Tomb Raider I-III Remastered Review

Lara's Lost Legacy
tomb raider 1-3 remastered trilogy

There are few western gaming icons who can boast the same prestige and cultural impact as Lara Croft. The famed archaeologist turned gun-toting adventurer has a storied mythos spanning multiple reboots and film adaptations, becoming one of the most recognisable faces in video games.

As we approach Tomb Raider’s 30th anniversary, there’s also been plenty of controversy, from ongoing debates surrounding Lara’s sexualisation, counterarguments of female empowerment, and the whole situation with the series’ current developer Crystal Dynamics, and their precarious position within the Embracer Group umbrella.

Tomb Raider I-III Remastered beams us back to a time when it was all much simpler: when the gaming industry wasn’t eating itself in pursuit of infinite growth, and when discourse was far less draining and cacophonous, tucked away in forums and message boards.

As the name implies, this remastered collection includes Lara’s initial trilogy of adventures, released back to back between 1996 and 1999. Developer Aspyr Media are no strangers when it comes to remastering both cult hits and stone cold classics, perhaps best known for their work on restoring Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

When the term “remaster” gets bandied about, we often forget that each and every game that goes under the digital scalpel gets a unique treatment. Where some titles receive a straightforward shot in the arm to boost performance and visual fidelity, other remasters offer quality-of-life improvements, brand new features, sometimes restoring content that was cut from the original release.

Although there have been some pretty obvious revisions, Tomb Raider I-III Remastered leans more towards that traditional remaster label rather than a top to bottom remake. You can near enough play through the trilogy as it was back in the day or, by tweaking a few settings, you can modernise the experience to help soften that shock of turning back the clock by almost a few decades.

Nostalgia – especially for that early 3D PlayStation era – can muddy our perception of how these games used to play. A quick romp around Croft Manor lays bare just how clunky Tomb Raider feels compared to games that came out just a handful of years later. At best, platforming can be frustrating as you try and line up jumps while making sure there’s enough momentum to carry you forward. I’m not afraid of admitting that I “save scum” often when playing RPGs and strategy games (especially XCOM) but this is the first time I’ve done so for an action adventure.

Tomb Raider and its sequels will often have you running precarious gauntlets where one misstep will send you tumbling, spending several minutes climbing back to where you were. This is compounded by camera issues that will often change the direction Lara moves in response to button presses depending on where your viewpoint is angled.

This throws up one of my main dilemmas with the remastered trilogy: choosing whether to play using modern controls or stick with the aptly labelled tank controls. While the latter is far less familiar to modern gamers, it arguably offers a more precise way of navigating those tricky jumps. Gunning down a menagerie of animals, monsters, and mercenaries has a certain jank to it, too. Finding your target while also rolling, leaping, and flipping to avoid damage is a bit of a jumble and almost made me thankful for the homogenised over-the-shoulder gunplay we’ve collectively become accustomed to since Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War.

tomb raider i-iii remastered

Something that does still hold up well is the level design. Although stages are self-contained, each gauntlet will oscillate between cramped corridors to larger, more complex areas that weave together gunfights, puzzle rooms, and subaquatic exploration. There’s no hand holding here and sometimes the way forward isn’t always clear with some key items being slightly hidden from view. If the games themselves weren’t enough of a nostalgia hit, visiting GameFAQs for a quick hint or walkthrough will certainly do the job.

Besides the modern controls, what other changes have Aspyr made? Visually, there’s been a clear overhaul that introduces more detailed characters and textures as well as more dynamic lighting. At the same time, there has been an effort to preserve that early 3D retro aesthetic – it’s a balancing act that works quite nicely here, helping the trilogy to sit comfortably within that remaster descriptor. You can even toggle between the original and remastered visuals almost instantly at the press of a button, Tomb Raider I-III Remastered inviting players to explore every inch with the newly implemented photo mode. Another modern touch that’s sure to go down well is the shopping list of unlockable trophies/achievements up for grabs.

Lara’s original trilogy has been lovingly restored with the launch of these remasters, offering a definitive collection that bundles the core games and their expansions. However, dusting off these old relics in the name of nostalgia may come with a nasty surprise. Don’t worry, there are no mummy curses, snake pits, or swinging pendulum axes, though the clunky controls will definitely take some getting used to (again).
  • Visual upgrades that enhance rather than paint over the games’ original aesthetic
  • A suite of welcome improvements and features
  • Does exactly what you’d want from a remaster
  • Original gameplay has been preserved and is unapologetically outdated
  • Clunky controls, gunplay, and platforming throughout
  • Hard to recommend to those who aren’t deeply nostalgic
Written by
Senior Editor bursting with lukewarm takes and useless gaming trivia. May as well surgically attach my DualSense at this point.

1 Comment

  1. Think this is a very fair review. The modern controls are simply unplayable. But the tank controls, whilst still superior, have terrible camera angle shifts. This is one of the things that I hoped would have been fixed!?

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