With over twenty years worth of games, it’s often tough to point to which of the Tomb Raider games stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Whether you’re a classic player who loves the original trilogy or someone who is more interested in the side stories, there’s a wealth of titles out there.
If you’ve never played the series before, though, the sheer number of titles available can be overwhelming.
Fortunately, this list can help narrow down the games that are truly the must-play entries in the series for anyone who is interested in learning more about the adventures of Lara Croft.
Below we’ll rank and describe the top 5 games in our opinion (in descending order) according to the author’s experience after playing almost all the games in the series.
#5 – Tomb Raider II
It would be absolutely unfair to create a list of the best Tomb Raider games without putting the second game in the original series on this list.
While there’s probably a strong argument to be made that everyone who loves Tomb Raider should at least play around with the original game, the truth is that the first game has a host of problems that were taken care of by Anniversary (which did make this list).
If you’re in the mood to go really old school, though, you should try to dig up a copy of Tomb Raider II.
While the original game deserves all the credit in the world for getting the ball rolling on the adventures of Lara Croft, Tomb Raider II is definitely the game that proved that the series would have staying power.
Though there’s a lot to say about new weapons or graphical tweaks, the real improvement that made a difference was the introduction of climbing.
Opening up the series to more verticality made a huge difference in how future levels would be planned, and thus made it possible for the fantastic tombs that would be prevalent in later games to become part of the series.
Of course, Tomb Raider II has its problems. It is still positively archaic by today’s standards and there are still some real control and camera issues in this game.
If you can get past that, though, you’ll find that a lot of the underlying challenge of the game is still very satisfying.
If you have ever wanted to get into the original series or if you want to see what it would be like to go back to the basics, you’re definitely doing yourself a disservice if your first choice isn’t to play Tomb Raider II.
#4 – Lara Croft Go
There’s no doubt that this is the weirdest pick on the list, but it’s here for the reason.
While the other entries on the list are absolutely examples of how to do the main line of the Tomb Raider series right, Go stands alone as a fun little side adventure that helps to show everything that the series could be.
It might not have much to do with Lara’s usual adventures, but it does help to pull players into the greater universe.
Go simplifies a lot of the best parts of Tomb Raider, but it does so in a way that still keeps all of the fun.
Part of the reason why this particular iteration of the series is so lovely is that it gets rid of one of the worst parts of the overall series – touchy controls.
Instead, players guide Lara through a turn-based adventure that greatly slows things down while still keeping the same kind of on-your-toes thinking that’s a must for getting through most of the series’ most beloved Tombs.
The game is supremely logical, giving players all the tools they need to solve each puzzle.
The only thing the player has to do is put them all together in the right order, a task that’s harder than you might think but that’s still within the grasp of most fans.
Go is excellent at introducing mechanics in such a way that every player can be prepared for later puzzles, but it gives enough room for failure that players really do feel smart when they finish a board.
While this game might eschew the typical high-octane adventures for which Lara Croft is so well known, it’s nonetheless a great encapsulation of the Tomb Raider series as a whole.
#3 – Tomb Raider: Anniversary
Tomb Raider Anniversary is one of those games that specifically caters to long-time fans of the series.
Though Legend might technically be a fresher game that introduces almost all of the mechanics and upgrades found in Anniversary first, there’s something special at this title.
If you’ve ever been tempted to go all the way back to the very beginning of the series to see what makes it so amazing, you’re much better served by going back to this sixth-generation remake than trying to go back to the frankly archaic first entry.
Even if Anniversary just gave Tomb Raider a bit of a facelift, that would be worth the price of entry. What many people forget about the original game is that it was fairly limited.
Not only were the controls exceptionally clunky and the camera unfriendly, but Lara was much more limited in how she could move compared to later games.
Anniversary gives players the full suite of moves that were available in Legend, though, making this game a great way to experience the general story of the original game without having to sacrifice more modern gameplay elements.
What’s most surprising about Anniversary, though, is how well it has managed to hold up with age. While Tomb Raider II might be on this list for nostalgia’s sake, Anniversary still feels like a legitimately good video game.
Part of it definitely has to do with the redesign that makes Lara look less like a pixelated monster, of course, but a great deal of it has to do with the fact that it manages to keep a great deal of the old school charm that made the first Tomb Raider so beloved while giving the game the facelift that it so desperately needed.
#2 – Tomb Raider (2013)
2013’s Tomb Raider did more for the franchise than most people will admit. Not only did it revive a franchise that both looked and felt like it belonged in the last century, but it set up a foundation for an excellent series that could take the franchise to places that it hadn’t been before.
Though Tomb Raider had always received high marks for being an inventive title, it wouldn’t be until the 2013 reboot that the series would actually be praised for both its writing and for it visual presentation.
While this might be heresy to say this to old-school fans, but 2013’s Tomb Raider is the first game that really gives players a legitimate reason to care about Lara from the beginning.
A lot of this has to do with the skilled writing of Rhianna Pratchett, but the overall plot of the game and the way that it presents Lara helps as well.
This is a game that features a Lara Croft who has not yet become the woman players will come to admire but who nevertheless perseveres through some amazing situations.
The game is also a standout because it’s gorgeous. The setting was gorgeous and lived-in, a true testament to the power of the then-new Xbox One.
The game also took the time to render a Lara who looked a lot more like an actual human being, which did help to make it easier to empathize with her as a person.
All of this, coupled with the game’s excellent exploration mechanics and its focus on survival, helped to show that the Tomb Raider series was more than capable of keeping up with the franchises that had grown in its wake.
It’s hard to overstate how important this game is to the franchise as a whole.
#1 – Rise of the Tomb Raider
If there’s a single game that is the true pinnacle of the Tomb Raider series, it has to be Rise of the Tomb Raider.
An absolutely amazing game that does nothing but build on the success of its predecessor, Rise is a sequel that’s neither as revolutionary as Tomb Raider II nor is it as safe a bet as games like Angel of Darkness.
Instead, it’s a sequel that fully understands what players want out of the Tomb Raider franchise and that makes the kind of incremental improvements that are necessary to make the game’s story stand out.
It’s hard not to praise this game simply on the merits of being ‘Tomb Raider but better’.
It takes everything that worked in the previous installment and amps it up a notch, improving everything from movement animations to shooting.
The game even reduces the number of dreaded Quick Time Events present throughout Lara’s journey, returning even more control to the hands of the player.
What’s left is a thoroughly cinematic experience that helps to sell the tale of a Lara Croft who is coming into her own and who will soon be the globe-trotting adventurer that was such a huge presence in the original games.
The other great thing about this game in particular is that it’s truly beautiful in a way that’s hard to match.
Though the previous entry was also lovely, the setting here seems better rendered and all of the challenges that Lara faces just look a little bit better.
Special attention has to be paid to the Tombs, which look and feel like highly upgraded versions of what players would’ve encountered in the original games.
The only real shame about this game is that its follow up, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, didn’t build as much on this foundation as it could have.
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