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The Evolution of Lara Croft

Tomb Raider-Evolution

Lara Croft is a legend. She is not only one of gaming’s most beloved characters, but an international icon. Even if folks have never played a Tomb Raider game or any video game at all, they know who she is. She’s as iconic as Mario or Link and defined a whole generation of games for the original Playstation. But, video games are a fickle business where new characters are created all the time only to be relinquished to the bargain bin and forgotten. Why has Lara Croft remained a gaming icon all these years? Simple. As gaming evolved, so did she. To celebrate the release of the new Tomb Raider game, let’s take a look at the evolution of Lara Croft.

Tomb Raider (1996)

Tomb Raider

Lara burst onto the scene in 1996’s Tomb Raider. Her self assured confidence was something not seen from women in games. They were usually some damsel in distress waiting for a knight or plumber to rescue them from some well defended castle infested with lizards. Not Lara. With a pair of pistols and climbing gear, she was swan diving her way into the dangerous places of the world. She was the embodiment of a strong woman and her character paved the way for many of the female protagonists we see today in games.

She started out as a blocky render of a stylized human form. She was all jagged edges, long limbs, and gravity defying attributes. But, the buxom explorer had a stern face that told you that she was ready for anything that was in her way whether it be booby traps, pitfalls, or dinosaurs. The gameplay in the original Tomb Raider reflected the graphical shortcomings. It was great, but stiff, stilted, and lacking in fluidity that would be added later to the series. But, there was something about Lara Croft that kept us coming back for more adventures.

Tomb Raider II (1997)

Tomb Raider II

There was a graphical jump from Tomb Raider to Tomb Raider II. Lara was still angular, but she started to develop some curves and some more attitude. We got to know more of about her and her back story as an 11th Generation countess as she explored China, Italy, and Tibet. The addition of a pair of rose colored glasses helped give Lara a bit more flair and attitude that helped us fall in love even more with the daring explorer.

Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (1999)

Tomb Raider-The Last Revelation

By the time Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation rolled around, Lara was looking better than ever. The polygon count was higher and she was starting to look more human and it allowed us to relate to her that much more. A brand new engine allowed Lara to move more freely around the more complex set of levels scattered about Egypt. She has remained a stalwart explorer even in the face of the unbelievable. When Seth is released and threatens the world, Lara still knows the next move and is always ready to make it.

Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (2003)

Tomb Raider-Angel of Darkness

The Playstation 2 was a monumental change in gaming. With the new hardware came more inventive games that pushed the boundaries of what was possible. In true Lara fasion, she evolved with the times. While considered one of the least successful in the series, Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness was a quantum leap in graphics and storytelling for Lara. No longer was she wandering around the ruins of a jungle in Borneo. With the new tech came the ability for Lara to talk to people and move more fluidly around the game world. Gone were the clunky controls and in were the upgrade abilities to help her jump. Also, the darker tone of the story reflected the time in gaming in which it was made. The plot is spurred off by a series of grisly murders. Gaming developed a taste for Darkness with the PS2 and so did Lara Croft. She even wore a black shirt.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary (2007)

Tomb Raider-Anniversary

To celebrate the 10th Anniversary of our countess of archaeology, Crystal Dynamics revamped and reworked the original game that so many of us loved. They switched up the puzzles, kept the advanced controls, and remixed the story to feature more characterization and plot. After 10 years, we got to see more of and about Lara than ever before. She went back to the gray tank top and the cynical sneer from Angel of Darkness was gone. She started to look a bit more vulnerable and the deaths of her parents could easily be seen weighing on her. She was still the capable, swan diving, archaeologist gymnast, but she finally started to look more proportionally correct rather than absurdly top heavy.

Tomb Raider: Underworld (2008)

Tomb Raider: Underworld was a return to a more noir aesthetic to reflect her descent into the underworlds of Norse and Mayan Mythology. Her outfit became more skintight, but tougher and more utilitarian. Her belt and Colt 45 holsters didn’t dangle loosely anymore. She didn’t quite have the cynical edge of Angel of Darkness, but she became a bit more serious. She was never someone to be trifled with, but now, more than ever, she looked the part.

Tomb Raider (2013)

Tomb Raider 2013

Finally, after almost 16 years, we once again return to the beginning. With this month’s release of a revamped Tomb Raider we are finally able to play through the origins of our favorite archaeologist. We’ve already seen her as a fully formed adult who is self assured and dangerous in any situation, but now with this new story, we’re able to see that she wasn’t always so confident. In fact, she was downright unprepared and had to learn very quickly to become a survivor. We had just assumed that she was always an explorer on the level of Indiana Jones. But now we get to see much more of how Lara became who we already know. Appropriately, she looks much younger, but what is striking is the fact that you can read the uncertainty in her face. She’s uncertain, but determined to survive.

When most video game characters age, they become irrelevant, forgotten, or brushed off as a relic from a more primitive age. Lara has reinvented herself a number of times in order to stay current and this latest adventure will give us a more intimate glimpse at the evolution of a character we’ve already known for 16 years. Her fears, failures, and motivations will be shown in stark relief like texture maps popping into high definition focus, making her more believable than ever.

Are you excited about the new Tomb Raider game? Let us know in the comments below.

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