I can’t remember what magazine it came from, but I’d like to thank the publication that gave me that demo disc for Tomb Raider. I played it to death, exploring every square inch, repeatedly killing those damn wolves and getting scared half to death every single time I bumped into the grizzly bear. It was my first taste of Tomb Raider, of Lara Croft and of the adventures that would one day be revered by the entire world.
The Tomb Raider series celebrates its 20th anniversary today and it feels like only yesterday. Can you believe Lara Croft has been in our lives for 7305 days? We’ve witnessed her travel around the globe in search of treasure and secrets, fighting for her life, solving some of the most intricate puzzles you’ve ever seen and trapping her butler in the walk-in freezer. Without Lara and without Tomb Raider, games would never be in the position they are. There’d be no Nathan Drake and the 3rd-person adventure game wouldn’t be standing in such a priveledged position as it is right now.
In 1996, Tomb Raider was released. It followed Lara as she travelled the world in search of the Scion of Atlantis. The ancient tomb of Qualopec saw Lara fight bears, wolves, tigers and even a bloody dinosaur! Not only that, but some of the earlier challenges saw you jumping over spikes and swimming underwater to make sure you were one step closer to reaching Atlantis. It was revolutionary, really. Tomb Raider was the first game to ever really offer such a rich exploration game on home consoles, giving gamers a chance to go on grand adventures around the world.
Tomb Raider 2 was even more of an improvement, seeing you hunt for a magic dagger that could turn its possessor into a dragon. I remember falling madly in love with TR2, especially that Venice level. Back in 1997, it was considered a visual triumph, and it was. It was great to look at, it had plenty of variety in design and a city that felt alive and full of promise. Tomb Raider 3 was another great entry, providing my favourite level of any Tomb Raider ever – the London underground. In fact, the whole game felt like a massive leap forward, seeing Core Design opt for a more adventurous adventure, sending Lara to Nevada, the South Pacific and eventually the Antarctic.
After Tomb Raider 3, the series started to take a bit of a nose dive. The games felt like they were struggling, with The Last Revelation and Chronicles providing little more than a few rehashed ideas and lazy narrative. Angel of Darkness wasn’t much better, even though it was Lara’s first adventure on the PlayStation 2. It felt rushed, suffered from some bad bugs and just generally felt nothing like the Lara Croft we’d grown to love. Tomb Raider was in a rut, and even with 2006’s Tomb Raider Legend, the Anniversary remaster of 2007 and a brand new adventure in 2008’s Underworld, Lara Croft seemed about ready to hang up her small brown shorts and her green tank top.
In 2013, Tomb Raider got a massive reboot; it saved a dwindling franchise and gave the series a heart, and it made Lara Croft relevant again. After your ship capsizes in Dragon’s Triangle, you are left stranded on a mysterious island with limited means of survival. It is the birth of Lara, or at least the Lara we are so familiar with; a survivor, a warrior and an adventurer with absolutely no fear at all. Rise of the Tomb Raider was a massive success being even better than the reboot, releasing on Xbox One in 2015. After a long wait for the game to release on the PlayStation 4 a year later, Lara was finally home.
I picked up Rise of the Tomb Raider recently and have yet to play it. I’m waiting for the Christmas break to sit down with Lara and embark on a great new adventure with the woman of my dreams. Lara isn’t just a video game character for me, she’s a hero that championed women in games and in general, providing a strong female character in media circles for girls to associate with and to have as their role model. In a world so keen to turn women into nothing more than eye candy, this was a welcomed step forward.
Tomb Raider was born in Derby, England, and created by the marvellous minds of Toby Gard and Paul Howard Douglas at Core Design. I have a lot to thank them for, so if you’re reading chaps, thank you. I’m so proud to live and exist in the same city she came from, often bragging about how we both came from the same place. There’s a road called Lara Croft Way, and it’s not far away from where I live now; I often drive down it on the way to George’s chip shop, and it always reminds me of the series, of the adventures and of all of the fun I’ve had in my journey with Lara Croft.
On the 20th anniversary of Tomb Raider, why not spend a bit of time playing one of the games that made the franchise so great. The original Tomb Raider can be found on mobile devices, and there’s always the frankly magnificent Tomb Raider GO, but to truly enjoy the magnificence of the series, go and pick up the reboot or Rise of the Tomb Raider because they’re fucking phenomenal. Hell, go and watch Angelina Jolie in the mildly entertaining movie adaptions, or play any number of the spin off titles, just get some Tomb Raider down you. All that’s left to say is thank you Tomb Raider and thank you Lara Croft, for everything.