I was first introduced to Lara Croft in 1996, just after she was born. I had received the February 1997 issue of PC Gamer magazine and none other than the fantastic female heroin was on the demo disc. She was in her game Tomb Raider. I smelled the controversy right away. A female lead in a video game. That was nearly unheard of. I mean there were female characters in a few video games. Street Fighter II obviously had Chun-Li, and Mortal Kombat had Sonya, but they weren’t the main characters, and, in general, male characters dominated females characters one thousand to one. Not only that, but this was a female character in her full 3D glory, breasts and all.
The Tomb Raider demo wowed me right away. This was in the DOS days when games had to be configured to work with your sound card. (Some will remember WarCraft II and the Knight announcing, “Your sound card works perfectly.”) Lara had a sound check as well, and I still remember it vividly. She didn’t get into any techno talk about sound cards, she simply said, “Right, let’s go adventuring,” in her alluring British accent. That alone intrigued me, a British girl out for adventure. While her accent caught my attention, it was the graphics that really wowed me. This was in a day when the best graphics I’d seen was Duke Nukem 3D, true 3D was something I’d only heard about when I saw screenshots of Quake, but now for the first time I was controlling a sexy girl in a true 3D environment. By default the graphics were 320×240, but by pressing the F1 key they were switched to an absolutely astounding sharp 640×480. My computer was running at a whopping 15 frames per second in that mode, but that was good enough for me, I wanted to see Lara in the best possible resolution.
Tomb Raider was an amazing time for a lot of people. I remember first playing that demo with a friend of mine, and we’d always try to find the perfect spot for Lara to stand so the camera would fully expose her chest. (Normally the camera is behind her, and while her butt is fine and all, no man is really a butt-man.) We found the perfect spot. I later remember reading another issue of PC Gamer where one of the staff writers wrote something to the effect of “…and remember those times when we’d try to get manipulate the Tomb Raider camera to the best possible angle?” I thought to myself, Yes! That was me too. Indeed, those were great times.
I actually felt a little guilty playing the Tomb Raider demo. I was afraid that my mom would see me playing and wonder why I was playing as a female character. She did end up seeing me play the game, but she wasn’t upset that I was playing as a female, in fact it made her want to play the demo as well, which she did. Though I don’t think she was ever very good at it.
Now, while Lara and other video game girls may win over most gamers right away, Lara didn’t actually win me over with that demo, she had to earn my affection, and it would be a long time before she finally would. You see, I recognized a big problem with the game. The controls were horrible. Lara moved awkwardly, you had to make her stand at exactly the right angle if you wanted her to move a lever or open a door. As sexy as Lara was, and as much as I like making her swan dive and stand up on her hands, it was so difficult to make her do all that, that I gave up on her. I wasn’t going to spend the little money I had on Tomb Raider. Lara was going to have to wait.
Still, the idea always stuck with me, and through the years I always thought of Lara. Always wondering if there would actually be a good Tomb Raider game. Meanwhile, the popularity of Lara Croft spread far and wide. There was this girl in my school named Laura, who, after the release of the game, immediately started spelling her name Lara, and in fact would often unofficially use the last name of Croft. Unfortunately she didn’t even compare in appearance to the actual Lara Croft, I mean she looked like a regular girl, not a pixelated digitally animated spectacle of everything that a gamer would want. Another controversial thing happened in my neighborhood as well. Two of the local clergymen were caught playing the game on their office computer, and it was the biggest scandal since Watergate. I mean seriously, two men of the cloth playing a video game with a sexy female lead!
One thing I do want to point out about Tomb Raider is that as sexy as Lara is, the Tomb Raider games are actually in no way sexual. Lara doesn’t have romantic relationships, and other than her shapely body, choice of attire, and her gymnastic ability there is really nothing sexual about her. (Granted everything I just said is all that a man really looks for when it comes to sexual attraction.) Truth be told she’s not the female Indiana Jones, because Indy got laid in every movie, and, conversely, Lara could quite possibly be a virgin.
A few months after the release of Tomb Raider, Tomb Raider II was announced. And that is where the controversy really exploded. As part of the advertisement campaign an image of Lara wearing the skimpiest of bikinis was released. I remember telling a friend of mine, “Video games sure are getting risque, in the next Tomb Raider game Lara won’t be wearing anything at all.” Even as I said this, I was thinking to myself, ”I sure hope the controls get better, so that Lara Croft will actually be in a playable game.”
Well, the years passed, and while I did continue to try the demos, Lara just couldn’t win me over. I never enjoyed a Tomb Raider demo enough to actually buy one of the games. They all had those same awkward controls. I was impressed by how much better the graphics were getting now that accelerated video cards were mainstream, but a better looking Lara doesn’t make a better game. Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (the fourth game) actually came close to getting me to buy it. It had the best graphics so far, and I enjoyed the demo so much that I completed it multiple times, but the controls were still so bad I couldn’t bring myself to get it. That was the closest Lara would come to impressing me for several more years.
The movies were released, of course. I never saw them. I never plan on seeing them. I don’t actually know anyone’s whose seen them. I’ve never been a fan of Angelina Jolie as it is, and honestly, for me Lara could only be computer graphics, a real-flesh-and-blood girl, that’s blasphemy.
It wasn’t until 2006 that Lara won my heart. The first six Tomb Raider games were developed by Core Design, but for the seventh game the reigns were handed over to Crystal Dynamics. I’d played some Crystal Dynamics games, they had developed games in the Legacy of Kain series, including one of my favorite of all time, Soul Reaver 2. I knew, then, that Lara had a chance of winning my heart. Finally, a developer that knew how to make a game with decent controls would be responsible for Lara’s behavior. In 2006 I played the Tomb Raider: Legend demo. Finally she had what it took to win me over, decent controls. Mouse control for the camera, keyboard for movement. Not only did it have decent controls, but the graphics were ten thousand times better than the original 640×480 ones that had already impressed me so long ago. In the game Lara could jump, climb, grapple, and open doors, all without having to stand in exactly the right spot, or jump at exactly the right time.
I finally bought my first Tomb Raider game. And let me tell you, I played Tomb Raider: Legend to death. I found every secret and completed every time trial. I unlocked every unlockable, including her skimpiest outfits. Let me be clear though, I wasn’t just unlocking the secrets to see her skimpy outfits, I was having an incredibly fun time with the game. I was in love.
Normally I’m kind of a completionist. If a game is good, I want to play the entire series. Legend was good, but I couldn’t go back to the previous games. Despite how good the newest game was, it didn’t erase the problems with the first six games. Luckily for me, Crystal Dynamics remade the first game as Tomb Raider: Anniversary. This also proved to be an excellent game, and served as a prequel to Legend. Thus throwing out the plots of all the games except Legend and Anniversary. I didn’t play quite as much Anniversary as I did Legend. There weren’t as many unlockables, but I did unlock everything, including the “classic” outfit which reverted Lara to her original appearance that caught my eye in 1996. Most recently Tomb Raider: Underground was released, which had the same excellent game-play, but it was even lower on the unlockables, so I didn’t put as much time into that game. Lara still has my heart, though.
Lara Croft was also featured in a game called Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, which is not a Tomb Raider game. It’s decent. Not Lara’s best work, but even the love of my video gaming life can’t be perfect all the time (ignoring the fact that she had serious problems for the first six games).
There have been many video game girls over the years, but none of them have come even close to winning my heart. Well, actually, now that I think about it, one did come close. Before Legend came out, while Lara was having movement issues, I had a brief affair with Rayne from BloodRayne. This was just a short diversion. I couldn’t help myself. I knew Lara was who I wanted, but I also wanted to play video games that were tolerable, so Rayne it was. But that’s a thing of the past. My days with Rayne are but a distant memory, Lara is the only video game girl for me. I promise.