Franchise Feature: The Tombs
“Well, this is a tomb. I’ll make them feel at home.” – Lara Croft, Tomb Raider: Legend
As the name would imply, tombs are at the heart of Lara’s adventures. The funny thing is the term “tomb” is actually quite ambiguous, and means different things to different people. To some, tombs represent ancient spaces untouched for centuries, agnostic of it being an interment site. For others, tombs mean actual burial chambers, the final resting place of royalty from a forgotten age. And for others still, the term “tomb” is a synonym for puzzle, with the thematic wrapper less important than the brainteaser within. Not to mention that Lara is in constant danger during her travels, and any location could quickly become her personal tomb.
Even when Lara retreats into modern day marvels like Paris or Prague, it’s safe to say that history is always just under foot. Find some fan favorite tombs from the franchise below.
- Peru – The Lost Valley: The original Tomb Raider captured the imagination of fans in a way few games can boast about. The Lost Valley and its stunning introduction of foes thought long extinct still top many “most memorable moments” lists to this day. As the T-Rex entered the valley with thundering footsteps and a chilling roar, Lara was suddenly very small, and players realized that Tomb Raider offered them truly lost worlds. It wasn’t just the wow-factor that made The Lost Valley incredible, though. A complex puzzle involving a series of gears, challenging traversal, and an abundance of water – a technical marvel at the time – made it the game’s standout tomb.
- Tibet – Barkhang Monastery: While many would argue that the cinematic and oppressive Wreck of the Maria Doria was the most memorable area in Tomb Raider II, the Barkhang Monastery takes the top slot by a small margin. Towards the climax of the game Lara reached a monastery high in the mountains of Tibet. Instead of structures abandoned to time she found an inhabited complex guarded by fierce monks. If the player avoided shooting any of these monks, they would aid Lara in fending off Fiamma Nera thugs as she explored the labyrinth-like monastery. Furnished with deep red tapestries, warm glowing lanterns, and lavish gold ornaments, it was impossible not to drink in the atmosphere as Lara tracked down five prayer wheels.
- India – Temple Ruins: A truly ancient and abandoned space, Lara explored the Temple Ruins in India alone, kept company by snakes, baboons, and the occasional apex predator. The level design was stunning, with the jungle slowly reclaiming temples and waterfalls eroding the once immaculate carvings. While the water looked tempting, keeping an eye out for piranha became a necessity. The level unfolded both outside against a clear blue sky, and in interior spaces illuminated by rays of light struggling to penetrate the thick air. Despite the beauty, there was a constant sense of danger in the Temple Ruins, realized in its most extreme form when statues came to life to try and dispatch Lara. Filled with levers, keys, movable block puzzles, spike traps, and more, the Temple Ruins were a challenge. Near the end of the level deceased adventurers Randy and Rory proved that not everyone was as competent as Lara.
- Karnak, Egypt – Tomb of Semerkhet: An easy call for fans of The Last Revelation, the Tomb of Semerkhet allowed Lara to play a game within a game. An ancient Egyptian pastime named Senet, the rules were simple enough. Perched on a balcony to one side of a great hall – and across from the menacing face of her opponent – Lara would spin a series of sticks corresponding to numbers. She would then select the pawn to move by touching color-coated tiles. To win the game, the player needed to get all of Lara’s pawns off the board by navigating them to an Ankh near the end. The true treat was that Lara’s path out of the tomb changed dependent on if she won or lost the game. The rest of the level was also atmospheric and enjoyable, with a series of timed flame traps temping the player with pickups, complex rope courses, and scarabs and jackals shadowing Lara’s every move.
- The Black Isles, Ireland – Labyrinth: A short but interesting level, the explorable spaces in Ireland were unique in that little Lara was unarmed. As such, enemy encounters required her to outrun or outsmart her foes. The level kicked off with Lara stumbling upon a reaper-like creature in a derelict church. Showing moxie she followed the creature, gaining access to a large multi-story puzzle room with rotating bridges beneath the church. The ultimate goal was to align the bridges and retrieve the Bestiary from the central tower, a tome that allowed Lara to best a demon causing problems on the island. After retrieving her prize, wisps of light guided Lara through a labyrinth, a beast hot on her heels, unhappy in her choice of party favors.
- Paris, France – The Hall of Seasons: Just beneath Paris’ iconic Louvre lay an unpublicized archeological dig with loads of secrets to discover. Opening the Tomb of the Ancients was difficult in and of itself, as a complex mechanical door with dials and leavers stood in Lara’s way. The tomb yielded access to The Hall of Seasons, a hub which in turn housed four alcoves: Neptune’s Hall, Wrath of the Beast, The Sanctuary of Flame, and The Breath of Hades. The goal was to complete all four chambers, each associated with an elemental force, and claim corresponding crystals. The full set of crystals fit into a receptacle back in the Hall of Seasons. Flanked by undead knights, an assortment of traps, and treacherous traversal, completing the task wasn’t easy.
- Cornwall, England: King Arthur’s Tomb: After Angel of Darkness, Legend focused on a return to huge ancient spaces as playgrounds. Peru, Bolivia, and Ghana had plenty to offer, but an unassuming tomb in Cornwall, England was a standout. In search of the legendary Excalibur, Lara ironically found the real King Arthur’s tomb just below an abandoned tourist trap dedicated to the legendary knights. After traversing through a gift shop, various exhibits, and storage rooms, Lara returned power to the complex and made her way down to the real deal, heralded by non-tourist friendly deathtraps. Lots of environmental puzzles, coffin surfing, and a climatic fight with a sea serpent awaited, the latter requiring creative use of the environment as a weapon. This tomb played to the core fantasy of Tomb Raider – that there is always more than meets the eye, even in unlikely places.
- St. Francis Folly, Greece: Traversing to exceptional heights while exchanging banter (rather than bullets) with Pierre, St. Francis Folly was a huge level rife with dangerous animals, deadly traversal, and complex puzzles. The central room required four keys to unlock the exit, each corresponding to a specific puzzle room. Getting to each room was difficult in itself, requiring Lara to track down the correct lever in the multi-story antechamber, then solve a puzzle, collect a key, escape the traps, and repeat three more times. Poseidon’s level involved changing water levels and the Hephaestus room was rigged with lightning. Atlas’ puzzle room involved an appropriately oversized boulder trap, and to secure the Damocles key you had to avoid a onslaught of swords.
- Southern Mexico: The entirety of Lara’s journey into Southern Mexico can be considered standout, but the early “Unnamed Days” chapter was particularly fun. Navigating in the rain between dig sites on her motorbike, the goal was to solve a puzzle associated with a huge Mayan calendar. Black panthers and mercenaries stalked Lara, making the level a balance between exploration, combat, and traversal in the midst of one large puzzle. When the pieces required to align the calendar were retrieved, a secret entrance was revealed in the courtyard below, giving access to Xibalba, the Mayan land of the dead.
- Yamatai, Chasm Monastery: Tomb Raider 2013 introduced the concept of side tombs – puzzle chambers off the critical path that the player wasn’t required to visit. The reboot also streamlined puzzles to physics-based challenges as a means of grounding the adventure in reality. That being said, Yamatai was layered with history, from the leavings of recently dead travelers stranded on the island, to the distant past of native Japanese inhabitants. The Chasm Monastery was a standout in this vein, introducing a clever puzzle that required Lara to harness a natural wind tunnel and transform a bell into a wrecking ball. Just after her escape, she stumbled into the tomb at the very heart of the game – the final resting place of Queen Himiko. Surrounded by murals, we heard Lara’s mind at work as she connected dots in the mystery of Yamatai and the powerful storms that shroud it from the world.
- Geothermal Valley, The Flooded Archives: Rise of the Tomb Raider took fan feedback to heart, putting more non-optional tombs in the main game. Celebrating this as a “return to tombs,” nested puzzles were implemented, a formula that required solving several smaller puzzles to work towards a singular goal. The game also contained a good number of optional side tombs, which aided in world building and contained more challenging puzzles. The standout tomb in the game, aside from spoiler-heavy ancient spaces towards the end of the title, was the Flooded Archives. As the name implies, once a grand archive of knowledge, the space housed crumbling staircases, toppled statues, waterlogged scrolls, and a multi-part physics puzzle at its core. Littered with collectibles, the Flooded Archives also gave Lara her first taste of the supernatural in the game.
- Howl of the Monkey Gods, Paititi: Shadow of the Tomb Raider featured several challenge tombs that players could take on as they progressed through the main story. It also saw the release of several DLC packs like Nightmare, which included the Howl of the Monkey Gods challenge tomb. This tomb boasts breathtaking views and unique mechanics which include timed events needing you to pay attention to the beat of a drum. The ‘Monkey Do’ achievement features the “White Breath” skill as a reward, which allows Lara’s Fear Arrows to generate a cloud of hallucinogenic vapor clouds. With no shortage of platforms, ziplines, and braving new heights, many feel the reward for this one is not only at the end but the experience altogether.