There was a time when Tomb Raider ruled supreme when it came to action adventure games. Nathan Drake still had years to make his debut and it was Lara Croft who ruled absolute. For more than a decade, the Tomb Raider games were some of the best games of their generation, and it was mostly due to the sheer force of nature that Lara Croft turned out to be.
A lean, charismatic, and extremely strong female presence, the fanbase simply fell in love with her, regardless of gender. In a male dominated hobby like videogames, girls had someone to look up too as well. Lara took over magazines as she was rendered in as much detail as the technology at the time would allow, and in game, she bore a close resemblance, albeit leaving something to the player’s imagination as she ran around vast locations made up of warbly polygons and low resolution textures.
To many, Tomb Raider is the best that ever were when it came to the genre during that generation, and for as many reinventions as it’s been through since then, there’s a magic to her original run that has yet to be matched. Aspyr, a part of Embracer, an umbrella of companies that’s been tearing through the gaming industry as of late thanks to bad business decisions, has certainly had a good one in remastering Tomb Raider I to III at the very least.
The long-named Tomb Raider Remastered I-III Starring Lara Croft brings the games that its title names under a new coat of paint and with the option of playing with new, more modern controls, and that’s about it. You’ll probably ask if any of those additions make playing those games any different and the answer would be no, since they remain as tough of games as they ever were, games that require precision and a bit of luck to get through.
Remember, technology was still being figured out back when these were new, and a lot of elements surrounding them have aged and no amount of high resolution textures and a new lighting model can hide. Thankfully, it’s clear that Aspyr didn’t look to hide any of the things that made those games a challenge because you can simply play them as they were, at the touch of a button.
Overall, each of the three games signifies a specific point in Tomb Raider’s evolution. The first is foremost an exploration game riddled with traps and all manner of dangers. Combat is limited but fierce, and you are mostly in enclosed environments, living up to the ‘tomb’ part of the game’s name.
All the while, Tomb Raider II is the opposite. Vast open locations with enemy after enemy just waiting to shoot the living daylights out of you. Dumb as they come, they draw straight into Lara as soon as they see her. It’s undeniable that Core Design took criticism of the original into heart when designing its sequel, maybe a little too much.
Out of the three, though, Tomb Raider III: The Adventures of Lara Croft, is perhaps the most well-rounded. Big locations with a measured hand of dangers and plenty of secrets to be found make up what’s easily the best entry of the bunch as it takes the best elements of what came before it and expertly balances them out. It’s quite the adventure as its subtitle gives away.
The compilation then for as sparse as it is when it comes to bonuses does a decent enough job at bumping up the visuals. Textures are of a much higher resolution while the polygonal count remains mostly the same, allowing for seamless switching between modes, a feature that’s usually missing in remasters that is always neat. Along with those is a simple yet effective lighting model that helps make it all stand out some more.
Lara also actually looks like the gal that graced magazine covers now, a realization that I’m sure the original developers would have loved to witness is reality. As cartoonishly proportioned a woman as she is, it’s somewhat comforting to see that finally happening in a way.
In terms of gameplay, the new controls are fine. When it comes to precision jumping, the old tank scheme is certainly more suited simply because the camera isn’t nimble enough to handle the quickness of the movement when using the updated controls, as now Lara can turn in the direction she’s facing as she’s moving.
Then again, there was not anything inherently wrong with how she controlled before, but to those who didn’t grow up playing her games, the extra option is admittedly a welcome one. I hadn’t played any of the old Tomb Raiders in well over a couple of decades when I laid my hands on the new collection and muscle memory kicked in like a mule.
And those reflexes are certainly welcome because boy, these games require finesse. Jumps are precise and demanding, and one wrong step usually means doom. Thankfully, being able to save anywhere alleviates the trial and error somewhat, and after a few levels you are sure to grow accustomed to the general timing of these games’ movement and traversal.
While I would’ve loved to have seen a museum feature in this collection as there’s a bunch of promotional material out there, as well as interviews and design docs aplenty, there’s something to say about having these games readily on the go, especially on the Switch.
Having those extras would have upped the historical value of having such a compilation at the ready, but even so, at is it, Tomb Raider Remastered is still very much worth picking up, regardless of your experience with these games. It’s fun to think of an entirely new generation getting to pick what we had to play when these were new. Surely, they do take some getting used to, but the overall enjoyment comes from the challenge, and these three sure do have plenty of that.