When it comes to the poster face for female heroines in video games, Lara Croft is the first that comes to mind for many. Her rise in stardom through the acclaimed Tomb Raider franchise secured her role as one of gaming’s most influential and recognized icons, paving the way for action adventure titles with a focus on exploration like the Uncharted series. Her success in the gaming world has extended well into other mediums, and created a new movement for headstrong, intelligent main protagonists on top of an equally spectacular series to boot.
Lara Croft first appeared in the 1996 Eidos Interactive (now Square Enix) video game, Tomb Raider, for the PlayStation and subsequently on other platforms. A British adventurer/archaeologist, Lara traveled around the globe venturing into dangerous tombs in search of ancient treasures. Her charismatic personality and nerves of steel instantly made her a heroic figure to root for. However, as time went by, later sequels built upon her character, exploring her background, rise to her status, and interactions with inspirational figures in her past, making her also one of the more relatable characters in gaming with a profound but importantly unwavering attitude in the face of adversity. When this line-up of adversity includes wild animals and even carnivorous dinosaurs, it’s not hard to see why Lara almost immediately exploded into fame.
While the franchise continued an uphill climb in popularity in the late 90’s to early 2000’s, with sequel after sequel presenting new plot elements and characters that defined each new entry, it was with 2003’s Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness that the franchise almost met its untimely demise. Angel of Darkness was panned for many poor gameplay mechanics and narrative problems, but most of all, it almost destroyed the image of Lara Croft as the stern, great Tomb Raider we know her as, making her seem like a confused lost child as opposed to the intelligent adventurer. This was the first instance of Lara being met with mixed reception for her poor character depiction, and one that almost drove the nail in her coffin. That is, until Tomb Raider: Legend reinvigorated (and rewrote) Lara in some exciting ways, and took the series in the direction that would lead towards high critical and commercial acclaim.
Tomb Raider: Legend was a success story of great new beginnings, rewriting Lara’s backstory and completely overhauling her image and the series’ gameplay. While the core essence of Tomb Raider remained intact, with plenty of exploration, secrets and puzzles to explore, it brought a technological advancement with it that was able to capture a more visceral, intense form of storytelling. This single-handedly destroyed the bad aftertaste left in gamers mouths after Angel of Darkness, and began an exciting new saga in the franchise that fans most fondly remember. Lara was back to her iconic status; a well-developed, smart, and bold character with ambitious, and often death-defying, goals. Part of what made her such a tremendous success here borrowed from what made her so likable in the first place – the conventional hero archetype. Much like film counterpart Indiana Jones, Lara represented the ordinary hero boldly going against the impossible with a keen sense of explorative fun. In essence, she was the gaming equivalent of that film icon, someone who was instantaneously relatable and entertaining to follow made possible by a very well-crafted game around her. This newfound success followed through to 2007’s Tomb Raider: Anniversary, a clever reboot of the first game, and 2008’s Tomb Raider: Underworld, which took a few dark turns but never broke the adventurous, light-hearted spirit of the series.
Out of the flames was born Nathan Drake, Naughty Dog’s obviously Lara Croft-inspired witty adventurer of the Uncharted series, only much more sarcastic in nature. With the success of the Uncharted series came Lara’s dip in popularity, with bumbling, humble frontman Nathan Drake taking the gaming world by storm as the next big adventurer. Square Enix had to go back to the drawing board to make Lara the relevant poster child of action adventure once again. The result was the 2013 reboot, Tomb Raider, which leaped bounds ahead of its predecessors on every conceivable level.
Healthy competition in the industry breeds great games, and the Tomb Raider reboot is evidence of this. While it never quite reached the pinnacles of innovative, awe-inspiring gaming that Uncharted 2: Among Thieves had set a very high bar for, the reboot could easily stand toe-to-toe with Naughty Dog’s catalog of fine achievements. A huge part of this was in the character of Lara herself, this time exploring her rough upbringing in the early days of her life before becoming the iconic Tomb Raider. The journey leading up to this was seamless, emotional and very powerful, seeing a mostly timid stereotypical scientist transform into the confident survivalist that didn’t hesitate to kill on the mark. It was a gritty, intense depiction of Lara’s origins, also making it the first game in the series to explore more graphic violence while giving it great emotional weight and meaning as a result of Lara’s actions. This carried over into the latest entry in the series, the acclaimed Rise of The Tomb Raider.
Lara Croft’s iconic status in the gaming industry is solidified thanks to the success of the Tomb Raider series and her well-rounded character development. She embodies the charming, intelligent and attractive heroine while remaining a great role model for main protagonists with depth and personality. Her impact in video games is undoubtedly monumental, not only for the female figure, but as a character worthy of holding the mantle as the one and only Tomb Raider.