The Rise and Fall of the Tomb Raider: A Review of the 'Survivor Series'

While waiting for Ori and the Will of the Wisps and Doom Eternal to come out, I finally completed the Tomb Raider “Survivor” series, as the latest games from Square Enix have been called. My friend Bubba (hello, Bubba!) gifted me Shadow of the Tomb Raider a while ago, and I finally finished it.

My thoughts on the three games in the series are decidedly mixed, but for the most part, they’re positive. And as I wait for the only games I made plans to purchase this year, this is the perfect time to review these Tomb Raider games I played.

If you don’t have the time to read a lengthy review, all you need to know is that the first game is the star of the series in my opinion. It gets worse as the trilogy goes on. But, if you want to go more in-depth about each game, let’s get into it!


Tomb Raider

The first game sees Lara Croft transition into her future role as the iconic Tomb Raider. She’s a young student going out into the field to test out her theories. She’s looking for the lost island of Yamatai, and she has mentors and friends accompanying her. But when her ship gets shipwrecked on the island and the situation is more hostile and mystifying than she originally thought, Lara has to survive the harrowing experience using her smarts, skills, and not a small bit of luck.

Tomb Raider excels largely because it is a beginning. Players get to experience Lara’s transition from an inexperienced and unsure explorer into the confident delver of history we know she becomes. It’s a fantastic journey to follow.

Of course, there’s a rampant case of Murphy’s Law going on, where everything that can go wrong does go wrong. Lara seemingly falls from one bad situation into the next, and it can feel like a rush of haphazardness. But this panicked type of storytelling gets the job done. It sets players on edge, heightening the peril Lara is in.

And by the time the game’s credits roll around, players are satisfied knowing that Lara’s story is only just beginning.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

The second game sees Lara a bit more experienced than in the first. She’s hot on the trail of a purported messiah, but the insidious group known as Trinity is after the same thing. Lara Croft must confront her past and her future as she is brought closer to the mystery of immortal life her father was always chasing after.

The fantastic thing about Rise of the Tomb Raider is the focus it places on Lara’s guilt surrounding her dad. Her father had an obsession with discovering this ancient culture, believed in it with a passion that drove his every waking moment, but people didn’t believe him. Lara didn’t believe him. So when he purportedly killed himself, Lara was understandably guilt-ridden.

It’s clear she’s continuing his pursuits in an effort to make up for her refusal to believe him. Obviously, there is a part of her that enjoys the discovery of artifacts and ancient history, but her father’s death is an undeniable reason for the turn her career has taken.

In the end, Lara has to reconcile doing the right thing with proving that her father was never crazy to the world. It’s a damn interesting concept, and Rise of the Tomb Raider handles it fairly well.

Another major draw of the second game’s story is that it introduces Trinity as an enemy, and having them on the field raises the stakes.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

The third game of the Tomb Raider “Survivor Series” has Lara accidentally set an apocalypse in motion.

Yeah, if you thought the stakes were high in the last game, this one really tries to lift them even higher.

While trying to stop Trinity from getting their hands on a Earth-altering artifact, Lara accidentally causes the beginning of the end of the world. She travels to South America to rectify her mistake and to see if she can’t stop Trinity once and for all.

Right off the bat, the third game has issues with Lara’s character development. The initial premise actually sets up a promising start. Lara’s obsession, eerily similar to her father’s, causes the death of hundreds of people due to floods, earthquakes, and mudslides. She has to accept the responsibility that her actions come with consequences.

But the game’s story doesn’t carry this theme through to a satisfying conclusion. Lara does not learn from her mistake, or at least you never really get the sense that she does. She saves the day doing the same thing she’s always done. Raiding tombs, shooting baddies, and hunting the shit out of the local wildlife.

Toward the end of the game, Lara has to make a sacrifice to stop the apocalypse, and for a brief moment, you get a glimpse of a weird kind of redemption. But instead of actually making the sacrifice, some hokey magic happens and…well…that’s it. Lara’s alive, her friend Jonah is alive, the apocalypse is averted, and Trinity is stopped.

Lara’s behavior is made to appear obsessive to the point of unhealthiness. And the idea that the beloved Tomb Raider is responsible for hundreds of people dying sets her up for some deep character development. But if you were hoping to see her cope with it or struggle with it, all you really see is her burying her head in her work as per usual and everything working out okay in the end.


Tomb Raider

The core gameplay for every one of the games in the “Survivor Series” stems from the first game. There is exploration, environmental puzzles, and combat. During exploration, Lara can find artifacts, complete challenges, and use those ever-present, video game “senses” to help her and the player locate important objects.

The puzzles involve a small amount of logic and a knowledge of how the game’s physics work. Whether you’re opening windows to allow some wind to push something out of the way or balancing carts with weights, they’re still fairly straightforward.

The combat leans toward stealth, with the bow and arrow being the preferred weapon to use in situations. The game rewards you more if you can sneak up on enemies to kill them than if you rush in guns blazing. However, there are those aggravating “action scene” moments that rely on trigger-quick reactions and QTEs to save Lara. On occasion, you might get confused trying to stealth your way through a section of the game only to realize you’re supposed to play it loud and proud. But overall, the combat is still incredibly fun.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

The second game starts to add the clutter. One of my least favorite things about sequels is when too many new mechanics are added that don’t really lend anything worthwhile to the experience.

Doom Eternal is giving me a flamethrower to incinerate demons.

Total yes.

Rise of the Tomb Raider gave me crafting.


I’m not against crafting in video games, but I personally felt like it didn’t add much to the Tomb Raider experience.

One of the good things Rise of the Tomb Raider added was rare animals to hunt. These intense encounters with predator animals always hyped me up. Nothing gets your blood working like a bear charging at you.

Plus, the snowy settings looked absolutely gorgeous and made the game feel different from the first based on looks alone.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

As with the story, the gameplay took a nosedive for me in the third game. The crafting was excessive, and the skill tree felt useless after a time. And do you want to know how often I used the Perception herbs to find things in the environment? Zilch, after the tutorial showing me how.

There were too many weapons available to upgrade, and they all felt the same. As a matter of fact, combat felt terrible in this final game. It became…easy. Encounters frequently relied on stealth, so much so that if you had some handy foliage and mud to cover yourself with, odds were you would survive the situation no problem. This final game became a walk in the park for me combat-wise.

The environmetal puzzle, on the other hand, did get upgraded in this game. There were plenty of times when I got stumped because I wasn’t using my noggin properly. So kudos to Shadow for that.

But you know what never makes a game fun?

Water levels.

And Shadow of the Tomb Raider added water levels. Breathing was an issue when you were trying to explore, but after a time I gave up on exploring underwater because I didn’t give a damn. (More on that later.) But even when trying to make my way from point A to point B underwater, frickin’ piranhas showed up and fucked with me.

By which I mean they ate Lara.

The manner in which you “hid” from the piranhas felt forced, and their awareness of you was hard to detect until it was too late. Once that swarm of fishies found you, you were dead meat.

And the side quests were the worst!

That’s right. Side quests.

At one point, I was asked to fetch a ceremonial horn for someone. I trotted over to the man who was suppoed to have it, but he was angry because his wife was sick and his son had gotten arrested trying to get medicine. So I walk over to where the son is held, but the guards won’t let me see him. Then I have to approach these neighborhood boys and fetch a toy they lost that’s not two feet away. The boys then feel amenable enough to distract the guards. I approach the son and tell him he’s free. I finally skip back to the horn-holder, tell him his son is safe, hand him the medicine, and then receive the horn from him.

This was by no means an interesting story, the horn didn’t really come into play in the main narrative later on, and I can’t even remember what I earned for that side mission. A feathered outfit…I think. It is a prime example of what not to do for a side quest.

But perhaps the most grievous offense Shadow of the Tomb Raider committed was getting rid of the various voice actors used for found artifacts and journals.

In the previous two games, Lara would often come across ancient writings, old journals, recorders, and other such things that told small stories of the people who had come before. Different voice actors would lend their talents to bringing these documents to life. I actually enjoyed finding these things because I was eager to hear the story of events past, the inner thoughts of a character, or a place’s history. This was one of my main reasons for exploring.

In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, gone is the cast of voices used to bring documents, journals, and records to life. Lara reads them all.

I take no issue with Lara’s voice actress. None at all. But if I wanted these documents to be read in the same voice, I might as well just read them aloud myself. Lara reading everything took away the fresh perspective those recordings should have had. They became almost pedantic in nature, and I lost all interest in the side stories they would tell.

Final Thoughts

The “Survivor” timeline of Lara Croft’s stories is serviceable, but toward the end of the trilogy it tempers my enthusiasm.

However, despite my complaints, overall, I did enjoy the series. It has its flaws, all of which became more aggravating in the third game, but the good times I had while playing were not negated by them. Just…occasionally overshadowed by them.

I rate this latest Tomb Raider franchise a fun-adventure-game-series-with-some-glaring-issues-but-still-enjoyable-nonetheless-that-is-if-you-are-okay-with-some-of-the-most-gruesome-death-scenes-in-gaming.

Raiders of the Lost Tomb: Tomb Raider (2018)

Let me say this right off the bat:

I’m not a discriminating moviegoer. I will watch anything, good or bad, and most likely enjoy it.

I enjoy good movies because, obviously, they’re good and that’s quality entertainment. I enjoy bad movies because I dearly love to laugh, and nothing gets me laughing like a real corny line or a nonsensical bit of plot. It’s rare when a movie utterly pisses me off, and when it does, it’s for subjective reasons (such as, the book was better).

So I’m letting you (meaning whoever happens to read this) know that if you ever read a “review” of mine, it’s mostly going to be about things I liked about it.

Enter the new Tomb Raider movie.

If you’re a fan of the 2013 game, you should know that this latest movie is kind of based off of it. Gone is the busty Lara Croft with the gravity-defying boobs and twin guns, and instead, we have a younger, slimmer Lara who is struggling to hold her own against much tougher opponents, and yet, still manages to come out on top.

Here is a short (not-so-short) summary of the movie, so if you want to avoid spoilers, I suggest you stop reading now.

Lara Croft’s father has been missing for several years. His disappearance and supposed death have put Lara’s life on hold. She refuses to believe he is gone. His business partner approaches her about finally signing off on his death so that his company can move on with things and the Croft mansion won’t be sold off. Lara reluctantly agrees to this.

Upon signing, Lara is given a puzzle which leads her to a secret room her father kept on the mansion grounds. There, she discovers her father traveled to an island called Yamatai in search of the tomb of Queen Himiko. Himiko is rumored to have powers over death. More than anything, Lara’s father wishes to keep Himiko’s tomb and her mystical powers out of the hands of this secret, sinister group called Trinity. In a video recording/will, he begs Lara to burn all of his research so that Trinity can’t find the tomb.

She doesn’t burn the stuff.

Instead, Lara hires herself a boat and makes her way to Yamatai in search of her father. She doesn’t believe that this Himiko has supernatural powers that could threaten the world. She is driven by the slight chance that she can find out what happened to her father.

The boat crashes. Lara makes it ashore. She meets the villain, this dude named Vogel. He works for Trinity and has been stuck on the island for seven (I think) years because they won’t let him come home until he recovers Himiko’s body. As such, he’s volatile and pissy and willing to do anything to find the tomb.

Since Lara did not burn the research and instead brought it with her, Vogel is able to use it to find the tomb. He has problems opening it because of a complex locking mechanism on the door. Lara runs away from the group, gets into a lot of trouble, and eventually (surprisingly) runs into her father. He had faked his own death at Vogel’s hands and had been living in secret on the island, making sure Trinity did not get their hands on Himiko.

Despite a supremely touching reunion, he’s none too pleased that Lara did the exact opposite of what he wanted in regards to his research.

In order to get both her and her father off of Yamatai, Lara needs to go back to the bad guys’ camp in order to get Vogel’s satellite phone so she can call for help. Her father does not want to risk it, so Lara decides to do it alone.

Since her dad is not a complete asshole, he follows after her. However, since he’s not a veritable bad ass like Lara, he gets himself caught by Vogel. Vogel tries to get him to open the tomb for them, but Lara’s dad won’t. Lara has no compunctions about doing it (magic isn’t real, dad), so she opens the tomb and leads everyone inside.

We find out that Himiko does not have supernatural powers. Instead, she has this disease that turns you into a 28-Days-Later kind of creature if you touch someone who has it. Lara’s dad gets touched, it’s sad, boo hoo, so then Lara has to stop Vogel from taking any samples of Himiko that he collected to the surface because clearly, it could be used to dangerous effect. She beats Vogel in a kick-ass way, she escapes, she goes home, and she silently vows to chase after Trinity and stop them, therefore completing her father’s life’s work and beginning her own.

That was a tad too long…wasn’t it? Anyways…

I loved Alicia Vikander’s performance. She’s great. No matter how bad the lines she was given or how awkward the story beats were, she did the best she could and made it work. She perfectly embodied the Lara we met in the 2013 game.

Part of the game’s appeal came from the fact that we were meeting a new Lara. This was not the experienced raider of tombs we had met in previous games. This was an uncertain explorer who was just beginning to find her place in the world, and we got to go on that journey with her.

The movie tries to do the same thing, and in terms of physical exertion, yeah, I think Lara achieved whole new states of being an athletic tomb raider. You really get the sense that Lara is going on this adventure alone. She has a couple of she-should-not-have-survived-that moments, but I appreciated that it didn’t look entirely effortless.

However, I don’t really feel that Lara gained that desire to explore after all was said and done. She was motivated to find her father, but I never truly felt she was driven by the actual draw of exploration.

But the father-daughter moments were real. I mean, it was ludicrous that her father was alive in the first place, but I still felt touched by their reunion. When he sees Lara on the island, he doesn’t believe she’s real because he’s imagined her being there so many times. Lara, on the other hand, has been hoping he’s been alive this whole time, so she looks at him with such joy, it’s heart-breaking when she has to convince him that’s it’s actually her.

Their reunion only lasts about a day, since he’s killed off by that disease that Himiko has. What kind of disease is only communicable by touch, unfolds instantaneously, and is ultimately fatal? I’ll tell you what kind. The magic kind.

His death hits you in the feels, but it’s followed by some fan service, so it smooths over any remaining sadness you might have had lingering. If you played the game, expect the following fan service:

  • The slow-mo jump from a wrecked boat, just like we saw at the beginning of the game.
  • Climbing monkey-bar style over an old, rusted airplane.
  • A potentially deadly ride along a raging river’s currents. (I seriously half expected Lara to get impaled by river debris a million times).
  • Bow and arrow moments.
  • The climbing axe thingamabob that is stronger than adamantium.
  • And, of course, a very small scene with twin handguns.

Despite ragging on this movie, I really enjoyed it. It was fun. I would classify it as a see-it-once-in-a-movie-theater-and-then-only-catch-it-on-cable-forever-after movie or as a rent-it-at-a-Redbox-for-a laid-back-night movie.

If you’ve seen it, feel free to let me know what you thought of it. If you haven’t, I’m sorry if I spoiled it for you. I’m posting this waaaaaaay after Tomb Raider comes out in theaters, so hopefully if you were going to see it, you already did.