During their 25th anniversary celebration last October, Crystal Dynamics announced that the Storyworld museum in Groningen, the Netherlands, would be hosting a special exhibition – “The World of Lara Croft – 25 Years of Tomb Raider” – which would detail the history of the Tomb Raider games and highlight Lara Croft’s impact on popular culture.
The exhibit was unable to open in December 2021 as originally intended thanks to a fresh round of COVID restrictions and lockdowns, so when museums began to reopen for business in late January 2022, I knew I had to make my way over there pronto. And on February 5, I finally got the chance to visit the exhibition for myself and see what the staff of Storyworld and Crystal Dynamics had in store for fans.
I apologise in advance for the lacklustre quality of the photos featured in this article; I rather stupidly left my digital camera at home and had to rely on the less-than-stellar camera on my smartphone instead.
The entrance to Storyworld can be found on the 6th floor of the Forum cultural centre in Groningen’s city centre, and the staff at the ticket desk will scan your tickets and COVID certificates (if applicable). Here you’ll have the option to purchase their 44-page exhibition brochure, which is packed with concept art, screenshots, storyboards, developer insights, and information about the Tomb Raider franchise. The perfect souvenir of your visit to the “World of Lara Croft” exhibit.
Due to the COVID measures that were in place at the time of writing, visitors were strongly advised to book their tickets in advance to avoid disappointment as there were strict limits on visitor numbers. QR codes and face masks were mandatory for entry into Storyworld and the “World of Lara Croft” exhibit, and hand sanitisers were available throughout the building.
Now, I can imagine you’d want to rush straight to the exhibit but that would be a disservice to Storyworld. The museum has several sections devoted to the art of storytelling through the media of comics, animation, and video games, so do take the time to visit those first. The “World of Lara Croft” exhibit is housed in the Storyworld Spotlight hall, the last exhibition space in the museum (see map).
As you walk into the hall, the first things you will notice are the display cases in the centre of the hall, which contain a sizeable collection of action figures, statuettes, comics, game boxes, board games, telephone cases, mouse mats, and other memorabilia. Many of these items were loaned by Tomb Raider fan and cosplayer Annick, @cosplayandcollection.
To your right, you will spot a larger than life statue of Angel of Darkness Lara as well as a video presentation highlighting most (but sadly not all) of the Tomb Raider and Lara Croft games in release order. A few of the wall panels in the exhibition space are decorated with promotional art from games such as Tomb Raider: Underworld and Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
As you walk around the room, you’ll find a number of informative (and bilingual) exhibits which touch upon a number of interesting topics, such as the development of the original 1996 game; the equipment and skill set at Lara’s disposal; the use of animation, sketches, and motion capture in developing Lara’s acrobatic style; the controversies surrounding Lara’s character design; Lara’s reinvention and redesign for the modern era; and the games’ use of puzzles, environments, and level-based structures to add peril and further the story. Visitors should be aware that the exhibition is aimed at the general public, not fans who live and breathe all things Croft, so don’t expect an exhaustive record of the franchise’s entire 25-year history or an in-depth look at the games’ development.
It’s worth keeping in mind that a lot of the material seen on display here is also available in the exhibition brochure, albeit in Dutch only. A huge thanks goes to video games writer, historian, and curator Arjan Terpstra for his work on this exhibition; he wrote the gallery text and brochure and assisted in the curation of this collection.
In short, “The World of Lara Croft” is a smaller exhibition than many might expect but it’s a surprisingly comprehensive one that pays tribute to all of the major eras of the game series and highlights Lara Croft’s enormous impact on the gaming industry and popular culture. Die-hard fans might not learn anything new about the franchise and heroine they are so deeply invested in but the exhibition is a testament to Lara’s enduring popularity and cultural legacy.
A must-visit attraction for Tomb Raider fans of all ages, and the perfect day trip for anyone who lives within a few hours’ distance of Groningen.
“The World of Lara Croft” will be running until May 29 and you can purchase your tickets online via the Storyworld site. Please note that you are strongly advised to book your ticket in advance and that a ticket for Storyworld will grant you free access to this special exhibition.
Credits: All of the photographs featured in this article are property of Kelly M and Tomb Raider Horizons. Please ask for permission before using these or publishing this article elsewhere.