Tomb Raider, and its adventurous heroine Lara Croft, celebrate their 25th anniversaries this year. Square Enix has marked the occasion by releasing the Tomb Raider: Definitive Survivor Trilogy, which includes the most recent Tomb Raider trilogy, as well as every piece of DLC for those three games.
While the three Tomb Raider games from Crystal Dynamics are, indeed, excellent, they don’t represent the full scope of Lara’s adventures over the year. That’s why the Tom’s Guide team has selected 10 Tomb Raider games that best represent what the series can do. These games are full of devious puzzles, difficult foes and unforgettable settings, and most of them spin a pretty good “lost civilization” yarn along the way. Here are the 10 best Tomb Raider games to revisit — or experience for the first time.
Tomb Raider (1996)
This is where it all started, 25 years ago, with a pixelated and anatomically preposterous figure leaping around a series of caverns in search of some treasure.
It’s hard to overstate just how big a deal Tomb Raider was when it launched — games simply didn’t cross over to the mainstream in this way, other than to be blamed for society’s ills. But its release dovetailed perfectly with the rise of the PlayStation, the first gaming platform that was cool rather than geeky, and Lara Croft became its first true icon.
Tomb Raider arrived seemingly fully formed, and though it may have undergone a visual transformation over the past quarter-century, the basic idea behind it remains unchanged to this day — which is testament to just what a good idea it was.
Back then, Tomb Raider was a groundbreaking blend of action and puzzles built upon a solid foundation of actual plot and characterization. Later Tomb Raiders are much better, obviously, but few games will ever have the impact of the first instalment. – Marc McLaren
Tomb Raider: Legend (2006)
Crystal Dynamics’ first attempt at a Tomb Raider reboot came at a time when the franchise desperately needed a shakeup after the underwhelming Angel of Darkness. Legend delivered in spades. Reimaging Lara’s origins, and focused around a quest to recover the mythical sword Excalibur, Legend saw a Lara Croft for the 21st century. The action-platforming foundation was still here, but greatly improved, thanks to much tighter controls and slicker animations. The game was also rather good-looking for the time. Tomb Raider: Legend deserves a lot of credit for re-sparking the franchise’s popularity at a time when its relevance to the gaming world was dwindling fast – Rory Mellon
Tomb Raider: Anniversary (2007)
Remakes are a tricky beast. Stick too closely to the original, and they feel superfluous. Diverge too greatly from the source material, and fans will rake you over the coals. Tomb Raider: Anniversary managed to strike that balance almost perfectly. As a remake of the first Lara Croft adventure, released just over a decade later, Anniversary is a fitting tribute to a gaming classic. It retained the classic puzzles and action of the original, but updated them with stronger visuals and a control system that didn’t make you want to throw your gamepad at the nearest wall. Some of the expanded content can be a little hit-or-miss, but if you’re keen to see where Lara Croft got her start, Anniversary is the best way to do so – Rory Mellon
Tomb Raider: Underworld (2008)
Lara Croft battling sharks with a harpoon gun. Do I need to say anything else to sell you on Tomb Raider: Underworld? The direct followup to Legend, Underworld felt more grand in every sense. You were given vast open spaces to explore, and the sections that had you diving to the bottom of the sea truly made you feel like an adventurer on the hunt for lost artifacts. Sure the combat system was pretty ropey, and the story was pretty silly even by Tomb Raider standards, but Underworld felt like the culmination of the franchise at the time. It was a game that confidently knew exactly what it wanted to be, and mostly achieved it. Could have done with less gratuitous shots of Lara in wetsuit though – Rory Mellon
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (2010)
Tomb Raider generally follows Lara Croft from an over-the-shoulder perspective, but there’s more than one way to make an action/adventure game. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is an isometric game with a cooperative element, and it’s arguably one of the finest entries in the whole Tomb Raider series. Lara teams up with an ancient Mayan warrior named Totec, and the two of them do battle against an evil spirit called Xolotl. Along the way, they fight off a variety of mystical beasts, and work together to solve ingenious puzzles. Add some platforming into the mix, and Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is a good time by yourself, or a great time if you can recruit a friend. – Marshall Honorof
Tomb Raider (2013)
Tomb Raider is no stranger to reboots, but Tomb Raider (2013) represents the first time that the series tried a radically different tone. Rather than a stylish adventure, Tomb Raider (2013) represents a bitter fight for survival. Marooned on a remote Japanese island, an inexperienced Lara Croft learns to find shelter, hunt for food, string a bow and navigate the wilderness — and that’s before she crosses paths with the island’s deadly mercenaries, or the ancient secrets that slumber within its tombs. With excellent combat and a strong, character-driven story, it’s no wonder that Tomb Raider (2013) revitalized the whole franchise. – Marshall Honorof
Lara Croft Go (2015)
It’s not technically a Tomb Raider game, but Lara Croft Go contains enough elements from the series — not least Lara herself — that it deserves its place here. And it’s certainly good enough to make the cut.
Like the earlier Hitman Go, LCG is a turn-based puzzler that straddles the line between video game and board game. Lara can only move along certain paths in each level. Avoiding the various hazards requires logic and forethought rather than quick reactions.
Then again, solving puzzles was always a key part of the Tomb Raider experience, and there are enough levers, moving platforms and hidden trinkets here that fans will feel right at home. It looks great, too: like Monument Valley with a jungle makeover. – Marc McLaren
Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris (2014)
If there’s one thing the Tomb Raider series does well, it’s finding a good formula and running with it for a few games. This is the case with Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, which follows the same formula as Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. The pitch is pretty much the same: Lara teams up with a partner to fight a variety of mythological foes, this time with a focus on Egyptian legends. There are four playable characters, which means you can team up with up to three other players and conquer the game’s challenges together. You can also go solo, if you prefer to explore the game’s large, nonlinear world by yourself. – Marshall Honorof
Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015)
Rise of the Tomb Raider may not be as inventive or tightly focused as its predecessor, Tomb Raider (2013), but it offers deeper gameplay options and a more ambitious story. Lara Croft, now an experienced adventurer, sets off for the mountains of Turkey, where she squares off against a deadly secret society known as Trinity. We learn more about Lara’s backstory, as well as why the villains are so intent on hunting down ancient treasures. The gunplay, puzzle-solving and environmental exploration are still top-notch here. Just be warned that if you’ve ever played a Tomb Raider game before, you’ll see most of the plot twists coming a mile away. – Marshall Honorof
Shadow of the Tomb Raider (2018)
Definitely, the weakest of the “survivor trilogy,” Shadow of the Tomb Raider struggled with the burden of high expectations upon release. It’s worthy of a reassessment though, as Shadow is a suitably thrilling adventure — even if it’s not a particularly innovative one. The real highlights here are the numerous challenge tombs, which provide a real sense that you’re spelunking through long-lost catacombs and crypts. The DLC is especially worthwhile, throwing in even more ancient puzzles to complete. It’s obvious that this third entry in the origins trilogy will always be overshadowed by its better-received predecessors, but it stands on its own as a game worthy of your time – Rory Mellon