Very few subjects remain iconic over a span of more than 20 years, in any industry. More than 500 video games are released every year, tough competition for anyone entering the market to be able to gain a foothold – and to hold on to it for long. Lara Croft was created at a time when gaming was still in its infancy and when there weren’t many characters to go around to begin with. The right moment, some would say, for a legend to be born.
For Lara Croft to have sustained such a status over so many years however, was due more than to just a convenient time to be created. Players have seen Lara Croft transmute over the years into different personas, remaining loyal however to her most identifiable traits; curiosity, strength, resilience and cleverness.
Let’s take a more in-depth look into Lara Croft’s evolution, shaped not just by her creators but also by fan’s expectations and the trends of the time.
Tomb Raider (1996)
During the mid-nineties, Sony was conquering the gaming market with the PlayStation. Gaming became fashionable, something all the cool kids were doing. It was in this setting that an icon was born, with traits identifiable from people the world over: blue tank top, khaki shorts and yes, disproportionate bust size. At 540 polygons, the edges were extremely sharp but the game play was still exciting and the first of its kind. It was an immediate success.
Tomb Raider II (1997)
Lara Croft now dons clothes according to the place she’s in; a wetsuit to explore the canals in Venice and a flight jacket to brave the cold in the Tibetan ice desert (the jacket was still teamed up with those khaki shorts. Not very comforting.)
Judith Gibbins replaced Shelley Blond as the voice of the heroine.
Tomb Raider III (1998)
Nothing much changed in this version except that Lara Croft got skimpier outfits AND a more voluptuous chest size. Never one without the other, it seems.
The Last Revelation (1999)
Core Design, the developers behind the Tomb Raider game at the time, seem to be running out of ideas for their prodigy brain child. So, apart from the pretty cool fact that Lara could finally bend her elbows and knees for the first time, they decided it was time to finish off the heroine.
Not so indestructible, right?
Wrong! Although Chronicles was the least popular of the series, it was allowed to continue because this is Tom Raider after all, and fans wanted more. Lara Croft somehow manages to survive The Last Revelation and actually comes back looking more voluptuous and as cool as ever. She rocks hippie round glasses popular in the nineties, but fails to deliver in terms of excitement and panache.
It is roughly around this point in time, four, perhaps five years down the line if not sooner, that Tomb Raider becomes more than just a video game character: it is now a legacy. Very soon (in 2001 to be exact) Hollywood releases a Tomb Raider movie featuring A-lister Angelina Jolie with a sequel in 2003. Both movies did not come close to the success of the video game but it was still much appreciated fuel for the fans' dose of anything Tomb Raider. Everyone wanted to get their hands on the latest Tomb Raider merchandise, from T-shirts to entire kits and costume parties were never the same again. Businesses rode on the hype, with Tomb Raider campaigns to sell their wares, theme park rides and even Tomb Raider themed online games. It seems like the world can’t get enough of their favourite heroine. And with good reason.
The Angel of Darkness (2003)
Core Design takes three years to mull over their favourite heroine before releasing The Angel of Darkness in 2003. Inspired by the movie released two years prior, Lara Croft now sports darker eyeliner and lipstick. Muscle and bone structure has been worked on and now looks more realistic. She wears a dark top (courtesy of the movie) but this doesn’t keep the game from being another flop.
The Angel of Darkness was Core Design’s definitive push out the door and Crystal Dynamics take over development of our beloved Lara. She returns in a 5000-polygon model, more defined than ever before. She now wears a brown t-shirt, you can clearly see her makeup, her hair is more stylish and her skin looks more natural. She is also now voiced by Keeley Hawes. This Bondian lass is ready for some serious action.
There’s nothing much to comment about this version. Lara is very similar to her interpretation in Legend with a more textured top and slightly more reddish hair.
With 32,816 polygons used for our female lead, it comes to no surprise that Underworld is the most detailed video game ever according to the Guinness book of records. Lara has distinguished cat-shaped eyes and a more definitive lip shape. She is also more situationally aware of her surroundings. She removes foliage out of the way and she slips if it rains, making the weather an added important element to keep in mind while playing.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of light (2010)
For the first time ever, Lara Croft has a male counterpart. She’s back in her blue tank top and sports a tanned look.
Tomb Raider Definitive Edition (2013)
With the definitive edition, the creators wanted to focus on Lara Croft’s roots. There’s a whole rebranding of the main character going on: Lara is now a young, naïve explorer who learns the tough way how to survive (and how apt she is at killing to do so). This came before the dual hip holsters and it moves away from exploration and puzzles, leaning towards survival and action, with many players comparing the gameplay to Unchartered. Everything is more realistic and in higher definition, and the developers use motion capture to create more natural movements.
The Rise of Tomb Raider (2014)
The cream of the crop; high definition game play, curves which suit a normal body shape, clearer facial features and strands of hair which move and fall individually thanks to Tress FX. In keeping with the previous game, Lara is still a young explorer, hardened perhaps by experiences.
While rumours surrounding the next game, Shadow of the Tomb Raider abound, some new artwork (which has been recently taken down) suggests that Lara will be heading to Central America. This week, fans might receive fresh news right out of Gamescom, the trade fair for video games, about our favourite heroine. If not, we’ll just have to wait till a bit later this year for PlayStation Experience event.