Tomb Raider is one of the most iconic and long-running videogame franchises on the market, still going strong after 17+ plus years. As well as pioneering the 3D action/adventure landscape, the series was one of the first to receive mainstream recognition thanks to its voluptuous heroine, Lara Croft. Like any long-running series however, Tomb Raider has invariably had its ups and downs, and with the reboot out this week, PSU decided to highlight some of the series’ highs and lows spanning three generations of home consoles.
Join us now as we scrutinize the Highs and Lows of Tomb Raider.
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Tomb Raider kick starts a legend
Core’s inaugural archaeologist adventure game set the bar for 3D titles back in 1996, and defined a generation of gamers. Although actually releasing on Sega’s doomed Saturn console first, the series became synonymous with PlayStation brand as it helped drive sales of Sony’s grey box of tricks during its infancy. Featuring then-ground breaking visuals, Tomb Raider offered unprecedented exploration, combat and freedom, and its heroine – the busty Lara Croft – became one of the first true gaming icons to reach mainstream status. We salute you, Tomb Raider.
The Adventures of Lara Croft takes the series to new heights
Tomb Raider III represents the PSone games during their peak before things started to get a little stale. Adventures of Lara Croft built upon the foundations of the previous two games, but added a wealth of new features to keep the brand fresh. Lara was now more agile than ever, and her exploits had gone global, with the nimble heroine jetting off around the world in search of pieces of an ancient meteorite. Not only that, but the game was non-linear in terms of progression, with gamers able to select which location to travel to after completing the mandatory intro stage. Throw in heaps of new weapons, vehicles and some of the most challenging platforming segments the series has seen – including a precarious jaunt over London’s rooftops – and you’ve got the quintessential Tomb Raider experience.
Lara becomes a pop culture icon
Not content with adorning the bedrooms of millions of gamers worldwide, Lara Croft firmly cemented herself on the mainstream consciousness in the late 90s when she was featured as part of U2’s monster PopMart Tour. Not only that, but Croft graced the covers of countless magazines, including non-game related publications such as The Face. This broke new ground for a videogame character, as not even Mario and Sonic had achieved the same level of mainstream recognition as Miss Croft did, despite having been around far longer.
A legend is reborn
After a bit of a crap start (see below) to the PlayStation 2-era, Lara finally landed on her feet with the excellent Tomb Raider Legend, which effectively rebooted the series and saw some of the strongest reviews for the brand in nearly a decade. The series found a new lease on life in developer Crystal Dynamics, who polished up the controls and combat, delivering a classic adventure that didn’t deviate from the core fundamentals of the brand. Indeed, Legend had it all: intense gunplay, head-scratching puzzles and exotic locations. Sure, it wasn’t a revelation, but after years out of the limelight, Lara Croft once again found herself relevant. Unsurprisingly, the developer was able to successfully reinvent the franchise for a second time in 2013.
Lara bids PSone goodbye with a whimper
Tomb Raider’s PSone swansong came in the form of the 2000 outing TR: Chronicles, which while not a bad title as such, failed to send Lara off in style. Having apparently kicked the bucket in the previous game, Core were faced with the task of making a new Tomb Raider that didn’t advance the plot but still kept Croft in the picture. The result? A collection of past adventures, presented in flashback form as Lara’s butler and a few old chums reminisce over our departed heroine’s past exploits. This translated to a somewhat messy, disparate adventure that had players exploring a haunted island, Rome, and a submarine among other places throughout various stages of Croft’s life. Not surprisingly, they varied in quality, with some offering a traditional TR experience while others – such as the haunted island, which saw a teenage Croft devoid of weapons avoiding impish creatures and solving puzzles – came off far worse. All in all, it wasn’t the goodbye to the PSone-era fans had hoped for.
Angel of Darkness
Angel of Darkness, Tomb Raider’s PlayStation 2 debut, is unequivocally the lowest point of Lara’s videogame career. Unanimously considered among fans as the worst title in the series to date, Angel of Darkness arrived on the scene in 2003 on a tidal wave of near-insurmountable hype, delays and horrendous in-game bugs. Aside from some nice visuals, Core’s ambitious adventurer failed in almost every conceivable category. Chief among Angel of Darkness’s issues were its terrible controls, which made combat an exercise in sheer frustration, and the fact Core decided to have you sometimes play as the new bloke Kurtis Trent instead of focusing exclusively on Lara. Throw in a number of nasty, inexcusable bugs that made it abundantly clear the game was rushed to market, plus some monotonous urban environments, and it’s no wonder Croft’s PS2 debut was such a colossal disappointment. Fortunately, Legend (see above) sorted things out.
Tomb Raider’s big screen big flop
The mid-2000s were Tomb Raider’s darkest times to date. Aside from the mammoth disappointment that was Angel of Darkness, Lara’s second big screen outing, Tomb Raider and the Cradle of Life, bombed spectacularly upon its release in summer 2003. A shame too, as the original film proved one of the highest-grossing videogame-movie adaptations of all time. Here however, it seems brand power alone wasn’t enough to pull in the punters, and it didn’t help matters that the film received a major pasting by critics at the time. The film grossed 54 percent less than its predecessor during its U.S. opening weekend, and went on to generate a disappointing $65 million domestically. Unsurprisingly, the Tomb Raider film franchise has been on hiatus ever since.
What were your personal highs and lows of the Tomb Raider series? Sound off in the comments section below.