Specials: Lara Croft: Raider of Tombs, Legend of Games
While Lara's days on the PC and consoles appeared to come to a close, she was living it up on the portable scene. The Game Boy Color releases Tomb Raider and Tomb Raider: Curse of the Sword appeared in 2000 and 2001 respectively to a warm reception. Apparently all Lara needed was a good old-fashioned 2D kick to the cartridge.
And fans would need these portable diversions as in 2001 it looked like the Tomb Raider movie was finally going to happen. After an exhaustive search of Hollywood actresses (frontrunners included Sandra Bullock, Elizabeth Hurley and former press model Rhona Mitra), the producers settled on Angelina Jolie for the lead. The future UN goodwill ambassador truly took to the part, transforming the way fans looked at Lara and seemed to have a blast doing it. Shooting on location in Cambodia for the movie was also what spurred Ms. Jolie to start her ambassadorship of help for the world's unfortunate. The movie was a hit and everyone involved came away a winner.
With a successful movie under their belts and a new generation of consoles in full bloom, Eidos and Core knew that with the lukewarm reception to Chronicles, Lara Croft and Tomb Raider needed a makeover. So they revealed Lara's most ambitious adventure to date: Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness.
Angel of Darkness began life as a new direction for the franchise. The story would plunge Lara into a search for the Obscura Paintings, images that were said to tell the future. But this was to be no ordinary tomb raid. As the game opened, Werner Von Croy was murdered and Lara was framed for the crime. From this plotline Core planned to change the way we played Tomb Raider. The game was being built around stealth and puzzle solving; and it was planned that Lara would have plenty of new moves to go along with this focus. For the first time, Lara would even have a partner, the hot-tempered Kurtis Trent.
With the jump to a new system also came the jump to a new game engine. Angel of Darkness was being built from the ground up and Lara was being rebuilt as well. Sleeker, edgier and more realistic curves would make Lara a 21st century woman. Eidos also constantly crowed about how this new Lara would be more detailed than ever before and sported ten times the number of polygons as her PSone counterpart. Originally slated to be released in the fall 2002, Angel of Darkness was plagued by problems from the beginning.
Delays and bugs pushed the game out of its original release window, but the quasi-3D Tomb Raider: The Prophecy for the GBA filled the void nicely. But even in these lean times, Tomb Raider's influence did not wane. In December of 2002, the very British Lara Croft was featured on the cover of Entertainment Weekly wearing an Uncle Sam hat and striking the "We Want You" pose to promote EW's look at the Video Game Nation.
2003 opened with Angel of Darkness receiving setback after setback. The game was pushed from February to April and then to June when it was finally released for the PS2 and PC. Despite being the prettiest Tomb Raider yet, the critical reception was not kind, and Angel of Darkness becomes the worst reviewed Tomb Raider game yet. Serious game stopping bugs, a wonky control scheme and (again!) a severe lack of tombs doomed the game and word of mouth quickly spread about another botched Tomb Raider.
This word of mouth would continue to spread several weeks later the second Tomb Raider movie, The Cradle of Life, was released to theaters. Angelina Jolie reprised her role as Lara Croft and Eidos executives hoped the movie would spur new interest in the games like last time. In reality, exactly the opposite happened. Cradle of Life bombed, eventually grossing half of the original movie's $131 million take. Executives at Paramount pinned the blame squarely on Angel of Darkness. Wayne Lewellen of Paramount flatly said, "The only thing we can attribute [Cradle of Life's performance] to is that the gamers were not happy with the latest version of the Tomb Raider video game, which is our core audience." Despite all this, Angel of Darkness still sold a lot of copies and was quickly inducted into the PS2 Greatest Hits line.
To close out 2003, Nokia used a port of the original Tomb Raider as one of the main selling points of their new N-Gage portable system/phone. Not surprisingly, the game was criticized heavily for trying to cram Lara's first adventure onto the N-Gage's tiny screen. Getting all of the 3D into the game card was an impressive display for a handheld. But long load times, a bad framerate and that ridiculous number keypad sunk Tomb Raider and every other N-Gage title.
Flash forward to today. Eidos has released Tomb Raider: Legend, Lara's seventh adventure, on the PS2, Xbox, Xbox 360, PC and PSP. It is a massive undertaking that takes Lara across the current generation, the next-generation and the new portable scene in her biggest game yet.
After the Angel of Darkness snafu, Eidos pulled Core Design off of all future Tomb Raider projects and handed development duties to US-based Crystal Dynamics. Best known for their work on the Legacy of Kain series, Crystal Dynamics poured over Eidos' back catalog of Lara lore to get to the heart of Tomb Raider.
Chip Blundell of Eidos was quoted as saying, "In setting the stage for the Tomb Raider franchise moving forward, we took ourselves back to Lara's origins, asked ourselves the hard questions and challenged ourselves to think differently. Who is Lara Croft? What makes her tick? How is she relevant today? Only by answering these questions could we ensure that gamers get the experience they deserve with the character they love."
And Crystal Dynamics did everything they could to go back to the beginning, including hiring Toby Gard, the man who created Lara all those years ago. The game has been in development almost from the second Angel of Darkness landed with a thud and returns the series to its tomb raiding roots. Gamers who followed Legend's development know that it went well and it appears history will be kind to Lara's latest adventure.
While Tomb Raider has not maintained the same level of popularity it had in 1996, the series is still going strong. Legend will make the jump to the GBA, DS, and for the first time, a Nintendo home console. There are rumors of a third movie and later this year Eidos is bringing Tomb Raider: 10th Anniversary to the PSP, PS2 and PC. While we don't know for sure what kind of changes 10th Anniversary will make to the game, it looks like it will be another port of the grand old original and in a year where Lara goes back to her roots, the beginning is a great place to end up.