Following British archeologist Lara Croft, the Tomb Raider series of games, comics, movies, theme park rides and novels are a pop-culture phenomonon the world over.
The development of Tomb Raider began in 1993 taking 3 years to complete. On November 15th, 1996, Tomb Raider was finally made available for public consumption. The developers were Core Design, who spent 18 months working on the game. One of the reasons for this extensive development period is that the Core Design team consisted of only 6 people. It was Toby Gard who, out of the team of 6, undertook the task of developing Lara.
Originally, the lead character was set to be male, essentially no more than an Indiana Jones clone. It wasn't until Toby noticed many of his co-workers playing as female fighters from the game Virtual Fighter that he decided to alter the hero's sex and turn her into a heroine. At around this time, the entire team decided that puzzles and stealth would be a more appropriate approach to developing the game than the all too common action archetype.
Lara was born under the name Laura Cruz and was intended to be a cold blooded militaristic South African anti-hero. However, over time, Laura became a warmer character and Core Design decided to make Laura a British character, in order to make her feel more familiar to the intended American audiences. The name Lara Croft was supposedly taken by picking a name out from a phone book that was closest to Laura Cruz, whilst retaining a sense of Western impact.
Upon Tomb Raiders release, it was a critical and financial success, securing a place in video-game history and ensuring a lengthy franchise for Lara Croft and her adventures, which would far surpass Core Designs original goals.
It was from then on that Core Design had a real challenge on its hands. The trick was of course not to keep Lara popular, but to keep her relevant.
Development on Tomb Raider II took a great deal less time than it's predecessor took. Approximately one year later, in November of 1997, Tomb Raider II was released. The game became an instant success, immediately overtaking the original Tomb Raider in terms of sales and achieved equal, if not greater critical acclaim. However, in hindsight many fans feel that this was in fact the pinnacle of Lara's success. This is evident in her branching into other mediums, appearing prominently in SEAT and Lucozade commercials and practically becoming an unofficial mascot for the commercial pop-rock band, U2.
Another year passed and Tomb Raider III entered the scene in November of 1998. It was widely cited as the best game of the original trilogy, with many of the mechanics having been refined, although many critics showed dissapointment at the fact that not much had really changed at all since the original game.
On 22nd November, 1999, Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation surfaced. Critical reactions were mixed with some noting that the mechanics of the series had gone untouched and others citing the game as the best sequel in the series. If nothing else, most agreed that the story was far more dynamic than any other Tomb Raider game to date. However, by now many critics were feeling that Tomb Raider was a tired concept, at least in the sense that Core Design were barely altering gameplay. Lara, it seemed, was beginning to show her age.
Core Design pushed ahead with their next project, Tomb Raider Chronicles which was released on the 19 November, 2000. Although the graphics were widely touted as being some of the best in the industry, many reviewers had simply lost interest in the dwindling franchise, with many going so far as to blatantly point out that the franchise was now fresh out of originality. As well as that, the game had a great deal of bugs which led many to believe that Core Design had given up on trying to make the franchise as innovative as Lara's original adventure was. The series was running on steam, and many looked forwards to a new generation of consoles to bring back their beloved Lara Croft.
It wasn't until 3 years later, on the 20th June, 2003 that Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness was released. Many flocked, hoping to find an adventure to carry them into a utopia of new and exciting gaming, only to find a game much like Tomb Raiders I-V, with only touched up graphics to separate the games from each other. It was made clear that the franchise was beyond some slight touch up and required a full make-over, something that it was evident Core Design had been struggling with. With Core Design struggling to keep up with Lara's present, let alone her future it wasn't long before development of a new Tomb Raider game was taken off of their hands and given to someone else.
It was Crystal Dynamics that Eidos saw fit to give power of Lara Croft to. Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend was released on April 7th, 2006. Immediately topping the UK video game charts, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend held it's number 1 spot for 3 weeks after. By June 30th, 2006 the game had already sold approximately 2.9 million copies and was recieving good-excellent reviews across the board. With their success secured, Crystal Dynamics began working on a sequel...except, it wasn't quite a sequel...
On June 1st, 2007, Eidos and Crystal Dynamics rolled out their newest Tomb Raider game. Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary was not exactly a remake of Tomb Raider, nor was it a sequel to Legend. As a game, it established a seperate canon to the first 5 Tomb Raider games, by retelling the original story, but adding its own tweaks in order to make it fill into the Legend universe more appropriately. Despite a largely positive reception, many made observations that there was cause for concern regarding the games frustration level and the fact that the game's engine and mechanics were both identical to Legend.
On November 18th, 2008, the first game in the series to be truly created for a seventh generation console was released. Tomb Raider: Underworld was released with the main intention of continuing the story begun by Legend and achieved just that. However, some critics were left somewhat underwhelmed. Many felt as if the mechanics of the past two games were growing old, and that Crystal Dynamics were just throwing Lara new moves, instead of refining some of the older ones and some went on to criticise the story and dialogue altogether. That said, the game still recieved mostly positive reviews with many critics noting the exemplary visual standard and the thrill of exploring the well rendered environments.
On March 4th 2010, Square Enix announced the newest entry in the franchise, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Developed by Crystal Dynamics, it will be the first Tomb Raider title distributed digitally over PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Marketplace. The game features an isometric viewpoint and co-operative play, both new features for the franchise. This newest entry is also the first in the series not to include "Tomb Raider" in its title. The game was well-received by most critics and praised for introducing a new style of gameplay to the series.
Going back to the use of the Tomb Raider name, the franchise is currently being rebooted with Tomb Raider, a game about a young, inexperienced Lara Croft who gets shipwrecked. Rather than try and find an unknown treasure, in this reboot Lara is trying to find a way to survive.