TOP RAIDER: Ranking ALL main Tomb Raider games (PC)

TOP RAIDER: Ranking ALL main Tomb Raider games (PC)

In this video I’ll be ranking all main Tomb
Raider games on PC. If you’re impatient and don’t want to listen to the reviews, here’s
the short version of my list but remember, it took me one year to make this video so…
I took each game and their extensions into consideration. For some games it didn’t change
anything. For some others, it changed the deal. For duration purposes, I couldn’t go
too much in-depth but I tried to treat them fairly. If you disagree with my personal choices,
you have a poll at the end of the video and you are welcomed to share your thoughts. Disliking
this video won’t do anything except make it more visible in search results for people
other than you. That’s how YouTube works in case you didn’t know… The timecodes will
now appear on screen for your convenience and a progression bar will occasionally pop
up on screen. Check the description and the comment section to access the timecodes anytime
during the video. Before I start, you might be interested to
know that this video includes a little contest. To learn more about it, you can jump to the
end of the video using the timecode that appears on screen now. Some of you pointed out it
was hard to compare them all but as a player of games like Final Fantasy, let me tell you
that video game franchises are precisely about change, but they need some continuity. Stuff
you found in the “1.5 generation” like tightrope walking and bar swinging, served as basis
for later Crystal Dynamics titles just like you could argue the RPG turn of recent titles
recalls the progression system in Angel of Darkness or that the survival instinct was
derived from stuff that evolved generation after generation, notably generation 2. Yes my friend, I believe they CAN be compared
! But there’s one last thing I need to say about the method. The story is NOT what I’m
essentially interested in. I take it as background because, like old movies, video games stories
are often determined by the technical limitations of the engine. So the point is to see which
games made the best of what the developers had in hand by looking at things like the
gameplay, game mechanics, difficulty scaling, telegraphing, game balancing, level and environment
design, progression, orientation, navigation, visual and sound design. And don’t worry I’ll
try to pay justice to the games that found themselves at the bottom of the list and I
will get incrementally critical as I move onto my personal favorites [HAPPY?]. Now,
without further adieu [LET’S DO IT!] Before the hostilities begin, let’s read what
Andy Sandham (former scriptwriter and level designer for Tomb Raider III through V) said
about The Last Revelation: “Effectively we came up with a script because we were getting
very tired of doing Tomb Raider by Tomb Raider IV. So we decided to kill Lara” When the guy
says he was “tired”, he means it. Nathan McCree, then-former composer for Tomb Raider I and
II, recalled in the same interview that… “there were camp beds in various places around
the building. “, that “many people were sleeping under their desks” and that he “found somebody
asleep in a cupboard once.” [SERIOUSLY?] THIS WAS the context Chronicles was published
in… and I believe players cannot ignore that. This game wasn’t meant to be. It was
made of pieces and brought to life by the godly force of Eidos Interactive. Quite a
Frankenstein monster indeed! Oh yeah, and, talking about monsters, there’s THIS. [MEME
SCREAMS/DISGUSTING] Yeah, that’s right. And that was probably the greatest innovation
Chronicles brought to the franchise, and back then the absence of any other remarkable novelty
was seen by many as yet another proof that the golden age of Tomb Raider was over, that
moving over onto the next generation was now the best thing that could happen to Lara Croft.
Honestly, I think Chronicles is one among the best introduction you can have to old-gen
Tomb Raider if you want a quick overview of all the possibilities the game engine offered.
So why does it get so much criticism? During my research, I found that the Video
Game Bible went so far as to compare the series to the Dodo, a bird that went extinct in the
17th century. I can’t buy the “same old thing” argument, though, because this is what video
games do. Of course, I can’t deny the gameplay didn’t change much and was slightly improved
but isn’t that what ALL other game franchises I can think of actually do? Call of Duty,
Mario, Age of Empires, regardless of the genre, there HAS to be constants in the gameplay.
It’s the story and the technical possibilities of the game engine that determine how and
what can be done to make it feel different, and this is where Chronicles failed… actually!
It didn’t propose anything that was new, really new. Everything about it is just old and didn’t
really satisfy any Tomb Raider fans of the first hour. But the game developers, and they
earn my respect for that, did their best to conceal it and you especially see that as
you move deeper into the game. Each Tomb Raider game has a pace of its own.
While the first two were rather fast-paced, the pacing of the two that came next was slower.
Chronicles is a mix of the two: levels are brief, and there aren’t as many stages as
in the three previous games. The slow pace of the game comes from the fact that, when
you play it for the first time, finding out what to do might be a chore. For example,
in the Trajan Markets, you must guess that you should pull this rope three times to trigger
the clock mechanism. Same thing for Gallows Tree and the Old Mill. The objectives are
unclear and having three levels with a young Lara and no gun just makes a previously interesting
game mechanics quite dull. And it was done already. In the same game. The secrets are
another way forcing you to backtrack to a previously unreachable area. When you don’t
know what to do, this game will make you crazy because the levels are so small. These moments
just break the rhythm. Not to mention the cutscenes doing a lame job at making the game
more consistent. This rotten corpse is a [GRAMMAR NAZI 1] by the way…. Chronicles was a clearly stepback. It’s the
direct opposite of The Last Revelation, which (in spite of its sprawling and interconnected
areas) managed to keep it linear for the player not to get bored (well, except in Cairo perhaps!).
Things you could do in the former, like breaking crates and jars for pick-ups, have now been
replaced by these slow animations of Lara searching the furniture. The camera doesn’t
give you hints anymore, it rather does its best to slow you down. And while The Last
Revelation made a point of making the enemies more than just “shoot and run”, Chronicles
doesn’t. The Gladiator status, the gargoyles… they stand in sharp contrast with what was
done before, like the guardian statues in the Temple of Shiva that could use their swords
for defence. Chronicles isn’t holistic the way The Last Revelation was. Chronicles is
just a succession of unrelated parts, like the sky. There’s no sense of tension or accomplishment
as a result and the overall art direction is way inferior to its predecessor. The lightning
effects are quite dull, compared to the two previous games. [DOES ANYONE LOVE ME?] Don’t say that, Chronicles!
You DO have some fans you know. But it’s hard to miss the obvious here: its biggest drawback
is how it recycled stuff you found in other games, which also explains why it felt like
a stepback in addition to a patchwork. You get this déjà vu every now and then. there’s
the Doberman in Roma, the keyholes in “The Base” and “The Submarine”, Pierre, Larson
, Van Croy, the Desert Eagle (but it was nerfed) and the MP5 (now a HK) and the rolling lasers.
The game is even recycling itself at some point: it starts with the textures used in
the level design and the absence of genuine enemy variety, and it continues with the player
backtracking in the sub or in Ireland. Tomb Raider 3, among others, did a better job at
making this less apparent. I said I wanted to be fair with games that
found themselves at the bottom of my list. So here’s what I like about Chronicles : its
greatest weaknesses are part of the charm, they make it strong. OK it wasn’t THE most
original Tomb Raider game ever made but it is still quite original. There’s a few things
standing out: the changeling, the sea hag, the cyborgs… these enemies contribute to
make the game more dynamic. Stealth added flavor to the gameplay: the cook in the submarine,
the VCI levels… So did the short underwater section. and occasionally, there’s a few refreshing
puzzles but, considering TLR, it was weak. The way it was built, the game undeniably
has an original structure. It’s a cultural mosaic, a polaroid picture of the 1990s. The
recycling I was mentioning earlier? I take them as tributes to everything Tomb Raider
had been. Ireland focuses on a younger version of Lara like The Last Revelation did and the
futuristic environment at the end is a throwback to the third installment. In terms of gameplay,
Lara’s still super badass [DEMON + SCREAMING GUYS] The structure seems to espouse the chronology
of previous titles : there are four main stages and I believe they all hint at a specific
game… at some point: the classic setting of Roma pays homage to Tomb Raider I, the
linear levels in Russia bring back memories of some parts in Tomb Raider II and The Golden
Mask, the puzzle-like design of Irish levels resemble Tomb Raider III and that the Van
Croy levels enrich a story that The Last Revelation had begun. In conclusion I maintain that Chronicles is
not a bad game, it was just disappointing but it remains an excellent introduction to
old-gen Tomb Raider. It’s an anthology, a compendium if you prefer. If you’ve haven’t
played it already and don’t know shit about the first four games, then you should start
with it. t’s a piecemeal approach and a tribute to everything Lara Croft was and should be
considered as such. Some consider Chronicles the all-time best Tomb Raider but I obviously
don’t agree with this… [GRAMMAR NAZI 2] Haaa, Tomb Raider 2013. I don’t know how much
money they gave AngryJoe and WatchMojo to actually make people believe this was the
best Tomb Raider game but that’s a serious matter, really, because it’s not. It’s far
from it. I call it the best non-Tomb Raider game with Tomb Raider in its title. But what
the hell do I know? And don’t start with Uncharted I never played it. For a long time I thought
that 2013 was at least better than The Angel of Darkness but as I was replaying it, I told
myself “NO”, at least The Angel of Darkness felt like Tomb Raider. And don’t get me wrong,
I was full of hope when that shit came out. [HEY KITTY]. The fact that 2013 is a reboot cannot explain
why it felt like a HUGE step backwards. What do you call a game in which the heroin’s basic
move set has been reduced by half in comparison with what you had 5 years prior? And because
Lara evolves little by little, gaining new abilities as you keep moving on, the gameplay
is ridiculously smooth and unambiguous. Platform-wise, it’s never really challenging. So to compensate
for the lack of difficulty we got active time events like this, or like this, or like this,
or like this. [KILL ME NOW] Funny that the two games that came next would
have more difficult platforms in their tutorial than this game at the end. Talking about challenge.
If you’re looking for good puzzles 2013 is NOT the way to go. The first challenge tomb
sets the tone for the whole game : everything you like about Tomb Raider is now optional
and scripted.The design of tombs was not “nestled” yet, the way they would be in the rest of
the trilogy. It means they have a simple, obvious layout making it impossible for the
player to really get stuck not knowing what to do. There was a single challenge tomb I
thought was cool, it was the Flooded Vault but it’s sadly more an exception than the
rule. The tomb of the lost adventurer was fine too, but again. An exception, not the
rule. Linearity has always been an issue in Tomb
Raider. Is an action-adventure title supposed to be linear or should it be circular? The
problem with 2013 is that it doesn’t balance between the two. You keep moving forward unless
told otherwise and the story stifles the gameplay. 2013 felt like a corridor, a succession of
little action scenes. You never have to backtrack except when you’re looking for collectibles
and even that is far from being an ordeal. So they put in a few compulsory puzzles like
the Chasm Monastery, the Cliffside Bunker and the Chasm shrine – albeit they made good
use of the physics engine, it’s still quite superficial. You just what the game wants
you to do, like fixing the radio tower. No brain required. This game is about action.
Adventure is more a convention than a purpose. The more you progress, the more it feels like
[KITTY2] More seriously though let’s talk about what
I liked with this game. I don’t hold any grudge against new stuff like the survival instinct
or Lara talking to herself all the time. I agree it’s too much, very repetitive but it’s
just the 2013 evolution of something that has been there for a long time, things like
the camera pans. This one comes from “Cave” and should be understood as “This is where
I need to go”. Lara’s journals on the other hand were another thing the developers wanted
to introduce in gen. 1, you especially see that in the Golden Mask and Lost Artifact
extensions, and it was eventually implemented in Angel of Darkness and in most generation
2 titles. Tomb Raider 2013 and the expanded universe it comprises was just the logical
continuation and something I thought was great. Finding relics and giving the world consistence
was a good idea, and they did a great job. Something I must say, this Tomb Raider has
some interesting enemies. From a gameplay perspective to start with, some using fire
weapons or molotov cocktails very early in the game and they give the impression they’re
alive, they react to what you do, they interject and their behavior will adapt to the situation.
Curiously enough, it was less superficial than in the future games. Talking about the
enemies, the game has moments that made me laugh for no reason in particular. The problem
is that it’s always the same guys, at least until the end of the game. The Oni soldiers,
though impressively lifelike, do not add anything really refreshing in terms of gameplay. The
final boss fight against the supersoldier is a repeat of the mini boss fight the player
did a few chapters earlier against Borys the giant. Fucking active time event. Both Rise
and Shadow have the same problem with their final bossfights but at least the execution
was better. Finally, another good point was the addition
0f the multiplayer. I didn’t really like it though but I must admit that this was a feature
fans of the Tomb Raider franchise had been demanding for a long time. Did you know that
talks about multiplayer in Tomb Raider began before Tomb Raider 2 was released? No? Well,
here’s another reason why all main Tomb Raider games can be compared isn’t it? So in this
regard, why not? It’s just not what I expected but it’s a step forward. Or else. That leads me to another question. Is 2013
even a Tomb Raider game in the first place? Tomb Raider games are action-adventure but
in that case, the “adventure” part is completly subservient to action. The prominence of action
in this game needs not to be proved. There are very few exceptions like the stealth stage
in Summit Forest. To have a stage like this in a Tomb Raider game is OK by me, it was
fun to play in The AOD, but in 2013, this stage came after a succession of action stages,
stages without even a bit of reflection, so instead of diversifying the gameplay, it was
boring. And you start from scratch if you die. I’m sure some players enjoyed it. As
far as I’m concerned, if I want stealth-action games I play Dishonored or Deus Ex, not TR.
I never asked for this. Me neither boy, me neither. The high concentration of action in 2013 is
not the only issue. 2013 suffers from what I call the “game as a movie symptom”. That
video games draw inspiration from other media is not a problem per se. The problem is when
the movie part of a game stifles the product and the importance they lend to the story
is partly responsible for that. And my opinion is that the story is predictable and the characters
are stereotypes. It’s likely that one of the reason I didn’t enjoy it as much as other
players is probably because I’m not the stereotypical straight white guy… OH CRAP. Are you trying
to tell me I’m white? I can’t say I hated everything about 2013.
All things considered, I appreciate the effort they made to produce an original game, like
Chronicles, and I don’t care about Uncharted. I’m utterly convinced that they had enough
material to create something really cool, like the gas vents in the Geothermal Caverns,
but that they didn’t make maximum use of what they had in hand. I believe they were overconfident
and took the risk of complying with the commercial trends of the market knowing they would alienate
players of the first hour. So you may disagree with my choice but hear me out: I’ve been
playing Tomb Raider for 20 years and 2013 simply didn’t suit my taste. This is not Tomb
Raider, just a failed attempt to do something fresh with the golden egg that Lara Croft
was. The direction that the rest of the trilogy took is the best example I can think of. So
this is why I will always prefer an unfinished game with genuine creative spirit over a finished
product tarnishing a franchise I’ve been playing for so long. The Angel of Darkness is a game that many
would say was worse than Chronicles. I beg to differ. If the latter was actually described
as “effectively a load of old shit” that nearly brought some of the developers to the brink
of depression, Angel of Darkness was nothing of the sort. OK It didn’t meet the expectations
of Eidos, the publisher AND the audience, us, but this time the effort to effectively
produce something genuine is clear. It was more about hope and survival than desperation
and money-making, the way Chronicles was. And a bit like Chronicles, The Angel of Darkness
tried to break new ground and be inventive. If the developers were well aware that Chronicles
didn’t reflect what they had in mind for future Tomb Raider games, The Angel of Darkness was
somewhat closer to what they wanted. It’s a really ambitious game which unfortunately
falls apart on the realization that it’s far from complete. Not only certain levels, but
also the fact it was supposed to be the first part in a trilogy. Instead it concluded another
trilogy, what I call generation 1.5, three games acting as an in-between, or a bridge,
between the classic era and the modern one. And this is the reason why The AOD shines
to some extent. From hope the game developers quickly went
to desperation. And let’s be realistic for a sec, were they really getting anywhere?
With a few months of further beta testing and polishing, the game would have been a
lot different, more complete, therefore more coherent and undeniably for the better. The
Angel of Darkness wasn’t the first MVP in the Tomb Raider franchise, that title would
rather go to Chronicles, but it certainly was an MVP, an MVP with a very strong potential. The Angel of Darkness should be seen as the
pinnacle of classic Tomb Raider. It was indeed a first step into the new world of gaming,
a false one perhaps but still. Anyone who played any of the first five games will immediately
recognize the work of Core Design. This is why levels like “The Hall of Seasons”, “The
Louvre Galleries” and “The Strahov Fortress” look so familiar, and if we overlook Lara’s
poor controls. This “classic” feel is in fact a benediction as much as a curse because it
prevented the game developers from thinking outside the box at a moment they should’ve.
In other words they had become prisoners of their own craft. Among the levels I found were the best, I
recommend “The Bioresearch Facility”, “The Sanitarium” and “Maximum Containment Area”.
They all comprise the horror part of the game and I found it more effective than the two
most recent titles I can think of, on a par with games like Tomb Raider III, The Last
Revelation or Underworld. From start to finish, the level design remains very coherent in
spite of the numerous changes they introduced in the way they were doing things. That the game was cunning is obvious if you
consider the amount of original game mechanics the people at Core Design carried in. Beyond
the levels themselves, The Angel of Darkness tries to integrate hub areas similar to The
Last Revelation like the Parisian “backstreet” and the “Hall of Seasons”. From an aesthetical
perspective the game was influenced by noir fiction, more particularly in the Prague levels.
The structure of The Angel of Darkness is that of a “game as a book” just like Tomb
Raider Legend and Tomb Raider 2013 were “games as movies”. These ambitions, however, fell
short of success. The most obvious flaw was the attempt to make
Lara too “realistic”, especially in terms of controls. This is even more visible in
the unpatched PC version because Lara will always walk a few steps before she starts
to run. Having a stamina bar or limiting her move set is not necessarily a bad thing so
long as it’s well done and the levels are designed accordingly. But to make it the main
focus of the game dynamics was certainly a mistake. It means that instead of puzzles,
the players are expected to perform certain actions before they can move on and I won’t
be the first one to underline how stupid some of these upgrades were. The 2013 reboot and
succeeding games use the same mechanic, the execution is perhaps not subtle but globally
better. Another pitfall in The Angel of Darkness is
navigation. The game is rather straightforward when you know what to do, more or less. But
every single move you’re going to perform is going to take you quite a very long time.
I could spend hours on this game but not because I was immersed or whatever. It’s rather the
result of the poor controls Lara suffers from. I was complimenting the level design earlier
but I must admit that many of these levels are actually incomplete and rudimentary. Had
the controls been less of a chore, these levels will be shockingly short but because the game
doesn’t know where to stand, you just have to try hard and have much patience. And I
think they knew that, so the levels were simplified. The Louvre is unique in terms of level design
and better telegraphed than “Red Alert” in Chronicles. Another pitfall is the combat system, notably
during the bossfights. Basically there are two situations the players will find themselves
in: it’s either boringly easy or unnervingly difficult. The red ghost and the fight against
Eckhardt fall into the first category. Lara will spend most of her time crouching to avoid
their attacks. At least the red ghost is more exacting than the last 2 bossfights, combined!
The ever so-slightly epic fight against the infamous Proto looks like you’re having fun
watching a dog trying to catch its tail. And it’s not so much the mutants with claws you
should dread but rather the camera angles. “A pig” they said. Well. A pig is still cleaner
than this. The first fight against Boaz is impossible to complete without the player
knowing how to move from one target to the next, especially given that you play as Kurtis
and the combat system is just crap. And even when you know how to do it, it may not work.
Lara can sprint at this point but he can’t. Now, what about the content? The Angel of
Darkness tackles themes and dilemmas similar to earlier titles like the first installment
and Tomb Raider III. In all these games, your archenemy wishes to recreate a now-defunct
race they consider as “superior” or “progress”. While this could be an argument in favor of
The Angel of Darkness being very “Tomb Raider-ish”, I can’t say that this was the best thing about
this game. On the contrary, it’s a tell-tale sign that the devs were still doing what they
knew they did best but the story gets old… They didn’t want to move too far away from
their previous games. They wanted the evolution of Tomb Raider to be just an improvement of
already-existing standards more than a revolution the way Legend was. It’s not exactly the 2013
reboot but at least, they didn’t rape the identity of the franchise. In spite of all these flaws, The Angel of
Darkness has some interesting highlights. “The Bioresearch Facility” was by far my favorite
level. It shows the kind of potential the game had. From a structural point of view,
we’re not far from classic levels like Atlantis : a succession of different puzzle rooms.
Except Atlantis had more traps, of course.The arcane puzzle, whose point is to kill a vine
acting as an obstacle (a hint at one of the most memorable level in Half Life perhaps?),
reminded me of Palace Midas with the lever puzzle. I notably enjoyed the Tomb of the
Ancient puzzle and the four challenges in the Hall of Seasons for they had the quite
“vintage” touch I was longing for. So you see the game is still very classic in a way,
and that was the problem: I believe Core Design couldn’t manage to really enter the IIIrd
millennium and anticipate on people’s new expectations. They had been criticized for
making games supposedly too hard for the American everyman and couldn’t refurbish their target
audience. The Angel of Darkness was the proof Core Design
failed to adapt. Each of the 6 games they published was either rushed or incomplete.
Every single of these games was made out of blood, sweat and tears. Some of the developers
were honest enough to acknowledge that the franchise had to be handed over and I must
say, I agree with this. One last thing: [ANY SCENE WITH A FRENCH SPEAKING]. Mark my words.
I’m French. The person whom you are listening to is a Frenchman talking to you… in English
! Seau I can spik like zat if you want but now you know something you probably didn’t
before this video : that some French can actually speak decent English. Now let’s move on. It’s always very surprising to see this game
ranking so low in such a list but I can understand the love it gets. Tomb Raider Legend came
out at a time when Angel of Darkness had disappointed MANY enthusiasts, whatever your opinion of
the game is TODAY, and the news of Core Design being shutdown was so depressing, that Tomb
Raider was just good as dead. When the news broke that Crystal Dynamics became the new
developer, for some of us, it was clear that the studio would do their best to save the
franchise. I could remember that, less than 10 years
earlier, Crystal Dynamics had published a very famous game that would make me play for
countless hours, even today, and this was Pandemonium 2. In terms of atypical platforming,
that kind of game was a master of the art so it sure looked promising. I wasn’t wrong.
There was one moment in particular during Legend I thought I was playing Pandemonium
and that was in Nepal but the impression didn’t last and fortunately I must say. Pandemonium
is not Tomb Raider but they have platforms in common. What must be kept in mind, when dealing with
Legend is that it was a ray of sunshine after the Angel of Darkness, no pun intended. [BOOING]
Legend thus became synonymous with “upheaval” : the graphics were improved, the controls
were improved, the pace and rhythm of the gameplay were… augmented. Behind the varnish
Legend may have a catastrophic gameplay. It’s going in too many directions, especially in
the beginning and that, my friends, was the result of a trend in the visual arts that
plagued the early 2000s and that I came to call “the action at all cost” marketing policy. I like to call Legend the “hyperactive child”
of the Tomb Raider franchise and this will be my first point. It doesn’t give you time
to breathe: cutscenes, banter, the tutorial interface, combat-dedicated sections. It was
in fact designed more as a promotional game than a video game in the proper sense of the
term and, in many respects, it suffers from the typical “action-at-all-cost” spirit of
the early and mid-2000s.The kind of spirit the latest Tomb Raider reboot was animated
with. And I must say, this is PRECISELY what Lara needed [PRECISELY]. Many people will
tell you that Legend simply brought Tomb Raider into the 21st century, which Angel of Darkness
didn’t, and they’re right. Legend is the exact opposite of Angel of Darkness but they both
suffer from the same kind of imbalance, the imbalance between action and adventure, action
and reflection… Had Angel of Darkness had the same controls as Legend it would have
been quite a good game. Had Legend had the same puzzles and extensive structure as Angel
of Darkness it would have been even greater. The imbalance between action and adventure
impacts negatively on the structure of the game. Just look at the world map. Initially,
Tomb Raider games contain a few areas and each area has different levels. In Legend,
one area is basically one level with multiple stages. Lara’s trip to Japan is a good example
of this. Of course there are a few exceptions but these are 95% action and 5% platform,
nothing more, and it breaks the rhythm. I know platforms are technically a subgenre
of action but in Tomb Raider this wasn’t quite the case because platforms meant that the
game geometry had to be analyzed for the player to get from point A to point B, as Underworld
does. How can a game that’s just a digression be a good Tomb Raider? Oh I see, get out of
here TR2! [GET OUT OF HERE]. Legend is not just a digression, it’s a diversion. It doesn’t
build a story around it like Tomb Raider 2 and, most importantly, it doesn’t enrich the
story after Lara comes back to Bolivia. It just ends. “Thank for your money”. What Legend does, however, is that it emphasizes
linearity in what is already a very linear game. Video games are linear by essence and
but previous Tomb Raider games tried to conceal this, which Legend doesn’t. The puzzles in
particular are way too self-explanatory. There’s no real challenge in terms of what you have
to do, it’s always very obvious. Legend is far from what a Tomb Raider game had been
like in the past, especially those with dedicated vehicle stages (The Tibetan Foothills, The
Ganges River, Venice, Antarctica, KV5). One way to break the linearity is to make a puzzle
less obvious. Nepal for instance. One of these crates could have been placed somewhere else
to force exploration, like in England where the player needs to break the railing with
the grapple and a chandelier to gain access to the coffin. That was good, but that was
it. To be fair, there’s something really positive
with Legend : it is dynamic. Not dynamic in the “action” sense of the term. Not only that,
no. It’s “dynamic” in the structural sense of the term, as it has more gameplay variations
than any of the other Tomb Raider titles I mentioned so far. The more you advance in
the game, the better it gets. Ghana, England, Nepal, the later stages in Kazakhstan. They
were all great to play through. Of the two official reboots the Tomb Raider franchise
has had so far, Legend is my personal favorite just because of that. [IT’S NOT LIKE YOU HAD
A CHOICE] + [DISGUSTING] I don’t like the ending though, it’s way too flashy and it
reflects perfectly a game mechanics which I thought was terrible. “Die and repeat”. At first sight you might
think that such game mechanics would be a good thing in a Tomb Raider game. Well it
is. Think about Tomb Raider 2 and all these traps in China. But Legend did the same mistake
as Tomb Raider 3 on Playstation: limiting saves–and this has been a recurring problem
with Crystal Dynamics, especially in their first trilogy. It means that when you die,
you may happen to have to start over a whole segment and Legend (like Chronicles) is just
a succession of segments like that. In Chronicles though, you could save anytime. I believe
Core Design realized that giving players the ability to save anytime was a way to give
them more freedom and that’s something Legend sacrificed by fear you would get bored. The idea is that Legend is more concerned
with the form than with content. It’s flashy not because it’s beautiful but rather because
it thinks we’re too stupid to realize that behind the varnish, there isn’t much. And
given the context, this is understable. This was after the first attempt of a studio carrying
the huge weight of responsibility over the shoulders. They have all the good ingredients
but they didn’t know how to cook. Just look at the secrets, another aspect of the gameplay
they took from Tomb Raider 2 and Chronicles as they actually appear in the world : they’re
not necessarily easy to find, especially gold rewards, but some of them are literally standing
on your way. You could take it as an invitation to explore but the game being fragmented into
non-communicating segments, if you missed one, you just start over. Good execution,
bad decisions. Legend is probably the most dynamic title
in the main Tomb Raider franchise. I make it sound as a compliment, and yet it falls
flat if it’s not properly paced and in this regard, Legend is a mess. But everything Legend
executes, it does it well. Does that make it good game? No, some decisions the developers
made were just bad. It’s not the “how” I’m angry at, it’s the “what”. Look, a plethora
of new characters you’d never seen before [REMEMBER ME 1] Who is this woman anyway?
I can’t recall her name because she was NOT properly introduced. Then there’s the first
boss [REMEMBER ME FIRST BOSS]. On some occasions it can useful to do things like that. Consider
this guy, the one who speaks Japanese with Lara’s voice – No seriously listen + [REMEMBER
ME 2], that joke is getting old — is he supposed to be an ally or an enemy? Problem is, that
doesn’t matter because in terms of tension, Legend is just as flat as earth. Hum, sorry
I meant a pancake. As flat as a pancake. The “Tomb Raider” in the title is in fact
more an imitation and I would say that it begins to feel like a consistent Tomb Raider
game midway in Ghana. The first puzzle room in Bolivia is also noteworthy but it is stranded
between a pack of unnecessary things. The more you progress in the game the better it
gets. Seriously, England is an excellent stage. It’s the proof that the level design was properly
exploited, that the execution was good, but the decisions were bad. Decisions like compressing
a genuine Tomb Raider adventure and limiting the key aspects of what makes it enjoyable
or restricting access to Lara’s Home based on your progression or these bloody vehicle
stages. This is not why I play Tomb Raider. Maybe that’s your case. Having a dynamic game is a good thing, but
compressing everything too much just makes it flat, like music, and tarnishes an otherwise
excellent execution. Eventually it messes with the pacing of the game and all these
poor decisions seem like a desperate measure to artificially maximize your playing time.
You know I hesitated sometimes when ranking these games, like which do you prefer between
Tr2013 and AoD, and this video is the answer. But for Legend there was no doubt. I knew
it couldn’t be as good as the games coming next. The first Tomb Raider game I ever played.
It was in 1997. I didn’t complete it before the retail version of the Unfinished Business
extension was released, though, and that was exactly one month after Tomb Raider III. Why
it took me so long to really beat this game, I wouldn’t know but it was the one that got
me into Lara Croft? HMM. . This was a DOS game. Don’t know what DOS is? Get lost. Now
I could argue that Tomb Raider is the best Tomb Raider game because it was the first
but this is not a gerontocracy. And yet Tomb Raider remains essential in the sense that
most of the mechanics and themes it instituted are still staples up to that date. The first and most qualitative aspect of this
title is an excellent level design. It’s very coherent from start to finish and, considering
3D action-adventure games weren’t very common before Lara Croft, it was great to be able
to evolve in environments that felt credible and mysterious, with historical references
here and there: the City of Vilcabamba is a legendary city and the symbol of Incan resistance
against the invasion of the Spaniards, the majestic Obelisk of Khamoon, the sprawling
Colosseum, the abstruse layout of the Cistern, the mythical city of Atlantis, the pyramid
at the Temple of the Cat in the extension… and many MANY other things. Special attention
was paid to making all the levels unique in their own rights. What I like with Tomb Raider
the eldest is that, with a few exceptions, the levels were designed to look realistic
and immersive. The developers clearly emphasized the coherence of the world they were building.
This is why many players found “Natla’s Mines” and the whole Unfinished Business extension
quite confusing. They had little but they did a lot. What is even more remarkable is that, knowing
this, you could expect the gameplay to be somewhat redundant, but it doesn’t feel like
that. Lara couldn’t do much back then (climbing a ladder was for example impossible) BUT the
little things she could do were key to the player’s progression: “St Francis Folly” and
“Atlantis” have very vertical designs and a multiplicity of little puzzles for you to
solve, and yet they’re very different. “Atlantis” is more linear and includes more combat sequences.
“The Cistern” and “The Tomb of Tihocan” have underwater stages and yet they are nonetheless
very VERY different. “Palace Midas” epitomizes the gameplay variety in Tomb Raider: climbing,
shooting, backtracking, interacting with the environment, solving puzzles, exploring, swimming,
jumping etc. This wasn’t much compared to now and yet the way the game was structured
is very dynamic in the noble sense of the term, and not artificially dynamic like Legend
was. It’s rather like little gameplay areas with specific things to do, or find, there. Tomb Raider 1 is a textbook case. The game
structure is noteworthy indeed: the pacing between action and reflection, the story and
the tension, the feeling of immersion and isolation… Tomb Raider I has an excellent
difficulty curve, moving from very linear stages to more sprawling and alinear areas
in which Lara will have to kill increasingly powerful enemies and solve many and various
puzzles, more or less. Levels starting in media res, are then immediately balanced by
one or two puzzles that require a bit of reflection. It might be true that the game mechanics might
be repetitive. You are often asked to do the same thing, like finding keys or some special
object to move forwards, but because there is a sense of progression, and because the
game environment changes quite often, you can’t really see that. Again “The Cistern”
and “The Tomb of Tihocan” have many textures in common but the way the environment is used
is not the same and supports the dramatic structure of the game. Tomb Raider is more than just a textbook case,
it’s a classic, but a classic that could be improved upon. Tomb Raider was first and foremost
an experiment, and a successful one, but an experiment that (I believe) was simply overshadowed
CHALLENGE! Nope. The City of Vilcabamba and the Lost Valley have potentially more dreadful
underwater sections. And animals don’t have teeth like that. Good day sir! Each time there’s
a new Tomb Raider coming out, the franchise is being redefined, it improves on what was
done before, letting go of certain stuff and bringing in new gameplay features. There was
no standard Tomb Raider could be compared with so the developers created their own standards
with no idea whether players around the world would fall in line; and given the technical
limitations back in the day, this game was, by definition, incomplete. Think about it. Don’t you think that the game
developers would have liked to include most of the things Tomb Raider has now? Lara talking
to you all the time was technically not possible back then, and what we had instead was NO,
just like they didn’t have the time to work on the sky, at least until the expansion.
This is why all the levels have such an enclosed environment (“Lara’s Home” included) and why
the camera forces you to look in one direction sometimes. It’s not that the game is not properly
telegraphed but rather than the technical limitations of the engine made it difficult
to propose an even more advanced form of telegraphy. When you get stuck because you didn’t know
about something really stupid, like moving a block or standing on a tile to open a door,
don’t you think that they were aware the player would likely be confused? Exploration in Tomb Raider is mostly about
orientation, finding your way in other words. In this respect, Levels like “The Colosseum”
and “Natla’s Mines” (although I think they look astounding) could have benefited from
a better telegraphy. All these problems were already topics of discussion back then. The “Unfinished Business” expansion is a good
illustration of how perfectible the main game was. It keeps the verticality and alinearity
found in the main game, in levels like The Sanctuary of the Scion, and adds even more
tension. Be warned. Tension and action are two separate things. Action is when you have
bunches of enemies coming at you and you just shoot the hell outta them. Titles like Tomb
Raider II and Tomb Raider Legend are based on this formula. Tension is when enemy presence
fosters unease and impacts on the way you move through the game environment. Unfinished
Business is just that, but better. It’s not just about the enemies, it’s also about the
puzzles and game mechanics. What they notably improved was the pacing.
Take “Return to Egypt” the first level (it wasn’t supposed to be the first, Lara should’ve
started precisely where the main game stopped but the order of the levels was changed for
the retail version of the extension for telegraphing purposes). “Return to Egypt” is the most linear
of the four additional levels and the puzzles are more about exploration for the sake of
exploration than exploration looking for a key (as “The Temple of the Cat” does). And
they didn’t forget the jump scares. So the levels are even more sprawling. The designers
were starting to think about more complex and alinear levels that intertwined, or rather
gave the impression they did. “The Stronghold” and “The Hive” reject the linearity of levels
like “The Great Pyramid” and keep the same aesthetics to improve on what was in the main
game to make you stay a bit longer in this atypical environment. Lara finds herself in
a huge, crumbling pyramid with deadly traps, original puzzles, dangerous platforms, multiple
enemies and little moments that will scare the s*** out of you. The same formula applies
to “The Temple of the Cat”. Think of it as one of the hardest tombs Lara gets to raid.
Tomb Raider is, in comparison, a healthy walk. Unfinished Business might a best of everything
that made Tomb Raider the original so good but it’s also a reminder that the game was
still perfectible. Seriously it looks like an older version of Underworld! It’s a shame
they were not part of the Anniversary remake because they really enhanced the main game
and brought it closer to the spirit of the games that would follow. Many people consider
Tomb Raider the best game in the series. In my opinion the people at Core Design were
still learning the craft, and I give them that, it’s normal. Tomb Raider Gold set the
limits of what a Tomb Raider game could be, but I prefer when you can go beyond those
limits. If games were just about landscapes, Underworld
would undeniably be the best of its generation. I believe it to be one of the most appealing
Tomb Raider games I have ever played but I can’t really explain why. The moment the player
takes a dive into the Mediterranean Sea, you knew this game was going to be different from
the other two. There’s something refreshing about it but there are reasons why it got
this place. I wish it didn’t but unfortunately it does. Let me why tell you why. Underworld is a good game. It’s not only the
conclusion of a trilogy, it was also the climax of generation 2 after all. There are interesting
puzzles and game mechanics making the fullest possible use of the visual space and sound
design. The story is focused, with tension, twists and revelations, and that will positively
improve your game experience. In terms of controls, Lara is perfect… at least in theory.
In reality you may find the camera sickening, especially in areas where exploration is key.
The problem doesn’t lie in the technical issues however. it leaves a bittersweet impression
when you finish it, like Legend in a way. And the point is that Underworld was felt
as a return to the true source of what a Tomb Raider game should be (what Legend was supposed
to do in the first place). Because Underworld lays strong emphasis on
“classical” Tomb Raider gameplay, players were right to expect a game with more longevity.
Quick time events were utterly revamped and you won’t spend your time dying over and over
doing the same sequence of events again and again. The idea with Underworld is that you
spend your time finding out what to do next and how to move on, which requires a keen
sense of observation and orientation. Exactly what I want when I play Tomb Raider. Lara’s
hints, and the sonar, may help a little but not to the point the most recent trilogy does
with the survival instinct. In a sense, Underworld was a return to the classic formula BUT there’s
something rotten in this kingdom, as Hamlet once said. Underworld is a dense game full of contradictions,
making it hard to assess the game satisfactorily. On the one hand it will give you a genuine
adventure, with a good pacing of the action and a good sense of tension that pervades
dungeons like the dark labyrinth in Valhalla, but on the other hand, it doesn’t live up
to its grandeur and remains quite superficial. Take the secrets for example. The game is
teeming with dozens of collectibles but it turns out to be VERY redundant. Nothing ever
changes. It’s quantity, not quality. Only the relics stand out. And yet it was a step
back from Anniversary. Perhaps it would have been more interesting to inject more variety
in their design and functions, a bit like what the reboot trilogy has been doing. So
the game is dense but it doesn’t live up to the potential it got, as if it were rushed,
but not quite (DLCs – talk to hand). Underworld offers a great and genuine adventure,
taking you from the wonderful Mediterranean Sea to the Arctic Sea. The player will quickly
notice the effort undertaken to make everything not linear. The player evolves in quite realistic
environments in sharp contradiction with the last two games. Making sense of the game environment,
how you can interact with it, is essential to move forward. This is all the more obvious
in levels like Bhogovati in Coastal Thailand. Probably one of the best stages in the lot.
You don’t even have to backtrack the way you must at the end of the Mediterranean Sea or
in Southern Mexico. Had Underworld had more levels like this, it’d be ranking higher for
sure. A few words about the level design and architecture
because this is where Underworld excels. The level design was mostly about dividing each
world into stages, the way Legend did in levels like England, Nepal and Ghana, but better.
This is especially true about Xibalba in Southern Mexico. The pacing in this level is just excellent.
It reminded me of River Ganges in Tomb Raider 3 due to the astute use of the motorcycle
and it reaches a superb conclusion in “The Midgard Serpent”. Most levels are thus more
functional, as each stage requires a different playstyle, in a fashion very akin to the first
installment, perhaps even more than Anniversary. The “Croft Manor” condenses some of those…
which leads me to another important fact I must praise about Underworld and that would
be the puzzles. This is probably one of the strongest point
in Underworld and you can feel that Crystal Dynamics learnt from their experience with
Anniversary. Just like there’s a gap between 2013 and Shadow you might be under the impression
that Legend was a misstep in terms of puzzle-solving because Underworld does the exact opposite.
You thought moving boxes was the hardest thing in Tomb Raider? Well this is what Legend suggests
given that it was the last puzzle in the game? What about giant calendars, bridges and exotic
statues, a labyrinth full of ancient creatures called Thralls, or some underwater hide and
seek, or another variation on the St Francis Folly classic? You’ll be surprised but there’s
not much. UNFORTUNATELY. I said earlier that Unfinished Business was close in spirit to
Underworld and that’s the reason why I prefer the latter over the first title. Tomb Raider
1 was OK and had great puzzles, the level design was so majestic that, in the end, the
difficulty of the gameplay was a bit…underestimated, which wasn’t the case in Unfinished Business
and Underworld has the same formula: big maps and big puzzles forcing in-depth exploration.
Everything is so BIG! So what do I get that weird feeling Underworld is a strange case
in point? “Underworld” is condensed but diluted. Maps
are big, but in the end they feel small, once you figure them out. Despite its grandeur,
the game is fast-paced and simply relies on a ridiculously considerable number of collectibles
to extend your playing time. Because they are optional, it’s very easy to just rush
the game, which New Game + encourages you to do. Besides, while improving on Legend’s
formula, having one big, consistent chapter in an exotic environment divided into several
levels, Underworld foreshadowed the coming of generation 3 Tomb Raider. I’m glad they
limited the unnecessary stuff like the banter during moments when silence was better golden,
and that you can come back after you completed a level (another insight into what the next
generation would be about). Easy boys, you’re coming soon. You’re making some people nervous. Now I know I know, Underworld theoretically
has all it got to be ranking among my best five. An all-encompassing story, a trip to
Valhalla, two majestic underwater sections that easily beat the most annoying puzzle
in The Last Revelation, some violent gameplay, with different combinations that will make
you feel powerful, an excellent pacing of the action, leaving you time for exploration,
fostering apprehension and creating tension (fucking lizards, fucking spiders, fucking
Thralls!) and I won’t even argue about the absence of a final boss fight cos there are
other creatures that will fit with this role. It’s a bit like what Tomb Raider 1 did : you
deal with the big guys and mess around with Natla’s plans. Natla coming back was an interesting
choice although I believe the plot was a bit superficial and chop logic. But I don’t know
there’s something that annoys me (dlcs redux) not only that. There’s a fly in the ointment. First. It’s way too short. It’s dense, but
short. Legend in comparison wasn’t short, it was succinct but it was at least coherent
with the movie format it was supposed to have. Underworld was disappointing, especially after
a game as good as Anniversary. Underworld could have been so much more! More weapons
to start with. Restricting weapons is not the most inventive way to stimulate replayability.
Then, why did you guys destroy the Manor after your fantastic work on Anniversary? Why limiting
saves again except to artificially make your game feel longer? Why so few stages when you
know that some of them are probably among the best ever designed? And… the Dlcs. Yes.
Before 2008 we talked about extensions, then the DLC product became increasingly popular.
The result? Unfinished games. I’m a PC player. I was denied the right to play the parts of
the game that were missing, specifically “Beneath the Ashes”. Fortunately that was the only
time Crystal Dynamics made me feel this way. With the DLCs this game would be ranking higher
in my list… probably. I don’t know. The Last Revelation was a good surprise. Tomb
Raider III was perhaps a decent game but it was felt that the series was beating around
the bush. The decision to kill Lara reflected the developers’ wish to start something new–a
new and more polished version of Tomb Raider and that’s exactly what The Last Revelation
did… on paper. I believe it was a masterpiece. It has an inner coherence that was unique
at the time in the series. But in reality the game was rushed the same way the three
previous were except it doesn’t really show because The Last Revelation felt like a coming
back to form. “Jez” wanted “fucking tombs”, a staff reported,
hence the decision to localize the action in Egypt was met. But don’t be fooled. Focusing
the action was also an economical means to reduce the amount of textures to be included
in the game, in sharp contrast with every single other Tomb Raider games of the Core
Design era. As a result the game was polished and really ambitious. It was more than just
a comeback to form, it was a reinvention of what a Tomb Raider title could be: there were
less enemies, more puzzles and you could see that Core Design was drawing inspiration from
their experience with previous titles to try and reinvent the franchise. It was the first time the player would play
Lara as a young, inexperienced adventurer. The tutorial levels in Cambodia were also
a way to show the progress they’d made in terms of animations and pathfinding. Removing
Lara’s Home was a wise but unwelcomed step in such reinvention : for many players, Tomb
Raider had become synonymous with… that. Reinventing the series enabled the developers
to produce what was then the most coherent Tomb Raider game in terms of structure, design
and gameplay. The structure of the game espouses the progression
of the plot. From the player’s first steps in Egypt to the final fight against Seth,
the developers did their best to produce a coherent and linear game experience in which
Lara will be put to the test: Karnak, Alexandria, Cairo and Gizeh, the four main areas in the
game, were all designed accordingly so they share many similarities in terms of level
design and gameplay mechanics. Some levels, like “The Guardian of Semerkhet” and the desert
railroad are more concise and were used as transitions between each. Thanks to such a
dramatic and game structure, The Last Revelation undeniably benefits from a great sense of
immersion. The level design plays a significant role
in this regard. Because the number of enemies was significantly reduced and the design of
puzzles was improved (The Burial Chambers, The Tomb of Semerkhet, Cleopatra’s Palaces
and the Mastabas, among MANY others), the player is clearly invited to take the time
to think things through before moving on too quickly. The aesthetics of the levels participates
to the feeling of immersion and overall coherence of the game, with much attention paid to the
details and atmosphere. Levels like The Sacred Lake and Coastal Ruins are just magnificent,
even by today’s standards. You also probably noticed how the sky reflects the dramatic
tension of the story. Compared to Chronicles, The Last Revelation does an excellent job. The gameplay however suffers from an imbalance
between action and reflection, especially after the levels in Alexandria. I’m probably
not the only one who found the whole Cairo stage a bit confusing and that was probably
because the game was rushed and sometimes poorly telegraphed. The decision to keep the
same kind of gameplay after Alexandria was bad because that’s the moment when the story
takes an unexpected turn and wasting time looking for a way to progress in Cairo breaks
the tension. Lara is supposed to rescue Jean-Yves but you spend so much time looking for digressive
stuff that you probably forgot the reason for Lara being there in the first place. The
last section in Gizeh suffers from the same kind of imbalance but I found it somewhat
better paced than the section in Alexandria. The Last Revelation was therefore very ambitious
and you can see that in the number of levels it comprises. Given that Chronicles was made
of some levels which were supposed to be part of The Last Revelation (like Roma) it seems
it was supposed to be even bigger. So the game sure was ambitious but the pacing and
dynamics suffered accordingly. So many puzzles and so little action ! When the levels are
linear, like the Mastabas, it’s OK but when they’re not, that’s just boring. Finding the
nitro to boost the quad was perhaps the worst stage because of that. Now what made The Last Revelation interesting
is how it redefined the grammar of previous Tomb Raider games. Take the enemies for example.
They did their best to make them more than just shoot and kill : the skeletons in The
Catacombs, the Aspi bulls, the ninjas, the dead knights… all of them were based on
same game mechanics previously unseen in Tomb Raider. Some of these enemies had abilities
similar to Lara’s, like the famous monkey swing. The same thing can be said for the
puzzles. While the previous game overemphasized block puzzles and platforms, The Last Revelation
tried to move away from that kind of redundant stuff. Tried, I said. The monkey puzzle, the
chess game, the scarabs, the Lost Library… They were all remarkable and made good use
of the new gameplay mechanics like shimming around or using the first person perspective
to shoot things. Even the section in The Great Pyramid, with the falling blocks, was interesting. And yet The Last Revelation is full of things
that felt obsolete, even back in the day. The grammar was new but the vocabulary wasn’t,
in other words. Take the final bossfight for instance. I said that the Last Revelation
tried to break away from the classic “shoot and run” mechanics but the fight against Seth
was really anticlimactic because of that. It was just a “redo” of what they’d done with
Sophia Leigh in TR3. They spent so much time working on the pathfinding that they missed
the point. The telegraphy too was obsolete: how are you supposed to know you should be
shooting at this ball or that you were expected to find x amount of tridents or that you should
detonate the mines and backtrack with your quad to progress in Cairo? Again, bad decisions
ruined the game but, unlike Legend, The Last Revelation was rushed out so I’ll be more
forgiving with it but HELL. I can’t explain why but replaying The Last
Revelation 20 years after its release kind of made me realize that it was the beginning
of a new era, that most of the codes and mechanics it introduced would define Tomb Raider up
to that date. This is why for me The Last Revelation is close in spirit to what the
series has become today. It was a very ambitious game with a new and original grammar but an
old vocabulary that kind of messed up the final product. This is also why I couldn’t
give it a higher position in my list. There was supposed to be a Gold edition and probably
it might have rectified what I believe was irritating about Tlr but that never happened
and it pains me to say that but… I’m still convinced it was better than Rise but Rise
had DLCs and THAT was what made the difference for me, the game was able to improve on itself. Rise of the Tomb Raider has been for me a
paradox. On a par with The Last Revelation, these games are really focused on the story
they want to tell and they were designed in this fashion. What sets them apart from The
Angel of Darkness and Tomb Raider 2013, two games in which Lara Croft was officially “reborn”
or “recreated” is that they were the product of a reaction more than a reinvention. In
a way, games like Rise of the Tomb Raider and The Last Revelation built up and broke
with the portrayals of Lara of their respective predecessors but in a more subtle fashion,
for the sake of continuity, like a buffer zone [BUFFER SIMPSON]. Both games came at
a critical moment in the history of the franchise as there was a crisis in the way Lara Croft
was perceived and represented. I know, these games belong to the same generation
and, on paper, it’s supposed to be the same character but in fact, it’s really not. Despite
the little negative feedback and general acclaim the reboot received, the game developers seem
to have realized that something was off with Lara 2013, also known as A Survivor is Born
(though the game didn’t live up to the premise Lara was a survivor). What really mattered
was the “is born” part in the title. The game was more concerned with Lara herself than
the story it had to tell. Hence, the execution was eclectic, if not disastrous, and failed
to reflect the “adventure” spirit old timers like me were expecting. Lara in this game
is more confident and the fact you can dress her with stuff reminiscing of the previous
games is not meaningless. Again the ability to change gear, and have bonuses related to
them, is the logical, up-to-date evolution of a feature present since Tomb Raider 2. Rise felt more like what Crystal Dynamics
wanted to do with their 2013 reboot and it’s not by chance they drastically diminished
the number of QTEs to give the players more freedom. Consider the two encounters with
the bear at the beginning. It shows the transition from the way the reboot chose to do things
to a new and yet more “classic” way to deal with your enemies. Honestly, I was under the
impression Tomb Raider 2013 was more “dispatched” and integrated elements from many different
playstyles and genres. By the time the ending credits rolled, you didn’t know what this
new trilogy would be about. This game didn’t feel like a “whole” though it was supposed
to be just that. Rise of the Tomb Raider, on the other hand, focused on improving, and
polishing what 2013 had contributed to establish, like fast travel was simplified and I’m so
thankful for this. I said I hoped things would be for the better
when Rise was announced and I, by any means, didn’t feel betrayed. One step in the wrong
direction would have killed the franchise. I began to feel we were finally finding the
franchise where it was left after Generation 2. The feeling was ever more so pronounced
in Shadow of the Tomb Raider which (as I suspected) took the same direction as its predecessor.
This is proof the game developers came back to their senses, to making video games rather
than action movies. These are two genres which, despite the points they have in common, do
not necessarily work well together. And Tomb Raider players usually enjoy the freedom to
explore. The few transitional action scenes taken aside, you are almost always in control
and there’s so much stuff you can do. 2013 gave the ability to come back to areas you
previously visited and, though numerous, they were small and quick to explore. The world
in Rise of the Tomb Raider is even more sprawling, more than Underworld or The Last Revelation
could ever dream to be. [AT LAST] a Tomb Raider giving me TIME to
experience the game to my liking. The player will spend time on a couple “hub areas” like
the Soviet Installation and the Geothermal Valley. There’s also the Wicked Vale if you
bought the DLC. These areas are not quite as rich as those present in Shadow, they’re
still super contrived, but you can still choose how you want to play the game, beside the
main story. Challenge tombs and crypts are optional but avoiding them is not recommended.
They’re part of the game’s progression system and lore. Some side missions will eventually
urge you to complete them. They’re not THAT tough for the rewards they will give you.
Most of the challenge tombs are really about finding out NOT what but HOW to do something.
The crypts, a nice addition in this game, are unfortunately not really demanding but
in the whole game, there’s a dozen lethal traps waiting for you. Does it mean that Rise
of Tomb Raider was some sort of back to basics? Not exactly but there were improvements over
2013. Rise of the Tomb Raider is still a bit too
“safe”. If it’s a “back to basics” game, it is still an artificial one. Beside a few exceptions
like Syria and the Greek fire puzzle in the Flooded Archives, the gameplay is still broken
into separate spheres that do not often communicate, fortunately more like Legend and less like
the other reboot. You might encounter a bear before a crypt but that’s it. There’s also
the section I like the most in this game. [A LOST CITY THAT ISN’T LOST ANYMORE!]. I
like lost cities and I like surreal environments. This is what a Tomb Raider game should be
made of. “The Lost City” is not only part of Russian folklore, it’s also at the center
of the story and that was another throwback at the first Tomb Raider installment and its
numerous “lost” cities.It’s perhaps not as big and exacting as you might expect for a
penultimate level (and by the way the boss battle is even worse) but still. Lara is roaming
about along with the dead. The level design is cool as fuck: there’s different paths and
challenges you can take and the mix of puzzles and platforms bringing back memories of Underworld
like the trebuchet and the Orrery give the game its aura. I believe Rise of the Tomb Raider was worth
replaying and I particularly enjoyed Lara’s Home making its long expected comeback in
the DLCs: once for you to explore it and crack some puzzles, then a second time for combat
and action. This is the order you should play them if you want a clear picture of the manor
and how it “fits” into the story. Cold Darkness is another DLC toying with the game’s horror
themes. You know that kind of shit has been a staple in Tomb Raider games. You may finally
replay levels or chapters with additional challenges which I didn’t but I guess it’s
more interesting than in Underworld and closer to what Anniversary and Legend proposed, in
a way. Regardless of the different stuff keeping
players occupied, this game is just as focused as The Last Revelation was on bringing a genuine
cohesive experience. Action and reflection are both quite separate spheres in the cold
world of Rise and it was a problem that I think The Last Revelation had as well. While
The Last Revelation overemphasized the puzzles to the detriment of action, ROTTR does the
contrary and that’s where the game fails. I can’t tell how many there are but all these
“active time event” sequences, when you just execute what the game wants you to do, is
its weakest spot, but overall I found that there were more good than bad sides to it.
After all there isn’t much difference between this, and that, or that. My point is that there are moments when you
feel you’re living a proper Tomb Raider experience. You may encounter a few dangerous enemies
when exploring the different open world areas, the best example being the pack of wolves
on the way to the House of the Afflicted challenge tomb. I also said the final boss fight was
disappointing. Well, it was less disappointing than all the games I mentioned before Rise.
Yes, all of them. Fortunately, the Baba Yaga DLC saves the day as it provides a very challenging
boss fight. The way the special ammo can be used is also a very positive characteristic
the game developers improved upon because Tomb Raider being about action and adventure,
both must be diversified. Stealth and swimming were also improved but it’s far from what
they did in Shadow. Rise of the Tomb Raider felt more encouraging
than its predecessor. The challenge tombs were less obvious and more memorable and they
really expanded the universe in which the game was rooted. The world felt more coherent
as a result and the fact that action sometimes takes the lead over reflection is the game’s
Achilles’ heel but, again, I was seduced by these little moments when you feel that Crystal
Dynamics is slowing drawing back to what they were doing before their “groundbreaking” reboot
of 2013. Whether Square Enix contributed to tarnish what would have otherwise been an
excellent game is not the question you should be asking yourselves because this is a problem
going beyond Tomb Raider, a problem that contaminates the entire game market. I think Rise is a
decent game, with even more attention paid to making it a dense and captivating universe,
leaving me with good prospects for Lara’s future. And Shadow confirmed this direction
– which, as you can guess, was a relief. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the most recent
entry in the franchise. It’s also the last episode in the reboot trilogy and, needless
to say, that they went a long way since the first episode of 2013. Seven DLCs were released
monthly and came to complement a game which was already quite consistent. It didn’t earn
the same worldwide acclaim as the other two and was often criticized for reasons I can’t
explain. If you’ve watched the rest of my top you already know what my opinion about
the 2013 reboot is so I came to wonder whether all the people who enjoyed the reboot actually
liked Tomb Raider because, out of the three most recent titles, Shadow is undeniably the
most Tomb Raider-ish of the lot. Shadow is the most conventionally paced Tomb
Raider game in this trilogy. The mixing of combat and exploration which Rise of the Tomb
Raider had ever so slightly initiated came out in full bloom…. and for the better!
It’s not just about taking down a bear before a crypt. Now challenge tombs may have enemies
and the number of traps has been considerably increased. There’s a pack of wolves in the
Howling Cave and batches of Yaa’xil in the Tree of Life for example. But the game does
not abound with challenge tombs simply designed to artificially create content that will impede
the otherwise well-paced rhythm of the game. With or without the DLCs, you’ll notice that
the developers clearly sought to make a more coherent game, where (in the past) the different
phases would give you the impression you were playing different games at the same time. Enemy variety is a bit lackluster though.
Wildlife taken aside, you’ll fight either close-range or long-range enemies, regardless
of the faction you’re fighting against: the Cult of Kukulkan or the Yaa’xil. The enemies
are yet an important aspect of action-adventure titles like Tomb Raider but you see, it’s
not just about making them scary or whatever. It’s also about making them unique. Even Chronicles
was more inspired than most Crystal Dynamics titles and that has been a recurring weakness
in their games, the exception being the excellent Baba Yaga boss fight. Shadow in this respect
does not bring much to the table but there are two things that praise I must : first,
The Nightmare DLC injects some variation in enemy types by having them respawn in another
type. It’s a shame they didn’t use this combat mechanic more often in the main game. It’s
a sign of the timid and reserved implementation of the supernatural into the gameplay, a recurring
problem in the trilogy. Then, more generally, the way you can take the enemies down is close
to Rise of the Tomb Raider but funnier. The crafting of special ammo once again stands
out and that was better executed. Mission givers are also more interesting this
time around because they open new areas to you. It’s not missions like “kill the bird”
[KILL THE BIRD] or “gather X amount of boar fat” [SERIOUSLY?] This time, mission givers
will take you to places you probably forgot to explore beforehands, they give you the
incentive to do so. Finding the Amulet in Paititi will force you to complete a crypt.
In a way crypts have become more dangerous than any challenge tomb in Tomb Raider 2013
ever was. No kidding. Had they not been optional, Shadow would have been one of the best Tomb
Raider game ever made. Unfortunately they are. I understand that in recent years the story
has become a fundamental part of video games but you don’t need to write a book when you
work on a video game. Stories either work or they don’t and the plot needs to be perfect
to be effective, which it isn’t. The first three Tomb Raider titles had a minimal plot
and that was enough to be good. Lara doesn’t need a reason to do what she does and overdoing
it is not the right way to go. Never forget it’s a video game. Mario wants to save the
princess, Lara wants artifacts. Or in that case, fix the shit she’s done. The Last Revelation
knew best how to make you feel the Apocalypse was coming, just like it knew how to make
Lara care for the consequences of her actions. In Shadow, it’s overdramatized. Taking on
an “in-yer-face” approach has never really worked with Tomb Raider, at least for me and
this has been a recurring tendency in the Crystal Dynamics era. Shadow in fact suffers from the same problems
as its predecessor: it’s a little bit dispersed. You’ve got much to do but because the trend
has been to create an open world, you can miss a lot if you don’t pay attention. The
game is quite linear until you arrive in one of the three main hub areas: Kuwaq Waku, Paititi
and St John’s Mission. The realism in each of those is remarkable and less superficial
than the “Geothermal Valley” was. Exploring these areas will reward you with content giving
Lara new skills or gear and completing everything is no easy task as it often requires backtracking
or careful observation of the vicinities. The same treatment was applied to challenge
tombs as they are manifestly more imposing and were all designed in a “nestled” fashion,
which means that they’re divided into little stages. Comparing that to Legend, they easily
beat certain levels like Japan, Ghana and Bolivia. But again, most of this excellent
content is optional. WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? This is linked to another trend I’d like to
come back to, and that’s player tailoring. Being able to do stuff in the order you want
and being able to adjust the difficulty according to your profile is a significant gameplay
addition but it’s also a commercial way to please an even wider audience. The idea is
to make the game less frustrating for players unfamiliar with Tomb Raider and that’s missing
the point of what a game like this is supposed to be. Frustration is a good thing. This is
what makes a game challenging. And I’m not talking about QTE-induced, control-induced
or even vehicle-induced frustration, when you know exactly what to do but just can’t
do it for some stupid reason. I’m talking about positive frustration as in: what should
I be doing now? This doesn’t happen much in Shadow. It happened to me once in the Forge
and once in the tomb of the Howling Winds but that was it. Moving around the world,
on the other hand, shouldn’t be too difficult for anyone. That being said, in a fashion
similar to Underworld, Shadow of the Tomb Raider emphasizes orientation in an attempt
to make the game less linear and more brain-wracking. Now keep in mind that Shadow is a quite a
very good game, especially if you have the DLCs and in my opinion, that was the best
in the latest trilogy, so it was hard finding negative points about it. So how did it leave
its mark? The puzzles are excellent, the skill tree was improved and the graphics, and game
environment, are just astounding. Lara’s moveset is more varied this time around and put to
good use in many different situations. Another meaningful element of gameplay that was introduced
is the herbs [SMOKE WEED EVERYDAY] but in retrospect it just contributes to making the
game even easier. The weapon upgrade system will also quickly make you overpowered, especially
when you understand how to use the special ammo to your best advantage. Shadow is not especially an easy game. Nor
is it Tomb Raider III. But most of the puzzles presented to you are easily the best in the
Tomb Raider franchise, on a par with The Last Revelation. The game was designed to make
you wrinkle your brain a little but not too much… Why you will ask? Well probably by
fear it would alienate certain kinds of players. The kind I don’t even call players anymore
I call them consumers and I really felt that the game was trying to do the splits to appeal
to as many players as possible. The game should stay focused on what it does best instead
of trying to make everybody happy. The problem with a philosophy like this, is that in the
end, no one really is. Going in too many directions, seeking to please everyone, may undermine
your game experience as the developers look at how the game is going to be played more
than the game itself. Both are essential, that’s true, but think of it as you do for
the arts: art is not only about how it’s going to be perceived, it’s also about the piece
itself. Anyway. A final word about the DLCs. I strongly
recommend playing them as they come if you want a more challenging and coherent experience
because Shadow is one of the best new gen Tomb Raider in the last ten years or so. This
has been a long way from Legend to Shadow of the Tomb Raider but I still regret that
they still cannot the right balance between all the things a Tomb Raider game has to offer.
We never got to live an experience even remotely similar to what the games of the first generation
used to do. Did I say “never” though? Well, there is one exception… and that would be
Anniversary. There WAS something rejuvenating about Anniversary.
The project had begun a few years earlier but Core Design wasn’t able to complete the
remake so Crystal Dynamics did it instead and, let’s be honest, you won’t convince me
that THIS would have been better than THAT, what we actually what we had. I know it’s
not perfect. There were moments that made me struggle and pull my hair out and I’m sure
you know what I’m talking about! The first point I’m going to make is about
the dramatic structure. Anniversary was naturally modeled after Tomb Raider 1, whose plot was
already quite commanding. I was really pleased by how they stressed the most iconic parts
of the original, starting from the very beginning of the game to your first encounter with the
cat mummies, or the player’s confrontation with Larson and Natla. I know they removed
the initial Tomb of Tihocan, and that they nerfed the Cistern but they also revised the
rough parts of the original to make them clearer for the player. I think they did marvelously well was to capture
the atmosphere and transcribe the original experience. Levels such as the City of Vilcabamba,
the Colosseum and the Sanctuary of the Scion were thus greatly improved, although somewhat
simplified, the way Midas’s Palace was. The feeling of isolation is therefore omnipresent,
subsequently raising the tension as you explore the exquisite architecture of the levels.
The Sanctuary of the Scion is magnificent.The map is quite faithful to the original except
it was condensed to make it less confusing for the player, like Natla’s Mines used to
be. The emphasis was put on the atmosphere and Anniversary outshines the rest of the
franchise just for that. The gameplay too was updated… naturally
[NATURALLY] Anniversary introduces moves and puzzles that were absent from the first game,
and the grapple is but a fraction of the changes they brought. The grapple mechanic is used
just like jumping and shooting were “the big things” in 1996 and it becomes obvious in
levels like The Obelisk of Khamoon. The last two levels are also more balanced and smaller
than the original. It’s a shame because after the final conflict, you’d expect more tension.
The pyramid is supposed to be collapsing. A conspicuous example of how the puzzles were
improved would be the first part of St Francis Folly. Simple and effective. Mark my words.
The Temple of Khamoon, Natla’s Mines, The Lost Valley were all simplified but at least
they’re effective… which leads me to a second point, that is, how Anniversary made the best
of two worlds. In theory. Anniversary conflated the fluid gameplay of
Legend AND the classic structure of Tomb Raider I. It even brought in a couple new features
like the wall run. What could go wrong? Well nothing, almost. But before you think I’m
blind to its imperfections, I’ll start with what didn’t work with me. I was just mentioning
the wall runs. That was a first thing. They were overpresent and in levels like the Obelisk
of Khamoon or “The Great Pyramid”, I found them to be a mood-killer, especially knowing
that there were still questionable things with Lara’s controls, especially concerning
THE CAMERA. There’s of course a strategy to ensure that Lara obeys your command. That’s
especially true in levels like the Damocles room in St Francis Folly but adding this to
the fact you can’t save whenever you want, it may quickly become boring. What, you thought
that was the worst? Remember that moment in the “The Great Pyramid”? The result is not
always enjoyable. Because you cannot save anytime you want, you might end up just saying
“fuck it!” and move on. Also you certainly noticed I didn’t like QTEs
so you might find it surprising that Anniversary should be ranking so high. The difference
between Anniversary and titles like Legend or the 2013 reboot is that the QTEs feel like
an upgrade more than like a diversion. In Legend QTEs typically came at crucial moments,
moments you either wished you could play yourself or hoped they would just be cinematics. The
difference between this and your first encounter with the bear in Rise of the Tomb Raider is
c lear: QTEs are not meant to be some kind of dramatic tool or a way to artificially
divert the player, QTEs are meant to enrich the gameplay and make it more varied. Boss
fights in Anniversary obey the same rule: it’s more interesting to be shooting at the
T-Rex knowing that you have a reason for doing so than just empty your pistols and cheese
it out from a cave. The final boss has the exact same step-by-step mechanic that follows
a logic of accumulation rather than diversion. So why not? Of course not everything is perfect with Anniversary.
The developers met quite a few questionable decisions I inconspicuously mentioned earlier.
One arrangement I believe was regrettable is the simplification of the levels. Not all
of them mind you, but still! Why remove the Tomb of Tihocan with all its traps and sprawling
areas? Why decrease the size of levels like Midas’s Palace, Natla’s Mines and Atlantis?
And, as I was saying earlier, why not include the Unfinished Business levels knowing that
they improved on what was already a good game? The final product would have been so much
greater ! Fortunately, Anniversary has great replay value. The relics will notably urge
you to play the levels again and I strongly recommend to do that, because Anniversary
is a hard game, probably the hardest of the lot. Tomb Raider III never caused me to rage
against this inhuman form of torture. You know there’s something a French website
once said about Anniversary. In France the most popular titles are the first one, the
second one, the Last revelation and Legend. Unsurprisingly. For many French reviewers
Anniversary was an in-between. It was the sign that gone was the time when the player
had to adapt to the game. Now they said it’s the game that adapts to the player. I don’t
really agree with that because Anniversary sure has a character of its own. Take what
they did with the Obelisk of Khamoon or with Atlantis/ The Great Pyramid. The levels might
not be as sprawling as the original but they are without the shadow of a doubt the most
challenging. I mentioned that already. I want to argue that Anniversary is not solely
a remake. It’s also a readaptation and I like the idea that Crystal Dynamics managed to
appropriate Core Design’s masterpiece. You can feel their influence in the way the game
was systematized. The result is a product standing in sharp contrast with Legend and
paving the way for Underworld, another proof that Legend was an exception more than the
rule. I felt they put all their shoulders to the wheel to produce a game that would
represent two generations of gamers. I’m aware that many people prefer the classic
over Anniversary. I was there when Tomb Raider 1 came out. Sure it was more groundbreaking
than Anniversary could ever dream to be but you have to admit Tomb Raider 1 was kind of
limited. The only thing Lara could do was, in short, jump and shoot. This is why Tomb
Raider 1, in spite of all the love and admiration I have for this groundbreaking classic, couldn’t
possibly rank higher than it presently does. Anniversary on the other hand earned all my
respect and I’m glad it was done this way. A “copy and paste” remaster would have been
dull in my opinion. Anniversary, like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Tomb Raider 2, ranks
among the best experience I’ve had so far with Lara Croft. I will always remember the first time I discovered
Tomb Raider 2. The demo in Venice. Windows 98 you know. It was limited but my brother
and I were thrilled by what we saw: the saturated colors, the setting and scenery, the platforms,
the aggressive enemies, the puzzles and… [A SPEEDBOAT] It got me passionate about Venice
as a kid. It was SO different from the first installment whose art direction was a bit
dull and the atmosphere sedate. This was probably why Toby Gard, the brains behind Tomb Raider,
left mid-development. Another important part of the context is that the game was rushed
and the developers were not quite confident it would be well-received… but they had
a good feeling about this… and they were right. The reason why it cannot be my #1 on
my list is that this Tomb Raider… is an anomaly in the franchise, because, in many
respects, Tomb Raider II felt like an unofficial reboot. Tomb Raider II is an exception in many regards
: it’s very different from the games that came both before and after it. The level design,
to begin with, is very straightforward. This kind of linear level design felt like an exception
in Tomb Raider 1 and there were reasons for their linearity: “Caves” because it was the
first level and “Atlantis/ The Great Pyramid” because they concluded the main story. Of
course, not all the levels in Tomb Raider 2 are linear, there are some interesting sections
found in levels like “The Deck”, “Maria Doria”, “The Opera House” and “The Temple of Xian”
… but these four are just literally ¼ of the main game. In terms of length, however,
these stages might just be the longest because the level design is more circular than linear.
“The Deck” reflects the overall dynamics of the game because the whole level is just a
fucking digression and in fact, so is the game. [SIMPSON DIGRESSION WITH NAMES OF THE
LEVELS] Let me explain. Puzzles are no longer witty the way they were
in Tomb Raider 1,or the way they would be in Tomb Raider 3 and The Last Revelation,
or in much later titles. The recurring puzzles, although they were thoughtfully placed, are
essentially quite limited to moving boxes, finding keys, moving boxes, finding keys…
more boxes, more keys. They felt more like obstacles (minor inconveniences) and, in a
way, this felt good… for an action game! Action is undeniably the thing the developers
focused on. Consider the secrets, it was the first time they were materialized in the world,
making their existence obvious to the player. Of the three secrets, only one is usually
well-hidden while the other two are more or less easy to find and will reward you with
ammo and weapons. However, Tomb Raider is not just about action
you know. The team even admitted the level designers got “carried away”. That should
be the official title for “The Deck”. I can’t believe the mastermind behind levels like
“Atlantis”, “Palace Midas” and “The Great Wall” is the same dude that worked on the
whole Rig/Diving Area and Living Quarters/Deck parts. Neal’s real masterpiece in that game
was “Maria Doria” which is everything but not linear since you have to come back to
where the level began to place the circuit breakers where they belong. On paper this
sounded great but in practice, the level is confusing. Talking about the level design,
a few words about the enemies. There are very numerous and it’s partly because the gameplay
is essentially action-driven: starting from Venice until the Catacombs of Talion, you’ll
be fighting the same dudes over, and over, and over, and over, and over… In a nutshell, TR2 is a wonderful game but
it’s way too focused on brainless action and repetitive platforming sections. There are
some highlights like “The Opera House” and “Bartoli’s Hideout” but I mean c’mon the most
difficult jumps the player has to perform are these… and this happens really late
in the game. The levels that stand out are “The Temple of Xian” and “Floating Islands”
because they are perfect as they mix different playstyles but they are so memorable that
they overshadow the game’s actual structure. People often forget about the 5 successive
sea levels between Venice and Tibet. But the dynamics is so captivating that players totally
forget that the whole story is just a long digression and that some sections of the game
are dispensable because nothing happens. That doesn’t remove the quality time you’ll spend
in Venice or in the Catacombs, two of my favorite levels, but it brings to light the fact that
Tomb Raider II is overrated. But it’s not #2 in my list simply because of sentiment,
there’s a good reason for that. At this point, you might be wondering how
the hell Tomb Raider II got the second spot. Don’t get me wrong, I love it but I won’t
lie, it was perfectible. Most of the big changes were aesthetical and didn’t have a huge impact
on the gameplay itself, except for levels like “Venice” and the “Foothills” for reasons
I need not explain; and Lara’s new “moves” like using flares and climbing ladders didn’t
really affect the level design too much, except for the block puzzles and unending ladders.
The Golden Mask extension left more space for reflection and not necessarily at the
expense of action. It’s the same formula but the execution was different. The enemies are
the same, the graphics are the same, everything is the same, really, even that fucker with
the flamethrower, but everything was made differently and this why I like Tomb Raider
II because Tomb Raider II Gold exists, and there it is by the way. See that box ? I got
it more than 15 years ago and since then The Golden Mask has been for me an essential part
of what makes TR2 my #2 favorite. The gameplay is just as varied as in the main game but
the way it was paced is different, because it’s even more focused and not as digressive
as the main game. If I use a metaphor I made earlier, Tomb Raider II Gold gives you both
the vocabulary AND the grammar of what was then a new, revamped, refreshed version of
Lara Croft, one that would last in time. Remember the dichotomy between movies and video games
? It’s the same idea here, though it’s less pronounced: The Golden Mask is felt more like
a video game than a Tomb Raider “starring Lara Croft”. I want to argue that Lara wasn’t really born
with Tomb Raider ’96, she was born with Tomb Raider II. Keeping that in mind The Golden
Mask capitalized on a feature that Tomb Raider II had used to its best advantage, because
it drew inspiration from movies, and that was tension. Remember when I distinguished
tension and action earlier? Well Tomb Raider II is an excellent game but it barely manages
between the two. For example in levels like “The Oil Rig”, the emphasis on action destroys
the tension… and THAT, at the expense of the potential they had to complexify certain
stages and give them more content. Lara has been deprived of her weapons but it takes
her less than 5 minutes to get her pistols back… There was more tension in Natla’s
Mines and there would be even more tension in the Tomb Raider III. In The Golden Mask
though, the tension never stops and even the block puzzles were more thoughtfully conceived.
There wasn’t a single level during which I felt completely at ease . The atmosphere and
game environment were clearly the focus. Levels like the surreal “Kingdom” and the sprawling
“Fool’s Gold” expand on the horror film aesthetics of levels like the “Catacombs of Talion” and
“The Ice Palace”, both of which (together with the spider cave in the Temple of Xian)
are without the shadow of a doubt the climax of tension in the main game. Tomb Raider II is different from many of the
other games of the late 90s and early 2000s. In spite of the redundant puzzles, the structure
is well-built and the game manages to keep the player alert, taking us from ancient China
to the surreal world of the Floating Island, my favorite level in the whole Tomb Raider
franchise. A stronger emphasis on modern culture, however, made half of the levels in the main
game, levels like “The Deck”, “The Oil Rig”, “The Living Quarters” and “40 Fathoms” void
of ANY cultural references. The environment felt a bit sterile in these stages and that
made a whole part of the game feel quite generic according. This is why “The Temple of Xian”
and “Floating Islands” are my favorite levels. The “Floating Islands” in particular are in
fact a reference to a Chinese cultural belief that in a Chinese region “an optical illusion
of floating islands is created by particular weather patterns.” And this is the guy who
made the level who said this. These levels bring the game to a spectacular conclusion,
enriched by the surprising ending back “Home” but the whole middle part is way more generic.
It doesn’t show as the location changes, from the Adriatic Sea to Tibet and yet, that’s
how it is. What I like with Tomb Raider games is also
their historicity (that is, how they relate to human civilizations or play with myths
and cultural legends) and their syncretism. Colliding the ancient and modern worlds has
become part of what Tomb Raider is now. The Golden Mask did the mix even better than the
game it was derived from, using the “Cold War” as both a physical setting AND a metaphor
for Lara seeking the Mask of Tanar…SUCK. I can’t say Tomb Raider II brought much compared
to its successors but it did confirm this formula : Tomb Raider is not only about the
past, it’s also about the present and the supernatural. Every single Tomb Raider that
came after it did the exact same thing. Tomb Raider II might be a generic game for some
people but you can’t say the same thing for The Golden Mak. This extension allows you
to really grasp the spirit of what Tomb Raider II has meant for the franchise up to that
date. The problem with Tomb Raider II is the prestige
it got. But “popular” does not mean “best”… sorry. Most people I read just say that they
prefer Tomb Raider II because of their childhood. It’s “my childhood” they say. [MY CHILDHOOD]
Let me clear. Your childhood is only relevant to provide insight into the context. So the
issue of prestige taken aside, Tomb Raider II is quite a very good game. It’s not perfect,
with or without the Golden Mask, but it was perfectible, and this was Tomb Raider 3, my
number one favorite. Tomb Raider III remains the title I consider
to be the best Tomb Raider game. “Best” is not synonymous with “popular” so try to put
your feelings aside if you can’t see the difference. It’s the most representative of the franchise
if you prefer. It came out while the reputation of CD was at a peak. The Lost Artifact extension
improved on what was already a very solid game and confirmed the masterpiece TR3 had
become. It took me a long time to realize how great that game is, how it has become
a standard. There are in fact three ways to be looking
at it : (1) first, it was the glaring synthesis of what was good in the two previous titles–Lara’s
Home for instance. It’s LITERALLY a combination of the first two games; (2) secondly, the
game apparently bites off more than it can chew and it suffers from generation 1 clunky
controls, of potentially abstract environments making it opaque for inexperienced players
; and (3) third, the game was designed to go beyond the limits of what its predecessor
established, and yet it doesn’t bring about enough novelty to the franchise. Enough, however,
is quantity and I’m interested in quality. The biggest issue with TR3 is that it is underrated
and that its extension, The Lost Artifact is almost impossible to find. On Metacritic,
the worst review it had so far (and it didn’t have THAT many!) was because the guy couldn’t
finish the first level, “Jungle”, as he found it “ugly”… REALLY? So let’s see why, in my opinion, Tomb Raider
III is the best Tomb Raider game. A first point I want to make is about how the game
was developed. It was first envisioned as an extension of Tomb Raider II so this is
probably why the difficulty curve is very steep, as the beginning of the game openly
suggests. Everything’s more polished : secrets are invisible and harder to find, difficult
jumps are not limited to specific parts of the game, the enemies and challenges are varied,
the level design gives you choice and the will to explore everything when you don’t
want your ammunition to run low. Sometimes you will stumble upon a secret thinking it
was the way to go. And maybe it was. The bosses are also more complex than just “aim and shoot”,
a bit like what the developers tried to do with the Dragon at the end of Tomb Raider
2, but better. In terms of level design, I wasn’t surprised
to learn that ⅓ of the levels in TR3 were designed by the same person as for “The Temple
of Xian”. With inspiration from games like Half Life and Outcast, no wonder why TR3 has
such an original level design. It’s not open world but sure has good vibes of it. Each
stage has qualities and flaws of its own, making them very unique and challenging in
their own way. You always start in a big, sprawling area before the game narrows down
its focus and localizes the action more specifically as you progress in areas that will leave you
a strong impression. Besides a few exceptions like the level “Jungle”,
there is no such thing as “digressions” in Tomb Raider III. It’s even the contrary considering
at least one level was removed from the main story. A majority of the levels are introduced
(or they conclude) with in-game cinematics weaving the plot and creating stories within
stories. It’s “Adventures” in the plural, but you can feel an overall sense of connection.
When Willard, the main antagonist, takes the artifacts from you, you may actually feel
robbed, so you want to kick his ass. And that’s the hell of a boss fight! In The Lost Artifact
extension you are confronted to Sophia Leigh one more time. Remember me? Yes I DO! She’s
the one hiding behind the Slinc company and the story takes you from the Highlands, where
Willard once lived, to a surreal world with mutants everywhere. In terms of writing and
structure, TR3 is the Doctor Who of the series. I’m not saying Tomb Raider III is structurally
perfect but the different parts it contains, The Lost Artifact included, communicate with
each other in a very coherent way and the story does not limit the writers too much. Thanks to Tomb Raider II, and as the team
was working on the Golden Mask, the game developers at Core Design were becoming masters of their
art and being able to release a game such as TR3 in a such limited amount of time, is
just remarkable. The developers themselves were surprised to learn the game had been
“hated” by “a few journalists”. You know, the kind of guys who says you do the same
kind of things in TR3 as you do in TR2, like monkey-swinging, sprint puzzles and crouching
to find secrets. [IRONY] What TR2 does, TR3 does better. Compare when Lara loses her weapons
in both games: the “High Security Compound” is way more complex than the “Oil Rig” as
it incorporates many different game mechanics in one single level. The truth is: many at
the studio thought TR2 would be the end. Eidos decided otherwise, but TR3 was not unwanted.
As the game developers were attempting things they couldn’t before, Tomb Raider 3 literally
became synonymous with “pushing the boundaries”. Just have a look at the last secret in “Shakespeare
Cliff”. It’s a lost world. Small worlds embedded in bigger worlds. Remember: PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES. I just love how this game is rooted in the
past AND the present, a bit like Tomb Raider II was but even more so, because the story
is less restrictive, and more inclusive. “Area 51”, once a demo level, is like the Yeti in
TR2, a modern myth. The alien you see is a reference to Roswell and that vessel to [DR
WHO] The game does the split between ancient myths and modern culture. It’s like a Masonic
temple in the middle of London Underground, or like a fucking Sphinx in a museum, if you
can grasp the metaphor. Moving from a very “modern” level like RX-Tech Mines to the ancient
setting of Tinnos, the lost city and you know how much I like lost cities. The Lost Artifact
too, abounds with cultural and historical references, including references to itself. The diversity of gameplay is in fact astounding.
Just have a look at the quantity of weapons Lara has. Who needs upgrade after that? The
level design too is more diversified that’s not just the vehicles: some levels are more
linear than others, and usually more action-driven, but the pacing of the game makes it so it’s
never imbalanced. Take the “Caves of Kaliya” for example : the level is super linear but
because the first part is labyrinthic, you don’t realize that. So in the end you have
about 20 levels with very different and dynamic designs. That’s an asset few other Tomb Raider
games have. Another improvement was the enemies. They’re actually smarter than TR2 and have
more abilities. Core Design was proud of the new mechanics TR3 premiered, like poisoning
you or taking cover from you, the pathfinding of the monkeys, Sophia Leigh, this dolphin…
and did you know that you could distract the T-Rex with a flare? I tried that and… [WOW] Now, the Lost Artifact. Unlike The Golden
Mask, The Lost Artifact is an extension in the proper sense of the term because it enriches
the main story. It’s also a bit different from the main game, and closer to what we
had in TR2 in terms of pacing. The level design is APPARENTLY not as dense as the main game
but the puzzles and the challenges are just as tedious. I don’t like piranhas… . Curiously,
I liked the Golden Mask because it put more TR3 in TR2 and even more curiously, I dag
the Lost Artifact because it was more like TR2. [MAKE A CHOICE!] “Willard’s Lair” will
remind you of “The Great Wall” as they have dangerous traps forcing you to do things in
a specific order and in a given amount of time. Same thing for “Shakespeare Cliff” and
“Sleeping with the Fishes”. They look like improved versions of TR2 levels but with a
formula specific to Tomb Raider III and akin to the “nestled” formula we have today. Tomb
Raider III sometimes was too sprawling, causing the player to get lost in levels. That doesn’t
happen in The Lost Artifact because the design of levels is apparently more linear and not
as sprawling. Levels with underwater sections like “Sleeping with the Fishes” are therefore
made easier to navigate than Lud’s Gate ever was. I stated that levels in the extension appear
to have a smaller layout. Well. It’s relative to your gameplay in fact. The Lost Artifact
kept the same secret mechanic as TR3, meaning that some are located in wide areas you won’t
even notice UNLESS you KNOW they’re here. [I KNEW IT] You see that beautiful field with
the thistles? This whole section of the level is actually
just a secret! This is why this game is great, you never know what to expect ! This “tip
of the iceberg” kind of level design is exactly what a fan did for the revised version of
Tomb Raider II he recently published thanks to the level editor. The way the guy redefined
the level design of levels like “Venice” is closer to Tomb Raider III than it is to the
game he’s supposed to ‘remake’ and I’m sure that if Core Design had more time to improve
on TR2, it would have looked somewhat more like TR3. TR3 was a response to players complaining
TR2 was a little bit too easy and that it is one of the most challenging is part what
makes TR3 so exciting to play. Back in the day, there already were conservative players
who thought TR2 was nothing like the Tomb Raider they had so much enjoyed one year prior.
The same kind of criticism was addressed to TR3. On November 1998, a French website presented
TR3 as a “new concept” that some found was too “doom-like” to be anything like a Tomb
Raider game but I think the term fits TR2 more than it does TR3. Some would say (IT’S
CUNTY). Yes it is, and so’s life buddy! On the other hand, when testing the beta, IGN
wrote that the game “play[ed] decently”, that “the environments… look[ed] much more complex,
“the new lighting effects [were] truly impressive”, and that it had a more ” realistic feel than
any of its predecessors” and that’s absolutely right. But they missed the point. Tomb Raider
3 crystallized a formula Core Design had been struggling with since Tomb Raider 2 and went
beyond that formula : it pushed the boundaries and went further. Tomb Raider 3 is so massive
that it has the luxury to become its own reference. It’s “La jungle” by the way, not “Le jungle”. Tomb Raider 3 was presumably not as refreshing
as Tomb Raider II, that’s for sure, but the final product, The Lost Artifact included,
makes it the best Tomb Raider in that it is the most representative of what the franchise
was and has been ever since, that’s why it’s my favorite Tomb Raider. I don’t want to be
coddled, and I don’t want to be impressed. I want a video game experience I won’t get
anywhere else and Tomb Raider III, together with The Lost Artifact, is the title that,
I feel, corresponds to that definition. You should try them if you haven’t and if you
don’t know how to obtain The Lost Artifact, you should stay a little longer? Before I leave I wanted to invite you to play
a little game. I offer you the possibility to play “The Lost Artifact” if you can answer
properly to this question: there are 12 videos in this big video and you might have guessed
that it took me the hell of a very, very long time to do all that. The idea is that each
video was done separately and in a specific order, which is not the order they appear
in the final product SO my instructions are simple: can you guess in which order these
videos were made? The first one was Chronicles and the last one was Shadow, because of the
big eighth DLC mystery you know… I gave you a clue just now but if you were
attentive, you might alteady have an idea where to look to answer that question. It’s
like a puzzle and you’re probably a Tomb Raider player so crack it. The only thing you need
to participate is to have subscribed to my channel, I need your support… AND you need
a computer. Yeah… The Lost Artifact can only be played on a computer… Just leave
a comment and indicate the order you think is correct, or if you cracked the enigma,
and I get in touch if you get it right. There’s no time limit but there will be one winner. Thanks for watching this video. I’m not saying
this was the definitive list for Tomb Raider games, it’s quite subjective of course and,
in the future, perhaps it will change. If you want each of my game reviews to be published
individually, help me reach 1000 subs and if you want me to tackle a topic in particular,
just put that in the comment. Tomb Raider games are like a big family so don’t forget
to share your thoughts and leave an impression, a good one if you can. otherwise I hope we
have interesting dialogs. In the meantime I catch you in the next Top Raider video.
Remember. If there’s something you’d like me to cover, leave a comment. Thanks again.
IX-Acht out, bye!

About the author


  1. #12 Chronicles (00:02:32)

    #11 Tomb Raider 2013 (00:10:15)

    #10 The Angel of Darkness (00:18:35)

    #09 Legend (00:27:19)

    #08 Tomb Raider I (00:36:01)

    #07 Underworld (00:44:18)

    #06 The Last Revelation (00:52:25)

    #05 Rise of the Tomb Raider (00:59:54)

    #04 Shadow of the Tomb Raider (01:08:43)

    #03 Anniversary (01:17:06)

    #02 Tomb Raider II (01:24:26)

    #01 Tomb Raider III (01:34:12)

    Conclusion (01:44:56)

  2. Hey, I agree with almost everything you said except for TR Legend and TR 2013. There's something many people don't get, the new trilogy is how Lara slowly becomes a tomb Raider throughout the 3 games.. In TR 2013 Lara was a survivor, In Rise she was more of a hunter, and in shadow she's finally become a tomb Raider 🙂

  3. I’m sad to say I grew up playing the 2013 one it enjoyed but it wasn’t that good since I started playing the other ones I’m enjoying those so much more and it more true to Lara Croft then the 2013 one yikes

  4. This was so enjoyable to watch! I love hearing anybody talk about classic Tomb Raider and the way you praise the gold expansions made me remember how great they were, and even some things that I had missed myself like the secret areas in The Lost Artifact. Thanks for this 🙂

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