With the recent release of the newest Tomb Raider movie, I thought it would be a good idea to travel back in time and walk through the good, the bad, and the ugly (and the great – I might add) of the majority of the Tomb Raider franchise’s games. From Core Design’s first inception of Tomb Raider, all the way to the second reboot of the franchise, Lara Croft’s journey has grown alongside our own. So, we’re jumping all the way into the Tomb Raider franchise’s hits, misses, and inbetweens.
Tomb Raider (1996)
Our first encounter with Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider franchise is the beginnings of a double-cross. Natla from Natla Technologies hires Lara to find pieces of this mysterious Scion for unknown reasons and she soon realizes the assignment is not what it seems. Lara is introduced as a badass English archeologist who holds her own throughout her mission. She takes her fate into her own hands and discovers the truth of Natla’s intentions with the Scion. Rather than flee from the danger of fighting a RULER FROM ATLANTIS, Lara does what any sane and rational human being would do – she fights Natla head-on. After her victory, Lara destroys the Scion and rides off into the sunset because she is an independent woman who don’t need no man.
Honorable mention: The freaking T-Rex that pops out of nowhere in The Lost Valley. Screw that guy.
Tomb Raider II (1997)
The second entry in the Tomb Raider franchise gives Lara a brand new plot, along with new weapons and maneuvers, and a brand new braid. We follow Lara to the Great Wall of China where the Dagger of Xian is waiting to be retrieved. Of course, Lara can’t just go and grab it because there is always another person who wants what Lara wants. She fights of the Venetian Mafia and its leader, with the help of a few Tibetan Monks, and finally secures the key needed to unlock where the Dagger of Xian is hidden. She gets so close but Marco Bartoli is able to come in at the last second and plunge the knife into his own heart – transforming him into a dragon. Lara, having faced an immortal ruler from Atlantis, fights the dragon form of Marco and defeats him.
Honorable mention: Spending too much time trying to lock Lara’s butler in the freezer. The game developers just get us, you know? Also, Lara breaking the fourth wall when she’s about to disrobe and take a shower (you can tell men created this game). Also the TWO T-REXES AT THE GREAT WALL WTF.
<insert Nemodian from Phantom Menace saying, “Now there are two of them!” here>
Tomb Raider III (1998)
This sequel gets hella confusing with Lara’s adventures. Now a seasoned explorer, Lara has to travel to four different locations and search for four different artifacts for Dr. Willard. Of course, Lara doesn’t learn from her experience with Natla, and – surprise, surprise – Dr. Willard is actually the bad guy and betrays her in the end. He uses the artifacts to speed up his human evolution and transform into some weird spider-human straight out of a horror film. Lara, the ever seasoned fighter of strange and mystical beings, defeats Dr. Willard and rides away on a helicopter to her next ludicrous adventure. Get this woman a drink!
Honorable mention: The corporation Lara fights is called RX Tech, which sounds a lot like T- Rex. LIKE THE T-REX THAT POPS UP AT THE CRASH SITE WHEN LARA IS IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC ISLANDS. Where do they keep coming from?
Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (1999)
With the scare of Y2K at its highest, Lara’s “last” adventure in the Tomb Raider franchise was released in December of 1999. This story starts when Lara was 16 and exploring ruins with her mentor. What was I doing when I was 16, you ask? Not exploring ruins. Anyway, her mentor doesn’t believe Lara’s warnings about the artifact he tries to take and he ends up getting trapped in a temple while Lara escapes. Flash forward to present day and Lara’s adventures have her revisit the exploration she did when she was 16.
This game in the Tomb Raider franchise sets Lara to travel all over Egypt trying to find armor and other relics that are needed to fight off an evil Egyptian god that has possessed her old mentor. This journey really pushes Lara to the extreme as she solves difficult puzzles, escapes near-death, and fights Egyptian gods. During all of this, she is able to free her mentor from being possessed and doesn’t trust him enough to lead her out of a crumbling temple. It is implied that she dies at the end of the game when her old mentor places his hat among the ruins and hangs his head as the screen fades to black. REST IN POWER LARA CROFT.
With the developers suffering creative fatigue over these four games, they wanted to finally kill Lara off and move on to other things. According to Andy Sandham (a designer for the Tomb Raider series), “We all wanted to kill Lara. Looking at Lara’s avatar all day every day for two years was about as much as some of us could take. Management was pretty hands-off, so for two weeks, we hatched a plan to kill Lara, and followed it through to fruition”.
So that was that. Lara died in a blaze of glory…
Tomb Raider Chronicles (2000)
Just kidding. Lara’s not dead. It turns out, game designers need to make money. This time, we reminisce with Lara’s friends at Croft Manor. They retell adventures she has gone through while her old mentor is excavating the site of Lara’s presumed death. As the title suggests, this is a chronicle of previous adventures Lara has gone through. We journey with Lara as she searches for the rumored Philosopher’s Stone in Rome (no wonder she couldn’t find it – it was at Hogwarts), seeks the Spear of Destiny, fights ghosts as a kid back in the Black Isle of Ireland and infiltrates a high-tech company in search of the Iris artifact from Tomb Raider: Revelation. After Lara’s friends finish retelling these escapades, we cut to the temple where Lara’s mentor is trying to find her body. They only reveal her backpack with Lara’s mentor shouting, “We found her!” – insinuating she is alive.
Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (2003)
This game was the final nail in the coffin for the Tomb Raider franchise and Lara’s adventures. Following Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation and Tomb Raider Chronicles, Lara turns up in Paris after being presumed dead and has to help her mentor fight against a serial killer as they look for ancient paintings. It turns out, these ancient paintings contain shards that harness the power to resurrect a sleeping Niphilim. Once again confronted with the task of destroying a mythical beast, Lara travels all over Paris and collects the shards before her enemies have a chance to use them for evil.
This sequel was so bad that Paramount blames it for the box office failure of their Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life film. Yikes. All plans for a continuation of this game were dropped and the head of Core Design, Jeremy Heath-Smith, resigned. Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness was listed #5 in GameTrailer’s “Top 10 Worst Sequels” list. There were several plot holes and vital scenes that were cut during its final production and many of the narratives didn’t make sense. It seemed this terrible sequel was the last in the Tomb Raider series and there would be no more Lara Croft.
Tomb Raider: Legend (2006)
Tomb Raider was in shambles until this reboot to the franchise. Legend was the first Tomb Raider game to be developed without Core Design and the first reboot of the series. Crystal Dynamics worked with Eidos Interactive to give us a redesigned story and look for our beloved Lara Croft and we were absolutely desperate for it.
Lara is back at it again with the crazy adventures as she tries to find her mother who disappeared after a plane crash when she was a child. We travel with her to Bolivia where she discovers a similar dais that her mother used when she disappeared. Lara discovers that the key to unlocking this dais is King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur. She fights through a few enemies to gather shards of King Arthur’s sword and discovers her bff, Amanda, is working with her enemy on trying to find Excalibur before Lara does.
Lara pieces together the shards and reforges Excalibur. Before she can use the dais in Bolivia, she must fight against Amanda, who has harnessed the power of the fire spirit her and Lara both tried to fight off during a previous exploration. Lara is successful in defeating Amanda and unlocks the dais. She sees her mother through a portal and realizes the dais is a time-traveling mechanism. But Amanda causes its destruction, resulting in Lara’s mother’s supposed death. Angered at this, Lara is about to kill Amanda when she reveals that her mother is not dead but has been transferred to Avalon.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary (2007)
With an updated game engine and an advancement in gaming technology, it was only a matter of time before we got a re-imagining of the first game that started it all. The ten-year anniversary game retells Lara’s first adventure that sucked us all in as kids. But it also sets up the sequel to Tomb Raider: Legend by reminding us of Lara’s fight with Natla and bringing her back into the narrative of Lara’s reboot.
And, of course, we got to activate the PTSD we got when we battled a GIANT T-REX.
Tomb Raider: Underworld (2008)
Following the events of Tomb Raider: Legend, Lara is still on the hunt for her mom. She is searching for Avalon and discovers that Norse Mythology and King Arthur’s mythology are one in the same. In order to gain access to Avalon or Helheim, Lara will have to find Thor’s Gauntlets and work with none other than NATLA. When Lara finally reaches Avalon, she discovers that her mom turned into a freaking zombie (or thrall) and Lara has to kill her. Pour one out for Lara’s mom because she is NOT having a great time in Helheim right now.
In an unsurprising twist of events, Natla reveals that she has once again double-crossed Lara and tries to kill her so she can unleash the Midgard Serpent and destroy Earth. Amanda helps Lara and Lara is able to use Mjolnir against Natla and defeat her. As the doomsday device is collapsing, Lara and Amanda use a nearby dais to escape and teleport back to the temple in Nepal. Lara saves Earth from certain destruction and takes down Natla in the process. You’re welcome, Avengers.
Amanda and Lara go their separate ways and the story ends with us waiting for Lara’s next adventure.
Honorable mention: The hella cool doppelgänger that Lara has to fight.
Tomb Raider (2013)
Just as we get some great storylines and gameplay from Tomb Raider: Legend, Crystal Dynamics decides to reboot the series AGAIN. Lara’s origin story takes on a more realistic tone with this reboot as she gets trapped on an Island where a cult is worshiping Himiko, the Japanese Sun Queen. Lara has to learn how to survive and rescue her friends from an island that won’t let them leave while trying to figure out what keeps causing these storms. It’s just a typical Monday for Lara Croft.
The cult’s leader tries to sacrifice one of Lara’s friends and transfer Himiko’s spirit but Lara is able to stop them and destroy Himiko for good. Throughout this entire process, Lara’s friends keep complaining and getting captured. Lara has to do the brunt of the work and save the day while carrying her pals on her back (get new friends, Lara). They finally escape the island and Lara peaces out saying she isn’t ready to go home yet because she has tasted the desire to raid tombs and she needs more.
Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015)
One year after the events of Tomb Raider, Lara is suffering from some serious PTSD. Instead of getting therapy, she decides it’s a good idea to raid another tomb. This time she travels in search of the lost city of Kitezh to follow her father’s search for immortality. Her father’s partner, Ana joins Lara but after warning her that her father committed suicide during his search. Of course, nothing is at it seems and Lara discovers that Ana is searching for the Divine Source as well and is using her brother as a means to an end.
Lara teams up with the Remnants to fight against the Order of Trinity and stop them from recovering the Divine Source. Ana gets to the Divine Source before Lara does but Lara is able to wrestle it from her and destroy it. During her encounter, she discovers that the Order murdered her father rather than him committing suicide.
Rise of the Tomb Raider ends with Lara confronting Ana and Ana getting assassinated before she can reveal anything. The sniper asks if he should kill Lara but is told to stand down, setting us up for Shadow of the Tomb Raider (set to release on September 14th this year).
Well, we did it. Over 20 years of Tomb Raider games, weird plots, necessary reboots, and epic gameplay. Lara’s journey has changed with each game and her story grew alongside our own. The story of Lara Croft started with Eidos Interactive and Core Dynamics before Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix took the reigns. Each game holds a special place in our hearts and, as long as Lara Croft continues to raid tombs, maybe the world isn’t such a bad place after all.
What are some of your favorite memories with the Tomb Raider series?
In the sixth grade, Kristen participated in her school’s spelling bee and mispelled the word “lake”. Kristen has since pursued a rigorous career in writing where she tries her best to avoid using that blasted word. She studied literature in her undergrad and is now pursuing her Master’s in Journalism at Emerson College. Kristen has written for StarWars.com, where she gets to let her nerd flag fly as a huge Star Wars enthusiast. She’s also covered press events at New York Comic Con and attended the 2019 Oscars where she ran into Laura Dern and managed to hold it together (a true accomplishment). Kristen will stop at nothing to pet all the dogs and she can quote the film Spaceballs from beginning to end. She also has a website, www.kristenkbates.com, and a pretty groovy Twitter: @kristenkbates.