Tomb Raider 20th Anniversary: The Evolution of Lara Croft

Joshua Littlejohn

Lara Croft is undoubtedly one of the most well-known and celebrated female gaming characters of all time. Over the last two decades, Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider franchise has greatly changed in ways that have helped to cement her as a gaming icon. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Tomb Raider‘s release to North American markets, we’re taking a look back the franchise and how its lead heroine has evolved over the past 20 years.

1996 – Tomb Raider

In 1996, the young British archaeologist, Lara Croft makes her debut in Core Design and Eidos Interactive’s action-adventure video game, Tomb Raider. The game sold over 7 million copies worldwide and established both Croft and the franchise as industry heavyweights.

1997 – Tomb Raider II


Just a year after the success of the first game, Core Design and Eidos Interactive released the sequel, Tomb Raider II. The follow-up outsold the 1996 original by over 1 million copies.

1998 – Tomb Raider III

Lara Croft in Tomb Raider III

Game developer Core Design and publisher Eidos Interactive stuck to their one-year release cycle. And just 12 months later, the third installment of their new yet highly successful franchise was released. Tomb Raider III followed Lara as she searched for pieces of a meteorite across the globe. Players received the game fairly well received but it did not match the review scores of its predecessors. Tomb Raider III scored over 10 points less than Tomb Raider II, and close to 20 lower than the original.

1999 – Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation

Tomb Raider the Last Revelation

The release of the fourth game in the Tomb Raider franchise saw the introduction of several new and improved gameplay mechanics, such as the ability to climb and swing on dangling ropes and shimmy around corners. It was also the first game in the franchise to be released on Mac and the Sega Dreamcast. The game sold over 5 million units and received great reviews. Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation was later re-released as a Greatest Hits title for the PlayStation 3 console.

2000 – Tomb Raider Chronicles

Tomb Raider Chronicles

At the time, players considered the Tomb Raider Chronicles visuals as stellar. But despite fairly positive reviews for the game’s technical aspects, the sales were some of the worst in the franchise. Tomb Raider Chronicles sold around 4 million copies less than the previous game.

2003 – Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness

Tomb Raider The Angel of Darkness

After the commercial failure of Chronicles, Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness was the first Tomb Raider game to break the one-year release cycle. Core Design took a well needed three-year break to release the sixth game. The game launched on the PlayStation 2, PC and Mac. Despite the longer development window, the game received harsh criticism for its buggy and glitch-filled gameplay and went on to sell 2.5 million copies.

2006 – Tomb Raider: Legend

Tomb Raider 20th Anniversary Legend

After another three-year break, Lara Croft was back again in the first Tomb Raider game for the seventh generation of gaming consoles. Tomb Raider Legend came out on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 along with the PC and sold close to 5 million copies. It was the first time in over seven years that a Tomb Raider game sold over 5 million units.

2007 – Tomb Raider: Anniversary

Tomb Raider Anniversary

After the success of 2006’s Tomb Raider: Legend, the one-year release cycle saw a return. The franchise’s seventh game, Tomb Raider: Anniversary, launched in 2007. The game itself was a re-imagining of the original with improved graphics, art style and animation. Critics and fans alike praised the game, which did commercially well for an anniversary title, selling over 1.3 million copies.

2008 – Tomb Raider: Underworld

Tomb Raider Underworld

Considered by many as one of the best games in the franchise, Tomb Raider: Underworld laid the blueprint for the series’ other games. The game featured major technical and graphical enhancements. At the time, Guinness World Records recognized the character model of Lara Croft as the most detailed in-game character model ever, with over 32,000 individual polygons.

2013: Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider Reboot 20th Anniversary

Shortly after the release of Underworld, development of Tomb Raider began. The 2013 reboot featured an entirely new storyline that focused on the origins of Lara Croft. The game originally released on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC and Mac. The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions, titled Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, soon followed. Today, the game is one of the best reboots ever and is the best-selling Tomb Raider game of all time — with over a million copies sold in just the first two days of its release.

2015: Rise of The Tomb Raider

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Rise of The Tomb Raider is the latest addition to the Tomb Raider franchise. The game is the follow-up to the reboot and, with the exception of a few graphics and combat upgrades, carries forward many of the same mechanics from the last game. The game launched Nov. 10, 2015 as an Xbox One and Xbox 360 exclusive. A PC version came out soon after on Jan. 28, 2016.

If the last few years in the series are an idea of what’s to come, here’s hoping we get 20 more years of Tomb Raider and Lara Croft.

This article was originally published on Oct 11, 2016.

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