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A Brief History of Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider is everywhere at the moment. A movie in the cinemas, a new game on the horizon, it’s Lara-mania the likes of which we haven’t seen in many years. In a first for Two Honest Guys, I’ll be taking you on an abridged journey through the history of the Tomb Raider franchise, looking at the highs and lows of this legendary series.

There are plenty of incredibly detailed looks at the Tomb Raider history out there if you really want to sink your teeth into the nitty-gritty stuff, but if you are just looking for a quick recap of what has happened so far, and how we got to where we are now, this is the post for you!

If you want, you can keep reading, although we recommend you watch the video instead. It’s the same thing, really. Just with pictures and my silky voice:

The Early History of Tomb Raider

So, we start in the early 90s, when Tomb Raider in its infancy. The days when the name Lara Croft wasn’t even known to the developers of the game, Eidos.

This whole, legendary game series started life as what was essentially an Indiana Jones rip-off. Eidos wanted to make a game about an adventurer traveling the globe stealing ancient treasures, making trouble for locals and getting up to all kinds of crazy shenanigans.

Unsurprisingly, they were kind of worried that people might cotton on to the idea that it was, in fact, an Indie clone in video-game form. So, the sly bastards changed the gender, gave their lead a gun instead of a whip, and the Tomb Raider was born.

After faffing about with names and doing their best to dodge copyright, the first Tomb Raider game was released 1996

People loved this game, buying 7 million units worldwide. They loved the gameplay, they loved the environments but most of all, they loved Lara Croft. Her tough-as-balls persona took the game from being just some Indiana Jones rip-off to a cult classic. The fact she was a woman obviously stood out in this era of male-centric gaming.

But not everyone was onboard with Croft.

Dodgy marketing choices lead to some controversy amongst gamers, developers and feminists alike. A murky time in the history of Tomb Raider. She appeared in some very over-sexualised poses on magazine covers and was used to sell things like soft drinks and the link. Not really befitting of her personality.

But all this controversy wasn’t going to stop Lara doing what Lara did best. Raiding tombs ya’ll.

Milking the Tomb Raider Cash-Cow

After Tomb Raider (1996), we got the creatively titled Tomb Raider 2. Another hit turned cult classic, the game sold 8 million units and was generally considered superior to the first.

After the success of Tomb Raider 2, the developers were keen to capitalise on Lara-fever and spat out Tomb Raider 3 pretty quickly. The game wasn’t a flop, but it was already showing signs of Tomb Raider fatigue. It sold 6.5 million copies and the reviews were also mostly good, but it lagged behind the first two in terms of both market performance and critical reception.

But it made a profit, and that’s all the matters. Right?

With the Lara hype train still very much on the tracks, Eidos released a load of special editions of the first three titles: games that were essentially mini expansions. This was basically a lazy attempt to keep that Lara-fever burning. In reality though, what this meant was that by the time Tomb Raider Revelations hit in 1999, it technically became the 6th Lara-related game release in the space of 3 years.

That’s a lotta Lara.

5 million games were sold, which was enough to keep those profits turning, but a clear sign of a quickly disengaging audience. Immediately, Eidos greenlit another project and a year later, they churned out yet another game.

The Death Spiral of Lara Croft

Given the shit the studio was pulling, pumping out games faster than the internet creates new memes, it wasn’t exactly surprising that Tomb Raider Chronicles (2000) wasn’t that well received. Common complaints were that it was boring, it was lazy, it was so badly outdated and it handled like three-wheel HGV.

People could tell this game was made just to cash in on the Lara success, and quite frankly, they were sick of it. Tomb Raider Chronicles sold 1.5 million copies and told the developers people had had enough.

But things were about to get better, and by better, I mean much worse.

Enter Angelina Jolie and the Tomb Raider movies and some real dark days in the history of Tomb Raider.

The first film did pretty well. Sort of. It was panned critically of course, because it was a pile of dogshit, but it did crush it at the box office, pulling in hundreds of millions worldwide and becoming one of the most successful video game movies of all time. In the US, it is still #1 domestically.

Because of the cash it made, another movie was put into production, all while a new game was being developed as well. This is when Tomb Raider really hits rock bottom.

In 2003, Tomb Raider fans were treated to both a new movie, The Cradle of Life, and the return of Croft on the consoles, in the form of Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness.

Both were absolute disasters.

The movie flopped and the game sold a little over 2 million units. Yet again, the Lara Croft series had failed to deliver. The game developers blamed the poor quality movies for tarnishing the Tomb Raider brand and the movie studios blamed the developers for putting out shoddy games and ruining the character of Lara Croft.

So apparently, nobody was at fault. Or everyone was at fault?

Tomb Raider movies were canned and the games was moved to a new developer. Three years passed until we saw Lara return.

The Fleeting Rebirth of Lara Croft

In 2006, Eidos released Tomb Raider: Legend. The game sold nearly 5 million units, got rave reviews and basically brought the franchise back from the dead.

Very briefly.

Two years later, giving themselves more time than in earlier years and hoping to continue the success of Legend, Eidos brought out Tomb Raider: Underworld. The game itself was fine, but wasn’t quite as well received as its predecessor and only sold 2.5 million units.

It was clear that Tomb Raider was just not a series people cared about anymore. This realisation brought with it the greatest Croft drought in history.

Five long, Croftless years.

Tomb Raider is Reborn. Properly This Time

In 2009 Tomb Raider was acquired by Square Enix. Here we had some more faffing about, presumably getting the new computers set up, and it wasn’t until 2011 at E3 that a new game was teased.

Tomb Raider, the new Tomb Raider, was set to be the rebirth of the franchise.

It did away entirely with the sexualised nature of the character and presented a rough and gritty reboot. Essentially, they Christopher Nolan’d the shit out the franchise.

Released in 2013, initially the game sold poorly. There were many reasons for this, from poor marketing to exclusivity issues, but the primary reason cited by many is the fact that the hype around Tomb Raider had simply faded a long time ago. People really didn’t seem that bothered by this new game.

After launch, it languished on 2.5 million sales and the company expected to make a loss. But the reviews were amazing. People loved it, just nobody bothered to buy it.

Word of mouth really changed the misfortunes of this game; that and releasing it on PS4. The accolades and impressive reviews slowly meant more buyers poured in and eventually the game became the best selling Tomb Raider game ever in franchise history with 8.5 million units

With a bit of confidence in the Tomb Raider series, Rise of the Tomb Raider followed two years later. Again, it was well received but sold poorly, although sales slowly totted up after people realised the first game wasn’t a complete fluke; and that stupid exclusivity deal ended. It currently sits on about 7 million sales

Tomb Raider in the Present Day

Although the title of the new Tomb Raider was leaked a while back, we finally got official confirmation in March of 2018 that Shadow of the Tomb Raider is on the way. There isn’t much to go on yet, besides a teaser trailer, but we’ll definitely see more details emerge in the coming months.

Slated for release mid-September, we don’t have to wait long for this one.

Before that though, we have the new Tomb Raider movie. Early reviews are mixed to negative, which likely shows this isn’t quite up to the standards of the new games. Still, it has to be better than the Jolie flicks.

Want more from Two Honest Guys? Browse our movie features and gaming content!

James Speyer
James Speyer
James is THG’s technophobic TV nut, movie addict and theorist crackpot. He’ll be bringing you features, insights and incoherent ramblings on all your favourite and least favourite shows and movies.

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