Back in 1996, Tomb Raider helped define the action-adventure genre on the Playstation by mixing wild gunfights with complex platforming in extravagant 3D environments. Today, the series continues to provide us with edge-of-your-seat thrill ride experiences, most recently in Rise of the Tomb Raider, out for PS4 on October 11th.
To relive the adventure, I went back through most of the major entries in the series and faced a gauntlet of the franchise’s wildest enemies, taking stock of the most notable villains. Join me on my murderous rampage through Tomb Raider’s decades-long history:
Ol’ baby arms himself shows up in four entries in the series, making him the franchise’s most recurring villain. For our intrepid explorer, what could possibly be a better discovery than a living, breathing dinosaur? It can’t stay living and breathing for long, however. To avoid getting eaten immediately, Lara must quickly destroy it with her dual pistols, flipping around in the air to keep her distance.
Throughout the series, the T-Rex — arguably the franchise’s most memorable beast — is thrown at you in devious ways, using the element of surprise to catch you off guard. The only downside is that the fights don’t last very long, because Lara must kill or be killed as quickly as possible.
Though the combat approach is simple, the T-Rex can rip you to pieces faster than you can say, “oh shit, is that a T-Rex?”
Jacqueline Natla is like the love child of Lex Luthor and a demoness — a perfect nemesis for Lara Croft. Originally, Natla ruled over the lost city of Atlantis before power corrupted her, causing her imprisonment. Like all great villains, she managed to free herself: a nuclear test that detonated near her prison allowed her to escape in 1945.
In the first Tomb Raider, Natla hires Lara Croft to find a piece of the Atlantean Scion, a pendant that would allow her to bring about a new age of mutant warriors in order to force the evolution of humanity. It’s a fascinating motive and backstory that really set the tone for how dark and gritty this series could get.
The final battle with Natla in Tomb Raider 1 is intensive: Natla flies around large crumbling ruins popping off fireballs at Lara. Moments after Lara defeats her, she rises up again, uttering the line, “You can’t bump off me and my brood so easy, Lara!” After that, you have to take her down one final time before making your escape.
She is the final boss of three games in the franchise for a reason. When Natla spreads her demonic wings, you know it’s about to go down.
Marco Bartoli AKA Dragon
Marco is the stone cold leader of Flamma Nera, a mob organization that moonlights as a cult. “How stone cold?,” you might wonder. For starters, he pops a Tibetan monk in the face with his pistol without flinching. He then stabs himself in the heart with a magic dagger in order to transform into a massive Chinese dragon.
Once you manage to get the dragon down, you must immediately run up to it and grab the magic dagger from its chest, or the damn thing revives and you have to start all over again. The whole thing makes for a very tense fight that can quickly turn sour for our hero if she’s not fast enough.
I probably died the most fighting the Dragon. He will burn your ass to a crisp in an instant if you’re not incredibly careful.
Also known as The Taur Demigod, this mythological creature resides within the Chambers of Tulun. What makes this classic mythological beast so notable, besides his shock wave hammer smash move, is that he’s completely invincible. To prove it, here’s a clip of me blasting it with an endless array of grenades only to meet my eventual demise:
It’s one of the only enemies in the entire series that Lara Croft cannot eliminate with her arsenal of firearms. Instead, she must use her wits to trap the demigod by luring it into a large room with huge falling doors that are activated by pulling a lever on the roof.
He may be invincible, but he’s also a bit thick. Once you figure out how to lure him into the trap, you’ll be on your way to the next zone in no time.
For Lara, this one gets personal. Amanda was her bestie up until they were involved in a horrible cave-in during a university expedition in Peru. Amanda became trapped under a large pile of rocks, and Lara left her for dead — mostly because a wraith monster was chasing them. (Basically your standard study abroad shenanigans, right?)
When they meet back up in Bolivia, Amanda is understandably pissed at Lara for leaving her behind. Instead of accepting an apology from Lara, she releases the very monster that was after them in the caves. Lara, wielding a re-forged Excalibur, goes head-to-head with the ancient creature in order to save the day.
I love this fight due to the complex nature of Lara and Amanda’s relationship. There is a clear motivation for Amanda’s turn towards a path of evil that even Lara can sympathize with. Everyone can relate to the dissolution of friendships.
Amanda comes complete with a mystical floating monster that can only be hurt by King Arthur’s sword. I’d say that’s pretty high on the “holy shit” scale.
This boss fight is also quite different from the others. Rather than shooting the monster to death, you must platform your way around the chamber in order to release a giant spike-covered chandelier on the Kraken’s head.
I love boss fights like these, because they go against the grain of your standard “shoot it ‘till it’s dead” approach. In this case, the boss is the level itself. Every time I shot the broken chain causing the chandelier to drop on the big guy, I’d scream, “You just got krakened!” while high-fiving myself.
The sheer size of this sea beast is terrifying, and it takes an abundance of difficult platforming in order to defeat it.
Oni Stalker AKA Stormguard Stalker
The Oni Stalker hits hard and is very intimidating, especially for the novice Lara Croft that we get in this reboot to the series. He guards Himiko, the Sun Queen, who is trapped in a decaying body (and looks creepy as hell).
The Stalker comes armed with a giant mace and armor that makes him invulnerable, save for one spot on his back. You must dodge his heavy mace-smashes fast enough to get behind him and shoot the weak point. If you do this enough, you get the chance to bash his head in with a crowbar. The way this moment plays out is unsettling — which gets you into the headspace of a rookie Lara Croft starting her transformation into a hardened killer.
To say this goliath is intimidating would be an understatement, especially when he bashes your skull into the icy ground.
20 years is a long time for a franchise to stay afloat. Taking the journey through each of these games up to the present was a real treat — I couldn’t help but marvel at just how dynamic and fun each of these encounters were and continue to be.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is out for the PS4 on October 11th, and it includes the hours of nonstop exploration, heart-stopping stealth encounters, and ferocious gun fights that I’ve come to expect (and love) from the Tomb Raider games. I hear it even includes a ghastly voodoo temple, complete with a demonic witch.
Holden McNeely is a gaming writer for websites such as Dorkly, streams regularly on Twitch, and has a weekly podcast about nerd culture called The Wizard and The Bruiser.
GIFs by Josh Lees