Following British archeologist Lara Croft, the Tomb Raider series of games, comics, movies, theme park rides and novels are a pop-culture phenomenon the world over.
The development of Tomb Raider began in 1993, and took 3 years to complete. On November 15, 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 Virtua 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 an immediate 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.
Development on Tomb Raider II took a great deal less time than it's predecessor. 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 disappointment at the fact that not much had really changed at all since the original game.
On November 22, 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. Despite Core Design's original intent for The Last Revelation to be the end to the franchise, business realities demanded more sequels be made.
Core Design, now shackled by their success, pushed ahead with another Tomb Raider project, Tomb Raider Chronicles, which was released on November 19, 2000. Although the graphics were widely touted as being some of the best of the era, the game's reliance on flashback levels that invited direct and unflattering comparisons with its predecessor games was as clear as sign as any that the Tomb Raider franchise was directionless and stagnating badly. With sales sharply plunging, the franchise was in dire need of rejuvenation, and the impending release of the PlayStation 2 was just such an opportunity.
On June 20, 2003, three years and two substantial delays later, Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness was finally released. Core Design struggled to modernize and vary up the Tomb Raider formula with new features and gameplay. Sadly, the game's attempts at new features like urban environments, stealth gameplay, and an alternate playable character all fell flat. On top of that, the game was wracked with bugs. Critics skewered the game. Despite a modest uptick in sales, the game was a failure and the nail in Core Design's coffin. A planned sequel, called Tomb Raider: The Lost Dominion, was cancelled. Eidos closed down Core Design and turned the franchise that made and broke them over to Crystal Dynamics.
On April 7, 2006, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend was released for sixth and seventh generation consoles. Immediately topping the UK video game charts, the game held its number 1 spot for 3 weeks after. By June 30, 2006 the game had already sold approximately 2.9 million copies and was receiving strong reviews across the board. With Tomb Raider successfully resurrected, Crystal Dynamics had secured themselves a future with the franchise.
On June 1, 2007, Eidos and Crystal Dynamics rolled out their next Tomb Raider game, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary. Neither a remake of the first Tomb Raider nor a sequel to the last one, it was a reimagining of the first game with new tweaks that wove into the fictional universe established by Legend. Despite a largely positive reception, some expressed concern regarding the game's frustration level and the fact that the game's engine and mechanics were both identical to Legend. Despite Anniversary's sales being the lowest of any game in the franchise, they were still sufficient to make the game a success.
On November 18, 2008, the first game in the series to be created solely for seventh generation consoles was released. Tomb Raider: Underworld was a direct sequel to Legend. Some critics were underwhelmed, saying that the mechanics of the past two games were already growing old and that Crystal Dynamics were just throwing Lara new moves, instead of refining some of the older ones. Additional criticism targeted the game's poorly written story and dialogue. Nonetheless, the game still received mostly positive reviews with many critics noting the exemplary visual standard and the thrill of exploring the well rendered environments. Sales lagged at first, but eventually climbed to meet Eidos' expectations.
On March 4, 2010, Square Enix announced the newest entry in the franchise, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Developed by Crystal Dynamics, it was the first Tomb Raider to not feature the words "Tomb Raider" in its title and the first series entry to only be 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. The game was well-received by most critics and praised for introducing a new style of gameplay to the series. Sales surpassed 1 million, a strong achievement for a download-only title.
Returning to the Tomb Raider name once more, Crystal Dynamics rebooted the franchise with Tomb Raider, an origin story game tracing a young Lara Croft as a survivor of a shipwreck. Rather than hunting for treasure, in this reboot Lara is just trying to survive a brutally hostile environment. The game was generally well-received by critics, with broad praise for its modern third-person shooter gameplay, and general comparisons frequently made to the popular Uncharted series. As with Underworld, sales initially failed to meet expectations, but grew over time to surpass them.
On June 9, 2014, a sequel to the Tomb Raider reboot was announced in Rise of the Tomb Raider. At Gamescom 2014, Microsoft announced the game will be a timed exclusive for the Xbox One and Xbox 360 during "holiday 2015", provoking backlash for the ambiguity of its release exclusivity and for being the first Tomb Raider game not launching on a Sony PlayStation platform.