For 20 years, Lara Croft has proven to be one of gaming’s more venerable superstars; going on to star in two movies and become a cultural icon for gamers. Yet the evolution of the franchise beneath her hasn’t always been a smooth one. From missteps to reboots, the franchise means a lot of things to a lot of different people. Because of this, it can he hard to decide what makes a great Tomb Raider game.
For this reason, we’ve decided to take a stab at trying to rank the main Tomb Raider games. So join us as we take a look at 20 years of Tomb Raider history. If you don’t agree, let me know which games you prefered.
10. Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness (PS2, PC 2003) – So let’s talk about Angel of Darkness – arguably the weakest entry in the franchise. The list of issues with this game are long and substantial, hitting everything from the graphics to the core game mechanics. Core Design tried to re-invent the franchise as a more RPG focused experience, asking the gamer to level up aspects of their Lara Croft character. Take away the tombs that had made the franchise so iconic and trade them in for the rooftops of Paris; with a story so blindly poor it feels like it was thumbed together in an afternoon. Nothing really works though as Lara floats around the levels with all the control of a drunk hippo. At the time the game was panned heavily by critics who felt the series had lost its way; something we have no issue agreeing with. The resulting failure of this game led to Core Design being stripped of the franchise – with a planned trilogy canned also.
9. Tomb Raider Chronicles (PSX, PC, DC 2000) – By this point the Tomb Raider franchise felt older than the tombs we were supposed to be raiding. The ageing engine that underpinned things didn’t help, creaking along as the franchise halfheartedly tried to make the leap to the Dreamcast while still coming out on the PlayStation 1. The biggest issue this game throws up is that it feels like a “best of” collection, with very little tying the overall plot together. The combat was just as laboured as ever, except here it felt entirely pointless. The game tries its hand at a few new ideas but never fully commits – instead throwing the gamer little in the way of intrigue. The sad thing with this game, its ending would go on to setup Angel of Darkness.
8. Tomb Raider: Underworld (PS2/3, 360, PC 2008) – There’s nothing inherently wrong with Underworld, Crystal Dynamics managed to retain a lot of the great aspects that made Legends and Anniversary such great experiences. The issues arise from the decision to mix things up with questionable new features. For example, taking the on-rail vehicle sections that were awful in Legends and fleshing them out here was a bad idea. Focusing more on quick time cut-scenes was a bad idea. Perhaps though it was the camera – which in this game feels like you’re being followed by a drunk chimpanzee. It’s woefully poor and in the games tighter spots feels like a huge crutch. Within this game though, there’s a very strong Tomb Raider experience – if you can overlook some questionable decisions.
7. Tomb Raider (PS1, SS, PC, 1995) – The original Tomb Raider set the bar for tomb romping games, creating a vivid and beautifully realised world that was begging to be explored. From the moment you take control of Lara Croft, it’s clear that you’re in for a treat. The levels are packed to the gills with secrets, stuffed with enemies and tight jumps. The game wasn’t afraid to throw in the absurd, giving you a fight against a T-Rex, one of gamings more iconic moments. The games weaknesses come down to its fledgling age, the camera proving to be all shades of nightmarish – turning some leaps into desperate grapples with the camera. On top of this, fighting multiple enemies proved to an awkward stand against an auto aim system that seemed intent on murdering the gamer. But for all this, it remains a true challenge and a testament to early 3D gaming.
6. Rise of the Tomb Raider (Xbox One, PS4, PC 2015) – More of a continuation than a revolution – Rise of the Tomb Raider refined on the popular new direction of the franchise and doubled down on the action and giving gamers a more rounded experience. The world itself has more of the traditional tombs for gamers to dive into while the mechanics are polished and refined to a decent shine. The biggest problem facing this game however is the fact that it doesn’t really add anything new to the conversation; feeling more like a reworking of the Tomb Raider game it followed. By no means is this a negative, but its lack of ambition and focus on presentation leaves some sections of the game play feeling slightly hallow; lacking the charm and personality of older games. Perhaps it’s also the familiar beats it hits on the way to telling its story as well. Whatever it is, Rise of the Tomb Raider feels more like a pit-stop to bigger things than a truly great game in its own right.
5. Tomb Raider 3 (PS1, PC 1997) – Arguably the best assembly of the “classic” Tomb Raider games, 3 was the one which took the established the globe-trotting ambitions of the series; taking the gamer everywhere from Antarctica to Area 51. The refinements to gameplay create a more free-flowing experience, with the puzzles working better here than in the previous games. Yet for all this, it was here that the game’s engine began to show its creases, with combat still proving to be a dog’s dinner. Overall it’s the scope of the ambition that sets Tomb Raider 3 apart from the class of older games, and probably the one which got the formula down to a tee.
4. Tomb Raider 2 (PSX, PC 1996) – Taking the successful framework of the first game, Tomb Raider 2 turns things up to 11 with a tour de force so strong that it makes going back to the original game a bit of a challenge. The improvements to combat, weapon selection and enemy variety are well noted; but it’s the more ambitious levels that really take the cake. From the Great Wall of China through to the streets of Venice, Tomb Raider 2 was highly ambitious and wasn’t afraid to give gamers new ideas. Perhaps most impressive of all – the game feels like a genuine sequel. Just don’t expect much fun from the games awkward vehicle sections!
3. Tomb Raider 2013 (360, PS3, PC 2013) – Depending on where you stand, the second Tomb Raider reboot is either the definitive take on the character or the point at which the series abandoned some of its more cherished attributes. Out go the vast tombs and the sense of wonder, in came a more personal story that followed Lara’s early adventures. The vast cast of characters give the story personal reach while the action is on point – arguably the best in the series. But for all this, it’s a shame that in the huge open vistas and rush to push the story front and center – the game lacks the sense of exploration that made the games before it such a joy to get lost in. Personal taste aside, there’s plenty for gamers to get their teeth into as they dive into this highly polished outing. But if you can’t get past Lara’s constant whining, you might find this one hard to stomach
2. Tomb Raider: Anniversary (PS2/3, 360, PC 2007) – A reworking of the original Tomb Raider within the Legend engine; the game was a faithful recreation of everything that had made the series so strong in the first place. The level of dedication is admirable, with the game removing a lot of the rough edges that makes experiencing the original Tomb Raider in modern times such a drag. Perhaps the best thing of all, it gives Anniversary a sense of freshness. It feels close enough to the old games that its loyal but does enough with the parts to warrant the visit. A hugely entertaining outing and arguably the best way to experience the original title.
1. Tomb Raider Legend (PS2/3, 360, PC 2006) – Legends was the first Tomb Raider reboot for the franchise after the disastrous Angel of Darkness – and what a return. The new focus on action wasn’t overdone, instead the game complimented gamers curiosity. Lara was athletic, charismatic and wasn’t afraid to show off. The combat was now finally enjoyable, while the levels felt like complex and deep. Thanks to the gorgeous engine, the world looked beautiful. If the game has flaws, they come in the form of the focus on quick time events, the bane of mid-2000’s gaming managing to slip into Legends DNA. It leads to some hilarious moments, but also undermines the sense of scale and freedom being offered to the gamer. This was also the first Tomb Raider game that gave Lara assistants, with voices in her ear helping the gamer if they got stuck. Overall I feel Legend was the perfect blend of old and new, the point at which the series was sure of what it wanted to be.
I give Legends the nod over the 2013 reboot – purely because I feel those games straddle too close to the Uncharted cinematic formula. Tomb Raider at its core is about the experience of Lara Croft and huge exploration and for me, the series has lost this slightly in the chase to try and redefine Lara as an all-singing, all dancing action star. Give me Legends any day of the week.