At Camden Market in London last week, TechRadar was invited to experience the first live Tomb Raider escape room event, where you and a group of up to six friends can help collect relics for Lara Croft to defeat the evil antagonist, called Damien.
Tomb Raider celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2021, marking the time since the first game was released in 1996, developed by a small team at CORE Design. The franchise has seen its fair share of highs and lows, but you could argue that the community of Lara Croft fans has been keeping the series alive, more than the efforts of the series' current proprietors, Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics (that may now change with the recent purchase of the franchise and others by Embracer).
The Live Experience (opens in new tab) is available to all from May 10, with a ticket costing between £66 - £99, depending on the number in your group, and the time you book for. The aim of the event is to help Lara in collecting relics while working as a team, traversing across many countries.
With a sequel to the 2018 movie in development and a new game that was confirmed to be powered by Unreal Engine 5, we wondered if the Live Experience gave old and new fans an overdue scratch to an itch of new content that they have been clamoring for.
But first, a statue
Walking around Camden Market, it's surprisingly easy to find the event (opens in new tab) in the sea of food markets and souvenir shops, mainly due to a statue of Lara Croft that's allegedly meant to look like how she's going to appear in the upcoming Netflix series, and the upcoming game.
Crystal Dynamics, the current developers of the franchise's games, made sure to let fans know at the start of 2021 of its 25th-anniversary celebrations, that a 'unified' timeline was coming to its future game (opens in new tab), where it would bring in most aspects of the previous 11 games. But in hindsight, it may have arguably been better to announce this at the end of the celebrations in December, so it could honor the past first, and then look to the future.
However, the statue has already brought a lot of discussion as to how Lara looks, with the return of a braid, the iconic shorts, and a vest that harkens back to the original Tomb Raider games, first voiced by Shelley Blond (opens in new tab).
Some more of the statue. pic.twitter.com/MlQa2sPxr4April 28, 2022
But keep in mind, before you go to the entrance for the event, the statue is going to be photographed a lot, both by fans and cosplayers, so we wouldn't be surprised to see two queues – one for the event, and the other for this statue.
What happens at the Live Experience?
You're brought to a Reception area where you can put your extra clothes and bags into a cloakroom. While encouraged to wear t-shirts and trainers for the experience, we decided to go with boots, to at least mimic one part of Lara's costume.
We were put into a group of five who were cosplayers and Twitch streamers (opens in new tab), all with prior experience of playing the games and how it meant to them in some way.
An employee rounded us up and brought us to a room that resembled the dining room of Croft Manor. He said for us to wait, but also to look at the books and artifacts while we waited.
It was here that we first heard the original theme to Tomb Raider, originally composed by Nathan McCree (opens in new tab), quietly playing as we all looked around this room and its artifacts.
Eventually, someone in our group found a 'sphere', an important plot point to the experience, and it was here that we were 'transported' to Finland. Our first task with one of the side-characters called Parker began, but Alicia Vikander, the actor playing Lara Croft in the current films, also appeared in a video to help give us a brief outline of our task.
Without spoiling the rest of the adventure, it follows a tight plotline of crawling, running, and jumping to different areas across the world, where you're introduced to an actor who's a representative of Lara's team.
Every actor was convincing – there was just the right amount of cheese in the performances, which didn't make the conversations and hints feel awkward or cringing. You would be asked to look at different items and props to carry on the adventure, and you may find different relics that would be reflective of Earth, Wind, Fire, or Water. The more you would collect, the more it could influence the ending.
While you would find yourself on a ship, a cabin, a temple, or a jungle, every area was high-quality, and none of it felt cheap. Except for one.
There comes a point where you need to escape from the antagonist's henchmen, and you're hurriedly brought to the back of a truck. You're given a bow and arrow, and in a rush, you need to hit the enemies.
We thought that once the arrows hit the screen, the enemies would react by falling off their jeep. But here, they didn't react. It was a white screen, essentially throwing objects at a projector. Hurriedly trying to figure out how to use a bow and arrow didn't help either, so you ended up being frustrated. The screen quality was also questionable, which made this the only letdown of the experience.
Improvements would be welcome here, such as Crossbows or even Rocket Launchers, and having a better-quality display that could also recognize the shots taken, and enemies falling out of their vehicles.
A new hope for the future of the franchise?
Facing Damien the final boss while Lara was there to help us was a great moment, and it definitely had a high production quality. You always felt involved in the experience, and there was the right amount of co-operation without it feeling like work.
Without spoilers, there's a great post-ending once everything's wrapped up. It did give us the 'end of level statistics' vibe in the earliest Tomb Raider games, where it would give you an overview of the distance traveled, medipacks used, and secrets found.
Once we were sent back to reality, a selection of music tracks from Tomb Raider 2, released in 1997, was playing as we were walking back, and we were expecting to be brought to a gift store of some kind or more photo opportunities.
But after a bunch of corridors, we were disappointingly brought to the Reception area again. Having no official way of buying some gifts for friends and family at this event feels like a baffling choice, as it's an easy win to show new fans what the franchise offers.
Overall, the experience was great. Every actor brought a sense of believability to it, and throughout, you got the sense that this effort was the start of what fans were going to see in the future Netflix series and upcoming game.
But the bow and arrow truck section was of surprisingly low quality, and with an absence of any way to keep mementos of the event when you're done, the £77 price for a ticket may feel high to some.
But it's the nostalgia that makes this an event worth coming to. In 2022, it's next to impossible to play the original games on modern devices, with no re-releases on the Nintendo Switch as a collection for example. Their current states on Steam and other storefronts leave little to be desired with it being very difficult to play the games on your Windows 11 devices. But the community comes to the rescue here, in useful ways to play the games on your Steam Deck and other devices.
The Live Experience is an immersive time, where you don't need to be a fan of the series to enjoy it. There's something for everyone, and it's great that the higher-ups are realizing that it has a valuable brand that can extend beyond film and games. But with the recent acquisition by Embracer Group, there's always a chance we could see more opportunities open up for Tomb Raider, and perhaps other franchises.
Lara Croft and the world around her have influenced countless people in her 25 years of appearing on the original PlayStation, SEGA Saturn, and PC. It's helped people in their careers, their hobbies (opens in new tab), and how they identify.
We're also hoping that the new PS Plus service that launches in June, will enable most of the Tomb Raider games to be played on modern devices, including the PS5.
But in the meantime, the Live Experience gives old and new fans a fun experience of being immersed in the Tomb Raider world, and it also gives hope to the community for how the franchise may be better managed for the next few years to help inspire a new generation of fans.