When I talk to people who have never played a Tomb Raider title, their assumption is usually that Lara Croft games are mindless endeavours with an unhealthy pre-occupation with the female form. Trying to convince people that these are intelligent, story-driven action-adventures, crafted with artistic genius, often makes me sound like I’m trying to justify my teenaged obsession with an exploitative franchise.

The other thing that I stress to people is that Tomb Raider games are far from easy. There is no ‘pick up and play’ about them, and zero button-mashing; a full playthrough of Tomb Raider 3 is not going to happen on a quiet Sunday afternoon. Nay.

The thought of some levels has even deterred me from playing, scarred as I am from the stress of previous attempts. Thus, I thought it would be fun to list my top five Tomb Raider levels in order of toughness, starting with the – ahem – ‘easiest’ of the five, and finishing with the hardest of the hard. Deep breaths everyone. Let’s dive right in.

(Disclaimer: I’m illustrating this post with videos from Badassgamez’s channel. I don’t know him personally – more’s the pity – but his Tomb Raider walkthroughs are top-notch, and will give you a good sense of what the levels are like. Unless you are tough enough to attempt them for yourself…)

Number 5: Great Wall – Tomb Raider 2

Most Tomb Raider games – and indeed, most video games – tend to treat players to somewhat gentler opening levels. You know – the chance to familiarise yourself with the controls, get a feel for the play-style, ease into the title gently. Not so Tomb Raider 2! I think the phrase “baptism of fire” is one that aptly sums up this palm-sweating number from 1997. There isn’t much in the way of actual fire, but there are: killer tigers, killer birds, killer spiders, dart traps, blade traps, collapsing floors, timed runs, boulders, spike walls, spike pits, two tyrannosauruses, spinning wheels of death, and a gun-wielding cult member (with a Tommy Gun on his key ring.) All within about 10 minutes, if you play it straight through.

Nice knowing you.

Number 4: Lud’s Gate – Tomb Raider 3

Oh my – Lud’s Gate. This level from 1998 is actually a thing of beauty in the early stages, with Lara undertaking a night-time break-in of London’s Natural History Museum, on a daring mission to snag some embalming fluid. However, it’s only when she’s making her escape that things go Pete Tong. The section that I struggle to master (to this day) is the underwater part. Basically, you’re trying to navigate an aquatic propulsion unit through a dimly-lit cavern to pull a series of underwater switches which will – ultimately – reveal the way out. This must be done without, well, dying, or running out of air, or getting eaten by alligators, or shot by scuba divers, with limited saves (on the PlayStation.) Watch the video from around the 35 minute mark…

Number 3: Chasm Stronghold – Tomb Raider 2013

There’s nothing particularly complicated about Tomb Raider 2013‘s Chasm Stronghold, but you have to fight a lot of enemies simultaneously. It’s towards the end of the game and Lara has to take on the mighty Stormguard of Yamatai – the vicious undead warriors who serve the Sun Queen Himiko. It’s a section that requires tact and finesse; it you adopt the Al Survive technique of ‘charge-straight-in and hope for the best,’ you will die. Heck, even if you hold back, you’ll be dicing with death. It’s a long and bloody battle, and not for the faint-hearted.

Number 2: Lost City of Tinnos – Tomb Raider 3

Here’s another beauty from 1998’s Tomb Raider 3. It’s the second-to-last level of the game, and it’s loooooooong, but beautiful; Lara is making her way to a meteorite cavern via a series of snow-covered ruins beneath Antarctica. Like all of the levels in Tomb Raider 3, this one is made more difficult by the limited number of saves for PlayStation users, but Lost City of Tinnos is also home to a family of luminous killer wasps that appear to spawn ad infinitum, putting a strain on ammunition and health packs. Also, to claim one of its secrets, Lara must undertake a lengthy timed run that pretty much spans the width of the entire level.

You do get a save crystal for your troubles, though…

Number 1: Red Alert! Tomb Raider Chronicles

Tomb Raider Chronicles is regarded – by some – as one of the series’ cheap, uninspired cash-ins. True, it’s a bit smaller and arguably a little easier, although I must confess it is one of my absolute favourites simply because of the richness of its ideas, and its variety.

The funny thing is, after a generally pleasurable gameplay experience, Chronicles ‘rewards’ the player with a finale to end all finales, and arguably the toughest Tomb Raider level of all time. Red Alert! takes place in a high tech tower in New York, and sees Lara trying to make her escape with the freshly-procured Iris artefact. However, she is without her pistols o’unlimited ammunition, and the only medpacks are the ones that she has been able to collect over the previous two levels. So, to survive her ordeal, she must carefully manage her resources whilst tackling laser-wielding thugs wearing impenetrable armour, cyborgs, poison gas, and an armed helicopter, together with a particularly challenging timed run at mission’s end.

Red Alert! is also made harder by a large number of potentially game-breaking bugs that can make the level literally impossible to finish. As such, it’s prudent to take on such challenges armed with one of Stella’s written walkthroughs or similar for guidance on how to avoid being permanently stranded in New York.

However, despite the obvious difficulty curve of Red Alert! I have to say that it’s a level I have great affection for. It’s fun to play, and the sense of satisfaction when you reach the intriguing final FMV makes it all worthwhile.

So there we are – these are my top five hardest Tomb Raider levels. Do you agree with this list? Have I omitted any obvious toughies? Do you find Lud’s Gate laughably straightforward? Let me know in the comments below!

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