equally distraught – not because Amelia had died, but because Amelia had been transported to Avalon. Richard Croft had been right all along.

Bolivia redux 02

All good archaeologists take copious notes – admittedly not all of them in crayon

Amanda was enraged by Lara’s intervention, both past and present. Without her, Amanda could have used the sword to travel to Avalon, but now, with the dais destroyed, that was impossible. Lara realised that they had both been cheated of what they had wanted. Leaving Amanda unconscious, Lara contacted Zip and Alister and told them to get in touch with one of her father’s old colleagues. Despite the disaster, Lara now had hope that her mother might still be alive, and there might still be a way to save her.



Tomb Raider: Legend was released on the 7th April 2006, on Windows, the PlayStation 2, the Xbox and Xbox 360. It would later be launched on the Nintendo GameCube, DS, GameBoy Advance, and the PlayStation Portable (PSP).

For their first foray into the franchise, the team at Crystal Dynamics went back to the drawing board to create their vision for Tomb Raider and Lara Croft; in the words of Riley Cooper, lead designer at the time, We’re going back to the roots of the franchise. As well as a large team of artists, designers, and programmers, Crystal Dynamics brought in Toby Gard – Lara Croft’s original designer. Initially hired purely as a creative consultant, Gard eventually became involved in character design, story elements, cinematic direction, and more.

Beta montage 01

Early trailer footage shows areas and equipment (including the iconic braid) that would be missing from the final game

Lara Croft’s biography and personality were given a complete makeover. No longer a disowned prodigal daughter and avowed loner, Lara now circulated in a global network of close friends and came from a loving family disfigured by tragedy. Lara retained a certain dry wit from her previous incarnations, but the unforgiving edges and complexity of her Angel of Darkness predecessor was dropped in favour of a warmer, more relaxed personality. Crystal Dynamics decided that Lara’s interest in archaeology had come, not from an Austrian mentor, but from her father, Lord Richard Croft (named after the character in the movies, as opposed to Henshingly Croft from the Core Design-era games). It was Richard Croft’s obsessive hunt for the truth behind his wife’s disappearance that spurred Lara’s interest in ancient cultures and exotic travel.

Lara Croft’s vocal performance was brought to life by British actress, Keeley Hawes, while her physical model underwent significant tweaks and redesigns. Her signature braid was dropped in favour of a simply ponytail, and her characteristic twin pistols were joined by a host of James Bond-worthy gadgetry, including a magnetic grapple, HUD binoculars, and a PDA. Although Lara’s birthday was kept at the 14th February, her birth year was brought forward from 1968 to the early to mid-seventies, putting her age somewhere between twenty-nine and thirty-six.

Lara glamour shot 01

Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s a reboot

For the first time, Lara was surrounded with companions who lived with her on the Croft estates. The character of Zip had made his first appearance in Tomb Raider: Chronicles, as a technical wizard whom Lara hired in order to infiltrate the VCI Building and steal the Iris. In Tomb Raider: Legend, the character of Zip (now voiced by Alex Desert) was taken down, dusted off, and given a role similar to that of Bryce from the first two Tomb Raider movies. Another new face was Alister Fletcher (voiced by Jonny Rees (as Greg Ellis)), a historian whose assistance on Lara’s adventures often caused significant delays in his own dissertation work! These two new characters – along with a reinvented Winston, voiced by Alan Shearman – kept in constant contact with Lara via a satellite-enabled headset wherever she roamed, offering advice and recording all that she saw and heard for future reference.

Zip and Alister 01

So, Alister, about that bulk order of Dimenhydrinate…?

In terms of gameplay, Tomb Raider: Legend took its cue from other successful 3rd-person action-adventure games of the early 2000s (that had in no small part been inspired by earlier Tomb Raider titles). Lara could now run, jump, climb, shimmy, and acrobatically cavort across natural-looking landscapes with perfect grace and fluidity. The new engine allowed for more realistic physics-based puzzles and interactivity, such as tumbling pillars, exploding barrels, and platforms that could float on water. Players could practise all of these new moves in a brand-new, movie-inspired Croft Manor – a feature that had not been seen in a Tomb Raider game since 1998’s Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft. Lara could pick up one additional weapon alongside her pistols – such as a shotgun or assault rifle – and could also throw hand grenades. In three levels (Peru, Japan, and Kazakhstan) players could also ride a motorcycle; in two cases, these formed part of extended chase sequences. Most of the levels featured one or more large set-piece ancient mechanisms that Lara would have to decipher in order to progress.

Including the manor, there were nine levels in Tomb Raider: Legend, making it one of the shortest titles in the franchise. Players could extend gameplay somewhat by hunting for its many secrets – split into bronze, silver, and gold depending on their difficulty – and through time trials. Completing time trials and collecting secrets would unlock bonus material in the form of storyboards, concept art, additional outfits, and more. Tomb Raider: Legend boasted the largest wardrobe of any title in the franchise – a staggering thirty-three outfits accessible in the main game, plus three more exclusive to the PSP version.

Lara wardrobe 01

Lara’s wardrobe – heavy on holsters, light on frilly bits

The musical score for Tomb Raider: Legend was composed by Danish musician Troels B. Folmann. At approximately four and a half hours’ worth of in-game music, the score currently holds the record for the longest of any title in the franchise. Much of this was down to the technique of ‘micro-scoring’, which helped match the music to contextual cues. Nathan McCree’s iconic Tomb Raider theme can be heard several times throughout the soundtrack, and Folmann incorporated many ethnic instrument samples to lend an authentic atmosphere to the game’s various locations.

On the 14th February 2006, Karima Adebibe was selected to don the boots as the first official Lara Croft model of the new Crystal Dynamics era.



Fan anticipation for Tomb Raider: Legend was extremely high. The game received high praise from critics – for example, earning 8.2/10 from IGN and 8.5/10 from Gamezone – and stayed at the top of the UK game charts for three whole weeks. The game’s fluid controls were hailed as a huge improvement over its predecessors, although combat ‘could have been handled a lot better’ and the game was often criticised for being too short. However, it was the fastest-selling title in the franchise, and by 2009 it had sold 4.5 million copies worldwide, making it the most commercially successful entry in the franchise since 1999’s Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation.


Karima Adebibe as Lara Croft at a promotional event in Warsaw, 2006



Tomb Raider: Legend marked a significant turning point in the Tomb Raider franchise. Many fans were hoping that it would sweep away the bad joss that had plagued its predecessor, whilst staying true to the game’s – and Lara’s – roots. And for many fans it did just that. In terms of sheer gameplay and level design, Tomb Raider: Legend was visually impressive and much more in-line with other modern 3rd-person games. After the progressive, but fundamentally unchanged, grid-based games and the hybrid-style engine bugs, Legend’s controls were a breath of fresh air.

However, many of the changes and ‘improvements’ left other fans cold. Amongst the objections were Lara’s new biography and personality, the game’s short length and ‘easy’ exploration and puzzles (for seasoned Raiders, at least!), and most especially the addition of Zip and Alister’s almost-constant dialogue over the headset. Some fans of the original Core Design-era games were also annoyed by what they felt was Crystal Dynamics’ disrespectful attitude towards the older games, with comments like “she doesn’t control like a tank anymore” cropping up, anonymously, in official Developer Diaries. The advent of Legend led to a marked division within the Tomb Raider fan community that has, if anything, grown and split several more times over the course of the last decade.

Despite this, Tomb Raider: Legend continues to have a special place in many fans’ hearts, and is proof that a franchise can be revived as a commercial success even when it has flirted with financial ruin.

Article written by J. R. Milward.

Images courtesy of J. R. Milward.

Karima Adebibe image courtesy of Vegavin at Wikipedia: (



Creative Commons Licence
Retrospective: Tomb Raider: Legend by J. R. Milward / Survivor Reborn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

About jrmilward (21 Articles)
Researcher, writer, editor, proofreader, voice actress, science graduate.

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