The Inconsistent Heroine: Lara Croft
In some way or another, Core Design’s Lara Croft has been with us since 1996 and the first Tomb Raider game. While Core is now long-dead, largely due to their mishandling of the franchise during the early 2000s, Lara continues to rob tombs on a regular basis, most recently in 2018’s Shadow of the Tomb Raider (or 2023’s Tomb Raider Reloaded on iOS).
The Last Revelation
Oddly enough, Lara’s motives and personality never seem to have been fully nailed down. In the original game, the adventurer was seemingly new to the craft despite clearly having some experience in the field. In fact, courtesy of titles like Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, we learn that Lara has actually been exploring ancient tombs since at least 1984.
Still, her first outing showed us a character who was well-educated, fearless, occasionally sarcastic and possessed of bulletproof confidence. More recent titles have presented her quite differently, as an unsure, untested adventurer who is exceptionally broody even by the standards set by video game protagonists. Of course, it makes sense, the new Lara is actually the young Lara, before she found all that confidence.
All these different depictions have resulted in Tomb Raider acquiring quite a broad fanbase while helping the character become one of the most marketable characters in video gaming. Her renown is even visible in other franchises, which have taken frequent inspiration from the agile archaeologist. Naughty Dog’s Uncharted is the obvious example but dinosaur romp Horizon Zero Dawn arguably owes some tribute to the much senior Tomb Raider. Outside video gaming, on casino websites, Lara’s popularity is in evidence too.
The casino NetBet has a number of characters that seem to serve as a tribute to Lara. The long-standing character Rich Wilde is a good example but newcomer Cat Wilde features many of Lara’s character tropes. Players of casino online might also find the protagonist of the Book of Ra slot familiar, although, this character looks more like an Indiana Jones clone than a homage to Lara.
Worryingly, at least for the sake of consistency, it’s difficult to deny that there aren’t many similarities between the younger and older Laras. For one, due to changes in the gameplay mechanics of the Crystal Dynamics games (post-2013), the less mature Lara is frequently depicted as a gun-toting maniac, with victim counts in the hundreds. This is quite different from the earlier titles, which usually had the archaeologist battling the occasional wild animal.
That latter point wasn’t without its problems either. By the era of 2008’s Tomb Raider: Underworld, Lara came equipped with non-lethal weapons to make dispatching endangered tigers a little more palatable for the player. Tomb Raider’s combat side never seems to have found a happy medium between out-and-out combat and avoidance strategies, which has marred parts of previous games.
As Crystal Dynamics announces its new Tomb Raider game, a continuation of the 2013- “Survivor” canon, the company seems to have its work cut out striking a balance between two disparate worlds. Lara will almost invariably occupy the mold of a more confident, seasoned adventurer but it’s unlikely that she’ll resemble ‘old’ Lara in any way. After all, it’s not just personality that matters but how the game plays in a new decade.
One thing that’s clear is that Lara is now intended to appeal to gamers of all ages and backgrounds, rather than just the male-orientated one of the early consoles, so her on-screen depiction is already a world away from the one we met in 1996. It’ll be interesting to see just how Lara interacts with her environment during her next outing.