So for those of you who are less familiar with the segmentation of the Tomb Raider franchise, seasoned raiders usually divide the series into two camps: the Core Design titles (which comprises Tomb Raiders one through six) and the Crystal 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 share my thoughts on the highlights of more recent times.
I say “recent times” – the first Crystal Dynamics Tomb Raider game was in 2006! The year I left home. Awwww.
Anyway, I’ve excavated the darkest annals of my raiding past and come up with my five favourite Lara Croft moments of the past 12 years. Basically, this covers Tomb Raider Legend, Tomb Raider Anniversary, Tomb Raider Underworld, Tomb Raider 2013, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Shadow of the Tomb Raider. I won’t be including the spin-off titles Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light or Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris as they’re not technically Tomb Raider games – as awesome / sick / woke(?) as they are. Bois.
Phew! With all that out of the way, let’s begin…
Number 5: Solarii Fortress – Tomb Raider 2013
The Solarii Fortress area of Tomb Raider 2013 is a baptism of fire. With actual fire! Having just escaped the gas-filled Geothermal Caverns, Lara makes an explosive exit from the frankly creepy caves to the accompaniment of earthquakes and gunfire. After a tense confrontation with the Big Bad in a crumbling but ornate temple, Lara must then leap from collapsing building to collapsing building, with the darkness of the Asian night illumined by towers of voracious flame. Oof. There isn’t really any puzzle-solving, so this is a more action-packed set-piece, and one that’s as thrilling to experience as it is to watch. Seriously, it’s like a movie sequence, accentuated by the game’s ever-effective ‘hand-held camera’ effect. It looks incredible, and if you haven’t played it yet, I can guarantee that you’re going to have a great ride. Buckle in.
Number 4: Flooded Archives – Rise of the Tomb Raider
But don’t relax just yet. Fans of high-octane action will find plenty to love in the underground Flooded Archives of 2015’s Rise of the Tomb Raider. After seeing off an army of Trinity forces in a smoke-filled temple ruin, Lara is presented with a real head scratcher in the form of a multi-faceted water puzzle. It doesn’t require a comprehensive understanding of Einstein’s special theory of General Relativity, but it will prompt you to pause and reflect. Basically, this area of the game ticks all of the classic Tomb Raider boxes – an eerie sense of isolation in a dimly-lit chamber, some tense and heart-stopping gun battles, and a satisfying physics-based conundrum that’s just the right amount of ‘tricky.’ Plus – the whole level ends in a fairly sensational fashion, so keep a firm grip on that gamepad and don’t look back.
Number 3: Abandoned Mines – Rise of the Tomb Raider
Don’t let the banal title put you off. The Abandoned Mines area of Rise covers a large chunk of game map, and whilst all of it offers some solid raiding, my favourite part is the moment where Lara has to solve a mine-cart puzzle to bust open the great doors to the Prophet’s temple. Again, you won’t lose much sleep trying to crack this code, but what I love about the Abandoned Mines is the sense of scale; the cavern is vast and intimidating, and it genuinely feels as if Lara has raided her way to the centre of the Earth.
Just watch out for spike pits 😉
Number 2: Nepal – Tomb Raider Legend
Generally, any Tomb Raider level that features snow is a winner in my book. And there’s plenty of it in the Nepal section of Tomb Raider Legend, which is the precursor to the story’s conclusion. It’s here that Lara finally locates the game’s MacGuffin – a seriously cool supercharged sword that she uses to blast her way out of a buried temple – but that’s not until she’s crossed frozen rivers, scaled sheer walls of ice, and raided a crashed aircraft atop a blizzardy mountain. Now, like many levels in Tomb Raider Legend, this one isn’t going to take you a million years to complete (in fact it can be done in 13 minutes on a good day) but I would argue that Crystal Dynamics prioritised quality over quantity in this instance. So ready those twin pistols and wrap up warm.
Number 1: England – Tomb Raider Legend
Man, I love the England level of Tomb Raider Legend. Lara’s on the hunt for the legendary sword of King Arthur, and in order to locate it she must first make her way through a cheesy Arthurian theme park and utilise a forklift truck to vandalise an imitation tomb. After which, she delves into the dark, cavernous world that rests beneath deepest Cornwall, surviving fire traps and tentacled sea creatures before locating the final resting place of Arthur himself, once and future king. Gameplay-wise, England is a pretty standard raiding affair, but it’s the mystery, folklore and the Britishness of this section that gets the adventure juices flowing. Okay, that’s perhaps unsurprising given that I am a native of the country in question, but nationality notwithstanding I still think England would appeal to my creative sensibilities, because it’s COOL. I only wish there were more Tomb Raider levels like this. You should go and play it.
So there we are – those are my top five Crystal Dynamics Tomb Raider levels. What do you think of this list? Are you in strong agreement, or are you outraged and appalled? I do feel a liiiiiitle bit bad there’s no love for Anniversary, Underworld or Shadow at the time of writing, but I still think they’re great games. Maybe I should do a top 10 piece at some point? I can certainly think of a few moments from those titles that would make the cut…
Anyway, thank you for reading, and be sure to let me know your thoughts in the comments below.