Tomb Raider was released in 1996 for the Sega Saturn, PC, and Playstation, and was one of the first games of that generation that truly showed what could be done with 3D gaming technology. At the time, action games were undergoing serious changes, 3D gaming opening the door for new ideas that greatly expanded the genre. Tomb Raider was at the forefront of this movement, but more than that, it blew it`s competition out of the water. It’s (at the time), state-of-the-art graphics and cinematic gameplay made it an instant hit with gamers everywhere, topping the sales charts and still widely regarded as one of the greatest games ever made.
What was more however was its cultural impact. Female protagonists were rare in gaming at the time, and the emergence of the sexy, intelligent, and general all around badass Lara Croft was a welcome shot in the arm to an industry that needed to expand its audience. From her very first appearance, Lara Croft has been considered one of the greatest gaming heroes in history. That reputation began with the first Tomb Raider, which is still one of the highest selling games in industry history.
With Tomb Raider`s massive success, Eidos immediately set to work on a sequel. Released in 1997, Tomb Raider II exploded onto platforms, easily becoming an instant hit and topping the sales charts. The game built upon what the first had done (puzzles, action, great storytelling) and expanded on it even further, creating a bigger, more alive experience. Tomb Raider II also expanded Croft Manner, introduced Lara’s butler, and a host of other main stays of the series that would last until the recent reboot.
The reception was massively positive, sales exceeding all expectations, and was critically the highest rated game that year. Tomb Raider II also helped launched Lara Croft into pop-culture icon status, the character becoming by far the most popular video game character of her generation. Still considered classic today, Tomb Raider II is seen in many ways as the height of the franchise, a feeling that remained amongst fans and critics until the aforementioned reboot from a few years ago.
The success of the first two games made Tomb Raider one of the hottest franchises in gaming, so it was no surprise when a third game was released in 1998. Like the Tomb Raider II, Tomb Raider III gave Lara new abilities, new weapons, and a whole new adventure, even bigger than those of the first two games. Even more so were the additions to the challenges Lara would face, the environments becoming harder to navigate, and the dangers presented by the world more deadly than ever before. The game featured less tombs than previous entries, and was more stealth based in the modern environments, a trend that has continued in the series to this day.
The reviews for Tomb Raider III were mostly positive, though some noted that it was not as enjoyable an outing as the first two games. Some gaming websites pointed out the fact that nothing much had changed from the first two games to make Tomb Raider III something really special, though the game was still an enjoyable ride. Sales wise it did extremely well, but not as much as the first two games. Still, the sales kept the franchise at the top of the heap in the late 90s gaming industry, and made it clear that Tomb Raider was here to stay.