Tomb Raider is a fantastic franchise. It started out as a unique and different game for the industry back in 1996, and it really involved players with its puzzles and exploration-oriented gameplay. However at best it can be described as an “odd” franchise, and that isn’t because it’s not good. But a lot has happened during the course of the franchise that’s affected it slightly. So in order to understand the franchise, we need to trace it’s history. However do note that this will not include spin-offs, only the main games. We also won’t be going into detail about the reboot, but rather visit the games in the main series, seeing as the reboot is fairly new and most people would most likely know about that already. But without further ado, let’s begin with the first game all the way back in 1996.
The first Tomb Raider (developed by Core Design and published by Eidos Interactive), hit the shelves of stores and welcomed itself into the gaming market. It still holds the record of the most critically acclaimed game of the franchise. It became a bestseller, selling over seven million copies. Critics loved the amazing graphics, the new style of gameplay and the inventive story. The game was mostly exploring and solving puzzles, with the occasional moment where you were forced to kill animals or even sometimes humans. The story was simple, it required Lara Croft (a famous archaeologist) to track down a piece of an artefact named the ‘Scion’ for a businesswoman named Jacqueline Natla. Lara ends up tracking down and collecting all three pieces, however Natla and her henchmen rob Lara and try to kill her. Lara eventually finds out that Natla was actually one of the three rulers of Atlantis who was banished for genetic experimentation. As you can probably tell the plot was certainly…inventive. However Lara manages to defeat Natla and her henchmen and stop her work on genetic experimentation. Though it was criticized for not having enough action and the occasional glitch, people loved it so much it got a sequel which was Tomb Raider II starring ‘Lara Croft‘.
Tomb Raider II was released in 1997, a year after its predecessor. It was already in development since many ideas were put forward by the development team however only a few made it into the first Tomb Raider, the other ideas were saved for Tomb Raider II. The sequel did change things, dynamic lighting was added, graphics were improved, Lara had a wider set of moves she could perform and new weapons and even vehicles such as a motorboat were added to the game. However it still stuck to its roots, mostly being about exploring and solving puzzles though there was a notable increase in human enemies in the game. It was still mostly a critical success, as it received mostly positive reviews. Most critics still found Tomb Raider to be a better game, however did like the new vehicles, improved graphics and more action-oriented gameplay. The story was mostly the same, in which Lara discovers an artefact, an antagonist wants it for evil purposes and she defeats them. What’s surprising is in this game, you have the option to go around Croft Manor (Laras home) as it gives you the opportunity to explore Laras home and use her move set in her gymnasium. Overall Tomb Raider II was a commercial success selling over eight million copies. So of course another sequel was made, and this was Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft.
Now Tomb Raider III was released in 1998 and it really made some changes for the franchise. First off it was set in multiple new areas, such as India, London, Antarctica, the South Pacific Isles and Nevada. After playing through India, and you were allowed to explore three other areas in any order you would like, before the games finale in Antarctica. In terms of weaponry, not much was really added except a rocket launcher. Laras move set was also improved, such as the ability to “monkey swing” off of poles, and she could now sprint. It also added stealth elements in its gameplay. The plot is eerily similar to the original game, where Lara is hired by a man named Dr. Mark Willard to collect four artefacts, in which Dr Mark Willard uses the artefacts for his own evil purposes. Lara defeats him and takes the artefacts. Overall most critics were mostly positive with Tomb Raider III though it received some extremely positive reviews and it was a bestseller in the United Kingdom.
So now it’s time to explain myself. I divide the Tomb Raider franchise into trilogies. There is a reason for this, as each trilogy represent a different era for the series. This next trilogy is what I liked to call the downfall of the series, when Tomb Raider started crumbling down. The oddest part is, the downfall mostly just occurred with the final game in this trilogy, the first two games only started it.
But let’s go right ahead, with the first game in this next trilogy. Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation. This game was a shock to fans, mostly due to it’s ending where Lara is implied to be dead. Now this instalment of the franchise was released in 1999, and it made some improvement. Laras’ move set was somewhat enhanced so that she could grab onto ropes, and poles and swing off them to cross large gaps. The inventory screen was also changed, and Lara could “combine” items together such as certain weapons like a revolver or crossbow and a laser sight. Players could also travel back and re-play levels, and some levels had different routes you could take with a new set of challenges. So things were still improving for the franchise. The story also showed Lara when she was just sixteen. Most critics, found the game to be good as Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation received mostly positive reviews, and it was a bestseller in the United Kingdom for two months.
Tomb Raider: Chronicles was the fifth instalment of the franchise, and the beginning of the downfall. The critical reception for the game was mixed, as whilst there were some very positive reviews the game was still criticized for not being innovative enough. As well as this, it’s the second least successful Tomb Raider game as it only sold one and a half million copies worldwide. In terms of gameplay not much was added apart from Lara now has the ability to walk on a tightrope, and she can somersault forward from a ledge when crouching. Some weapons such as the crossbow and grenade-launcher from the previous game were cut from the game, however most of the common weapons such as the revolver from Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation make a comeback. The plot mainly involved Lara and her past adventures. This includes the reintroduction of characters such as Pierre Dupont and Larson Conway who were both working for Natla in the first game. However during the ending Werner Von Croy finds Laras backpack hinting that she is indeed alive. Overall Tomb Raider: Chronicles was a mediocre title for the franchise, however this next game was so bad it almost killed the entire series.
It is still said to be the worst game of the entire franchise, and it is Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness. Now the game had three years of development which are shrouded in mystery, as there is no one knows how such a buggy and horrible product could be birthed from that many years of development. Lara still has most of her moves, from the old games and new moves including a back-flip and hand-to-hand combat. Lara can also perform stealth-attacks and peer around corners, as stealth is heavily focused on during the game. There’s also new weapons such as a stun gun. The story follows the events of the previous two games, where Lara is alive and she confronts Von Croy in Paris. However Von Croy is murdered and she’s on the run. She eventually finds out all sorts of things such as another antagonist wanting to perform genetic experimentations and even meets an implied love interest, named Kurtis Trent. However the plot simply wasn’t that great. Critics seemed fine with the story however they were more frustrated with the bugs, poor control, combat system and bad camera movements. Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness received mixed reviews at best, and sold two and a half million copies worldwide. Whilst Core Design planned for it to be the beginning of a trilogy, they were removed as developers for the franchise, and new developers, Crystal Dynamics would take over. This would bring us the next trilogy, starting with their first game.
Tomb Raider: Legend was released in 2006, and it was developed by Crystal Dynamics and published by Eidos Interactive. The plot this time was that Lara and her mother survived a plane crash when she was just nine years old. Lara discovers a stone dais, and activates it which shows a portal. Laras mother hears voices, and pulls a sword from the stone dais which ends up with her disappearing. Lara in present day learns that the sword is Excalibur, and retrieves the fragments to put it together. She later confronts Amanda (an old friend of hesr whom she thought died in an excavation tragedy) at the same stone dais with Excalibur. After defeating Amanda, she opens a portal and sees her mother through this portal. However Amanda warns that the portal will explode if someone doesn’t pull out the sword, this causes Laras mother to pull out the sword. Lara realises that she and Amanda were the voices at the other end of the portal. However Amanda tells Lara, her mother is most likely in Avalon the mythical resting place of King Arthur. Lara then embarks on a quest to find her mother. Tomb Raider: Legend was a critical success, and it remains to be one of the highest rated games of the series. Most critics however found the game to be too short, and that the combat system could be improved. However It was also a commercial success as it sold four and a half million copies worldwide. This set up a story that would be followed in a direct sequel, however it was time for the series to go back to the past with another game.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary was released in 2007 and was a remake of the original Tomb Raider. The plot is still pretty much the same, so there’s no real reason to go over it again. However it received a better critical reception than Tomb Raider: Legend however it sold the lowest any instalment of the franchise ever has. It only sold one million three hundred thousand copies, however it was still seen as a success. So this brings us onto the finale to this trilogy.
This was a direct sequel to Tomb Raider: Legend and it was Tomb Raider: Underworld. Now Tomb Raider: Underworld most likely has the“largest plot” as it had the return of two major antagonists. This included Amanda Everett (from Tomb Raider: Legend) and Natla from the first game. It is also revealed that Laras mother had become a disgusting creature in Avalon, in which Lara is forced to kill her. Not much was added to gameplay other than Lara had a somewhat more enhanced move set and she could ride a motorbike occasionally. Tomb Raider: Underworld received mostly positive reviews and sold around two million and six hundred thousands copies worldwide, making it a commercial success.
This is where the original Lara ended, as the next game is a reboot for the series, and so far most people find it to do a pretty good job. However it’s the original series that brought such a (mostly) wonderful set of adventures for gamers to experience, and because of that Tomb Raider and its legacy will continue to live on.