Connect with us

Features

Mainline Tomb Raider Games Ranked!

Published

on

Every Main Series Tomb Raider Game Ranked

Lara Croft was one of the first and continues to be one of the most iconic female protagonists in gaming. Over the years and across two significant reboots, the franchise has offered some of the most memorably good and bad gaming experiences of my life. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to separate the good from the bad, but determining which of the good to prioritize and which of the bad to avoid requires a bit more nuance. So here are the twelve mainline, home console Tomb Raider games ranked from worst to best. 

Angel of Darkness
Image: Core Design

12. Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness

Angel of Darkness was the final game in the original iteration of the series and also the final Tomb Raider game to be developed by the original development team, Core Design. Being the first Tomb Raider game on the PlayStation 2, expectations were naturally high, and those high expectations combined with Core’s new direction for the series resulted in a game that is charitably described as a steaming pile of garbage. In Core’s defense, the story was a mess because they were forced to undo an ending they had previously written into The Last Revelation. The story saw Lara seeking vengeance after Werner Von Croy left her for dead at the end of the fourth game. Throw in an unnecessary love interest and an almost total lack of actual tombs in a Tomb Raider game, and you’ve got yourself a disappointed audience.

But the bad didn’t stop at the story. The gameplay in Angel of Darkness was changed significantly from the original games in what was clearly an attempt to provide a truly next-gen Tomb Raider experience, but in doing so, Core overcomplicated a good thing. Gunplay and movement were made significantly more realistic by demanding the player reload their weapons and limiting Lara’s acrobatic abilities. These changes both worked to slow down the combat making one of the best parts of the previous games more tedious and frustrating in Angel of Darkness. New to the series were both melee combat and stealth action. Melee combat felt clunky and ineffective, and the implementation of Stealth in a game that wasn’t primarily focused on stealth mode for an optional way to play the game that was reliably worse in every way. And to top off these detrimental changes was a control scheme that had been completely overhauled and was offensively unintuitive even after hours of play. Angel of Darkness was plagued with bugs and foundational design problems that made the game so bad it actually killed the original iteration of the series and wouldn’t be rebooted for three years. 

Tomb Raider Chronicles
Image: Core Design

11. Tomb Raider Chronicles

Tomb Raider Chronicles is perhaps one of the most egregious examples of an annual cash cow video game. After Core had killed Lara off at the end of the previous year’s game in the hopes of finally being allowed to work on something besides the Tomb Raider IP, they were forced to come up with a premise that would believably bring Lara back for another payday. The result was a group of Lara’s closest acquaintances gathered at a memorial service after her funeral to share their memories of her and her adventures. Each story shared by a funeral guest functioned as its own self-contained level leading those levels to feel disjointed and small, especially when compared to the grandeur achieved in the previous year’s Tomb Raider The Last Revelation

Chronicles featured the same tried and true gameplay as the previous games, but the way in which it limited the player’s exploration and discovery of the environments didn’t do the game any favors. As if the contrived story and disjointed small levels weren’t enough, Chronicles actually features the worst level in Tomb Raider history as its finale. The final level sees Lara breaking into Von Croy industries headquarters to steal an artifact in a much more secret agent style of gameplay and setting. The stupidity of this finale knows no bounds, and though audiences didn’t realize it at the time, the benefit of hindsight makes it obvious that this level was a clear indication of what Core had in mind for the series moving forward.

Tomb Raider 3
Image: Core Design

10. Tomb Raider 3

Unfortunately for me, the first Tomb Raider game I actually owned was Tomb Raider 3. The third entry in the series and also the third entry in three years, Tomb Raider 3 was the first to start to feel tired. Despite some significant improvements to the lighting effects, the visuals remained almost identical to those found in the previous year’s Tomb Raider 2. And while the addition of new weaponry would lead one to believe that gameplay would be improved as a result of additional combat scenarios and possibilities, in actuality, the combat was boring and repetitive, making the entire game feel like a slog. Where Resident Evil 3 started as a spin-off of the wildly popular Resident Evil 2 and didn’t adopt the numbered sequel status until well into development, leading to it being criticized for feeling too much like an RE2 expansion, Tomb Raider 3 felt like it was comprised of the levels and sequences from Tomb Raider 2’s cutting room floor.

Tomb Raider 1996
Image: Core Design

9. Tomb Raider

The impact that the first game had on the action-adventure landscape is undeniable and will always merit mention in any discussion of the genre. But when being evaluated from a modern perspective, Tomb Raider is the only game in the series that feels truly archaic. This inaugural outing was originally intended to be a blatant rip-off of the popular Indiana Jones franchise in video game form, even to the extent that it would feature a hero who utilized a whip as both a weapon and tool throughout his adventure. After changing the protagonist to a woman and her primary weapon to Lara’s iconic dual pistols, Tomb Raider had started to take shape.

But a largely forgettable story that was told in a vague way made the game feel like exactly what it was, the first attempt. Even upon launch, the game looked and felt unfinished. There are no skyboxes in any of the levels leaving the player to gaze out into a black void, and Core’s ambitious vision was difficult to fit onto the relatively new Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn consoles leading to environments and character models being made up of very few polygons. The original game in the series absolutely laid the foundation for what the series and the action-adventure genre at large would eventually become, but limited resources make it a perfect proof of concept that would later be outdone in almost every way by its subsequent sequels. 

Underworld
Image: Crystal Dynamics

8. Tomb Raider Underworld

The lowest-ranked game on this list that isn’t from the original series of Tomb Raider games, Tomb Raider Underworld earns its spot by being just as cool as Fonzie when he jumped over a shark on water skis. Being the third entry in Crystal Dynamic’s first reboot trilogy of Tomb Raider games, Underworld was primed to be truly great, but a misunderstanding of what made both Legend and Anniversary so well received made Underworld radically forgettable. Underworld featured similar gameplay to that of its two predecessors with, what was, at the time, excellent gunplay, and the game even expanded on the already great platforming found in Anniversary. But while the gameplay was similar, if not even slightly better, it was the balance of that gameplay that ruined the game’s potential.

For the third entry in the rebooted trilogy, Crystal Dynamics leaned way too hard into the action, making for a game that felt as though it lacked balance and restraint. The focus on platforming and exploration that made both Legend and Anniversary so popular was gone, and in their place were guns, guns, and more guns. Crystal’s seemingly deliberate decision to never give the player a moment to breathe and take in their environment made Underworld feel less like a true Tomb Raider game and more like a cheap shovelware action game. And then, for the cherry on top, the end game of Underworld sees Lara take control of Thor’s hammer and wield it as though she were the god of thunder, making for one of the most cringe-inducing and least appealing finales in the entire series.

Tomb Raider 2
Image: Core Design

7. Tomb Raider 2

With the bad Tomb Raider games out of the way, we can finally start to discuss the actual good Tomb Raider games, and the worst good Tomb Raider game is, without a doubt, Tomb Raider 2. Tomb Raider 2 is one of the earliest examples of a sequel being more representative of a developer’s original vision for the series. The shift in focus from pure tomb exploration to action-adventure helped Core to realize their original Indiana Jones rip-off elevator pitch. Tomb Raider 2 featured a more cohesive story with a significantly more tangible and fully realized villainous presence. That villain functioned as a means of pressuring Lara and naturally moving the narrative forward, which empowered the game to become a globetrotting adventure. 

But the story and villain weren’t the only huge improvements Tomb Raider 2 had over its predecessor the game featured significantly better combat and combat scenarios. Gone were the days of fighting animals and only the occasional human, Tomb Raider 2 saw Lara encountering and fighting mafia underlings who were paid to slow Lara down as she raced to recover the Dagger of Xian. The game felt like a proper blockbuster movie in video game form, and despite it not being critically successful, it managed to make enough money to justify continuing to invest in a new and growing IP.

Tomb Raider Anniversary
Image: Crystal Dynamics

6. Tomb Raider Anniversary

Anniversary is a strange game because not only is it a remake of the original Tomb Raider but it is also a sequel to 2006’s Tomb Raider Legend. Being the second entry in Crystal’s first rebooted trilogy, Anniversary had a strong foundation laid by Legend to build upon. The combination of the original Tomb Raider’s level design and the combat and platforming systems introduced in Legend made Anniversary a game that led many people at the time to posit was almost the perfect Tomb Raider game. Retelling the story from the original game but allowing for significantly greater focus on establishing characters and providing clarity where it had been lacking before made Anniversary simultaneously very obviously the best way to play the original Tomb Raider and a great sequel to Legend

Where Anniversary ran into trouble wasn’t actually anything Crystal Dynamics did but instead what the industry around them did. As the game launched in April 2007, it would only be seven months until the medium defining November 2007 would occur. In November of that year, Infinity Ward would release Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare making almost all other game’s gameplay feel antiquated by comparison. Then later that same month, Bioware’s first Mass Effect game would hit the scene, setting a new gold standard for storytelling in video games, and Naughty Dog’s Uncharted would erupt on the scene in a first entry so good that it would nearly entirely replace Tomb Raider in the cultural zeitgeist. Tomb Raider Anniversary is still an excellent game to go back to, but the context in which it launched unfortunately led to it being largely forgotten. 

Tomb Raider Legend
Image: Crystal Dynamics

5. Tomb Raider Legend

The first game in the Crystal Dynamics reboot trilogy was the game that brought the then troubled IP back from the dead. After the thoroughly unenjoyable Angel of Darkness, any goodwill held by the series was spent and simply making another Tomb Raider sequel was clearly not the answer. So Crystal Dynamics had the confidence to reboot the series with a more family-friendly aesthetic and gameplay style. Legend was what Angel of Darkness should have been in that it was a truly next-generation Tomb Raider experience. With excellent new visuals and gameplay that hadn’t tried to build off an ancient foundation laid on the PlayStation 1, Legend reestablished the IP as a series worth playing.

At the core of Crystal’s reinvention of Tomb Raider was gameplay. By implementing a proper third-person shooter style system with targeting and aim-assist the game was able to overcome the aggressive difficulty curve, the older games were known for and make for a significantly more accessible experience. But the gameplay wasn’t all this new generation Tomb Raider did right putting the Tomb Raider back in the Tomb made Legend feel more familiar and true to the originally intended purpose that Angel of Darkness missed entirely despite Legend’s being from a different developer and part of an entirely new Tomb Raider series. At this point, Legend looks and feels quite dated but is still an excellent Tomb Raider game. 

The Last Revelation
Image: Core Design

4. Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation

The Last Revelation is the best of the original Tomb Raider series and even better than any of the first reboot trilogy. Core’s fourth entry to the series reeks of a level of quality that makes it obviously the game they had always intended to make. By developing both Tomb Raider 3 and The Last Revelation in tandem, Core was able to make substantial improvements to almost every part of The Last Revelation. Visually the game was a huge improvement over the first three games as Lara’s character model was made up of significantly more polygons and the environments featured far more objects and complex geometry, allowing for much more realistic-looking locales. Gameplay was improved by the simple inclusion of the ability to both climb and swing from ropes making for platforming sequences that were more varied, complex, and challenging. And improved enemy variety made for more creative combat sequences that demanded a greater level of engagement from the player.

But where The Last Revelation shines is in its story. The fourth entry in the series is the first to tell a story spanning multiple time frames, making it feel like a more significant and personal part of Lara’s life. This allowed the player to see Lara develop and how her relationship with different characters changed over time. And the interconnected level design gave a sense of the world existing around Lara feeling more real and lived in. The Last Revelation struck the perfect balance of tomb exploration and action while providing a truly excellent gameplay experience. Then as if the game wasn’t good enough, Core was brave enough to actually kill off their beloved protagonist at the end of the game, giving the entire story a sense of finality and impact that would, unfortunately, be subverted just a year later.

Tomb Raider (2013)
Image: Crystal Dynamics

3. Tomb Raider (2013)

After Lara’s unfortunate bout as the god of thunder in 2008’s Tomb Raider Underworld, the franchise needed a break. That break would end up being the longest the series had experienced since its inception in 1996, but in 2013 the series would return with Crystal Dynamic’s second reboot. Tomb Raider 2013 would return the series to its dark and violent roots with some of the goriest deaths Lara has ever experienced. Where the first reboot trilogy went in a more family-friendly direction, the 2013 reboot went hard in the completely opposite direction. In what was clearly an attempt to compete with the wildly popular Uncharted trilogy, Tomb Raider was, once again, made for adults.

This second reboot trilogy featured a totally new third-person shooting system that felt much more modern and heavily featured combat scenarios that were dependent on the game’s new cover system. With the exception of melee combat, the game played almost identically to an Uncharted game. But where the game differed from its Nathan Drake led competitor was in the map design and level progression. In this respect, the game actually borrows from ideas established by The Last Revelation by placing the entire story on a single island and allowing the player to move throughout the island, often returning to familiar areas. All these new systems and design choices, combined with a sprinkle of supernatural elements towards the end, make it easy to recommend playing now, even with no adjustment of expectations to account for age. 

Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Image: Crystal Dynamics

2. Shadow of the Tomb Raider

In a questionable decision, Square Enix moved responsibility for the finale of the second rebooted Tomb Raider trilogy from Crystal Dynamics to Eidos Montreal in order to free up Crystal Dynamics to take the lead on Square’s new live service Avengers game. Luckily for fans, Eidos Montreal is an extremely capable development studio that clearly had a vision for what their version of Tomb Raider would be. The game feels as though there was a deliberate decision to shift the focus from action to a more classical exploration. This is realized by moving Lara into more Tombs than either of the previous two games and creating more environmental and platforming puzzles and gameplay than combat. In a way, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is clearly an homage to the focus and balance found in the original three Tomb Raider games.

On paper, the combat to exploration and platforming ratio in Shadow of the Tomb Raider combined with the side content, weapon and enemy variety, greater emphasis on stealth, and newly introduced systems like camouflage make Shadow the best Tomb Raider game imaginable. In the moment-to-moment gameplay, it truly does feel like an incredibly satisfying modernized version of Core Design’s original vision which makes it easy to recommend to anyone. Shadow would have been at the top of this list had it not been for the pure excellence of number one. 

Rise of the Tomb Raider
Image: Crystal Dynamics

1. Rise of the Tomb Raider

Rise of the Tomb Raider is the second of Crystal Dynamics’ origins trilogy that was unexpectedly able to eclipse its predecessor in every way. As the story progressed, it became increasingly clear that the arc the devs were building would end in Lara becoming the Tomb Raider we know her as at the outset of the original game. While it is without a doubt the most action-heavy Tomb Raider game to date and fails to strike as good a balance as Shadow of the Tomb Raider would three years later, the beating heart of Rise lies in the quality of that action. Rise of the Tomb Raider’s action sequences provided such variety and intensity that during my first playthrough, I literally didn’t put my controller down. 

In addition to featuring action that outperformed any other Tomb Raider or Uncharted game, Rise featured an improved dramatic storyline that brought an Illuminati-like shadow organization called Trinity into the fold to directly oppose Lara. Trinity’s storyline was immediately interwoven with Lara, effectively raising both the personal and global stakes of the plot and setting everything up for an inevitable third entry. And it was in telling that personal story of Lara that the series became a graphical powerhouse. Rise of the Tomb Raider’s graphics were so good that they were used to benchmark some of the most powerful gaming PC’s in existence for years, and the game would only go on to be replaced as a benchmarking tool by its sequel, Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Overall the environments, platforming, action, and story combine to make Rise the most memorable and most enjoyable Tomb Raider game to date that is easily a must-play for anyone that considers themselves a fan of the action-adventure genre. 

A new Tomb Raider game has already been announced to be in development at Crystal Dynamics, indicating the series is far from over. But with a new logo and graphics engine in Unreal Engine 5, it is unclear whether this game will be yet another reboot or a sequel to the origins trilogy. While I would definitely prefer a sequel to my favorite iteration of Lara to date, I am just happy that we will continue to get more Tomb Raider in the years to come. 

News writer and Xbox reviewer. Patrick lives in Minneapolis Minnesota with his wife and their dog Ghost. Patrick studied economics at the University of Northern Colorado and is particularly interested in the market dynamics of the video game industry. When he's not working Patrick can be found walking Ghost through downtown MPLS, binging The West Wing on repeat, or playing hockey. You see everything Patrick does right here on GoombaStomp.com.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Coomraider

    May 27, 2022 at 3:16 pm

    What is wrong with the world where someone is paid to have such wrong and shit opinions?

  2. James

    June 17, 2022 at 8:17 pm

    I disagree. Rise is very a dull looking game. It’s well polished but doens’t feel like an actual TR game. More like COD: Lara Croft. I also don’t like Lara’s animations in the newer games. Though if I had to choose, Shadows is the closest thing to a TR game.

    I think Anniversary wins hands down. It’s the most repayable TR game to me. Though the controls are not perfect, it is atmospheric, the tombs are fun, and Lara is flexible when it comes to acrobatics. There are dinosaurs, mummies, human enemies… It is also a true TR game with complex tombs. Anniversary is underrated.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Trending