The Best Things About Tomb Raider

15 years since Lara Croft first excited teenage boys up and down the country, we look back at her highlights.

Ah, Lara Croft, the woman of every adolescent male’s fantasies during the late nineties and into the noughties. If only she was real! It’s hard to believe that it was fifteen years ago that Eidos first unleashed Ms Croft onto an unsuspecting world. She may have been a simple collection of polygons, but that didn’t detract from a character that has become an iconic face in the video game world.Tomb Raider was released in 1996 on the Sega Saturn, Sony Playstation and PC. Taking the classic Indiana Jones template and replacing the rugged hero with a shapely, posh (voiced in a couple of games by Keeley Hawes) English girl was a masterstroke on the part of the game’s creator Toby Gard; it not only gave the game a fresh angle, but also capitalised on the girl power craze of the last decade of the Twentieth century. By creating a strong female lead in a world where most girls in games were there to be rescued, Gard helped to encourage acceptance of the fairer sex in gaming. Strong lead girls in games are still the minority now, but the gap is closing.The game series itself was just as iconic as its alluring lead – and while some of the later games in the franchise began to tread water it can’t be underestimated just how long-lasting the effect that Tomb Raider had on the gaming world. Lara Croft is one of the few gaming icons who broke out of the confines of our consoles and became a known face and name in every day life. The games spawned two major feature films that were a cut above the usual video game adaptations, and Croft herself was used to promote everything from energy drinks to cars. Not bad for a collection of textures and pixels, eh?To celebrate Lara’s birthday and in anticipation of next year’s new Tomb Raider instalment/reboot, we thought it would be a good time to put together a list that make Tomb Raider great. We’ll try and avoid the obvious impropriety – even the alleged ‘nude Lara’ hack!The T-RexLet’s get the obvious one out of the way first – if you were to ask anyone who played the game when it was first released what their most memorable moment was, you would be hard pressed to find ANYONE who didn’t suggest The Lost Valley and specifically the sequence that that saw Lara was confronted by a massive Tyrannosaurus Rex. Relative calm turns quickly to panic as the massive dino stomps towards you forcing you to look for somewhere, anywhere, to hide! The game was released a few years after the dino-craze that Jurassic Park launched, but it could be argued that killing the T-Rex out-thrilled even Spielberg’s film! The T-Rex returned in Tomb Raider 3, but it would never recapture the magic that that first visit to the Lost Valley gave us.The ModelsYou can’t have a feature on Tomb Raider and not give the models that have portrayed Ms Croft in real life a mention! From Rhona Mitra to Nell McAndrew, various shapely lovelies have lent their looks to help promote the games. Some have gone on to appear in films and others have got their kit off for top-shelf publications but they’ve all brought a humanity to the character. Our pick of the best? We’d go for Alison Caroll – probably the closest Lara’s human counterpart has been to the in-game character.Lara Croft and the Guardian of LightThe Guardian of Light was a spin-off game released via PSN and XBLA last year. Despite many concerns that it would just be a cheap, poor cash in it actually turned out to be one of the best games in the series so far. Introducing a co-op mechanic and a semi-isometric top down view changed the way the usual tomb raiding was done. It allowed for far more strategy as you had a better view of the playing area and dispensed with the usual camera issues that dog almost all third-person games. Graphically sumptuous, it wasn’t just a great Tomb Raider game; it’s one of the best games available on the console downloadable marketplaces.VeniceTomb Raider 2 was showed worrying signs that the franchise would start to tread water, but despite these concerns it also introduced some great locations and contributed some of the best sequences of the whole series. Venice was an inspired choice playing to the Lara’s water talents. It also gave a controllable vehicle in a speedboat to help navigate the city’s canals introducing another level of excitement to the gameplay.The Dragon’s LairThe Dragon’s Lair was Tomb Raider 2’s attempt to better the seminal Lost Valley of the first game; while the location wasn’t as lush, the sudden introduction of the massive dragon was both a massive shock and perfectly realised. Never before had a 3D game had a monster as big to deal with – it was an effective and powerful moment that will never be forgotten by anyone who played. It might not have quite the street-cred that the T-Rex brought, but it was a technical marvel that helped elevate the game just when it needed it…The Swan DiveCan you remember the first time you pushed Lara to the edge of a platform, looked down, and saw in the distance a pool? Do you remember that trepidation as you pushed her on forcing her to dive hundreds of meters and seeing the scenery fly past as you dropped at terminal velocity? We remember this very well. Almost as iconic as the T-Rex and Lara herself, the diving became a massive part of the franchise and one of those things that you think about the minute you look back at any of the games.Tomb Raider: AnniversaryWho would have thought that the best Tomb Raider outing in recent years was actually a direct remake of the game that started it all? Tomb Raider: Anniversary was a next-next-generation update of the first game that applied Xbox 360 and PS3 graphics and audio to the original story. Capturing everything that made the first game timeless, it showed just how little the series (and gaming as a while) had actually developed in the previous decade. The update improved every aspect of the game from the controls to the textures and while it introduced a few QTE segments, for the most part the gameplay remained intact and unchanged.Angelina JolieThe films may not have been critical smashes, but they remain for the most part amongst the best video game to film adaptations released to date. The plot of both left a lot to be desired, but one thing that ensured they never became too silly and detached from reality was their lead actress, Angelina Jolie. It’s hard to imagine anyone else filling Lara’s shorts, even now. She did a passable English accent and looked as close to the video game character as it would ever be possible to get short of adding a CGI layer over the top! Will there ever be another Tomb Raider film? Maybe, but who else could ever really play an effective Lara Croft on the silver screen?The MusicThe obvious soundtrack to mention here is Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness which had the full London Symphony Orchestra / Abbey Road treatment, but the one that really sticks in our minds is the theme that launched the franchise. Nathan McCree’s composition combines a classical track with one that respects the history that the story is based upon. McCree returned for two further games in the franchise, and while later instalments still impress they lack the finesse that made the first three games so aurally pleasing…The Midas EffectAnother entry for the inaugural game – this time it’s Midas’ palace and the moment Lara unwittingly strays onto the detached hand of the Midas statue… It seems the legend was true and Ms Croft meets an untimely, yet oh so pretty, demise!Tomb Raider 2012It’s not even expected until NEXT autumn, but even now we can’t help but be excited by the prospect of the new look Tomb Raider. From a far more realistic Lara, to a much grittier look the new game is part origin story and part continuation that will hopefully see a whole new generation of fans appreciating our heroine and her adventures. The trailer, whilst not indicative of gameplay is so cinematic that it could easily be for a live action film rather than a game and the production values and information released so far suggest we can expect something very special indeed. We really can’t wait!

Colin Polonowski Colin Polonowski

Updated: Oct 17, 2011

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