Despite the obvious sex appeal of his creation, Lara Croft's creator TobyGard has always claimed that that was not his intention, and that his aim instead was to create “a female character who was a heroine, you know, cool, collected, in control, that sort of thing. It was never the intention to create some kind of 'page 3' girl to star in Tomb Raider”.
The initial success of the character however was bittersweet for Gard. He began to see his vision for Lara become altered by developers Core and, after being given the option of working on a sequel which he felt little love for or a port of the original title to the Nintendo 64, he decided he’d had enough of it all and left to form Confounding Factor. Nevertheless the series would continue without him for some time, and the public would love it…
Right from the initial announcement of Tomb Raider, Lara Croft found herself becoming the centre of attention in the new wave of video game heroes. Up until that point, there had been very little by way of female heroines in the video game world – more often than not female characters found themselves waiting to be saved by the male hero – so the shift in the status quo was surprisingly well accepted across the board, but for differing reasons.
From the male point of view, Croft was seen as eye candy for the most part – a large breasted female lead for teenage boys and grown-ups who should know better to ogle as they played – but from the female camp the reception was quite different. Coming as she did at the height of the Spice Girls inspired “Girl Power” era of the mid 1990s, Lara became a formidable tool in the battle against sexism for many, and Eidos were quick to capitalize on that by adorning her likeness on anything fit to carry it (and plenty that wasn’t).
However the attention wasn’t all positive. Some feminist groups voiced their concerns about her physical appearance (namely her chest size), her sexualisation as a character and the effect it could have on young girls and concern regarding the fact that they considered the games to be unacceptably violent. It’s clear that Lara was created to be aesthetically pleasing, but for all but the saddest of specimens it’s unlikely that held any relevance in terms of her success. The sexualisation of the character was a slightly trickier one to dismiss, but the fact is that she wasn’t sexualized either within the context of the games or the movies which followed – this was just something that was perceived due to the stream of glamour models who took on her role during press shoots.
For the accusation of unnecessary violence, the claims came from a somewhat unexpected source, as wildlife fanatics were outraged at the fact that Lara mercilessly murdered several animals over the course of the game. The game’s developers were quick to distance themselves from such ideas, putting forward the suggestion that any animals killed in the game were killed purely in self defence, which is true, but the fact is that they’re the ones who put the animals in there in the first place.
Following the success of the original Tomb Raider, the sequel machine kicked into overdrive. Between 1996 and 2003, Lara went on to star in no less than twelve games or add-ons. As the number of titles increased, the quality of them suffered a substantial dip. Where the original was an excellent example of the third person action adventure genre, the follow-up titles grew more and more clichéd, almost becoming a parody of themselves.
This didn’t hinder Lara’s exploits though. 2001 saw Angelina Jolie cast in the first Tomb Raider movie and, although it received poor reviews and was mostly ignored by the gaming community, it put up a reasonable showing at the box office. Inevitably, the big screen sequel followed in 2003’s Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life, but this time around it fared much worse, leading to the disappearance of Lara from the public’s gaze for several years.
2006’s Tomb Raider: Legend was the next time we would see Lara; the game which finally saw Croft’s creator reunited with her as Tony Gard accepted the opportunity from Eidos to come aboard as an advisor (although he would ultimately go on to play a huge role in the visual reimagining of the character as the series received a reboot though developers Crystal Dynamics).
From Legend through to 2010’s Lara Croft and the Guardian of the Light the franchise, and Lara, received increasing critical plaudits. Still recovering from the damage done to it by so many sub-par instalments, the series was well and truly on the upturn, and in December 2010 another reboot was announced having already been two years in development at that stage. That title would be known simply as Tomb Raider, and would be an origins story for Lara’s character.
Despite some of the criticisms we touched upon earlier, Lara Croft has ultimately been good for gaming. She played a key part in swinging the public perception of gaming from being aimed at kids towards its acceptance as an all-encompassing past time for males and females alike. Her success outside the video game realm showed just how important the games industry had become in popular culture, with characters now being afforded A-list celebrities when it came to movie casting.
In fact, there are quite a few non-gamers out there who don’t realize that Lara Croft has her origins in the world of polygons, instead thinking that it all kicked off with the movie – such is the overall success of the franchise.
With Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition hitting both PS4 and Xbox One on January 28th following a hugely successful launch last year on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC, Lara is now more to the fore than she has been for quite a while. Her origins story has proven to be a massive hit with gamers across the world, and this new release should serve as an introduction to what players can expect when her first true next-gen outing lands down the line!