As someone who grew up in the 90s era of gaming (which I refer to as the Golden Age of gaming), there were always so many series to choose from. I remember Street Fighter being one of the earliest games I played, along with Duck Hunt and, of course, Mario. But it wasn’t until around Christmas 1996 that I really started to think of myself as a gamer, not just a casual player. While games were great they really weren’t that memorable or that different from each other – that is, until the first Playstation console was released and pushed gaming to a whole new level. It took us away from simple side-scrollers; we were finally brought into the 3D era.
Playstation gave life to many incredible series, such as Crash Bandicoot, Resident Evil, Tekken, Parasite Eve and more, but the one series that really caught my attention was Tomb Raider. Not only did it feature a strong female protagonist to rival the likes of Indiana Jones, it was also the first game that actually immersed me in its environments and atmosphere.
AN ICON IS BORN
Tomb Raider was developed by Core Design and published by Eidos Interactive in 1996 for the Sega Saturn, PC, and Playstation. I don’t think the developers or publishers knew the hit they had on their hands at the time, or how much Tomb Raider would go on to change the industry forever. Some people will simply chalk the game’s high sales up to Lara’s sex appeal, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Obviously, it didn’t hurt sales, but Tomb Raider is far more than just Lara. Here are just a few of the many factors that made this series so iconic to me, and what made me into a gamer.
I remember that, back in the day, people were not very open to the idea of a female protagonist – but I never understood why. To me, Lara Croft was just as badass as Indiana Jones, maybe even a little more so. Yet, whenever I would mention that Tomb Raider was my favorite series, I would get weird looks or brushed off like it was something to be ashamed of. I wish I could say this was only during the 90s, but the same thing happened in 2008 with the release of Tomb Raider: Underworld. I remember going to pick up my copy as Gamestop and everyone rolling their eyes when I said I was there for Tomb Raider instead of Call Of Duty. To say I was annoyed would be an understatement.
WHAT MADE LARA AN ICON TO ME
As someone who grew up with “classic” Lara, I admired her for her strong personality and no-holds-barred attitude. She was someone who chased after her goals and let no one get in the way. She didn’t rely on others, but, when push came to shove, she would go to the ends of the earth for the people who were important to her – in total contrast to some people’s dismissive “Ice Queen” label. I never saw her like this; for example, take Lara in The Last Revelation: her mentor became possessed and did everything to hurt her, yet Lara still forgave him in the end. Lara also inspired my love of ancient mythology (especially Egypt) from a young age, and to learn various languages.
One trait of her original biography that always stood out for me is that she got away from her family (and anyone else) when they wouldn’t accept her for being herself; she had dreams and goals and she wasn’t going to change who she was just to be accepted. This is a trait anyone can relate to and draw strength from.
Lara herself has gone through many changes over the last 20 years, especially when the series passed onto Crystal Dynamics. Originally, I wasn’t a huge fan of what they did with her character when they gave the series a soft reboot in 2006 with Tomb Raider: Legend. Lara went from “playing for sport” to wanting to find the truth behind her family. Then came another reboot in 2013, but I didn’t feel connected to this Lara either. She wasn’t who I grew up with or learned so much from.
It wasn’t until 2018’s Shadow Of The Tomb Raider that I began to see elements of the Lara I grew up with start to shine through once again. She was strong and capable, but also learned that she wasn’t untouchable and that her actions have consequences. While I may not be a huge fan of what Crystal Dynamics tried to turn her character into, I feel that, by the end of the reboot, Eidos Montreal had managed to blend the old personality with the new to create a true balance – whether you’re a fan of the old or the new. Lara Croft doesn’t need to be relatable – she needs to be real, and that’s what I saw accomplished in Shadow. The studio stopped trying to make us care about her and finally just told a story that showed Lara as a human being, and it worked beautifully.
The scenes I’ve picked and shared below were truly the Reboot era’s finest moments; she was still strong, yet shown vulnerability without it being overdone. I have to applaud the writers of Shadow; for the first time since 2003, I felt I was finally seeing my Croft again, along with something extra that I loved. Shadow touched on the themes of loss and moving on. It may be controversial, but I do truly felt that, by the end of Shadow, Lara had grown into what a modern-day Croft should be.
In closing, I think people need to look outside the box when it comes to characters in video games, as they’re written to have multiple layers to their personality. Lara Croft always had this stigma attached to her character based on sexualized advertising chosen by marketing from the 90s; people judged the character on that alone versus actually playing the game and seeing what the character was truly about, which is a shame.
AN EXPERIENCE LIKE NO OTHER
One of the main things that immersed me so much into the world of Tomb Raider was the artistic style Core Design chose to use in the 90s. Most people will simply say this was due to the console limitations at the time, but Core always had an eye for color that I felt other developers were not able to mimic, even today. Even though the original games were built around a simple grid-based system, they managed to do so much to immerse the player within the environments. One thing I particularly love about classic Tomb Raider level design is that that if you saw somewhere you wanted to go, and if you could find a route, you could get there; there weren’t any invisible walls. I’m gonna showcase just a few of my favorite areas throughout the first six games and, of course, some of my favorite locations from the Crystal era.
CORE DESIGN ERA
CRYSTAL DYNAMICS ERA
While later outings of Tomb Raider left a lot to be desired compared to past games for me, I still had many locations that I loved from the following two eras. Starting with the first reboot, I loved the Ghana and England levels from Legend the most. While it could have used a bit more diversity (in the game overall), I felt these two levels showcased proper modernization of Tomb Raider; nature and puzzles for Ghana and then a darker atmosphere for the England level.
Moving onto Underworld, I felt like the most stand-out sections were Thailand and Mexico. While Underworld used a lot more color than the two games that preceded it, it tended to only use bright blue as a highlight, which made most of the later levels blend together. Underworld had a lot going for it in the graphics department, but the only way I can describe why I didn’t like 80% of it is that it felt like it lacked proper soul; it didn’t feel like the developers’ hearts were into it in the levels after Mexico.
Shadow Of The Tomb Raider, on the other hand, I feel nails exactly what Tomb Raider should be for this generation. It managed to use tons of color without looking cartoony; this combined with a brilliant soundtrack which gave it a consistently strong atmosphere – something I felt that was lacking for most of the LAU era and the first two games from the Reboot. I just hope that future developers take a leaf out of Shadow‘s book and use this style.
One more thing I want to mention before moving onto my final section is, of course, the music. Since day one, Tomb Raider has always had incredibly talented people behind its soundtracks, starting with Nathan McCree and, my personal favorite composer, Peter Connelly. To me personally, the music always helped immerse us into the classic titles; they were just as much part of the magic behind the game as the graphics designers or programmers.
I wasn’t a big fan of the music from Legend–Rise as it all kind of blended together. The music was good, but it just reminded me of music you would hear in a typical Hollywood movie; it lacked the spark I was used to with The Angel of Darkness. It wasn’t until they brought Brian D’Oliveira on board with Shadow of The Tomb Raider that I felt something magical again. He managed to make the perfect soundtrack – the best one since The Angel Of Darkness, in my opinion, at least. For the first time since 2003, the music actually stuck with me long after playing, and for that he deserves huge kudos for bringing magic back to the series’ sound department.
A COMMUNITY THAT SPANS THE GLOBE
One thing that will always stand out about the Tomb Raider series is its sense of community. When I was growing up, I didn’t really know anyone who was into the series as much as I was; that was until I discovered a fan site dedicated to Tomb Raider in the lead up to The Angel of Darkness in 2002. It was at that moment I started to realize just how big the franchise was, and for so many different reasons.
Over the years, I’ve formed so many great friendships because of the series, including my best friend in the UK who I’ve known for almost 11 years now. The series is also what brought together my team in Survivor Reborn; Laurie, my co-founder, put everything into motion because of her love for the series; I’ll always be thankful to her. She perhaps doesn’t know it herself: she didn’t just make another gaming team or fansite – she started a family because of something she loved, and she gave me a voice right when it felt like everyone else was trying to drown me out.
Over the course of 6 years, Survivor Reborn has grown into something even I didn’t expect, with the addition of Helen, Jen, Chris and Matt. We’ve all found our voices, not only as gamers, but as writers and content creators. Survivor Reborn isn’t “just another fansite” to me – it’s a thing of passion that brings us together for the same reason: our love of Tomb Raider and the desire for a strong community to go with it.
Like any community, sometimes things get heated and misunderstood (or seen as toxic), when in reality it’s often just fans’ passion coming out – sometimes in the wrong way. At the end of the day, whether you became a fan with the original games or with what Crystal Dynamics brought to the table, we’re all Raiders and the community always comes together when it matters most. For example, Stella takes part in the Extra Life fundraiser every single year, and brings the community right along with her to raise money for sick kids – just through playing Tomb Raider. And then there’s the Tomb Raider Marathon team who, just like Stella, uses the Tomb Raider brand to raise money for charity. These are moments that make me incredibly proud to be a part of this community. Another person I want to mention is Ash from Tomb Of Ash; he managed to get most of the original Core Design developer team back together for the game’s 20th Anniversary, and is currently working with Peter Connelly on The Dark Angel Symphony project, celebrating the music from Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, Tomb Raider: Chronicles, and Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness.
Another part of the community that deserves a lot more credit are our level-editor creators. Since Core Design released the custom level editor with Tomb Raider: Chronicles in 2000, the fans have gone on to create 3,000+ levels which you can find hosted at the Tomb Raider Level Editor hub.
I also can’t forget to mention the amazing work TR Modders have been doing for years. The most recent efforts by the fans have been to completely fix Tomb Raider: The Angel Of Darkness by restoring beta content, fixing the controls, putting back missing effects etc. I won’t go into too much information right now, as I’ll be working on a more in-depth article for that soon, but trust me when I say they’re doing an incredible job and what Square Enix should have been funding officially years ago.
As much as I would love to showcase – or just mention – everyone, there is just too much that goes on within the Tomb Raider community for me to list here. Whether it’s music, drawings/art, writing, or even fan movies, the TR community has so many devoted people behind it, and I hope they will get recognized even more as the series progresses into the future. Here are a few highlights to showcase these incredible fans.
By writing this article, I wanted to explain exactly why the series has had so much impact on me as a gamer and also showcase just how much it has given a voice to so many people. To the ones who missed out on the series, or just never got around to it, I hope this convinces you to at least go back and check out what you missed. Tomb Raider is a staple in gaming history; for a series to still be going just as strong after 20 years is incredible and a testament to its power.
A Series That Remains Iconic Twenty Years Later by AJ Rich / Survivor Reborn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.