If you’ve already beaten Shadow of the Tomb Raider and are tiring of becoming “one with the jungle,” you may be aware that Lara Croft has a whole library of past adventures for you to sink your pistols into. Before Crystal Dynamics took over the franchise in 2003, the original developer Core Design took the reins on no less than six Tomb Raider titles, many of which have warm places of affection in the hearts of 90s gamers (myself included.) But if you’ve yet to experience these titles and want to see the very best of what the franchise has to offer, then read on… I’m going to present you with a quick guide to some of the best classic Tomb Raider levels in the series’ history. (In my opinion 😛 ) Let’s get started.

(Disclaimer: I’m illustrating this post with videos from Badassgamez’s channel. I don’t know him personally (but I have interviewed him) and his Tomb Raider walkthroughs are top-notch. They will give you a good sense of what the levels are like.)

Number 5: Aldwych – Tomb Raider III

I’m kicking things off with a slightly controversial choice. For a start, nobody seems to know whether the mysterious Aldwych is pronounced “old-ee-wick” or “old-witch”, but pronunciation notwithstanding, I love this level for its atmosphere. It all takes place in a disused underground station in London, England, and Lara must avoid its strange, torch-wielding inhabitants as well as speeding subway carts and blade-lined drilling machines. It’s a gritty urban affair, and whilst arguably not classic Tomb Raider in its composition, there is a magical moment where Lara navigates a mind-bending labyrinth to unearth a buried Masonic temple. That’s what I’m talking about 🙂

Number 4: Desert Railroad – Tomb Raider IV

Next we have Desert Railroad from Tomb Raider IV, and whilst it’s true that this mini level might not stretch your tomb raiding skills to the max, it’s just good honest fun. Lara is chasing her ex-mentor-turned-super-villain Werner Von Croy to Alexandria, Egypt, and in doing so is obliged to take a rickety old steam train across the African desert. Gameplay wise: obviously there aren’t a huuuuuge number of tombs(!) but there’s plenty of lever-pulling, crate-busting, and Ninja fighting to pile up the thrills. Badassgamez gets it done in about ten minutes, but that’s okay… It’s a good excuse to play it again 😉

Number 3: Barkhang Monastery – Tomb Raider II

When I interviewed Stella (of Tomb Raider walkthrough fame) she cited Barkhang Monastery as one of her all-time favourite levels, and for me it’s certainly up there. Nestled in the frozen Himalayas, this secluded building is both tranquil and treacherous. In fact it can be fiendishly difficult, depending on how you play. If you’re nice to the incumbent monks, they will fight alongside you as you take on the gun-wielding goons from the Fiamma Nera cult. However, if you make an enemy of the natives, they will gang up on you en masse, seriously testing your M16 and medpack resources. All of this whilst trying to locate the five prayer wheels that will lead the way to the promised Seraph. Oof. Fortunately, the whole thing looks gorgeous.

Number 2: St Francis’ Folly – Tomb Raider (1996)

I must confess, I seldom punch the air when I reach St Francis’ Folly in the original Tomb Raider. That’s not to say that it’s bad – because it’s great – but I find it an epic undertaking. The entire level takes place in Greece in a cavernous folly carved into a mountainside, and Lara – on the tail of the elusive Pierre Du Pont – must navigate its passages in order to reach the lost tomb of Tihocan. This necessitates the acquisition of four keys which are hidden in four themed rooms, all of which are placed on the perimeter of a deep chasm which is guarded by bats.

Basically I suck at this level, and on the PlayStation version your save points are limited, which makes the whole thing even more hair-raising. But there’s no denying that St Francis’ Folly is bursting at the seams with imagination and ideas. For example, in order to survive the Damocles room, you need to avoid an army of falling swords. In Thor, you need to evade the killer lightning bolts which emanate from the ceiling. As such, you will probably die a lot on your first play-through (unless you’re a tomb raiding genius!) but nevertheless this is a classic example of a Tomb Raider level that’s firing on all cylinders.

Number 1: Lost Valley – Tomb Raider (1996)

How could I not put 1996’s Lost Valley in the top spot? In much the same way that the Daleks ensured Doctor Who‘s place in science fiction history, this lush Peruvian level is a defining moment in the lore of gaming, for one very special moment that has left an indelible mark in many people’s minds. Think Jurassic Park meets Indiana Jones and you’re pretty much there; Lost Valley is epic, exciting, mysterious and memorable. You need to play it. Now. I’ll say no more…

So there we are – those are my top five classic Tomb Raider levels. Of course there are many other great moments (Palace Midas, Venice, The Monstrum Crime Scene, to name a few.) Maybe I should do a top 10 at some point.

Anyway, what do you think of these choices? Do you have fond memories of those lazy afternoons getting bludgeoned to death in Barkhang Monastery? Is Aldwych a stain on the good name of Tomb Raider? And can you pronounce it?? Also, what would be your candidates for the top five? Let me know in the comments below.

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