Lara's Home Through the Years

Thursday 27 April 2017

One of the most iconic elements in the Tomb Raider saga has always been the Croft Manor, Lara's luxurious mansion, serving as a tutorial in the frist games, and evolving to part of the plot in the later ones.

The Beginning: Tomb Raider 1 (1996)

The Croft Manor in Tomb Raider 1 is big and with large rooms, but many of them are inaccessible. There are no exterior areas and there is not much to do in the house. However, there are still several rooms to visit: there is the bedroom, the music room, the library, the hall, the gym and the pool. Nearly all these rooms have very few items and furniture in them; of course we know Lara is away from home almost all year long, so she doesn't really have time to take care of the house's decoration.

The gym is thoroughly constructed with a training course so that Lara can practice her moves. This room used to be the ballroom but apparently Lara was too busy to host guests; so she decided to take advantage of all that vast space and have something that would actually be of real use to her.

The pool room is also made with detail; a pool in greco-roman style, with glass ceiling and beautiful decorations on the walls, lovely wall paintings in the outer room and greenery hanging from above. In the pool, Lara can practice her swimming on the surface and underwater, see how long she can hold her breath while in the water and learn to dive from the platform on the other side.

All the other rooms are vast, and there is even a mattess covering almost the whole floor of the music room. Lara prompts the player to jump around when she gets there. She also has a piano and a harp but she cannot interact with them, so we couldn't know, by that time, if she could play them or not.

Something Changes: Tomb Raider 2 (1997)

The game evolved - and so did Lara. Just one year later, their development is impressive, to say the least. Equally, the Manor is a very improved version of the previous one. Apart from the whole better design and texturing, there is also much more space to explore, as now we have the chance to see what lies behind all those closed doors.

We also have the chance to meet Winston, Lara's famous butler. Winston is as old as the sun, and has the somewhat annoying habit of following Lara around with a silver tea tray in his hands, several times getting in her way and cutting off her running momentum. What is bizzare about Winston is that, although he is literally dragging his feet, he is able to catch up with Lara in the most impossible places.

Lara's bedroom now has a private bathroom, decorated in the same greco-roman style of the pool room - Lara is an archaeologist, and has a great fascination for her field of science, so she somehow had to include all this in her everyday life as well.

The library, always present in Lara's home, is now imrpoved, with better textures, giving a much more realistic feel. The music room is there as well, with the piano and the harp, but now Lara also has a hi-fi stereo and can use it to listen to music.

The manor now has an attic, which for the time being only hosts a few random crates that cannot be moved. The ground floor is greatly innovated: the gym is gone and the ballroom is back in its place, and there is also a very large kitchen close to it, with a walk-in freezer where you can lock Winston if you are feeling devilish. The pool looks almost exactly like the one in the Tomb Raider 1 manor, but again the textures are a lot better, the water looks like real water and now the greenery is sitting in pots. The decoration of the walls and the pool is the same, only very improved.

What makes the biggest innovation however is the addition of a vast exterior area, the Manor gardens. This area surrounds the whole house and includes a garden, a smaller garden, a hedge maze and an assault course. So this is why Lara had the interior gym removed; she doesn't need it for now, as she can do all her practice and training outdoors. In the assault course she can perform all her old and some cool new moves.

The hedge maze is on the other side of the gardens. Despite its simple design, it's a real pain to make your way through it, to find a secret area, a secluded spot with two Mayan statues - a reminiscent of Lara's peruvian adventure from Tomb Raider 1 - and a button between them. Pressing that button, opens a closed door below the stairs inside the house, on the first floor, just before the entrance to the ballroom. This door is timed, so you have to make your way out of the hedge maze as quickly as possible - a task that still makes me lose my mind to this day - and just hope that the door will still be open when you get to it.

The room beyond the door is some kind of a storeroom of treasures, as it isn't an organized treasure room; you can see some familiar artifacts, but what really catches the eye is piles of gold scattered around. Is all this gold part of Lara's dowry, or a generous souvenir from her adventures? We will never know. But I guess it must also hint to the Gold expansion of the game, which was released a bit later; the Golden Mask, which is an epic northern adventure, and includes a level called Fool's Gold, possibly referring to the drifter goldminers who were looking for gold in the vast snowy mountains of the North.

It's an Ambush! : Tomb Raider 2 - Home Sweet Home (1996)

We are back to the Manor as part of the game at the very end of Tomb Raider 2. After Lara kills Bartoli and retrieves the Dagger of Xian, she returns to England in the Home Sweet Home level. We see her in her royal blue bath robe, examining the Dagger before she goes to have a shower. Suddenly the alarms go off, and we realize that we are under attack. Fiamma Nera goons are breaking in the Croft Manor, wanting to steal the Dagger from Lara.

Now Lara has a key in her inventory; this opens the door that was locked in Lara's Home, next to her bed. The room behind that door is the Armory, but for some reason only the Shotgun is available, along with plenty of ammo and some medipacks and flares. Lara has to kill all the goons and their dogs and walk carefully in the darkness so as to not bump onto any of them and be taken by surpirse. Some carry bats and other carry guns. Those with the bats are easy to kill, as they don't move very fast and if they don't get too close they can't hurt Lara. Those with the guns are quite tough however, as they start shooting as soon as they spot Lara and they don't stop even to reload their weapons (they were granted infinite ammo, obviously). Eventually the Manor grounds are free of goons, and you have some time to explore them in the dark with the help of flares, before the chief, a huge goon with two big guns in his hands, spots you. Of course you can try to lure him in the freezer, lock him there and run around the house at your ease. But at some point you have to face him anyway, as there is no other way to end this level than with killing him.

Where is Winston, by the way? I guess he either didn't hear a thing because he's deaf, or he prefers to pretend he didn't take notice so as to not get involved. You can't trust anyone these days.

Swimming with the fishes: Tomb Raider 3 (1998)

Although technically the Croft Manor remains more or less the same in Tomb Raider 3 and even has Winston to go with, in its essence it is very different in many ways. The main difference is that it is made with much more detail, both in textures and objects. It now looks a lot like a real mansion that is actually inhabited by people, as in the rooms we stumble upon stylish furniture pieces that also add a decorative touch, like the animal print roman couch. Lara's bed has fancy blue curtains, the bathroom is much more luxurious and the interior gym is back - only now its vast space is limited, as part of it has been converted into a dining room, complete with a large table, chairs and a chandelier.

The attic is now more organized, and there is a switch puzzle waiting for you there. The basement is renovated and expanded and hosts a huge aquarium with exotic fishes swimming in it. Apparently Lara uses this place to relax, as there is a stylish and comfy couch and a small bookcase in the center of it. In the depths of the aquiarium, lies the key that opens another new area in the estate, the race track in the yard outside.

The swimming pool looks like a better version of the TR2 one, with brighter colors; and now has a button behind the diving board that opens a panel close to the entrance of the house. Bahind that panel is a lever, which opens a really nasty timed door on the opposide side. Needless to say that if you have Winston (who is back and slower than ever) following you around as you try to do this task, you will never be able to complete it so again it's better to act wisely beforehand and lock him in the freezer. Behind the timed door, is Lara's private museum which holds all those familiar artifacts from the previous games.

The exterior of the house is marvellous, with beautiful gardens and paths. The assault course is renovated to suit Lara's needs as now she can perform more moves and she has to do some practice. There is even a target practice section at the end, where Winston shows up dressed in camo, still carrying his tray and bugging the hell out of you. Just like in Tomb Raider 2 you can lure the poor guy in the freezer and lock him inside if you want.

The hedge maze is gone (thank God) and is now replaced by the race track, where Lara can check out her cool new ride, the quad bike. This is a vehicle that is essential in the game, so it's a good idea to try it out here.

Everything Changes: Tomb Raider Legend (2006)

Legend is a fast-paced, action-packed, humorous, vibrant and sprightly uptempo game, with Lara in great spirits and shape, her exploration skills and survival instincts reaching their peak. The Manor section goes along the same lines. The mansion has undergone a complete makeover and now looks like a real-life luxurious villa. It has a main hall and living room where we can see some artifacts on stands and a fireplace.

We get to see a new version of Winston, who looks considerably younger. All those hours that he spent locked in Lara's freezer did the trick obviously. He can be seen in various spots around the manor, but Lara cannot interact with him. Unfortunately you can't lock him in the freezer anymore, as the kitchen is nowhere to be found in the renovated manor. I guess it's one of the locked rooms that we don't have the chance to visit.

At the far end of the hall is a newly built tech-room full with monitors and stuff of the kind, which is Zip's realm. Zip, Lara's trusty tech assistant, is an expert on this field and, as the game's files inform us, also an excellent cook. Almost every time Lara steps into the tech room, they exchange a few funny lines.

The gym on the ground floor is now a big and perfectly equipped room, where Lara can practice her crazy acrobatics with her incomparable skill and style.

From the main hall, Lara has also access to the stylish and luxurious pool room which, like in the past games, has a dominant greco-roman feel; this time it's thanks to the several statues that decorate it.

The upper floor has two wings, but only the one has rooms we can visit: Lara's sunny bedroom and her precious library. In her bedroom, Lara holds some of her very personal things, like her twin pistols.

The Library is where her other assistant, Alister, can be seen. An archaeologist like Lara, Alister is more the indoors type. Although he shares Lara's enthusiasm about history, ancient cultures, myths and artifacts, he prefers to do study and research work rather than climb steep mountains and get involved in crazy fights with bloodthirsty mercenaries in hostile jungles, unlike a certain lady we know.

Scattered around the manor, there are bronze, silver and gold awards that you can look for and collect as a special mini challenge. The ones hiding in the gym may be quite tricky to reach, but this way you have one more opportunity to get to know Lara's moves.

The Past Revisited: Tomb Raider Anniversary (2007)

Tomb Raider Anniversary was a remake of the first Tomb Raider, and thus the Manor got an extreme makeover as well. The house is basically the same as in Tomb Raider Legend, only this time, since Tomb Raider Anniversary takes place long before Legend, it is still undergoing repairs and some of the rooms are incomplete or locked.

You can still practice in the gym, but the pool room is under construction and the tech room is just a storage area which hosts several crates. Things are significantly better on the upper floor, as both Lara's bedroom and the Library are in a good state. There is also a secret room where Lara keeps the relics that she collected throughout the game.

This time, you can explore the garden of the mansion, where the hedge maze is back; but it's much easier to navigate this time. In the maze, as well as in several other places and rooms, there are relics that you can collect as an extra challenge.

The Anniversary Manor is in fact one big puzzle where you have to do a series of actions that will unlock the secret music room on the upper floor. Such actions include finding your gear and specific items, turning on the water, solving a dais puzzle, putting pieces together so as to get a special item that you can use to open the locked door of that room.

Burning Down The House: Tomb Raider Underworld (2008)

The Manor in Tomb Raider Underworld is part of the main game, although you get to play some sort of prelude version of it where it serves as a brief tutorial at the start. In the plotline of the game, we see part of the house in a cutscene where Lara, Alister, Zip and Winston are discussing in the tech room, where there is a secret crypt leading to the basement. When the actual gameplay of that section starts, Lara is already down there and an eery darkness lies ahead.

The game is called Underworld for some reason; Lara goes to explore the several mythical underworlds, but this research would never be complete if she didn't dig into her own family's 'underworld' - which is literally the basement and metaphorically the deeply hidden secrets. Following several clues discovered in the previous chapters of the game, Lara enters the crypt and goes down to the basement where the spiders and bats are the least of her worries.

There seems to be a whole world underneath, starting with a private chapel which is part of a puzzle. Solving this, opens the way to the next section which leads Lara to her father's secret study, a haunted and eery place where she makes some interesting discoveries and encounters a couple of strange, hostile creatures.

When she goes back up again, through another exit, she sees that the whole house is on fire. While running in panic to get out, she catches a glimpse of a figure, looking almost exactly like her; soon after, that figure attacks Alister and kills him, then running away through the flames. Lara doesn't know that yet, but that creature is an evil clone of hers, created by Natla, her old, eternal enemy.

A devastated Lara carries Alister's unconscious body out in the garden where Zip and Winston are waiting. The three of them stand and watch as the Croft Manor is burning down in a raging fire.

Secrets of the Past: Rise of the Tomb Raider - Blood Ties (2015)

The epic and adventurous Rise of the Tomb Raider has the Croft Manor in a separate mini game called Blood Ties. In that expedition, we find Lara in her mansion, having just received a letter from her uncle, her mother's brother, in which he claims the ownership of the house.

Lara is sure that there is a way to stop him, and that there are clues hidden in her father's safe. To open the safe, however, she needs to find the combination first. So she starts exploring the manor, finding relics, items, documents and other things that will lead her to the solution, while at the same time they bring back to her mind memories of her life in the house, her relationship with her father, with Winston, her mother, her uncle and her father's girlfriend, Anna. Once she finds the clues and opens the safe, there is another riddle that she has to figure out, which will open up a passage to her father's hidden vault. A revealing secret comes to the surface which, eventually, leads to her uncle resigning from his claims about the house.

Although the general architecture of the mansion is more or less the same with the previous versions, it has some differences. The library is organized in a different way, it looks bigger, it has a fireplace  and two upper sections with more bookcases. There is also a vintage gramophone which plays the "Venice Violins" theme from Tomb Raider 2 when you turn it on.

Lara's bedroom is inaccessible, but we have a chance to unlock and see the bedroom of Richard and Amelia Croft, as well as Amelia's atelier nearby. Amelia was a painter and there are several paintings that she left behind in that room, including a portrait of her husband.

The basement is more extended; it includes a complex network of corridors filled with rubble and water, and a spooky cellar which holds the secret entrance to Lord Croft's hidden study.

The house looks quite a mess; especially the West Wing which has been locked up since Lara's mother died. That section is very creepy, as it is dimly lit, the walls are half-destroyed and a huge tree has fallen inside one of the rooms.

There is neither gym nor pool room (Lara made those much later, after she started renovating the place) and Winston is nowhere to be found. When the puzzles and the riddles are solved, Lara is able to find the well-hidden crypt, where yet another secret awaits.

Zombies in the Mansion: Rise of the Tomb Raider - Lara's Nightmare (2015)

In this mini survival adventure which takes place in the Croft Manor, we become witnesses of Lara's nightmares where the eviction letter from her uncle takes monstrous dimensions and becomes a literal death threat.

In Lara's dream, her uncle releases an army of zombies in the house, and she is is trapped in there with no way out; her only salvation is to find the Master Key, destroy the skulls of rage (which are big skulls floating in the air) and confront the giant skull (a huge version of the other ones) in the main hall.

The manor is exactly the same as in Blood Ties, only now it is a dark and hostile place with scary sounds and eery, threatening voices heard every now and then and creepy zombies attacking from all directions.

In the sparse lighting, the West Wing looks even more haunting and all the rooms are potential traps as the zombies can crawl from everywhere. Your task here is to survive while looking for the three skulls of rage that you must destroy, before summoning the boss.

Of course it is not just Lara versus the giant skull; several zombies are attacking while you are trying to take the boss skull down. This becomes quite nasty, as the skull activates a protective shield from time to time, and while the shield is around it, it's immune to your shots. Obviously there is not much exploration you can do in the dark manor during all that hullabaloo as you will be constantly running, shooting, looting the dead zombies for ammo and resources and generally trying to survive in whichever way you can.

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