Yes, I’m going there! After nearly 23 years of gun-toting archaeology, Lara Croft has raided her way through no fewer than 11 canonical video game titles – and considerably more if you factor such outings as Tomb Raider Anniversary and The Curse of the Sword. For the purposes of this piece, though, I’ll be looking at all of the main ‘pillar’ releases in the Tomb Raider series and asking the provocative question: Which is the best Tomb Raider game of all time? Oof. “It’s like going up a set of stairs, only far less boring…”
Number 5: Tomb Raider (2013)
Okay – it is with some reluctance that I put Tomb Raider (2013) on this list. In my opinion, there is very little in this game that makes it recognisable as a conventional Tomb Raider title, and indeed this was partly the intention of the developer Crystal Dynamics, who designed the adventure as a reboot of the franchise with a view to attracting fresh blood. Sure, it has the character of Lara Croft (although arguably in name and gender only) and the player is knee-deep in action, adventure and immersive story-telling. That being said, there is a distinct shortage of actual tombs to raid (they’re somewhat tucked to the side of the main story strand) and puzzle-solving is fleeting and relatively straightforward. Plus – no twin pistols! How can Lara Croft be Lara Croft without her signature shooters?!
However, none of this alters the fact that Tomb Raider (2013) is a stellar piece of video game design, and in my eyes is one of the most gripping titles I have ever played. And whilst I don’t think it’s quite worthy of the title Tomb Raider for the reasons I’ve described, I fervently believe that every video game enthusiast should pick up the controller and take this title for a spin. You’re going to have a great ride.
Number 4: Tomb Raider – The Last Revelation
Released in 1999, Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation was the first game in the series to break free of Sony’s console exclusivity agreement, and as such I was blessed with being able to experience it in all its shiny glory on the Sega Dreamcast. And what a title it is! Sprawled across some 30+ levels (the majority of which take place in Egypt) The Last Revelation takes Lara on a daring mission across Africa to re-imprison the evil god Set, whom she unwittingly unleashes after prising the Amulet of Horus from his ancient sarcophagus. (We’ve all been there, right?) And despite the majority of the game taking place in North Africa, it’s by far one of the most diverse Tomb Raider games in the series, both in terms of its visuals and its gameplay. Plus, the player is left on tenterhooks after an epic closing cutscene that rocks the very foundations of the Tomb Raider franchise itself. Is our heroine alive or dead?!
And if nothing else, you should play this game for the amazing Desert Railroad level. I’ll say no more.
Number 3: Tomb Raider Chronicles
I’ve already written a rather gushing post as to why I think Tomb Raider Chronicles is one of the best Tomb Raider games in the series, and indeed at times it’s one of the hardest; I defy anyone to suggest a tougher level than the high-octane and bug-ridden Red Alert!
Like The Last Revelation, Chronicles is blessed with some lovingly-realised environments and oceans of variety, partly because Lara Croft herself is missing (presumed dead) and the game’s premise sees her friends come together and ‘reflect’ on some of her past untold exploits. So over the course of the game, the player gets to visit the ruins of Rome, the crushing expanse of the ocean bed, a demon-possessed island, and a high-tech tower in New York. It’s arguably a little easier than some of its predecessors, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; I find Chronicles to be a very accessible game, and one that’s much easier to just ‘dip in and out of,’ and for that I think it’s worthy of third place in this list.
Number 2: Tomb Raider Legend
Originally released on the PC, PS2 and Xbox in 2006, Tomb Raider Legend had much to prove. It was the first game to be handled by the American developer Crystal Dynamics, and it came hot on the heels of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness, which was considered by some to be a disastrous output which almost drowned the Tomb Raider franchise in a pool of missing sunglasses and slow-mo. (I disagree though – see here.)
And much like Tomb Raider (2013), the objective of Legend was to reboot the series and bring the character of Lara Croft firmly into the world of next generation gaming. Now admittedly, Tomb Raider Legend is a very short game, containing just seven levels and a boss fight, but I think it’s an excellent example of quality over quantity. I have yet to grow tired of playing this title, and for me it sums up everything that is great about Tomb Raider in a manner that is neither too easy nor too tough. It’s brimming with love and creativity, as well as the perfect balance of puzzles, exploration and combat, and it’s clear that a lot of care and attention was poured into the realisation of this brief Lara Croft adventure. Without a shadow of a doubt, Crystal Dynamics proved that our intrepid archaeologist had plenty of fight left in her.
Number 1: Tomb Raider 2
I think, for many people, their favourite Tomb Raider game is the very first one they played, so often the original 1996 title finds its way to the top of many a ‘best’ list. And that’s fine – the original Tomb Raider was a groundbreaking title. For me though (you guessed it) Tomb Raider 2 was my introduction to the Croftiverse, and therefore has a special place in my personal hall of video game fame. Moreover, in my eyes it contains all the wonderfulness of its predecessor and brings a whole lot more to the table – vehicles, ladder traversal, the ability to blow things up! On top of that, you have a fairly epic story about mysterious Chinese dragons and cult leaders and hidden monasteries and long-lost shipwrecks… My cup runneth over!
And such is the affection for this 22 year-old title that it’s still a staple feature of a number of Twitch streamers and YouTubers. If you want to experience the awesomeness of this adventure without actually investing the time, I can recommend ActionTurnip (who bested this outing in a staggering 1 hour 42 minutes, without glitches) and Badassgamez, who recently completed a full run-through without saving, loading or using a medpack – which is no mean feat. Check out my interview with him here.
So there we are! This is a very personal list, so I’m sure there will be many out there who will disagree. Please feel free! Leave a comment below and tell me what you think is the best Tomb Raider game in the series, and why. Is the omission of Tomb Raider Underworld a smirch on the good name of Lady Lara? Does Shadow of the Tomb Raider deserve more recognition than it’s getting? The debate starts here.