Even those who aren’t massive gamers have heard of the Tomb Raider franchise. It’s up there as one of the most recognizable intellectual properties in gaming history – helped, of course, by the numerous live-action movies of the same name.
Over the course of its release history, the Tomb Raider games have gone through so many changes they are a great example of the advances made in video games. It’s not just the graphics that have come a long way either, the gameplay has evolved in each title and has remained fresh throughout the years, all without sacrificing what makes Tomb Raider so great.
Today, we’re going to take a quick look at the Tomb Raider games in order. As there are so many, we’ll only briefly touch on each one, highlighting where the story takes us and any interesting additions. We’re sticking to the main PC and console releases for this list, so titles such as Lara Croft: Relic Run and Tomb Raider: The Prophecy won’t make an appearance.
Release Date: October 25, 1996
Platforms: Sony PlayStation, Classic Mac OS, N-Gage, iOS, Android and Sega Saturn
We have to go back almost 25 years to cover the original Tomb Raider game. Released on long-gone consoles such as the Sega Saturn and the PlayStation 1, Tomb Raider introduced the world to the archaeologist Lara Croft on her travels.
In this title, Lara Croft is on the search for three Scion artifacts located across the globe. There are plenty of puzzles and an interesting story in this first edition, although it definitely shows its age now.
Release Date: October 31, 1997
Platforms: Classic Mac OS, Microsoft Windows, Android, Sony PlayStation
It didn’t take long for the success of the first Tomb Raider title to spawn a sequel. Tomb Raider II released just a year later and brought new weapons, vehicles, and more ways for Lara to traverse the environment.
Lara Croft searches for the mythical Dagger of Xian in this title, getting into plenty of trouble along the way. Tomb Raider II also sees the return of an expanded version of Croft Manor for players to explore.
Release Date: November 20, 1998
Platforms: Sony PlayStation, Classic Mac OS, Microsoft Windows
Tomb Raider III didn’t bring as many refinements to players but there’s more of a focus on exploration in this title. The levels are larger and more detailed than ever and the action seen in the second game has been toned down a little.
In Tomb Raider III, Lara Croft has been hired to find four artifacts created from an ancient meteorite. These artifacts hold tremendous power and are hidden around the globe. The story is pretty interesting in this game and even has a nice little twist near the end.
Release Date: November 19, 1999
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Sega Dreamcast, Sony PlayStation, Classic Mac OS
The last Tomb Raider game to be released in the 90s doesn’t progress the franchise too much. There’s plenty of tomb raiding action to be found here, but the new mechanics are scarce and the story is similar to its predecessors.
At this point, the graphics have slowly evolved to the point where they are almost unrecognizable from the first title. Lara Croft’s model is smoother and less rigid which makes the platforming sections feel a lot more natural.
Release Date: November 17, 2000
Platforms: Sony PlayStation, Classic Mac OS, Microsoft Windows, Sega Dreamcast
As we moved on to a new millennium, it didn’t take the Tomb Raider franchise too long to follow. In this title, Lara Croft is currently presumed dead and the action takes place through three of her friends and associates as they remember her early exploits.
The action in this title takes us through the catacombs in Rome, a Russian Naval submarine, and an island haunted by demonic forces. The gameplay mechanics in this title are largely the same as those in Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation with a slight upgrade to the graphics.
Release Date: June 17, 2003
Platforms: Sony PlayStation 2, Mac OS Microsoft Windows
When Tomb Raider finally made the jump to PlayStation 2, a whole host of graphics improvements and optimizations came with it. There is less puzzle-solving in this title and the story takes a bit of a different approach in its story.
In The Angel of Darkness, Lara Croft makes her way across Europe in an attempt to clear her name after her mentor was found dead. The gameplay in this title wasn’t particularly groundbreaking and fell upon pretty harsh reviews after its release. Aside from a couple of new movement mechanics, the core gameplay was fairly repetitive.
Release Date: April 7, 2006
Platforms: Nintendo GameCube, Sony PlayStation 3, PSP, Microsoft Windows, Sony PlayStation 2, Xbox 360, Nintendo DS, Game Boy Advance, Xbox
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Making the jump to yet another generation of consoles, Tomb Raider: Legend set out to rework the series and bring back the fans who had given up on playing stale sequels. This reboot reimagined the origins of Lara Croft and followed her on her journey to retrieve the mythical sword Excalibur.
The environments were a huge step up from anything we have seen in the past and the healthy mix of action and puzzles kept gameplay fresh throughout the entire campaign.
Release Date: June 1, 2007
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Sony PlayStation 3, PSP, Sony PlayStation 2, Wii, MacOS, Xbox 360
Arriving just over a year later, the next edition of this Tomb Raider reboot was simply a retelling of the original Tomb Raider story from 1996. The story remains mainly the same and the title makes use of its new gameplay mechanics to flesh out the action.
This was great news for fans of the old game and Tomb Raider: Anniversary was very well received. The return to its roots, exciting combat, and tricky puzzles was exactly what the series needed to rekindle some of that lost fire.
Release Date: November 18, 2008
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Sony PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, Sony PlayStation 2, Nokia N-Gage 2.0, macOS
Beginning with Lara Croft’s mansion exploding into flames, it was obvious from the get-go that Tomb Raider: Underworld would have a darker story than its predecessors. Following on from the events of Tomb Raider: Legend, Lara Croft continues to seek the entrance of Avalon, encountering the usual host of puzzles and action along the way.
The graphics continued to improve and the gameplay evolved to be a lot more streamlined. The dynamic combat was faster than ever, players had to be careful traversing the environment and some of the puzzles were pretty elaborate.
Release Date: August 18, 2010
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Sony PlayStation 3, iOS, Android, Xbox
Dropping the Tomb Raider mantle from the game for the first time, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light was an interesting sequel with an emphasis on cooperative play. The fixed-perspective isometric view added an interesting dynamic to the gameplay and the huge emphasis on puzzles was a great addition for fans.
The addition of multiplayer was also a major first for the series. One player can control and the other can take control of an ancient Mayan warrior named Totec. Each character has different abilities and skills which are suited to certain puzzles.
Release Date: March 5, 2013
Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, macOS, Nvidia Shield, Xbox One, Google Stadia
Marking the first real reboot of the franchise, Tomb Raider was released in 2013 and shook up the formula with a bunch of new features and a great story. A cover system and crafting system were added and for the first time in the franchise, you felt quite vulnerable.
The exciting combat and gritty consequences of getting it wrong was the perfect way to pull in new fans. Some of the death animations for Lara were so gory you’d often recoil in horror. This led to a very down-to-earth, realistic feel to the gameplay.
The story this time around is set on a lost Japanese island and features some of the most open-ended levels of the franchise. Recovering from a shipwreck, Lara must locate other survivors while trying to work out what’s happening on the island.
Release Date: December 9, 2014
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One Microsoft Windows
This title falls into the series as a bit of a follow up to Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. It features the same camera system as well as a strong focus on cooperative play.
The story follows Lara Croft as she teams up with Carter Bell and the gods Isis and Horus to defeat the evil deity Set. While the story is a bit far from what we’ve seen in the franchise so far, it’s an interesting departure.
The only major addition since Guardian of Light is the fact there are four characters to choose from this time, each with their own ability set. The gameplay mechanics and graphics remain largely the same.
Release Date: November 10, 2015
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, macOS, Google Stadia, Linux, Xbox 360
Acting as a sequel to the 2013 reboot, Rise of the Tomb Raider continues the story with Lara Croft heading into Siberia in the search of the legendary city of Kitezh. Not a whole lot has changed since the last installment, the graphics are still as stunning and the open-ended levels are a joy to explore.
The combat has been tweaked a bit here and there but it still retains its gritty feel. There is a large variety of weapons on offer as well as some great stealth mechanics for those who’d like to avoid the action. New combat skills can be acquired as well as the ability for Lara to learn new languages – something which allows her to discover relics.
Release Date: September 14, 2018
Platforms: Xbox One, macOS, Linux, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Google Stadia
The final game (so far!) of the Tomb Raider series is Shadow of the Tomb Raider. This is the third title from the latest reboot and features the same stunning landscapes and an excellent storyline.
This title also puts a lot more emphasis on the puzzle sections which are delightfully tricky to solve at times. A new barter system makes an appearance that allows Lara to trade and sell some of the resources she finds on her travels.
The story follows on from Rise of the Tomb Raider and sees Lara Croft and her friend Jonah Maiava try to stop the Trinity organization. You’ll explore dense jungles, hidden cities, and even oil fields on your journey.
That’s quite an impressive list, isn’t it! For a series to last this long is impressive enough as it is, but for the majority of the games to be well received is quite rare in the gaming world. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for Lara Croft and her adventures.
Hopefully, we’ll see Lara make an appearance on next-gen consoles this year or next, but for now, why don’t you let us know what your favorite Tomb Raider game of all time is? With so many to choose from, we’re expecting a lot of different answers.