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.
Also see my other post: Which Tomb Raider game is the best?
Very interesting list! It’s so hard for me to pick what I think are the top 5 classic Tomb Raider levels because there are so many great ones in the six main titles (and even more when you include the expansion packs). But I guess my list would look something like this:
1. Temple of Xian – For me, this is the quintessential Tomb Raider level. It’s absolutely massive and contains everything the series was built on, in droves (head-scratching puzzles, complex platforming, diabolical traps, epic enemies, creepy atmosphere, and gorgeous scenery). It can be a chore to get through, but it’s so rewarding when you complete that final climb to the level exit.
2. Barkhang Monastery – In all honesty, I wish I could include the entire Tibet section of Tomb Raider II in my list, because I love all of those levels. But Barkhang stands out because it’s so large, it’s very rich in puzzles, and of course, the monks that help you fight the Fiamma Nera. The hunt for the prayer wheels is, in my opinion, one of the most gratifying quests in the entire series.
3. St. Francis Folly – For all the reasons you listed above. This level is ingenious in its design, and it’s SO dangerous. Place one foot wrong and it usually ends with Lara screaming her brains out as she plummets hundreds (maybe even thousands) of feet to the very bottom of the central room. The puzzles in the god rooms are so fun and so challenging and got a surprisingly fantastic update in Tomb Raider: Anniversary (a game that I find quite disappointing as a whole).
4. Temple Ruins – For me, this level is nothing but good, old-fashioned tomb raiding. Great puzzles, diabolical traps, and the Shiva statue battles are one of my series highlights. The thing that blows my mind the most about this level is that it’s only the second level of Tomb Raider III, and yet it plays like a late-stage level in any other game in the series. It’s unbelievably tough for so early in the game. The puzzle/trap combos you have to guide Lara through in order to retrieve the level’s last two Ganesha Keys had me stumped for hours!
5. Furnace of the Gods – I feel like the expansion packs for the classic Tomb Raider games often get overlooked. In fact, many fans don’t even know they exist, which is a shame, because that means they never got to play this level. I love the dark, creepy atmosphere of this level, as well as the textures and the overall feel of the abandoned Native American city. There’s some really great platforming in it, especially as you make your way back and forth across the river of molten gold (another ingenious concept). The level’s main puzzle, which involves you having to flood an entire chamber in order to retrieve a key item, is one of my favorites in the entire series.
That’s a great list 😀 Thanks Brandon. Temple of Xian and Temple Ruins are definitely among the greats… I think I shy away from them because they’re quite intimidating and scary. As for Furnace of the Gods – I’ve never actually played it! I really need to dive into the TR expansions at some point. I’ve only ever watched playthroughs
You’re welcome! Haha, those levels are so scary. As a little kid, I screamed and paused the game the moment the first Shiva statue came to life in Temple Ruins and didn’t go back to it for hours because I was so scared. I did the same with the cave of giant spiders in Temple of Xian! Yes, definitely try the expansions. They’re worth it!
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Oh man! Yeah those Shiva statues were / are terrifying!
[…] Dynamics titles (everything after 2003.) I love lists, and I’ve previously described my top five favourite levels of the ‘classic’ (Core Design) period of the series, so I thought it would be fun to […]
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