STAFF REVIEW of Tomb Raider I-III Remastered (Xbox One)

Friday, May 24, 2024.
by Adam Dileva

Tomb Raider I-III Remastered Box art I grew up in a small town that didn’t have many places you could buy video games at the time, only rent them. So when my family would do a mainland trip to see some family every few months, I knew this was my chance to try pleading and begging for a new game for my collection. While I wasn’t able to get one every trip, one game in particular I remember asking for a few times was the original Tomb Raider on PS1. Then the inevitable happened; I was allowed to get it. Waiting what seemed like an eternity to finally play what I read in gaming magazines, I could finally enjoy my time with Lara Croft and her adventures. No, I didn’t just want the game for her polygon ‘assets’.

Lara Croft is a gaming icon. She is right up there with the likes of Mario, Master Chief, Pac-Man, Sonic, and others, and for good reason, as her first three games were absolutely fantastic for the time. There really wasn’t much else quite like a Tomb Raider game in the era. You had a female lead that was badass with dual pistols, exploring ruins and tombs by climbing, jumping and flipping, while also finding treasure and uncovering secrets along the way. Now older generations of gamers like myself can revisit the classic Tomb Raider I – III entries, and newer gamers can also experience what gaming was like in the mid to late 90’s, albeit with a pretty decent glow up in the visual department.

Tomb Raider I – III Remastered has developer Aspyr behind it, the ones responsible for the first handful of Tomb Raider entries being ported to Mac, so it’s not their first outing with Lara. Even better, it’s a full experience, as now the bonus expansions and bonus levels are all now included as well, a first for console if my memory serves right. Having never played the expansions for the first three games, I was quite excited to try out some ‘new’ content with Lara’s adventures. Given that the games have been out for nearly three decades, this review will more focus on what’s unique with the Remastered content. Fret not though, the core gameplay is virtually unchanged, with Lara searching for artifacts and uncovering secrets among ruins and tombs, all while in third person.

So by the title alone, you can probably discern that the first three Tomb Raider games are included, though with the expansions mentioned above as well. You can freely choose from Tomb Raider (1996) + Unfinished Business, Tomb Raider II (1997) + Golden Mask, and Tomb Raider III (1998) + The Lost Artifact. If you’re an old school Tomb Raider vet like myself, you’ll be happy to know you can also start directly on the expansion content for each title should you wish. Given that I’ve completed the original Tomb Raider games numerous times back on PS1, I really wanted to see the content I never got to experience.

What’s going to garner the most attention from this Remaster is no doubt it’s visual improvements. Nostalgia is funny, as you can remember things much better than they actually were. Case in point, being able to instantly swap between new and classic graphics was quite an eye opener. What I remembered in my head was drastically better than what it actually was. Funny enough, I swear I remember the game looking as great as it does now with the improved visuals, not the actual original version. If you yearn for classic Tomb Raider, you can swap to the original graphics whenever you like, and back again to the updated, much like how Halo: The Master Chief Collection did, though practically instantaneously.

Remember how cool the FMV cutscenes were, but the gameplay looked drastically different? Well now the games look much more in line with the FMV quality of aesthetic. Not only is Lara’s model improved (gone is her pyramid chest), the textures, animations and lighting have also been completely redone as well. The odd thing you’ll notice almost right away though is how the environment textures look vastly improved, but the actual sharp edged geometry is still in place, regardless if using new or classic graphics. You stop noticing it after a while, but the improved framerate is quite a difference, as swapping back to half the frame rate with old graphics is a bit jarring at first.

Until swapping back and forth between visual modes, I forgot just how dark the original versions were. I get it, you’re in caves, tombs and ruins, but it was quite a challenge to see where to go at times. Thankfully the lighting has also been completely reworked and changed when in Remastered mode as well. While overall the lighting was much more natural and brighter, there were a few spots where I had to swap to the old graphics to see where I was going, using the toggle somewhat like a flashlight. This wasn’t often, but enough that it’s worth mentioning, and I’m unsure why in one mode it would be pitch black, but fine in the other.

The second biggest change is with its controls. For its time, tank controls weren’t all that uncommon, most notably the style used in Resident Evil, though I’ve never been much of a fan. It worked though with Tomb Raider since you had to take your time to line up jumps just perfectly, and these classic controls are also an option if you want the true classic experience. Just like the visuals though, you can opt to play with a Modern control setting. This is much like any common game these days where you move Lara with the Left Stick and the camera with the Right. I of course opted for this as I wanted to see how it would improve or change the game. Surprisingly, while functional for the most part, it wasn’t nearly as better as I expected for a variety of reasons.

A big part of the original games was lining up Lara to ledges and having the perfect amount of running space before making a leap. This is much more difficult and convoluted to do, though not impossible, with the newer control scheme oddly enough. This meant a lot of missed jumps, falling off edges, and trying to remember which button combinations did what. For the platforming portions, classic tank controls felt much better overall. But I’m stubborn, so I opted to generally stay with the modern controls, as this is a new experience. I’m a glutton for punishment, what can I say? Modern controls for combat wasn’t much better either, as whipping out your pistols also automatically locks onto enemies. When you need to fight multiple enemies at once, it becomes a chaotic mess nearly every time as the camera flips or you lose tracking of your target.

One of the better improvements though is the ability to Save and Load at anytime you wish. About to make a leap you aren’t sure you’re going to land? You better save so you can reload where you just were. While the menu system is clunky and convoluted, it didn’t seem as though there was any autosave system in place, as I forgot to save in about a half hour or more, only to mis-jump a gap and have Lara die. Yup, it put me back at my last save a long time ago. Lesson learned, mostly. Some sort of rewind function would have been quite handy for moments like these.

A few other smaller but notable additions is that bosses now have health bars above their heads so you can see exactly how much of a bullet sponge they are. The photo mode is handy for some scenic pictures, but I’ve also used it to move the camera around an area and see if I could notice any hidden collectables in spots I maybe missed going to. And lastly, there are well over 200 achievements. I completely expected most of them to simply be your typical “Beat Level X” unlocks, but there’s actually some interesting ones that may have you trying something different. And yes, you can still lock your butler in the freezer should you wish. It’s ok, we’ve all done it.

Classic Lara platforming returns, and even though the modern controls seem a bit confusing when compared to classic, our hero can still leap, climb, backflip, side flip, roll, swim, dive, push and pull blocks, and more. The smooth and updated graphics does look great, though the very sharp and rigid environments make for a stark contrast at times. It’ll take some getting used to how ‘slippery’ controlling Lara can be with the Modern controls, as will remembering to save as often as you can to avoid any unnecessary replayed sections.

The old vs new graphics are quite impressive, especially when you can instantaneously swap on the fly at any point. While textures are more slick and modern, the lighting can be hit or miss, sometimes requiring a swap to the other mode to see where you are or going at times. It’s a little odd to have the classic level geometry but everything else has been improved, but I can only assume it’s because of the core platforming gameplay that it needed to stay as is. This is a remaster and not a full remake after all. From what I could tell, the audio went unedited, which is fine since it sounded great in the first place, but it would have been cool to have this updated as well.

Remastering beloved games is a balancing act of remaining faithful to the original games, yet improving just enough for new fans to enjoy as well. While it doesn’t stick the landing in every aspect, and as a Remaster it does feel a tad bareboned without much extras, it’s fascinating to see how far the series has come and how nostalgia distorted my actual memories. Not all things about the original trilogy has aged very well, but the glow up is quite a welcome addition and Lara looks great as ever.

**Tomb Raider I-III Remastered was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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