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Requiem for a Raider: The ups and downs of being a Tomb Raider fan
by Joey Núñez

Just last week, the mighty Gossip Gods of Gaming saw fit to bear upon us humble gamers new information concerning the next Tomb Raider sequel (which we at GGTL made sure to pass on to you, our lovely readers). Yup, last week, it became official: there is a new Tomb Raider sequel in the works, and it's another reboot, which will bring us yet “another Lara”. I, as a faithful Tomb Raider fan, am undeniably excited about this new game and the direction it’s taking. However the news got me thinking about everything we Tomb Raider fans have had to go through in the last 12 or so years.

It’s been quite a journey Ms. Croft, and it hasn’t always been pretty. I should know - I’ve been along for the whole ride.

You see, I remember when being a Tomb Raider fan was cool; when the name “Lara Croft” inspired awe in teenage boys the world over, and the tough chick with the dual pistols and the short-shorts was unequivocally a symbol of sheer awesomeness. If you have fond memories of raiding the mountains of Peru and the lost island of Atlantis back in the day, then you should enjoy this little trip down memory lane; and if you weren’t around back in the PSone days, do yourself a favor and keep reading, as you'll gain a little background knowledge on one of my favourite series of all time.

The first time I came into contact with the British heiress turned adventurer was back in 1996, back when her breasts were triangular and her surroundings were polygonal. I haven’t looked back since. In the beginning being a Tomb Raider fan came naturally to any gamer, and why not? Here was a fully 3-D game, with immense environments, complex puzzles and a badass leading lady: basically the recipe for gaming nerd heaven. Lara was the cool new girl on the block and everyone wanted to go out with her. Yup, Eidos and Core (the publisher and original developer of the game, respectively) had knocked it out of the park. They had successfully created a cutting edge game which appealed to audiences young and old. Gaming guys wanted to be with Lara and gaming gals wanted to be Lara. It seemed like the sky was the limit for the lovely Lady Croft; she could do no wrong, and we Raider fans were hungry for more.

Lucky for us, Eidos and Core were also hungry. For our money, that is. Lara Croft had become a hot property. She had transcended her polygonal surroundings and become a poster child not only for the PlayStation console but for 3-D gaming as a whole. Sequels meant money, so sequels kept coming… and coming… and coming.

And so it was that the franchise machine was fired up and ready to go. Tomb Raider sequels seemed to come out almost each year. We see Lara in Venice, then Antartica, then Egypt, fighting off mob bosses, dragons, ancient gods and the occasional Tibetan monk. Every Lara junkie in the world was sure to get his fix.

This all sounds splendid, right? Well, it wasn’t really. See, it’s a well known fact that rushed games don’t generally tend to be good games. Year after year we, the Lara faithful, received lacklustre sequels, which brought little more than cosmetic changes to the franchise and a new gymnastic trick here and there - true, Lara’s breasts were now round, but that didn't make for a life-changing game experience.

Don’t get me wrong. My love for tomb raiding never diminished; in fact I bought and completed each and every Playstation sequel Eidos threw at me. But by the time Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation came around, well, it was kind of hard to keep the faith. But, of course, since Lara was still bringing in the bacon for Papa Eidos and Mama Core, the Last Revelation, decided to be “not quite the last but sort of maybe the penultimate revelation”. Tomb Raider Chronicles followed hot on the heels of TLR. And Chronicles… lets just say it was sorta “meh”.

That’s right boys and girls, Lara Croft had gone from “sheer awesomeness” to “meh”. Being a Tomb Raider fan was no longer cool; to the contrary, nothing but hateful glances and taunting fingers would be pointed your way if you declared your affection for the ponytailed gunslinger. Lara was no longer the cool girl on the block, the Jill Valentines, Clare Redfields and Joanna Darks had seen to that.

It was the end of an era.

But, there was hope on the horizon. Lara’s first outing on the new Playstation 2 console was hyped as a turning point in the series. A new gaming engine, new gaming mechanics, a new darker, more real, Lara Croft, all backed by the PS2 technology. Lara was making a comeback. The Angel of Darkness was about to arrive… it was too bad she didn’t stay in the dark.

Trying to find words to describe my reaction to the Angel of Darkness is a bit hard. Eemember how you used to feel on the last day of the summer holidays when you were a kid? The emptiness and fear for the future that seemed to overwhelm you? That’s kind of how I felt. Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness was a game filled with missed opportunities. To this date I still think it had one of the best storylines ever in a Tomb Raider game. However, it was buggy, with sluggish controls and outdated graphics. What had promised to be the triumphant return of my favorite heroine turned out to be the last nail in her coffin. It seemed as though the adventures of Lara Croft had come to an end. Enter Crystal Dynamics.

You see, Eidos was not ready to give up on their number one mascot, so they decided to kick Core to the curb, and bring in some new developers to the series, the aforementioned Crystal Dynamics, who had created the excellent Soul Reaver series for Eidos. These new developers wanted to bring Lara back to her roots while connecting her to a new generation of gamers, who were not necessarily familiar with the Legend that is Lara Croft. And so, Tomb Raider: Legend was born. Fans are still on the fence with this one, with Core loyalists still in an uproar to this day.

Sure, TR: Legend was a bit on the short side, and a bit on the easy side for us hardcore Lara fans, but one thing is undeniable, it was a good game. It was a fun game. Crystal Dynamics proved that you could indeed teach an old girl new tricks, while remaining true to the core gameplay mechanics of the series: enter ancient temple, raid said temple, look good and take names while doing so. It seemed like maybe, just maybe, being a Tomb Raider fan would not be so bad anymore.

Crystal Dynamics followed up on Legend with Tomb Raider: Anniversary, a reimagining of the original Tomb Raider (now over 10 years old), with new level design and vamped up graphics. The game had an immediate nostalgia factor while still remaining fresh and even surprising, bringing in new and old fans alike. It was official: being a Tomb Raider fan was back to being a good thing, a very good thing.

Most recently, Crystal Dynamics and Eidos closed the storyline initiated in Legend with Tomb Raider: Underworld, offered up on the best of next-generation hardware (PS3 and 360). Reviews for the game were generally good, however it was hard to not notice the signs of rushed development that were starting to show (yeah, so Crystal Dynamics has produced three Tomb Raider games in as many years, but is it really so hard to have Lara jump on top of a surface when you want her to?). Minor glitches and control issues aside, with Underworld Lara proved that she is still a presence to be reckoned with, and the game has shipped over 2 million copies worldwide.

As for the future, rumors of a new sequel are running rampant. With supposed origin story, lots of promises are being made, and with Square Enix (of Final Fantasy fame) recently acquiring Eidos, it’s still unclear how much of an effect the merger will have on the franchise. Nonetheless, I have high hopes, and pray that we, the faithful, will not be let down yet again.

Because, yeah, I'm still a fan, and I think it’s high time that everyone was reminded just why Lara Croft was once the premiere videogame adventurer (I’m looking at you Nathan Drake). What do you think the future holds for us Tomb Raider fans? Let us know in the comments. Don’t be afraid - we don’t bite.


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- Joey Núñez

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