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

Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015)

The Tomb Raider series exists as one of the hallmark game franchises, featuring one of the most iconic video game protagonists of all time in the form of Lara Croft. The gaming equivalent to Indiana Jones, Croft has long been seen as a character whose popularity rivals fellow early console heroes like Mario, Solid Snake, and Link.

For over 25 years, Lara Croft has featured in numerous video games, comic books, and films (notably, she is the first video game character to receive 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 anyone would need to know about the Tomb Raider franchise, from the series' earliest games to the most recent next-gen console games featuring the famed British archaeologist.

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider 1996
Image Credit: Eidos Interactive. 

The first game in the Tomb Raider series, 1996’s eponymous title follows the exploits of renowned archaeologist Lara Croft, as she searches for the Scion of Atlantis. The story itself may be forgettable, but the gameplay of the original Tomb Raider is what sets it apart. Utilizing a 3D grid design, 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.

Praised upon release, many critics highlighted 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 story.

Tomb Raider II

Tomb Raider II
Image Credit: Eidos Interactive.

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 using 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. Well-received upon release, critics admitted that the game contained just enough differences to develop the original Tomb Raider’s gameplay style forward.

Tomb Raider III

Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft
Image Credit: Eidos Interactive.

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, Tomb Raider III features the same basic gameplay style as the original, though with some significant upgrades, including improved graphics, more intricate level design, 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 earned positive reviews, although not to the same degree as its preceding games. In particular, critics leveled complaints towards the game's difficulty and the lack of innovation in advancing the series’ gameplay system, many feeling Tomb Raider III retained the same gameplay as the first two games with very few additions or improvements being made.

Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation

Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation
Image Credit: Eidos Interactive.

The fourth installment of the Tomb Raider series, The Last Revelation tends to be seen as the one where both the series’ designers and fans grew tired of the once groundbreaking video game franchise. Planned as the final entry in the Lara Croft saga, The Last Revelation follows Lara as she battles the Egyptian god Set.

Retaining the same gameplay mechanics as its predecessors, The Last Revelation earned positive reviews overall, with praise for the heightened A.I. difficulty and improved graphics. However, the game also faced criticism 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 pressured Core to add more games to the series, due in large part to to The Last Revelation’s high sales figures.

Tomb Raider (2000)

Tomb Raider
Image Credit: THQ.

A spinoff of sorts from the original series, Tomb Raider marked Lara Croft's first foray onto the portable Game Boy Color, adapting the series into a handheld game system with a completely new story and gameplay style. In this 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 Lara encounters, 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.)

A minor entry in the game’s series, Tomb Raider (2000) saw a positive reception from critics, who praised it for its simple yet engaging gameplay style, and the entertainment value it produced given the Game Boy’s limited button controls.

Tomb Raider Chronicles

Tomb Raider: Chronicles
Image Credit: Eidos Interactive.

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, three of Lara's closest friends trade 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 of the game made for a unique narrative direction for the series, allowing for a looser plot that saw Lara throughout various stages of her life. However, the game earned mixed reviews, owing to the same gameplay structure as its predecessors (a common complaint leveled at the Tomb Raider series). 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.

Tomb Raider: Curse of The Sword

Tomb Raider: Curse of the Sword
Image Credit: Activision.

Another exclusive release for Game Boy Color, Tomb Raider: Curse of the Sword, like the earlier Tomb Raider (2000), acted as 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 it did receive were consistently positive.

Tomb Raider: The Prophecy

The Prophecy
Image Credit: Ubisoft. 

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 minor entry in the series. Made by a burgeoning development company called Ubi Soft (later rebranded Ubisoft), Tomb Raider: The Prophecy sees Lara searching for 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, the camera dangling over Lara as she progresses through each level. The combat system is also tweaked to allow for better flow to accompany the new camera angle. Upon its release, the game earned mixed reviews for its repetitive gameplay style, which some critics boiled down to “you enter a room, shoot some things, hit a switch, enter the next room, and do the same thing.”

Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness

Tomb Raider The Angel of Darkness
Image Credit: Eidos Interactive.

The first next-gen console Core Design developed, designers envisioned The Angel of Darkness as the game that propelled Tomb Raider forward into the future generation of gaming, moving beyond the gaming community’s beliefs the franchise had grown stale or repetitive 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 upon being framed for the murder of her former mentor, leading her to investigate the activities of a sinister secret society.

Rife with problems from the game’s early development, The Angel of Darkness had been doomed to fail from the get-go. The main idea behind the game was to reinvent the entire gameplay style, yet the poor button controls, issues with camera placement, unchallenging enemy A.I., and numerous technical issues only antagonized fans of the series.

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

Tomb Raider: Legend

Tomb Raider: Legend
Image Credit: Eidos Interactive.

After the failure of The Angel of Darkness almost derailed the series, th developers at Crystal Dynamics set out to reinvent Tomb Raider from the ground up, with the specific goal to reestablish the series for a new age of fans.

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.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary

Tomb Raider: Anniversary
Image Credit: Eidos Interactive.

The eighth entry in Tomb Raider series and the second in the rebooted Legend trilogy, Anniversary serves as 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. Though a hard remake of the first game in the series, Anniversary adds a few other notable features, including redesigned levels and gameplay, an improved soundtrack, and an expanded storyline.

Tomb Raider: Underworld

Tomb Raider Underworld
Image Credit: Eidos Interactive.

The final entry in the rebooted Legend trilogy, Tomb Raider: Underworld served as the ninth 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,  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 positive reviews. Particular praise went towards the immersive settings, story, and graphic, its improved movement mechanics, and the intricacy of the puzzles. However, some reviews criticized the camera angle and combat style of the game.

Lara Croft and The Guardian of Light

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
Image Credit: Square Enix. 

A loose spin-off of the Tomb Raider series, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light utilizies the general idea behind Tomb Raider, focusing on the central protagonist, Lara Croft, but veering in a new direction from any Tomb Raider game prior.

Placing a heavy emphasis on co-op-style gameplay, Lara allies with 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, with 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 years.

Tomb Raider (2013)

Tomb Raider 2013
Image Credit: Square Enix Europe.

In 2013, Tomb Raider’s publishers decided to reboot the series, 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, this reboot plays Lara Croft as untested when it comes to adventuring and fighting, the game taking on a more survival-style approach. One of the most anticipated games of 2013, Tomb Raider (2013) earned a massive amount of acclaim upon its release, especially in regards to its impressive visuals and gameplay, its development of Lara’s character, and the performance of her voice actor, Camilla Luddington. Responses to the game’s online multiplayer tended to be a bit more divided, but the game’s overall success remains undeniable.

Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris

Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris
Image Credit: Square Enix Europe.

The second entry in the Lara Croft spin-off series, Temple of Osiris serves as 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 players at any given time, 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.

Lara Croft: Relic Run

Lara Croft Relic Run
Image Credit: Square Enix Europe.

Like Guardian of Light and Temple of Osiris, Lara Croft: Relic Run exists outside of the official Tomb Raider continuity. Released in 2015, Lara Croft: Relic Run acts as a mobile phone game that takes place after Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris. In Relic Run, Lara searches for a missing archaeologist, only to find herself entangled in a dangerous worldwide conspiracy.

Relic Run’s basic gameplay style mirrors then-popular endless running platform games like Temple Run and Subway Surfer. Additional gameplay features unique to Relic Run include Lara having to fight off enemies with long-range weapons, 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, Relic Run earned mixed reviews, and continues to be considered by fans as a minor entry in the Tomb Raider franchise.

Lara Croft Go

Lara Croft Go
Image Credit: Square Enix.

Along with Lara Croft: Relic Run, 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, dodging various obstacles and manipulating her surrounding environments to solve puzzles.

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

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Rise of the Tomb Raider
Image Credit: Square Enix.

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 to find the legendary city of Kitezh.

While relying on a gaemplay, system similar to the previous Tomb Raider (2013), Rise of the Tomb Raider introduced some additional improvement, such as 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 adventurer we all know and love.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Image Credit: Square Enix Europe.

2018’s Shadow of the Tomb Raider serves as the final entry in the rebooted Tomb Raider trilogy, showcasing the final stages of Lara’s development from a bookish young woman into a hardened tomb raider. In the concluding chapter in the trilogy, Lara travels through the jungles of South America in search of the lost Incan city of Paititi, battling her old enemies, Trinity, from the previous game, and 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 positive reviews, particular praise being directed towards the game’s emphasis on puzzles and challenge tombs (originated in Rise of the Tomb Raider).

Author: Richard Chachowski

Title: Journalist

Expertise: Classic Film, Contemporary Film and TV, Video Games, Comic Books

Bio:

Richard Chachowski is an entertainment and travel writer who has written for such publications as Wealth of Geeks, Fangoria, Looper, Screen Rant, and MSN. He received a BA in Communication Studies and a BA in Journalism and Professional Writing from The College of New Jersey in 2021. He has been a professional writer since 2020. His geeky areas of interest include Star Wars, travel writing, horror, video games, comic books, literature, and animation.