The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time #38: Tomb Raider

Did you miss The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time’s Introduction? Catch up on how we decided to sort the games and the rest of the Top 100.

For better or worse, Lara Croft is the most famous woman in all of gaming. But all her fame might be a fluke, because the developers behind her creation claim it was all an accident.

Formed in the late 80s, Core Design was an unlikely candidate to be creating a wide open 3D title like Tomb Raider. The developer’s biggest claim to fame at the time was Rick Dangerous, a game that could charitably be called an “homage” to Indiana Jones. Other gamers might remember Chuck Rock, a platformer created by Core that starred a dimwitted caveman. But like many British developers of the time, they didn’t think about their limitations and just went for it. This definitely applied to Toby Gard, the artist behind Lara Croft’s original look.

Like Rick Dangerous, Lara began life as a man with no name that bore a striking resemblance to Harrison Ford. Fearing a lawsuit, Gard redrew the character as a woman and began tinkering with a number of different personalities. The artist told IGN in 2008 that the proto-Tomb Raider began life as a “sociopathic blonde” before morphing into a muscle woman, a “flat topped hip hopster,” and a “Nazi-like militant in a baseball cap.” None of these looks fit the game that Core envisioned, but Gard’s final pass at it proved to be the winner. Laura Cruz, “a tough South American woman in a long braid and hot pants,” was born.

We’ll never know if Laura Cruz would have received the same reception, but Gard continued to tinker, and eventually, the character became a descendant of British royalty when the developers plucked the name Lara Croft out of a City of Derby phone book. The final piece of the puzzle fell into place when Gard was playing with a slider that controlled the size of Lara’s breasts and accidentally inflated them to 150% their original size. The Core Design team gathered around Gard’s computer and hooted their approval, even if the artist himself was skeptical of the character’s inflated curves.

I have to admit, I’ve always been skeptical of Gard’s story. We want to believe it’s true because an accidental eureka moment is how a lot of people (and the average Hollywood production) view computer programming. But the artist probably wasn’t some wide-eyed innocent caught up in the moment, giggling along with the rest of his team like schoolboys. He probably saw the worldwide popularity of Pamela Anderson, changed her hair color, and dropped her into his video game.

Whichever story you believe about Lara’s origin, Tomb Raider was released in November 1996, exactly seven weeks after Super Mario 64. This one-two punch introduced a lot of players to 3D platformers, and they absolutely changed our perception of gaming as a whole. Tomb Raider’s polygonal graphics might look crude today, but they were breathtaking for the time and the ability to swim through tunnels, sprint across bridges, and scamper up rocks was something that no one had ever seen before. If Super Mario 64 was the stylized evolution of gaming’s past, Tomb Raider was a window into its more realistic future.

But it’s what happened next that cemented Lara Croft’s status as a permanent fixture in pop culture and a worldwide icon.

As part of their push to promote the game, Eidos hired actress Rhona Mitra to play “The Real-Life Lara Croft” at trade shows, conventions, and in commercials. After that came the magazine covers… and not just game publications either. Lara crossed over into the mainstream when her likeness was used as “the face” of the June 1997 issue of The Face, a UK culture magazine. The profile within looked at the rise of digital models, and gave the general public one of their first looks at Tony Gard’s raider of tombs. From there, Eidos licensed a series of action figures, comic books, and clothing featuring the character. In 1999, the Pamela Anderson comparisons came full circle as “Real-Life Lara Croft” Nell McAndrew posed for a Playboy spread under the unauthorized headline, “Lara Croft NUDE.” Eidos wasn’t happy, but I’m sure all the free publicity (and increased sales of Tomb Raider’s sequels) kept their anger in check.

Eventually, Hollywood took a crack at the character, and even gave her top billing, in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Angelina Jolie brought the character to life in two films and her visit to Cambodia during filming directly served as the inspiration for her eventual rebirth as one of the world’s most recognizable activists.

Call it The Butterfly Effect, The Nail, or Toby Gard’s Finger, but Lara Croft’s creation has certainly had an outsized effect on the game industry and the world at large.


Tomb Raider is quite accessible today, and you’ll have no need to embark on a worldwide scavenger hunt to find a working copy of the game. In addition to an absolutely astounding amount of used copies, players interested in Lara Croft’s origin can download the original game for the PS3 (as a PSOne Classic), Steam (rebranded as “Tomb Raider I” to distinguish it from the 2013 reboot), iOS, and Android.

A remake, Tomb Raider Anniversary, was released in 2007, and it can be easily purchased from your favorite game store for the PS2, PSP, PS3, Wii, Xbox 360, and Steam.


Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Core Design
Release Date: November 14, 1996 (Original Game), June 5, 2007 (Tomb Raider Anniversary)

Average Ranking: 64.10
Selection Percentage: 59.52% (25/42)
Scientifically Proven Score: 104.57

Publication Rankings For Tomb Raider
Hyper (1995)

Next Gen (1996)

Next Gen (1999)

22

Edge (2000)

20
GI (2001) 86

GameSpy (2001)

NR

Edge (2003)

NR

EW/G4TV (2003)

17
GameSpot (2003) NR

IGN (2003)

86

1UP (2004)

1*

The Age (2005)

43
IGN (2005) NR

Yahoo! Games UK (2005)

70

Edge (2007)

89

IGN (2007)

NR
IGN HoF (2007) 1*

Stuff UK (2008)

91

Edge (2009)

NR

Empire (2009)

39
GI (2009) 74

FHM (2010)

NR

GamesTM (2010)

1*

The Phoenix (2010)

NR
Gamereactor (2011) 17

GamesRadar (2011)

80

Stuff UK (2011)

30

1UP (2012)

88
G4TV (2012) NR

GamesRadar (2012)

83

Time (2012)

1*

EPN (2013)

76
GamesRadar (2013) NR

Gaming Bolt (2013)

37

PC & Tech Authority (2013)

NR

GamesRadar (2014)

NR
Popular Mechanics (2014) 70

Slant Magazine (2014)

NR

Stuff UK (2014)

6*

Edge (2015)

NR
GamesRadar (2015) NR

IGN (2015)

NR

GamesMaster (2016)

17

Time (2016)

NR

Howson, Glen – The Guardian – Lara’s creator speaks – 2006

McLaughlin, Rus – IGN – IGN Presents: The History of Tomb Raider – 2008

Schedeen, Jesse – IGN – The Many Looks of Lara Croft: Videogames – 2008

This entry was posted in Features, Mobile, PC, PS2, PS3, PSP, Retro, SPBVGOAT, Top Story, Wii, Xbox 360 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.
John Scalzo is Warp Zoned's Editor-In-Chief and resident retro gaming expert. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at john AT warpzoned DOT com.

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