It feels like only yesterday that we found ourselves stranded on those storm-battered shores of Yamatai but it’s actually been a whole decade since Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics’ critically acclaimed reboot Tomb Raider (2013) ushered in a new era of Tomb Raider gaming and fandom.
So, to celebrate the game’s tenth anniversary, I invited some fandom friends – old-timers and relative newcomers alike – to share their thoughts on what Tomb Raider (2013) means to them and their fandom.
Noelle explains how the game changed her life and energised her creativity while Freya talks about how the Tomb Raider franchise influenced her academic career. Relative fandom newcomer Jessie shares her story of how the 2013 reboot made her a fan of the franchise, while long-time fan Raffael reflects on his initial scepticism. Rachel talks about her experiences of running a Tomb Raider fan site in the lead-up to the game’s release while Matt examines the game from a more technical point of view, explaining how this new take on Tomb Raider injected new life into a years-old game series.
It feels strange to say it but Tomb Raider (2013) – a video game! – changed my life. I can’t even remember why I was drawn to it at the time, because I hadn’t been following development and I certainly wasn’t sucked into the hype machine. However, as the game launched, I snapped up a copy. Apart for dabbling with the Legend demo, it was my first time playing a Tomb Raider game since the 1996 original, which I must have completed a half dozen times as a teenager in the 90s.
I started Tomb Raider (2013) and just fell in love. To be fair, there’s a lot that’s rough about the edges in terms of the reboot, but that’s kind of its charm. It felt like the developers had more freedom to be creative and try new things, instead of the game being made by committee. Of the new trilogy it will always be my favourite for providing such a raw emotional experience. This was a Lara Croft who kept going despite fear and pain. Here was a shy, somewhat awkward history nerd and human woman who found her confidence during a baptism of blood and fire, and I found that both relatable and incredibly inspiring. The radio tower scene must be one of the most exhilarating moments of gaming in the 2010s.
The game really energised me creatively, and in my life in general. I wrote a ton of Tomb Raider fan fiction, including two novel-length stories, one of which is a Wonder Woman crossover. I became more serious about my cosplay hobby, and that led to me appearing at events twice as an official Tomb Raider Cosplay Ambassador for South Africa (for the release of Rise and Shadow). And I got more involved in the Tomb Raider fan community, gravitating to the crowd that appreciates all versions of Lara.
Of course, the reboot saw me going back to play a number of other Tomb Raider games, and I ended up building my own small collection of figurines and TR media like comics, coffee table books, and posters.
Probably the biggest way that the game has impacted my life, though, is through my adopting the mindset, and mantra, of “Live More Lara.” The idea is to always face situations with the attitude of “What would Lara Croft do?” That translates to trying to being braver, taking risks, and exploring more. Since 2013, I’ve quit a miserable job to spend two years teaching and travelling in Japan, including going to Himiko’s burial mound. I’ve also taken up hiking, including unsupported trekking, in remote natural areas.
Because of “Live More Lara” and all the debate around Lara and Sam’s relationship in the Reboot universe, I even ended up coming out to myself in my mid 30s about my sexuality. My partner and I have been together for almost 6 years, and we’ve shared many adventures to date.
Note: You can read a full-length interview with Noelle over here. And feel free to check out her pop culture website, Pfangirl.com. You can find Noelle sharing her passion for all things geek over on Twitter and Instagram.
My first experience of the juggernaut that is the Tomb Raider franchise was in 2001, when I went to see the first Angelina Jolie film for my 14th birthday. Lara was my first real action heroine outside of the science fiction & fantasy sphere. I’d grown up on Star Trek and Star Wars – with some Buffy and Xena thrown in for good measure – so, of course, I instantly fell in love. I borrowed a rarely-used PS1 from the person living in the flat below and a rather battered copy of Tomb Raider II and, well, that was that.
I’d had an interest in history for a while, inasmuch as it was taught at British schools in the 90s. So I had an appreciation for Romans and Welsh Celts and castles but the games and films introduced me to a whole new world – Egypt, Cambodia, far-flung tropical islands, and rainy Ireland. Before I knew it I had an entirely useless degree in Egyptology and Ancient History and a desperate desire to work in a museum, somewhere. I wanted to be a real archaeologist like my heroine.
While this dream never quite worked out, the archaeology of the games themselves slowly began to improve. Starting with the LAU games and really peaking with the 2013 reboot, there was a much tighter focus on realistic artefacts and real history. I loved the reboot so much. A younger Lara who was closer to my financial situation (i.e. totally skint) and still learning about herself and the world. A huge step away from the aristocratic classicist of the original games, but somehow far more identifiable and more human. I jumped on the first university job I could find and used that as my experience to get me to where I wanted to be: an archaeological technician, working with artefacts and ancient human remains. It wasn’t the longest run but it was the achievement of a dream, one that only got slightly more ridiculous as it went. I completed an MSc in Museum Studies. And I went to Maastricht.
Why Maastricht? In 2017, I was accepted to present at the European Archaeology Association’s annual meeting, as part of a panel on archaeogaming. My topic of choice? Lara, of course. My paper on changing attitudes to archaeology within the Tomb Raider series was well-received, and I still can’t quite believe I got to play at being a “real” archaeologist and talk about Lara all at the same time. But without that move towards using museum items in the later games, and my real love of the reboot series to spur me along, I would not have been there. I’m still surprised.
Note: You can find Freya sharing her fandom thoughts and love for archaeology over on her Twitter account.
I never had much interest in the Tomb Raider franchise until I watched my friend, Alise, stream the first few minutes of Rise of the Tomb Raider in 2017. She told me it was the second game in a reboot and to play Tomb Raider (2013) first. I played through it like a maniac. It’s the first game I ever finished. Then I played Rise and waited with great enthusiasm for the release of the third instalment, Shadow of the Tomb Raider. I had a blast dressing as Lara for San Diego Comic-Con that year, lacerations, torn tank top, wonky homemade jade necklace, and all.
What attracted me to Tomb Raider was how completely immersive and thrilling the gameplay was. The graphics were pretty darn good and the story felt immediate and dangerous without being too terrifying (most of the time). I found that I love platforming and that I enjoy running, jumping, swinging off beams and axes, and ziplining while things are collapsing and exploding all around me. I also enjoy overcoming obstacles and solving puzzles.
This has opened me up to playing other games with similar beats, like the Uncharted series, which broadened my game resume a lot. I went from being an MMO-only gamer to trying a lot more single-player adventure and RPG games, which was a revelation. I’ve since played a couple of the older games – such as Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light and Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris – and I enjoyed the heck out of them, even though they are quite different to the reboot. I own all of the Tomb Raider games now and I will eventually try to play them all… or most of them!
These days I occasionally draw Lara Croft fan art and have the works of other, far more talented artists from the community hanging on my walls. I’m friends with many people in the fan community and for the last two years I’ve played on the Extra Life Team, captained by the inimitable Stellalune. I owe all this to the reboot and my first playthrough of Tomb Raider (2013). And as a matter of fact, I’m currently doing another playthrough right now!
Note: You can find Jessie over on Twitch and Twitter, where she regularly shares her thoughts on Tomb Raider and Star Wars as well as her adorable fan art!
I’ve been a fan of Tomb Raider basically since day one. My earliest memory of the series is seeing a friend play the original TR when I was 13 and thinking, “I can do that better than him.”
What followed was the beginning of what I can now call a lifelong fandom. It sounds like a terrible brag but I played every game in the series, including the lesser known Game Boy Color titles. The LAU trilogy is incredibly important to me. I know most of Legend‘s extensive dialogue by heart and Keeley Hawes became Lara Croft to me as soon as I was finally able to play the games in their original version instead of German dubs.
I’m not going to lie. When Tomb Raider (2013) was announced and video game magazines published their preview articles and started to show screenshots of the game, I was not convinced. Quite the opposite. It wasn’t because Lara’s design was a drastic departure from what had come before or the fact that she was younger. No. What bothered me was that the game seemed incredibly gloomy and grimdark – which was very popular at the time – and that according to those preview articles, the focus would be on a more realistic approach to Tomb Raider, that it would even forego the supernatural elements that had always been a staple of the series.
When the trailers hit, things got even worse. The gameplay trailer that showed the first part of the game – Lara’s escape from the madman’s cave – made me write long, angry, and very opinionated posts onto my Facebook timeline, which probably confused a lot of my friends who weren’t as clued into the series as I was. “Torture porn”, I called it. An insult to Lara Croft, an empowered character that I loved, now reduced to being constantly hurt and struggling desperately for her life. It was not what I wanted to see from Lara. I wanted her to be on top of things and show everyone who’s boss.
It’s safe to say that I was ready to hate it. I had bought the PC version this time, after having played on consoles exclusively during the LAU era, and I even opted for the Survivor Edition which included a Figuarts action figure of Lara. I clearly wasn’t good at this whole “I hate this reboot” thing.
And then everything changed. Within a few hours of gameplay I was in love all over again. Camilla Luddington’s nuanced portrayal of a young woman facing incredible odds resonated with me so much. I didn’t mind the modern, more third-person shooter style gameplay at all. And while I’m usually too much of a scaredy cat for horror games, I was delighted by the creepy atmosphere of Yamatai.
When the supernatural elements set in, I was already obsessed, but those made the experience even better, especially given how much of a surprise they were to me. I loved this new and exciting approach to Lara Croft who was clearly growing into the woman I adored so much. This was the same character I had always loved. She was just starting to come into her own and Camilla imbued her with so much life, so many emotions. It was a joy to witness.
Not only that, I felt for the characters around her too. Every death was a punch in the gut. Tomb Raider had always been cinematic but this reboot elevated the series to new heights of drama and excitement. The very graphic death animations – which, in some cases, I saw way too often due to an input lag on my controller – weren’t my cup of tea, but everything else was so good.
By the time the words “A survivor is born” showed up on my screen, I had forgotten all of my doubts about this new direction of the series. By the time its amazing sequel Rise of the Tomb Raider was released, I had already purchased extra copies of Tomb Raider (2013) for the Xbox One and PS4, continuing my tradition of owning most games on all the systems I could play them on. To this day, this game remains my most replayed title from the Survivor trilogy and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Lara Croft.
Note: You can find Raffael sharing his fandom thoughts and artwork over on Twitter and Instagram. You can find a portfolio of his digital art over on DeviantArt.
While I had been a fan of the Tomb Raider series since the 90s, Tomb Raider (2013) was the first game that I followed completely from reveal to launch with my old fansite, Guns and Grapple. Having created it in the final months of 2008, just before the release of Tomb Raider: Underworld, I was enthralled with news of the new direction the series was taking, but also cautious as it had been a series so close to my heart. Growing up, I loved exploring the ancient ruins in the game or pausing the VHS to create my own Lara Croft assault course outside.
After months of speculation on the darker tone of the series, I remember the reveal of the game in Game Informer. The screenshots and cover looked like nothing I had ever seen before, though I remember wishing I had been able to see more. At that point, the magazine boasted a large US readership, but across the ocean, digital issues were yet to become a reality. At the time, fans were searching Twitter, Tumblr, fan sites, and DeviantArt for scans that hadn’t already been taken down by the GI lawyers. Like many in the community, I longed to hear more about the new direction of the series. It wouldn’t be too long before we heard more.
I followed the game’s development at a time when my view of games as a whole began to move away from just appreciating them as on-screen adventures. I now had a newfound fascination with how a collection of individual crafts can shape an experience. The reboot was a game that had people talking about the series and looking at the story differently, kindling a deeper interest in how it was all put together. Talking to the developers at community events and over dinners made me connect with games on a more human level, particularly when they showed a genuine interest in what I thought about the demos. I felt a weight with those questions. Asked partly to make conversation, but mainly because this had a glimpse into what their life had been for the past few years.
For me, replaying the adventure brings back these real-life memories of meeting Noah, Karl, and Brian, but it also makes me think about the game’s impact on peoples’ lives and the stories I read afterwards. I can’t help but think of Kelly’s brilliant articles whenever I find an artifact in the game, Rachel’s incredible cosplay in a cold English field re-enacting Lara’s stormy first night on Yamatai, or me watching friends finally get past that early wolf fight after several attempts. Those human moments and memories are weaved into the tapestry of the experience for me.
Note: Rachel runs The Sudden Stop, a community hub for Remedy Entertainment games fans, as well as the delightful Positively Tomb Raider. If you like cats and video games, give her a follow on Twitter!
When I think back on Tomb Raider (2013), I think about how wild it looked when it was first shown. So much more raw and visceral than what we left behind in 2008 with Underworld. I enjoyed that game at the time, but you definitely got the feeling that the series needed something big and different; it had to evolve in so many ways if the series was going to stay relevant. A new era was about to begin. Enter the gritty origin story of Lara Croft.
What I like about the story is it really flips Tomb Raider on its head. Instead of going deeper into a place, it’s about escape. While an interest in the lost kingdom of Yamatai is what initially brings her there, what ultimately motivates her isn’t the search for some lost object of whatever, but a person: Sam. So much of the game is about finding her (girl)friend and escaping that island. There’s a supporting cast that’s great, including a fantastic mentor/protégé relationship with Roth. There’s Jonah, the gentle giant who’d go on to have a larger role in the sequels. But finding Sam is really what drives Lara. Whatever anyone thinks about their relationship, it was obvious how much they cared about each other. I only wish they’d have bothered to bring Sam back in the sequels.
The presentation is an area where the game really shines. It’s sort of what I often call a “bridge game”, one that comes out at sort of the nexus point between one game generation and the next. At this point, developers are proficient in getting what they can out of the hardware, to the point where you get a taste of what’s to come in the next generation. The game honestly had no business looking as good as it did on the Xbox 360 and PS3. The characters, environments, and effects were all phenomenal.
And that’s even more the case in the Definitive Edition released in 2014 for Xbox One and PS4. In addition to the TressFX hair system being incorporated from PC, Lara also had a redesigned model that featured new technology like sub-surface scattering, a technique that causes light to scatter in the skin giving it a much more natural look. Pretty rad that the game showcases the best of its generation as well as what was to come in the next.
But visuals and story aside, gameplay is perhaps where TR (2013) shines the brightest. I don’t know that I’d call the previous gameplay style “bad”, but it wasn’t great. You shot enemies, jumped, and maybe kicked off an enemy to trigger some Matrix-style bullet time. What this new game brought wasn’t just great, it was superb. And I’d argue that it put many of its contemporaries to shame.
The cover-based shooting system is really top notch. The bow adds a great element of stealth and offers rope arrows, which aid you in traversal and environmental puzzles. Some would say that there’s too much shooting in the game. True, there’s a lot, but it is balanced with large areas to explore filled with collectibles to uncover and challenges to complete. You’ll even come across places early on that you can’t access just yet due to not having the right equipment. You can only return to these later once you’ve acquired the appropriate gear, lending the game an almost MetroidVania feel.
Similar to the Uncharted series, many have noted that the game’s action conflicts with the tone of the story, specifically in regards to the number of enemies the player kills. There’s even extra rewards for performing each weapon’s brutal special finishers. So, I agree to an extent. But like Uncharted, this is also a game and it’s easy to look beyond. Plus, I actually feel that it fits the game’s narrative pretty well. You’re seeing a woman pushed to the edge, backed into a corner. You’re gonna see what happens when she fights back and what she has to do to survive. In other words, she’ll show you what this little rat can do.
The optional tombs have been derided as being too short and easy to complete… and they are. You can’t really argue against that. Well, excluding that dreaded Hall of Ascension perhaps. And while they lack the intricacies of the tombs that would appear in Rise and Shadow, there’s enough of them and I still think they’re fun to solve. And who didn’t laugh at a young Lara Croft proclaiming “I hate tombs”?
I know this game irritates a lot of fans for doing away with some of the series’ staples such as the dual pistols and swan dives, but the core of the game and character is still there. And if you look at other series that have stood the test of time, you’ll see that they managed to endure by embracing change. Final Fantasy has been both swords and sorcery as well as science fiction. Resident Evil has had slow-paced horror and all-out action. I’m personally not the biggest fan of action-oriented Resident Evil but I can recognize that without it, the series may have died a long time ago. You don’t have to like what Tomb Raider (2013) did. But on some level, you’ve got to understand that the franchise probably wouldn’t be here today without it.
I’ve always been a believer in appreciating when something is for you. This is the Tomb Raider I’ve always wanted. Whatever happens in the future, I’ll always be grateful that I have this game. Lara Croft is one of gaming’s greatest characters and I see it as a gift that there are different iterations of her for gamers to connect with. Every version is valid, so embrace the Lara that is for you. This is the Lara that’s for me. The young woman with her back to the wall and overcame impossible odds. A survivor was born.
Note: You can find Matt talking about his favourite game series and fandoms over on Twitter. He also does the occasional live stream over on his Twitch channel.
Does Tomb Raider (2013) hold a special place in your heart? Has the game inspired you to take up a new hobby or become a more active participant in online fandom? Feel free to share your fandom stories below!
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