Putting the best Tomb Raider games into any sort of order is no easy feat, given the vast number of caves, caverns and evil corporation headquarters Lara Croft has infiltrated over the years. Having first rolled out on the Sega Saturn way back in 1996, the intrepid archaeologist has made us laugh and cry on her myriad adventures – each jam-packed with more exploration, combat, and puzzle-work than you can shake a Scion artefact at. It’s hard to believe Lara has been spectacularly spelunking for more than a quarter of a century now, but, equally, it’s hard to picture the pantheon of video games greats without her in it. Without further ado, here at the 10 best Tomb Raider games of all time for you to sink a climbing axe into.
The best Tomb Raider games are…
10. Tomb Raider: Chronicles
Formats: PC, PS1, Dreamcast
With Lara Croft apparently killed off at the end of Revelations, the following game was a collection of stories from various points of Lara’s exploratory career. By this point, the engine was tired, Lara was tired, the control scheme was tired and the level design was tired. Not exactly a recipe for success, then.
So while this isn’t a particularly awful Tomb Raider adventure, it isn’t a particularly good one, either. Oh, and the ghostly wraith things are weird. The series has always had an air of the supernatural around it, but Scooby-Doo would have a field day with this one. In fact, if Lara unmasked one, it would probably turn out to be old man Winston, the butler from Croft Manor. “And I’d have gotten away with it too… if it wasn’t for you pesky kids always locking me in the freezer”.
9. Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation
Formats: PC, PS1, Dreamcast
This is a slightly strange entry in the series. It’s classic Tomb Raider, but it starts off with you playing as a 15-year-old version of Lara. Despite showing a version of Croft that no fan of the franchise ever needed to see, The Last Revelation commits to the undiluted, hardcore platforming that made the PS1 games such a success. Sure, it’s hardly Shenmue, but during one of Lara’s leanest periods, this underrated Dreamcast entry at least kept Croft’s name in the (semi-relevant) conversation.
8. Tomb Raider 3: Adventures of Lara Croft
Formats: PC, PS1
The PS1 trilogy-capper benefited from a new game engine, allowing for more complex and densely-populated environments. The quality is high, but the game’s design is a bit obtuse at times – it’s super easy to get lost in most of the levels. Oh, and Lara sneaking around Area 51? Really?
7. Tomb Raider: Underworld
Formats: PC, PS3, PS2, Xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo DS
One of the best-looking games on Xbox 360, Underworld represents the pinnacle of second-phase Lara. In a post-Uncharted world, it was clear Lara and her newly reclaimed puzzling and platforming skills had learned a lot from Nathan Drake. In terms of gameplay, Underworld offers a tantalizing sense of freedom that while welcome, is never fully realized – an early underwater level hints at a less linear approach that doesn’t fully come to bear. Still, this is a slick, handsome adventure that kept Lara’s momentum ticking over following the success of Anniversary.
6. Tomb Raider 2
Formats: PC, PS3, PS2, Xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo DS
Lara’s first sequel is very similar to her initial outing, but passed up Saturn and affirmed PlayStation as the explorer’s spiritual home. TR2 expands some of the original’s concepts, like actually allowing you to ride vehicles (as opposed to just wistfully watching cut-scene Lara have all the fun), and allowing you to explore more outdoor environments. Ones with the actual sky, not just ‘black’.
These days, it’s a frustrating affair with too many instant deaths which force you to progress through trial and error. But there’s an iOS port doing the rounds, with cleaned-up textures. If you’re a series fan, this stellar entry deserves a look if you’re longing for some retro raiding.
5. Tomb Raider: Legend
Formats: PC, PS3, PS2, PSP, Xbox, Xbox 360, GameCube, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo
If it wasn’t for the success of Legend, there’s a good chance Lara’s terrific reboot trilogy would never have seen the light of day. Following Angel of Darkness’ disastrous release in 2003, the relic-pinching series looked all but dead. Once the dust had settled though, Crystal Dynamics bounced back with a prequel/part reboot that looked to remove the unfocused excess of AoD.
Placing more emphasis on puzzles and sharp platforming than its combat-heavy predecessor, Legend remains a confident reminder of what Lara is all about. Displaying the sort of streamlined setpiece spectacle that would ultimately put Lara fully back on the map in 2013, this is the game that started Ms. Croft’s deserved redemption.
4. Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Formats: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Stadia, Mac
Technically accomplished, if a little soulless, the final part of rebooted Lara’s trilogy is still a superior action adventure. While battling jaguars in the sweaty bowels of the Amazon might not be quite as riveting as axing a grizzly to death in Rising of the Tomb Raider’s Siberian plains, Shadow takes the polished mechanics of its predecessors and builds on them with never-better stealth and gunplay.
Yes, the story is once again a weak point. But when the Challenge Tombs are so good and the setpieces so compelling – the early flood scene is an absolute jaw-dropper – it’s hard to begrudge Shadow being the weakest entry in a stellar trilogy.
3. Tomb Raider
Formats: PC, PS1, Sega Saturn, Android, iOS, N-Gage
By modern standards, the platforming is as stiff as old-school Lara’s acting, but there’s no denying the original Tomb Raider is one of the most influential video games of all time. While most developers were struggling to get to grips with the original PlayStation and Sega Saturn, Core Design casually dropped an all-time classic action-adventure out of seemingly nowhere.
Alongside WipEout, Tomb Raider cemented PlayStation as the coolest video game brand that had ever been. In Lara Croft, the medium had finally found an icon who could stand shoulder to shoulder with a certain Nintendo plumber and speed-loving Sega hedgehog. While the game’s sex appeal undoubtedly led to the game’s colossal sales success, OG Tomb Raider is also a really freakin’ good video game. The combination of considered exploration, expert-level design, and classic combat encounters – who could forget shooting a T-Rex in the face in the iconic Lost Valley level – ensures the first Tomb Raider will remain an enduring gaming icon for the ages. Tomb Raider: Anniversary, released in 2007, also offers a neat upgrade of the original’s ideas and source material.
2. Tomb Raider
Formats: PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Stadia
After years in the wilderness, Crystal Dynamics brought the First Lady of Video Games back to relevance with an almighty bang. Wisely taking cues from Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series, this brilliant reboot grounded the Tomb Raider universe, shunting aside campy fights with dinosaurs for gritty behind-the-shoulder shootouts with unhinged cultists.
While the story is forgettable, the downbeat setting is an absolute winner. Focused while also containing open-ended hub areas, the windswept island of Yamatai proves to be a brilliant setting. Throw in sturdy platforming and sharp shootouts, and 2013’s rebooted Raider stands tall as one of the greatest entries in Lara’s esteemed series.
1. Rise of the Tomb Raider
Formats: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Stadia, Mac
The best Tomb Raider game ever made… and it’s not all that close. Building on the winning template of the 2013 reboot, Rise of the Tomb Raider doubles down on freedom and player choice. Expansive mini hubs dovetail beautifully with heavily choreographed set pieces to create a game that’s truly a master of all disciplines. Oh, and it also looks absolutely incredible.
Does the stiff story compare to the light-hearted, perfectly paced fun of Uncharted? Absolutely not. Still, Rise gives players more agency and freedom than any of Nate’s adventures, in a game where the quality of platforming, puzzles, and shootouts simply can’t be denied.
Forget everything that’s going on in the world and lose yourself in the excitement and mystery of these best adventure games.