The first Tomb Raider game was released 20 years ago today on 25th October 1996.
Regardless of whether you’ve played Tomb Raider or not, you’ve probably heard of the game’s protagonist, Lara Croft. The franchise’s kickass heroine has been a part of over twelve games, two big-budget films starring Angelia Jolie and several spin-off adventures in animated form – but she was almost ‘Laura Cruz’ until developer Toby Gard conceived of an aristocratic British protagonist, rather than an American Indiana Jones style character in 1993.
Released for PC, PlayStation and Sega Saturn in 1996, more than seven million units were sold worldwide, and the second game reached eight million total sales one year later. It marked a breakthrough in the 3D game community for its multi-layered levels compared to its flat-floored predecessors, with all Lara’s movements hand-animated rather than motion-captured.
The original game allows you to play as Lara in all her triangular glory after her plane crashes in the Himalayas and she is forced to make her way home on foot, overcoming impossible odds and inspiring her future pursuits as a treasure hunter and adventurer. Although her origin story differs in future games, her distinctive braid and turquoise tank top and shorts combo has remained more or less the same from past to present. Tomb Raider II received the same level of critical acclaim as the first game, but 1998’s Tomb Raider III marked a downturn in fortunes for the franchise – Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation killed off Lara in 1999 in the hopes that halting further sequels would stop the increasingly lukewarm reception of releases.
She didn’t stay down for long, though, with Tomb Raider Chronicles failing to impress in 2000, and the 2001 film receiving damning reviews from critics, despite its huge success at the box office and being narrowly beaten by Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time to the title of the world’s most successful video game adaptation. After a three-year gap and another, less successful film in 2003, the notoriously frustrating Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness and Cradle of Life titles flopped into existence and the franchise was entrusted to Crystal Dynamics for its re-designed Tomb Raider: Legend in 2006. This breathed new life into the tired series, and Anniversary and Underworld, brought out in 2007 and 2008 respectively, were welcomed by both critics and audiences with open arms.
Lara Croft was inducted into the Wall of Game in 2006 and was also recognised by Guinness World Records as the most successful human video game heroine in the same year. The most recent reboot of the series, imaginatively titled Tomb Raider, was released in 2013 for consoles and January 2016 for PC, while Crystal Dynamics’ next foray into the big-screen world is due for release on the 16th March 2018, starring Alicia Vikander and based on the 2013 game showing Lara’s first adventure.
A trailblazer in more ways than one, Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider franchise will always remain a classic and a pioneer of the action-adventure video game genre. Watch some of the original gameplay below: