Ever since she backflipped her way into our lives in 1996, Lara Croft has been a lot of things to a lot of people. At first, she was a bunch of polygons and pixels that became an icon; then she was a sex symbol who would ultimately fail before she was rebooted and reborn and rose like Lazarus from the dead. To say it’s been a bumpy ride for her is an understatement but here we are, some 33 years later and she’s still going. Maybe not as strongly as she did initially but there’s still a lot of life left in the owner of Croft Manor.
With that in mind, today, I take a look at the 12 games in her catalog and rank them accordingly. Some are worthy of your time, some are borderline masterpieces, and some are best left buried in the dust and sand of the many tombs she’s explored.
The Best Tomb Raider Games
Tomb Raider: Angel Of Darkness
Let’s not beat around the bush here, Tomb Raider: Angel Of Darkness is an abomination of a game. A total car crash with zero redeeming features, every copy needs to be recalled and thrown into a giant furnace so we can forget it ever existed. Too harsh? Well, let’s look at the facts. It was the first Tomb Raider that made it onto next-gen consoles, and it looked terrible, with all that power it had behind it it was inexcusable for it to be this way, but that wasn’t the worst crime here. It handled like a drunk elephant with an attitude problem, it was so bad in fact that I know of a dyed in the wool Lara Croft fan who played the first level, took it out of the console and broke the disc in half. Yeah, it’s a total pile of crap.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary
Tomb Raider: Anniversary is nowhere as bad as Angel of Darkness, it would’ve taken a monumental effort to follow that, and overall it isn’t a bad game which may leave you wondering why it’s so far down this list. Quite simply the only reason that Tomb Raider: Anniversary comes in so low is that it’s a remake. There isn’t anything fundamentally wrong with it, it looks pretty decent and plays pretty well, but it lacks that “Holy Crap!!!” factor that the first Tomb Raider game had. If you’ve never played the original, then it’s a good jumping-off point, but if you want to experience the real Lara Croft, then the first-ever Tomb Raider is the place to start.
Tomb Raider Chronicles
There were a lot of things wrong with Tomb Raider Chronicles. For a start, telling the whole story in flashback due to Lara being presumed dead was just a bizarre way for the franchise to go, I mean, if you’re going to kill her off, as it seemed that they had initially planned to do, then kill her off. Don’t bring her back for a quick cash grab, that’s just annoying. It was also very uninspired in both graphics, gameplay, and storytelling and considering it was her last outing on the original Playstation, a machine she helped put on the map; she deserved a much better send-off than this.
Tomb Raider (1996)
The game that launched Lara Croft onto the world and sent many a teenage boy scurrying to the solitude of their bedrooms to spend so many hours playing it they almost went blind, the first Tomb Raider game was a cultural phenomenon that hasn’t aged well. Don’t get me wrong; I remember the wow factor that came along with this game and still holds it dear to my heart, even to this day. However, if you dust off the old PS One and take it out for a spin, you’re going to find yourself so frustrated by the unforgiving tank controls, and fixed camera angles that you’ll wonder how the hell you managed to complete it the first time around.
Tomb Raider III
Tomb Raider III had a hard act to follow when it was released in 1998, and even though it shifted by the truckload, it was far from perfect. The main criticism that was leveled at it, and still stands true to this day, was how the gameplay would kill you at the drop of a hat. Whereas the first two games would see you find Lara dead if you did something stupid, Tomb Raider III just seemed intent on murdering you for the pure fun of it. It’s this sudden spike in difficulty that keeps Tomb Raider III from being a great game and relegates it to an okay one, as long as you’ve got the patience of a saint.
Tomb Raider II
After the success of the first Tomb Raider, it was always going to be interesting to see if Eidos would be able to improve on it or if they would rest on their laurels. Fortunately for us, it was the former as they took the puzzle elements that had made the original such a unique game to play and added in some truly fun gun-play. Sadly though, time waits for no man/woman, and like most of the early games, its tank controls are still a thing that will have you throwing your controller at the nearest wall in frustration.
Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation
Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation is the game that should’ve been the signing off point for Lara Crost on the first-gen of consoles. It’s a far superior outing to those that came before it and the one that was to follow as it had more involved puzzles, instead of the normal, go there, pull that lever, rinse and repeat. It also introduces the ability to climb poles and swing from ropes, which is quite surprising considering that by this time the series was already three games deep.
Tomb Raider: Underworld
Tomb Raider: Underworld is the eighth outing for Lara, and it’s also my partner’s favorite of the entire series. This means there’s a perfect chance I’m going to get a kick in the kadiddlehopper when she realizes that I’ve put it below Legend but what the hell, it’s my list and I just like Legend better. That’s not too say I didn’t enjoy Underworld as I did. Everything from the way Lara moved to the stunning environments hit all the right notes, and it had a brilliant story to go with it. It’s even a game that I will return to now and again when I can be bothered to dust of the old Xbox 360, which is the only way to play this game as the graphics on it are far superior.
Tomb Raider: Legend
After the disaster that was Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness had almost killed the franchise, it would take a re-booted Lara Croft to breathe life back into it, though it wouldn’t be the only time this would happen. Tomb Raider: Legend saved the series from dying off, at least for a short while, with its ability to tell a tale that larger games would’ve struggled to fit in. It was also nice to be able to control The Croft without her running headlong into a wall, and every time you flipped and shot your way out of danger, you felt like a true bad-ass.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
The second part of the second re-boot trilogy, Rise of the Tomb Raider is a great game that only falls short of being a perfect one because everyone knew there was more to come. This is blatantly obvious to anyone who’s played it as though it’s a non-stop roller coaster from start to finish, (cliches, I’ve got them), it just feels as if Square is holding back so they can send this new Lara off into the sunset with one final explosive installment. Graphically stunning with excellent gameplay, the only real complaint is how Lara has gone from reluctant killer to gun-totting nut-job without so much as a by your leave. But then again, would you want to play a game that was just 20 hours of her pondering the futility of life?
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
The final piece of the re-booted origins trilogy, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a game that doesn’t get anywhere near the love and respect it deserves. With more tombs than you can shake a Pharaoh at and gameplay and graphics that are at the pinnacle of what Square could do with the series, this game takes us from hunted survivor to ultimate warrior in one fail swoop. By now Lara knows who she is and what she wants and Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the perfect culmination of the three games. Some people think that Square dropped the ball with the new Lara, I think those people are idiots.
Tomb Raider (2013)
From the first moment I laid eyes on the E3 trailer for Tomb Raider 2013, I fell in love. There was just something about it that blew me away as nothing had, Tomb Raider wise at least since I first picked up the original way back in 1996. It looked fantastic, and the whole sequence with Lara having to escape the cave just filled me with a sense of “Daaaaaaamn,” there was no way it could disappoint, right? Well it didn’t, not by a long shot, and Square gave us a Tomb Raider experience that was perfect. Everything from her character arc through to the story, the graphics to the game-play was utter perfection, and it nailed down that this Lara Croft was going to be an icon in her own right for many years to come. At least, that’s how it seemed. It’s all been quiet on the Square front about any news on any forthcoming Croft adventures, and even though they’ve said that she’ll be back, I have a horrible feeling this might go the same way as Sleeping Dogs, and that would be so wrong, it barely bears thinking about.