Ranking: The "Tomb Raider" Franchise

I'll let you in on a fact about Yours Truly- Lara Croft is one of my role models. To me, she stands side by side with Samus Aran, Jill Valentine, Aya Brea, Joanna Dark and Sonya Blade. Despite her pointy zonkies in early games, despite her continually being aggressively pushed as a sex symbol (Playboy? Nude Raider? Seriously?) she still remains a titular (GAH!) stalwart of the action genre. Fearless, intelligent, nearly unflappable and with nada consideration for endangered species or actual archaeology, Lara and by extension the Tomb Raider series has seen quite a few re-imaginings from the original collection to the more recent Lara Croft: Tomb Raider titles and finally 2013's controversial reboot Tomb Raider and its most recent follow-up Rise of the Tomb Raider. To celebrate and to share with you my own two pence, this article is a personal ranking of all of the main games. Agree? Disagree? Don't hesitate to share your personal rankings in the comment section!

10) Tomb Raider: Angel Of Darkness (2003)

Oh dear. Angel Of Darkness bears the tragically infamous distinction of being the first installment of the series on PS2. Packed to the rafters with bugs, glitches and general broken mechanics, it also sees Lara becoming a darker, grittier protagonist without any true motivation for it other to be Dark And Gritty (TM). Oh, and some fella called Kurtis Trent who you could play as?... Yeah, it doesn't really ring that many bells in retrospect, does it?

There was a lot of excitement for this game prior to its release and I'm not too proud to admit that I was among the masses, eagerly awaiting what amazing adventure Lara was going to accompany me on next. But despite its strong opening sales, the mine cart quickly sped down-hill and it wouldn't be until a few years later before anybody really gave a hoot about Lara again. What is a shame though is that there is nothing wrong in giving Lara an edgier temperament in theory, but emotional stakes need to be present, and unfortunately, AoD missed that brief.

9) Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (1999)

Technically the last of Eidos's original run, The Last Revelation dates back the early years of Lara at the tender age of 16 going on her first expedition with her mentor Werner von Croy in the first level of the game before moving forward into the present. Although it has all of the trappings of what one could expect from a Tomb Raider title with rampant adventure, stimulating locales and interesting puzzles I got a sense that the developers were slightly more focused on giving Lara new tricks to perform rather than an over-all narrative agenda.

There is still some nice stuff in TLR, namely the brand new ability for Lara to mosey back to previous levels, while also having the option to take various paths, each one of them with their own set of nifty challenges. respectable game though not, shall we say a true revelation to the franchise.

8) Tomb Raider Chronicles (2000)

A direct sequel to TLR, Chronicles sees Laras' friends and associates congregating in Croft Manor to reminisce over Lady Croft's past adventures which of course take the form of playable flashbacks. This notion stands strong on its feet, but where Chronicles slips on the barbed wire is while the round-the-world set up was strong enough, its game engine (essentially the same one from the original Tomb Raider which was atrociously lazy to say the least) felt as reliable as an old suspension bridge above a ravine on a windy day. It was like watching a once legendary old boxer amble out for that final ill-advised and ill-conceived fight to cement his ailing legacy, then watching in horror and inevitable disappointment as he makes like an envelope and it stamped crazy in the first forty seconds of the first round. 

Chronicles was more of the same hat puzzles and ponderings-solving and gun play from previous installments which saves it from being less bad than AoD, with a few nice doses spooky supernatural stuff consisting of ghouls, demons and unknown entities. Unfortunately, the content made no difference in the sum of its parts, because the engine was well past its sell-by date and the series was more or less both feet in a deeper grave of its own making.

7) Tomb Raider Legend (2006)

Although technically effective and pretty to behold (with some lecherous camera angles favoring Lara's sit-upon for you pervs out there), you'd figure a plot concerning Lara recovering Excalibur and uncovering secrets about her past would have more emotional weight which Legend sadly misses the full mark. There are glimpses of Lara's sense of doubt as to whether or not she will find out what happened to her mother, but for a game that seemed to promise answers about what drives Lara forward, it seems more like a considerate afterthought than a point of definitive focus. On top of that, there comes an unusual QTE mechanic which may cause you to long for getting out of sticky situations on your own and the sense of accomplishment that comes with it.

Alternately, Legend boasts a varied and eclectic soundtrack by composer Troels Brun Folmann who would subsequently score Tomb Raider Underworld and Tomb Raider Anniversary. Folmann's sounds range from techno pop, contemplative zen and urban. It is a truly rich and varied OST that suits Lara journeying across different parts of the globe in order to find the legendary blade of King Arthur.

6) Tomb Raider Underworld (2009)

Despite looking and sounding beautiful with Lara boasting a respectable new set of moves in addition to an all-terrain motorcycle, the game play of Underworld didn't live up to the promise the story delivered. While not as buggy as AoD, moving Lara around could be a pain, especially underwater where picking up objects were a slight struggle.

That being said, there was a definite sense of purpose in the game, where Lara picks up the search for her mother who she feels may be in the realm of Avalon while being confronted by a threat in the form of an old foe... Natla, the Atlantean goddess who she came to odds with in the very first game. Lara's travels take her from the depths of the Pacific Ocean to the Davy Dark of the South Atlantic  all the while investigating various versions of the afterlife, one of my favourite being Xibalba in South America. Another plus in pocket are the quite frankly splendid level designs and gorgeous soundtrack of Maestro Folmann. Again, Folmann's work delivers on atmosphere, adventure, suspense and urgency which corresponds marvelously to the magnitude of Lara's quest. 

5) Tomb Raider III: The Adventures of Lara Croft (1998)

Although a well-liked favourite among the general community, I actually feel TR III didn't so much revolutionize the keystones of the franchise, but rather added some welcome extra polish to the sheen of the second game. Although adventure is firmly on the menu, with a diverse range of environments and an openness to the world there isn't much by way of story. Lara goes around and finds some Super Important Object, fights baddies, rinse and repeat. 

Despite this, III remains a very good time with its range of mini-games, some of which include quad bike assault courses and a lovely little visit to the elusive to Area 51 where, yes, Virginia, you see aliens!

4) Tomb Raider II (1997)

Tomb Raider II expanded on the original in all the areas we wanted. It took places across a diverse range of locations around the world, introduced a suh-weet arsenal of weaponry, and some vehicular segments to spice up the action. Not only that, it introduced us to the outside assault course where Lara could enjoy the blue sky rather than some ominous black ceiling... as well as some hilarious glitches where Lara will die simply for tripping into some shallow water. Oh, and that faithful geriatric butler Lara has who has flatulence issues. Good times.

While it had quite the act to follow after the debut of the first game, TR II remains a staunch favourite among the TR crew, not just out of loyalty to the franchise, but this is a genuinely fun, crazy and most importantly memorable game which takes what worked for the first game and added more to it which a great final act which sees a bunch of Mafiosos daring to infiltrate Croft Manor only to get a nasty surprise from the lady of the house herself. 

3) Tomb Raider (2013)

To say this game was polarizing is putting it lightly. The Beast himself has made it clear he wasn't wholly impressed with the reboot which sees a young, more salt of the earth Lara Croft caught up in her first adventure on a mystical island that is inhabited by madmen and the Japanese demi-goddess Himiko. A lot of dissent has hailed from the inconsistent characterization of Lara who can't decide as to whether or not she wants to reason with her aggressors or outright murder them, to how Lara dies if you slip up (some of the deaths are pretty senselessly gruesome to behold, no damn doubt). 

Being the fan I am, I can see the sides to these arguments and I find myself agreeing with them... so why is the reboot higher on my list than it should be? Well, for one thing, Lara is more or less human, that is, the game doesn't make an active effort to play up her sexuality. Lara is a beautiful woman no doubt, but it's not being shoved in your face like a custard pie and rubbed there. With that comes more emphasis on how Lara FEELS. As patchy as her growth in-game is, this is undoubtedly a more emotionally-driven story than one that simply has Lara on a single-minded quest to get an artifact of tremendous importance. Seeing Lara treated more as a thinking, feeling person generally speaking satisfies me more than living vicariously through a female, unslutty interpretation of James Bond. Although beats in the story are lack-luster and the themes do not live up to the potential they should have, it is still a solid if not strong game. Technically speaking, look, it's glorious- the tempestuous isle of Yamatai is a diverse environment where the elements act as the voice of Himiko and it is always a pleasure to explore its wilds. 

2) Tomb Raider (1996)

The O.G. The genesis. The kicker-offer. The you-get-the-idea. I have to tell you, sitting down in front of my computer in 1996 after precious Papa Sinclair installed this mysterious game had me incredibly intrigued; not just because it was an action game, but it had a woman in the main role. Although Metroid had become a staple of Nintendo, there weren't a lot of female protagonists front and center in mainstream gaming and then Lara shows up shooting her dual pistols, leaping gracefully over treacherous chasms all the while evading deadly traps, murderous enemies and... A GOD DAMNED T-REX! 

The mechanics are the equivalent of wading through a peat bog, Lara's controls are as blocky as her bosom and the graphics are no longer impressive to modern eyes, but let there be no doubt that Tomb Raider shifted the paradigm of not only action and adventure games but the portrayal of central female characters in the medium. No longer damsels in distress, no longer prizes to be won or villains to beat, but active, determined individuals who laugh in the face of danger just like their male counterparts and doing so in their own style. This game is history, folks, plain and simple.

1) Tomb Raider Anniversary (2007)

Is this cheating? Somewhat. 

The remake of the first game is pretty much the same, but what makes this version superior (to me) is how it goes further with not only the level designs, enemies, boss battles, as well as a magnificently atmospheric and at times grandiose score (yep, there's that Folmann fellow again) and puzzles but with potent narrative shifts. Lara has emotional weight though still retains her indomitable confidence and flippantly adventurous spirit (she faces down with a gargantuan Tyrannosaurus Rex with her pistols in a cut scene, holy shit!), but her journey is more concerned about how far she is willing to go in order to achieve her goals and whether or not she is willing to commit to her sacrifices with Natla watching her every move. In addition to this, Anniversary sees the debut of UK actress Keeley Hawes as the voice of Ms. Croft who would return for Legend and Underworld

No, the main plot is not as deep as Lara's backpack and yes, QTEs do show up in several cases, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much thought and effort went into this game, some areas notwithstanding. In addition to this, the game not only looks a treat, but the levels present truly legitimate challenge. One of my personal favourite locations is Saint Francis Folly, a level that demands memory, logic and athletic timing. I feel I should also chime in that Anniversary boasts my utterly favourite version of Croft Manor- when I get the money, I am going to build a place just like that and fuckin' live there, secret passages, obscenely long hallways and all. 

Respectful to the original and proud to stand on its own two feet, Anniversary is top of the pops. 

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Fallen Botticelli Angel/Elightened Eldritch/Lunatic Fringe
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