A Grown Up’s Guide to the ‘Tomb Raider’ Video Games

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A Grown Up’s Guide to the Tomb Raider Video Games

Tomb Raider 1996

 

The Tomb Raider series is one of the hallmark game franchises, featuring perhaps the most iconic video game protagonist out there in the form of Lara Croft. The video game medium’s equivalent to Indiana Jones, Croft has long been seen as a character whose popularity rivals fellow early console icons like Mario, Solid Snake, and Link.

For over 25 years, Lara Croft has been featured in numerous video games, comic books, and films (notably, she is the first video game character to have her own movie). With so many games making up the hit franchise, it can be hard to know the essentials of Lara Croft’s many adventures over the years.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Tomb Raider franchise, from its earliest games to the most recent next-gen console games featuring the famous British archaeologist.

Image Credit: Square Enix. 

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider 1996

The first game in the Tomb Raider series, 1996’s eponymous title follows the exploits of renowned archaeologist Lara Croft, tasked with finding the treasured artifact known as the Scion of Atlantis.

The story itself may be decent, but the gameplay of the original Tomb Raider is what sets it apart. Utilizing a 3D grid design—widely considered innovative upon release—the game combined groundbreaking graphics with an interesting combat system, featuring Lara going from room to room, solving puzzles, and fighting various enemies to advance the story.

Critically praised upon release, many critics were quick to highlight the level of sophistication of Tomb Raider, which went for a notably more cinematic style that balanced atmospheric settings and music with an almost Hollywood adventure-film style plot and characters.

The character of Lara herself also became a breakout sensation, shattering the glass barrier for what was expected of video game protagonists and featuring a strong female heroine at the center of the narrative.

Image Credit: Eidos Interactive. 

Tomb Raider II

Tomb Raider II

One year after the groundbreaking success of the original Tomb Raider, the game developers at Core Design released this 1997 sequel, which saw Lara trying to find the mythical “Dagger of Xian,” an ancient knife the Emperor of China used to turn himself into a dragon.

From a gameplay standpoint, not much changed from the original Tomb Raider into this later sequel. Both games used the same basic gameplay style. However, Tomb Raider II introduces slight improvements and features, including new weapons, vehicles, and movement options for Lara (she can now climb horizontally and vertically and perform mid-air rolls). Though Tomb Raider II also retains the same puzzle-solving component as the original, it further emphasizes combat to a much greater extent than the first game.

Positively received upon release, critics admitted that the game contained just enough differences to develop the original Tomb Raider’s gameplay style-forward, rather than being a straight rip-off delivering more or less the same game as the first entry in the series.

Image Credit: Eidos Interactive. 

Tomb Raider III

Tomb Raider III

In 1998, Core released the third entry in the Tomb Raider franchise. This time around, Lara tries to find pieces of a meteorite spread across the globe, taking her on a worldwide adventure from India and the South Pacific to Antarctica and Area 51.

Like Tomb Raider II, the third game features the same basic gameplay style as the original, though with some dramatically different upgrades. Introduced into the game were improved graphics and more intricate detail, and a return to the heavy puzzle-solving gameplay of the first Tomb Raider.

As had been the case with the first two games in the series, Tomb Raider III would earn positive reviews, although not to the same degree as the original preceding games. Particular criticism was directed towards the game's difficulty and the lack of innovation in advancing the series’ gameplay system, essentially retaining the same gameplay style as the first two games with very few additions or improvements introduced.

Image Credit: Eidos Interactive. 

Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation

The Last Revelation

The fourth installment of the Tomb Raider series, The Last Revelation is commonly seen as the one where both the series’ designers and fans grew tired of the once groundbreaking video game franchise.

In what was originally intended to wrap up the story of Lara Croft and end with the character’s death, The Last Revelation follows Lara as she battles the Egyptian god Set, who she accidentally sets free.

Retaining the same gameplay style as the original three, The Last Revelation was, like Tomb Raider III, released to positive reviews overall. The game heightened the AI difficulty behind its enemies and added improved graphics. Still, it was criticized for failing to develop the gameplay style further, relying on the same style as the original three games.

Though intended to mark the end of Lara’s story, the series’ publishers at Eidos Interactive pushed Core to add more games to the series, thanks to The Last Revelation’s extremely high sales records.

Image Credit: Eidos Interactive. 

Tomb Raider (2000)

Tomb Raider 2000

A spinoff of sorts from the original series, Tomb Raider was released to the Game Boy Color in 2000, adapting the series into a handheld game system with a completely new story and gameplay style. In this relatively smaller game, Lara goes up against a gang of treasure hunters trying to get ahold of the fabled Nightmare Stone, an item able to release the malevolent deity Quaxet.

Divided into 14 levels, Tomb Raider (2000) relies on the player solving puzzles, jumping over obstacles, and defeating enemies she encounters, with each new level emphasizing a distinct gameplay style (one level will see the player climbing ropes in a temple, the next jumping over lava from a nearby volcano, etc.)

A minor entry in the game’s series, Tomb Raider (2000) was well-received by critics, who praised it for its engaging yet simple gameplay style, and the entertainment value it produced given the Game Boy’s limited button controls.

Image Credit: THQ. 

Tomb Raider Chronicles

Chronicles

The next major addition to the Tomb Raider series came with 2000’s Tomb Raider Chronicles.

Building off the previous installment in The Last Revelation, Lara—now presumed dead—is memorialized by three of her closest friends and acquaintances, all of whom share stories about some of her greatest adventures.

Each story sees the player taking over the role of Lara, who alternatively searches for the Philosopher's stone within Rome’s catacombs, recovering the Spear of Destiny from the ocean floor, fighting ghosts on a deserted island, and breaking into the office of her former employer to retrieve the Iris (a recurring artifact in the Tomb Raider games).

The anthology-style format the game possesses was a unique narrative direction for the series to move towards, allowing for a looser plot that saw Lara throughout various stages of her life hunting for the world’s greatest treasures. However, the game would earn mixed reviews, mostly due to the game using the same gameplay style it had in the original four installments, bringing little improvement or advancement aside from slightly improved graphics.

While the game’s reception may have been mixed, Chronicles also hinted at the return of Lara in future installments, keeping gamers wondering whether or not she survived her apparent “death” in The Last Revelation.

Image Credit: Eidos Interactive. 

Tomb Raider: Curse of the Sword

Curse of the Sword e1640961803252

Another Game Boy Color game, Tomb Raider: Curse of the Sword, like the earlier Tomb Raider (2000), was another spinoff adventure for Lara.

In the series’ second handheld game, Lara becomes the target of a New Orleans voodoo cult, who believe her to be the perfect host for their resurrected leader to inhabit.

Curse of the Sword relies on the same gameplay style as the original Tomb Raider (2000), this time alternating the action from remote temples and wilderness to city settings (mainly New York and New Orleans).

Like most spin-off games in many hit series, Curse of the Sword did not receive the same extensive level of coverage as the other main games in the Tomb Raider franchise, although the reviews received were consistently positive.

Image Credit: Activision. 

Tomb Raider: The Prophecy

The Prophecy

The first Tomb Raider game for the Game Boy Advance, Tomb Raider: The Prophecy remains, like Tomb Raider (2000) and Curse of the Sword, a relatively minor game in the series.

Made by a rapidly growing development company called Ubi Soft (later rebranded Ubisoft), Tomb Raider: The Prophecy sees Lara trying to find three ancient stones able to release a mythical being known as the Great Grey One, whose return promises the end of the world.

Unlike the earlier Game Boy Advance games, The Prophecy relies on an overhead isometric style, with the camera essentially dangling over Lara as she progresses through each level. The combat system is also slightly tweaked to allow for better flow to accompany the new camera angle.

Upon its release, the game would earn mixed reviews for its largely repetitive gameplay style, which some critics viewed as “you enter a room, shoot some things, hit a switch, enter the next room, and do the same thing.”

Image Credit: UbiSoft. 

Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness

The Angel of Darkness

The first next-gen console Core Design developed, The Angel of Darkness was meant to be the next big game that propelled Tomb Raider forward into the future generation of gaming, hopefully moving beyond the gaming community’s beliefs the franchise had grown stale or had begun to repeat themselves over the years.

A game planned to be the start of a new trilogy of Tomb Raiders, The Angel of Darkness sees the return of Lara Croft after her presumed death in The Last Revelation. Reemerging in Paris, she must prove her innocence when she is framed for the murder of her former mentor and investigates the activities of a sinister secret society.

Rife with problems from the game’s early development resulting in the release date being pushed back twice and whole levels being removed to meet the June 2003 deadline, The Angel of Darkness was doomed to fail from the get-go.

The main idea behind the game was to reinvent the entire gameplay style—a point of contention many critics had faulted every subsequent sequel to the original Tomb Raider with not pushing forward.

The resulting gameplay in The Angel of Darkness was panned, especially for its poor button controls, issues with camera placement, unchallenging enemy AI, and numerous technical issues. The game’s story and slightly improved graphics received positive reception.

The game’s failure resulted in the planned trilogy of future Tomb Raider games being halted. It would also be the last game developed by the series’ original designers at Core, with the next installment being handed over to Crystal Dynamics.

Image Credit: Eidos Interactive. 

Tomb Raider: Legend

Legend scaled

After the failure of The Angel of Darkness nearly derailed the entire series, video game developers at Crystal Dynamics set out to completely reinvent Tomb Raider, with the specific goal to reestablish the series for a new age of fans and the new PlayStation 2 console.

The result, Tomb Raider: Legend, follows Lara on a quest to find the mythical Arthurian sword, Excalibur, coming head to head with her former friend turned bitter rival, Amanda Evert. The game acts as a reboot to the series, reshaping Lara’s backstory and character and establishing what is now known as the Legend trilogy today.

Complete with a massive redesign on the gameplay and Lara herself, Tomb Raider: Legend achieved its end goal and helped reignite fan interest in the Tomb Raider, ensuring its continuing popularity into the mid-2000s’ onward.

Without Legend, it’s unlikely Tomb Raider would have continued to remain as relevant as it had in the late ‘90s and early 2000s.

Image Credit: Eidos Interactive. 

Tomb Raider: Anniversary

Anniversary

The eighth main Tomb Raider game and the second in the rebooted Legend trilogy, Anniversary is a direct remake of the original 1996 Tomb Raider game rather than a sequel to Legend.

Following a very similar story to the original, Lara embarks on a quest to find the Scion of Atlantis, battling enemies and roaming from room to room, completing puzzles to advance.

While a remake of the first game in the series, Anniversary adds a few other features, including redesigned levels and gameplay, an improved soundtrack, and an expanded storyline.

Widely considered an almost flawless remake, for those who do not own a PS1 or are unable to find an original copy of the first game, Anniversary is the game you can go to instead. In 2011, it was re-released to the Xbox 360 and PS3 alongside Legend and Underworld as “The Tomb Raider Trilogy.”

Image Credit: Eidos Interactive. 

Tomb Raider: Underworld

Underworld

The final entry in the rebooted Legend trilogy, Tomb Raider: Underworld, would be the ninth major installment in the main Tomb Raider series. Unlike Anniversary before it, it directly follows the events of the earlier Legend.

Released in 2008, Lara searches for the Arthurian island of Avalon, hoping that it will hold some answers regarding the disappearance of her mother years prior, eventually leading her to a race against time to keep the underworld of Norse mythology from opening.

The final game to be released by the series’ original publishers at Eidos, Underworld earned mostly positive reviews. Particular praise went towards the immersive settings, story, graphics and improved movement, and the intricacy of the puzzles. However, some reviews criticized the camera angle and combat style of the game. Such was particularly the case for the PlayStation 2 and Wii versions of the game, which were far inferior to the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC releases of Underworld.

Image Credit: Eidos Interactive. 

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

A loose spin-off of the Tomb Raider series, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light uses the general idea behind Tomb Raider. It mainly focuses on the central protagonist, Lara Croft, but veers in a completely different direction than any Tomb Raider game prior.

Placing a heavy emphasis on co-op-style gameplay, Lara is joined by a 2-000-year-old Mayan warrior to combat the evil Aztec god of fire and lightning, Xolotl. When playing in single-player, Lara ventures through each level on her own, without the assistance of an AI-controlled NPC. If players opt for multiplayer or local play, they can take the role of either Lara or the Mayan warrior, Totec.

While not a major release along the same lines as the Legend trilogy or the later Tomb Raider (2013), Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light earned very high praise from critics, who felt it a major improvement from the preceding Underworld and credited it with being the best game in the Tomb Raider series in a long time.

Some minor criticism was directed at the game’s plot and dialogue. Still, overall, its success and positive reception led to a sequel, Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, in 2014, even after the series reboot in 2013.

Image Credit: Square Enix. 

Tomb Raider (2013)

Tomb Raider 2013

In 2013, Tomb Raider’s publishers decided to reboot the series from the ground up, providing a new canonical backstory for Lara, redesigning her character, and shifting away from the older style of gameplay the franchise had revolutionized in the late 1990s.

In this later remake, Lara and her fellow crew members aboard an expeditionary ship crash on the remote, unexplored island of Yamatai within Japan’s Dragon Triangle (also known as the Pacific Bermuda Triangle).

Unlike previous games, the Lara Croft character here is shown to be untested when it comes to adventuring and fighting, with the game taking on a more survival-style approach rather than based strictly on combat and puzzle-solving as had been the case with previous games.

One of the most anticipated games of 2013, Tomb Raider (2013) would earn a massive amount of acclaim upon its release, especially regarding its impressive visuals and gameplay, for its development of Lara’s character and performance of her voice actor, Camilla Luddington. Responses to the game’s online multiplayer feature were a bit more divided, but the game’s overall success remains undeniable. To this day, Tomb Raider (2013) remains the best-selling game in the series.

Originally released on Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360, the game would eventually be remastered in 2014 for next-gen consoles, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Image Credit: Square Enix. 

Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris

Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris

The second entry in the Lara Croft spin-off series, Temple of Osiris, is a direct sequel to 2010’s Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light.

To stop the evil god Set from enslaving humanity, Lara joins rival treasure hunter Carter Bell and imprisoned gods Horus and Isis as they travel across Egypt, collecting fragments of Osiris, god of the underworld.

Like Guardian of Light, Temple of Osiris utilizes an arcade-style isometric camera angle reminiscent of classic arcade games. Unlike Guardian of Light, which limited gameplay to two players, Temple of Osiris allows up to four at any given time. Players can take on the role of either Lara, Carter, Isis, or Horus, with each character possessing their own special skills and equipment.

This innovation earned positive reviews, but the game itself received a mixed response. Critics enjoyed the gameplay, levels, puzzles, and boss battles, but some were critical about the game’s short length and lackluster story.

Image Credit: Square Enix. 

Lara Croft: Relic Run

Relic Run

Like Guardian of Light and Temple of Osiris, Lara Croft: Relic Run is a game outside the official Tomb Raider continuity.

Released in 2015, Lara Croft: Relic Run is a mobile phone game that takes place after Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris. In Relic Run, Lara searches for a missing archaeologist, ultimately becoming entangled in a dangerous worldwide conspiracy.

Relic Run’s basic gameplay style mirrors endless running platform games like Temple Run and Subway Surfer (if you can remember those). Additional gameplay features unique to Relic Run include Lara having to fight off enemies with long-range weapons continually, the ability to slide, jump, and wall-run, special sections of each stage involving vehicles, and small boss fights.

Seen more as a deliberate attempt to cash in on the mechanics of Temple Run (even possessing a very similar-sounding name), Relic Run earned mixed reviews and is considered a minor entry in the Tomb Raider franchise.

Image Credit: Square Enix. 

Lara Croft Go

Lara Croft Go

Lara Croft: Relic Run would not be the only mobile game tied to the Lara Croft series released to smartphone users in 2015. That same year, the turn-based puzzle game Lara Croft Go also came out, offering another spin-off for the Lara Croft series of games.

Designed to be a spiritual successor to the 2014 Hitman Go, players guide Lara through a board game-style map, use her as a game piece, dodge various obstacles, and manipulate the surrounding game environments to solve puzzles.

Another minor Tomb Raider release, Lara Croft Go earned positive reviews overall, especially regarding its puzzle design. However, some critics complained about its relatively short length and argued about the game's actual difficulty.

Regardless, it would win the 2015 Game Award for Best Mobile/Handheld Game and a 2016 Apple Design Award.

Originally released to smartphone devices, it would eventually be released to the PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and Steam by 2016.

Image Credit: Square Enix. 

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Rise of the Tomb Raider

The series' eleventh main Tomb Raider game and the 2015 sequel to the Tomb Raider (2013) reboot, Rise of the Tomb Raider follows a somewhat more experienced Lara traveling through Siberia, racing against a military group called Trinity to find the legendary city of Kitezh.

The game relies on a system similar to the previous Tomb Raider (2013). However, some additional advancements were made, including an option for Lara to raid challenge tombs for rewards and a returned emphasis on puzzle-solving. Like Tomb Raider (2013), the game earned high acclaim from critics, many of whom praised the gameplay, story, graphics, and advancement of Lara’s continuing evolution into the globetrotting, tomb-raiding badass we all know.

Originally released exclusively to the Xbox 360 and Xbox One, it would also be released to Microsoft Windows and the PlayStation 4 in 2016.

Image Credit: Square Enix. 

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

The most recent Tomb Raider game, 2018’s Shadow of the Tomb Raider served as the final entry in the rebooted Tomb Raider trilogy, showcasing the final stages of Lara’s development into the titular Tomb Raider she is known as.

In this concluding chapter in the trilogy, Lara travels through the jungles of South America trying to find the lost Incan city of Paititi, battling her old enemies, Trinity, from the previous game, and ultimately learning that her duty isn’t to solve the world’s mysteries, but to protect them at all costs.

Like the previous installments in the rebooted Tomb Raider trilogy, Shadow of the Tomb Raider earned mostly positive reviews. Particular praise was directed towards the game’s emphasis on puzzles and challenge tombs (originated in Rise of the Tomb Raider). Yet, some felt that Shadow—like the first few sequels to the original 1996 game—consisted of largely repetitive gameplay with little development from Tomb Raider (2013).

Image Credit: Square Enix. 

Final Thoughts

Tomb Raider Reloaded

For 25 years, Lara Croft has remained one of the most famous video game protagonists of all time. The Tomb Raider series itself is one of the most iconic video game franchises ever made.

Aside from a new mobile phone game, Tomb Raider Reloaded, coming in 2022, it’s difficult to say what new directions the Tomb Raider series will turn to next.

Wherever Croft finds herself venturing to next, we hope this guide helps you learn more about the Tomb Raider games over the years, containing all the essentials for what you may need to know, including where you can find each game, their general premises, and whether each game is even worth playing.

Image Credit: Square Enix. 

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Richard Chachowski is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. He loves reading, his dog Tootsie, and pretty much every movie to ever exist (especially Star Wars).