Tomb Raider Through the Technical Ages: 2006–2009
After the sixth installment in the franchise failed to revive the series, Eidos Interactive decided to remove the development of Tomb Raider from Core Design and place it in the care of another subsidiary studio known as Crystal Dynamics. You can read more about Core Design's conception here.
But, for now, let's take a look at the first reboot the series received. Unlike the current two installments in the series, this reboot was only a soft reboot and continued to use much of Core's original timeline--or at least a version that resembles it. Crystal Dynamics also wanted to bring Lara Croft back to her roots and put her back to exploring tombs and ruins. They also decided to expand the market for the series, releasing the seventh installment on Nintendo and Microsoft consoles.
Tomb Raider: Legend (2006)
Tomb Raider: Legend was released ten years after the original Tomb Raider. Unlike most of the previous adventures, Legend solely focuses on Lara's own personal demons. The soft reboot retconned her relationship with her parents, which had been estranged in the former series. Lord Croft's first name was changed to Richard rather than Henshingly as well. Instead, Lara's mother had been with her when the plane crashed over the Himalayan mountains. While they were trying to survive in an abandoned monastery, nine-year-old Lara curiously touched a sword within a stone dais and opened a portal to another dimension. Her mother, Amelia, panicked and pulled the sword out in an attempt to save Lara. Amelia disappears in the resulting explosion and leaves Lara alone.
This begins both Lara and her father's obsession with immortality and reviving the dead, which has carried over into every subsequent Tomb Raider movie and game. Now that Lara's credibility had been established throughout the gaming market as an adventurer despite being a woman, it was safe to add more dimension to her personality. Angel of Darkness had attempted this as well but didn't go over nearly as well. This is due in part to Toby Gard returning to the series to help develop Lara's character even further.
She now had a fully functioning range of expressions and emotions as well as a back story that includes her having close friends--even some friends that live at Croft Manor with her to help her along in her adventures. These characters stick around for Tomb Raider: Underworld, as well, and become an integral part of Lara's new morally righteous character.
Legend focuses on Arthurian legends, hence the title Legend, and Lara's quest to find Excalibur in hopes to discover more about her mother's death.
The horribly functioning game mechanics from Angel of Darkness were completely scrapped and a new game engine was built by Crystal Dynamics. This allowed for more realistic movements and consistent game play. Legend is also the first time that Lara forgoes her usual braid in favor of a ponytail, which embraces the flowing next-generation graphics of the PlayStation 2.
Legend is the first game to have a combination of moves that Lara can perform. She's able to perform a series of rolls and jumps to avoid enemy fire or get out of the way quickly to avoid a trap. In addition to this, she's able to knock down enemies by sliding into them and jump off of them while firing at them while they're stunned. She can do all of the usual actions from the original game as well as the updated swinging from ropes, climb up objects, swing from horizontal bars, swim above and underwater, do side- and back-flips, as well as shimmy around corners. The stamina bar from Angel of Darkness was also dismissed and has not returned to the series to date.
This is also the first game where Lara fidgets while standing still, including looking around, stretching, and tightening her ponytail.
Her weapon arsenal here was as reduced as it was in Angel of Darkness with Lara only wielding her 9mm pistols, various rifles (of which only one can be used at a time), a shotgun, and a grenade launcher. She's only able to carry her pistols and one large gun at a time as an attempt to make the series more realistic. There are also hand grenades that can be thrown without sacrificing that second weapon slot to the grenade launcher. However, she can only carry four at a time and the amount of ammunition that she can carry for her secondary weapon is also limited. The amount of health packs she can carry is also greatly reduced--she can only carry three and they only come in one size.
Though her weapons and healing arsenal is greatly reduced, she does have some fancy new gadgets that are utilized throughout the game. She has a flashlight mounted on the shoulder of her backpack, a pair of R.A.D. binoculars (Remote Analysis and Display), a PDA to keep track of the treasure she finds, a headset to contact her friends at the Manor, and a magnetic grapple. The flashlight is a welcome change from the flares of previous games as it gives a more controlled source of light that can be active while holding weapons or interacting with the environment. Though there is a flashback level where she uses flares instead.
That level is the only level where she wears her traditional Tomb Raider attire, though it is unlockable. Instead, she has a different outfit for most of the locations. She wears similar outfits in Kazakhstan and Nepal, so those are the only two that have repeats. There are a total of 33 different outfits available in the game, though most are alternatives of main outfits from the story and are only available by unlocking them. The main five outfits are unlocked after each location is completed. There are two outfits that are exclusive to Croft Manor, which are white and black swimsuits.
Vehicles are reintroduced into the series through two different levels that require driving a Ducati motorcycle to complete them. You're able to shoot enemies while driving this time and you do not have to get off of the motorcycle to complete the levels. Driving too slowly can also penalize you and force you to restart the levels. Lara also drives a forklift during the England level, which adds a unique vehicle to the series. The controls are similar to the motorcycle but offer a more relaxed opportunity to enjoy driving around.
Tomb Raider: Legend followed the direction that Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness had been going with its soundtrack and currently has the longest soundtrack of the series. Together, the tracks total to just over four-and-a-half hours. This soundtrack took nine months to come to fruition and was composed by Troels Brun Folmann, Crystal Dynamics' in-house composer. Folmann wanted each level to have a unique sound that corresponded with the native sounds of each location. The use of Nepalese instruments from the original Tomb Raider's soundtrack influenced Folmann's work on the level set in Nepal for Legend. In the Tokyo level, taiko drums are prominent in the track while a variety of African drums are used in Ghana.
The titular theme has Nathan McCree's iconic theme but played by a Middle-Eastern duduk. McCree's work is frequently incorporated throughout the soundtrack. The main theme attempts to bring percussions from all over the globe together in one place to represent how far Lara travels within the game. A traditional Scottish Gaelic folk song serves as the main vocals in the theme and are sung by Ailein duinn.
Folmann received a BAFTA for 'Best original Score' and the GANG award for 'Music of the Year' for his work on Tomb Raider: Legend's soundtrack.
This full soundtrack has yet to have a commercial release and only 7 tracks were released to the public. Square Enix now has the licensing to all of the material from Legend, including the music. Because of this, several of the tracks were reused for the 2010 spinoff Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light.
The entire soundtrack is available in the YouTube video below.
Croft Manor returns in the seventh installment with a much needed upgrade. It serves as a training level but also has collectible rewards scattered throughout. Lara must also go through every room in the Manor to have access to all of the rooms as some of them require specific equipment or for a hidden switch to be pulled.
The gym was updated to suit Lara's new abilities and the mechanical ability of the PlayStation 2. There are now rock walls scattered around with swing-able bars and places to use the grappling hook. It's one of the most in depth gym designs to date within the series. There's also an access point to the in ground pool in the next room over. In fact, most of the manor can be accessed without going through the main hall.
The Manor itself also had a facelift. Instead of being based on the Derby Studios building from the original games developed by Core Design, the new Manor is based on the Manor as it appears in the Tomb Raider movies. This is the only acknowledgement of the movies in the games and they are still considered separate universes/timelines.
All of these improvements helped to make this well received by both fans and critics alike since Tomb Raider II in 1997. Upon release, Legend remained at the top of the UK game charts for three solid weeks. Even now, it's still one of the most highly rated installments in the series. It was a pleasant revival to the series with most complaints simply referring to how short the game is.
As of 2009, it had sold more than 4.5 million copies. Neither Tomb Raider: Chronicles nor Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness had seen this much success, making it the most commercially successful game since Tomb Raider: the Last Revelation. It's currently among the titles listed in PlayStation's Platinum, or Essentials, range.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary (2007)
Core Design apparently tried to attempt to redesign the original Tomb Raider game as an anniversary tribute on Sony's handheld PSP (PlayStation Portable) in a video released on June 8, 2006. It featured an updated environment and model structure for the characters as well as more advanced moves than what had been available in 1996. However, this video is now difficult to find and does count as copyright infringement as it was not supposed to be released to the public.
The original team, as well as Jonell Elliot and Nathan McCree, were included in the draft that Core presented to Eidos. Extra features, behind the scenes content, and a documentary was also discussed.
Crystal Dynamics' version of the reboot was announced two weeks later by Eidos Interactive instead of Core Design's version being confirmed, despite Core originally having Eidos' blessing. This is due in part to Crystal Dynamics not wanting two different teams working on the series, despite Eidos being impressed by the rough draft that Core presented them with. And, unlike Core's idea of being a PSP exclusive, it would be released for more than just the PSP. Core had designed their version of the Anniversary Lara off of the new Legend Lara. After Crystal Dynamics received the rights to produce Anniversary, Core Design is no longer able to produce anything to do with the Tomb Raider franchise.
To celebrate the series, nine different trailers and four documentary-style developer's diaries were released. This included deleted scenes and gameplay footage. Some of the trailers revealed some of the updated puzzles, which was Crystal Dynamics' attempt to make the game feel fresh and new to fans of the series.
Though Core Design originally planned for this just to be an updated version of the original game, Crystal Dynamics decided to use this opportunity to expand upon the bridge between Core's timeline and their own. Instead of Lara looking for the Scion just for "sport," she searches for it under the belief that it may help her discover what happened to Amelia. This helped to give the game a more emotional feel than Tomb Raider had had when it was first released.
While there weren't many improvements to Lara's arsenal of moves, the enemies were updated to provide more of a challenge and to take advantage of the improvements that Legend made to Lara. The mummies, for example, now had the ability to throw fireballs and target Lara instead of running around aimlessly to make them more menacing.
Lara also has the ability to carry more than one alternate weapon. This time, she may carry up to four, including her trademark pistols. She may also carry as many small and large health packs as she finds, but the ammo capacity for alternative weapons is limited. Vehicles are also absent in this installment but they also weren't around in the original game, other than the cut scenes where Lara was traveling--which carried over into Anniversary.
Jonell Elliot did not return to voice Lara for Anniversary and, instead, Keeley Hawes reprised the role.
Troels Brun Folmann returned once again to compose the soundtrack for Anniversary. It took five months to compose the soundtrack and contains recreated tracks from Nathan McCree's compositions. Anniversary's soundtrack is more orchestral than Legend's and balances symphony and choral arrangements.
The new theme song features parts of the original theme song, including the original harp composition, but with a fresh and modern twist that was also present in Legend. The soundtrack for Anniversary is also noticeably shorter than Legend, totaling at two-and-a-half hours when played continuously.
The collector's edition of Anniversary contained a thirteen track CD that contains music from both Tomb Raider: Legend and Tomb Raider: Anniversary. However, in the Xbox 360 release, it was included in the format of a DVD instead of a CD.
Though Anniversary was well received by critics, some even saying that it was better than the original Tomb Raider, it was not well received by fans. It only sold 1.3 million copies worldwide, which makes it the least successful game in the franchise. Even less successful than Tomb Raider: Chronicles and Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness.
Toby Gard had even returned to work on this version as well, so it even had part of the original team on board, but a lot of fans had been hoping for either a new game or a true remake of Tomb Raider and not a rewritten one.
Tomb Raider: Underworld (2008)
The eighth game in the franchise is set shortly after Tomb Raider: Legend and serves as a continuation of that storyline. It also ties in the events of Anniversary, bringing Natla back as the main enemy. It was an attempt to take the series in a new direction, leaving Lara's troubled past behind.
This was also the first time that Lara had a real impact on her environment. If something became damaged, it stayed damaged. These sorts of impacts can be used as navigational aids to the player. Dead enemies in the game also remained where she killed them. The developers employed the philosophy of "What Could Lara Do?" to help them develop the gameplay for this installment. She's able to interact differently with the environment, including throwing poles and rocks and using the grappling hook to pull down items. Melee combat was also reinvented to help Lara gain the advantage during a fight. The weather is also no longer a simple graphical enhancement and, instead, can provide Lara with new disadvantages. For example, if it begins to rain, the ledges will become wet and slippery and she will be more likely to lose her grip. She would also leave footprints in the mud and the mud on her character model could only be washed away by swimming or being in the rain.
Similar to Tomb Raider II, there is a level that's almost entirely underwater at the bottom of the ocean. Here there's a speedboat that serves as the main base for this level (and area) but it's inoperable so you won't be able to actually drive it. There is a motorbike that serves as a drive-able vehicle for the Southern Mexico and Jan Mayen areas.
Excalibur and Arthurian legends also don't make a reappearance. Underworld focuses on Norse mythology, including an appearance by Thor's legendary hammer, Mjolnir.
Lara's character model was updated via motion capture, offering the first truly realistic movements within the series. An Olympic gymnast, Heidi Moneymaker, was used as the motion capture model. Keeley Hawes reprised her role as Lara's voice once again while Alison Carroll was the model used to promote the game at live events.
Troels Brun Folmann returned to compose the main theme, but was only the supervisor for the rest of the soundtrack. Instead, Colin O'Malley scored the majority of the music. This soundtrack is notably purely orchestral, a drastic change from the music used in Legend.
The official trailer for the game features Lacrimosa from Mozart's Requiem in D Minor. The dramatic feel of this piece fits in perfectly with the darker overtone that Underworld's story line contained.
Underworld was the first game to have such drastically different versions for different consoles--and also what probably led to Rise of the Tomb Raider's exclusive, time-release contract with Microsoft. The Xbox market had special features that did not make it onto other consoles, despite the negative reaction from fans. These included special six outfits and two exclusive chapters of the game released in February and March 2009, titled Beneath the Ashes and Lara's Shadow respectively.
There was an attempt to have a longer playtime value, unlike Legend, by giving each location several levels similar to the original series. The ratio for each area is very uneven--with some only receiving one level and others receiving four or five. There's also one level, the Midgard Serpant, that is excluded in the PlayStation 2 and Wii versions. Instead, this is included in the Land of the Dead level. The PlayStation 2 version is also missing the level, Helheim.
This seemed to be an odd choice due to the fact that the PlayStation 2 version was released several months after the other versions but with seemingly less content. It appears that this time was spent removing some features that were unable to be used on the previous generation's console. It probably would have been a better idea to entirely forgo the PlayStation 2 version, as it's one of the worst-reviewed versions of Underworld.
The next-generation editions (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC) were well received by both critics and fans alike. However, the PlayStation 2 and Wii editions, specifically, received vastly negative reviews for being over-simplified and riddled with bugs. In an effort to attempt to persuade people to continue to purchase the game, Eidos attempted to bury reviews of the game that were less than an 8/10 before its release. Understandably, the negative reviews surfaced anyway.
Underworld had trouble meeting sales expectations at first and did not do so until a few months after the additional content was released for the Xbox market. It was released as part of the best sellers on Xbox's Classics and PlayStation 3's Essentials line. It has also been given away for free as part of the PlayStation Plus service before.
Despite the difficulty meeting sales, the storyline itself was commended and the writers, Toby Gard and Eric Lindstrom received nominations from the Writer's Guild of America, West (WGAW) for Videogame Writing and the game itself received a BAFTA nomination in 2009.
Road to Reboot
In February of 2009, before it was announced that Underworld had met its sales goal, it was announced that Square Enix Limited, a Japanese company, was interested in buying Eidos, which was struggling as a company. Square Enix offered £84.3 million, which was approximately 129% over the current market value according to the official documents. Eidos was also slated to keep operating independently, just under the Square Enix name. This process was finalized on April 22, 2009. Square Enix renamed Eidos Interactive as Square Enix Europe, which is the label that they're still publishing under today. All subsidiary studios of Eidos are also included in this deal as well as the licenses of games such as Tomb Raider.
This friendly takeover was Square Enix's venture out into the more western parts of the world and was a subsequent revival to the Tomb Raider series after Anniversary and Underworld. Legend was an excellent reboot to the series, but too much time was spent trying to tie the two timelines together, in my opinion, to make a seamless transition to Crystal Dynamics.
Crystal Dynamics must have realized this as they're still the studio in charge of developing Tomb Raider and responsible for the 2013 reboot. But we'll go into that here). I also have an in-depth review of the 2013 reboot here, which goes into some of the history behind its development as well.
© 2017 Gaylen Cook