April 12, 2024

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Review: Tomb Raider I-III Remastered

6 min read

Lara Croft is one of the most instantly recognisable faces in the history of video gaming and, through developer Aspyr’s recently released Tomb Raider I-III Remastered collection, both fresh blood and seasoned members alike of the Lara fan club get to experience her first three adventures in an entirely new light. Led by dedicated modder and OpenLara creator, XProger, as well as a passionate team of fans, the title features strikingly vibrant and updated textures, a series of fresh new character and enemy models, and a selection of welcome additions in the quality-of-life department – ensuring this is one trip down memory lane that franchise enthusiasts won’t want to miss out on.

We’ll break down and dive into more details regarding each of these aspects as we go along, don’t you worry. For now, however, let’s take a gander at what exactly you’re getting in this package. The original trilogy of Tomb Raider games developed by Core Design and released in 1996, 1997 and 1998 have all been included here, as well as the bonus chapters from the later expansions – namely Unfinished Business, Golden Mask, and The Lost Artefact. It’s also worth noting that, in a statement that pops up when launching the game, it’s clarified that these remasters are presented “as is” without any content cuts – including leaving in any potentially offensive content.

All three games are playable in either their classic thick and chunky PS1-era goodness or in their full visually enhanced/remastered splendour. Alternating between these two modes is instantaneous and is as simple as hitting a single button (“options” on the PS5 DualSense controller) at any point during gameplay or mid-cutscene.

All three games are playable in either their classic thick and chunky PS1-era goodness or in their full visually enhanced/remastered splendour.

There were so many times during my playthrough that I would flip back and forth between the past and present styles out of curiosity – and it never failed to either slap a grin on my face or draw out a chuckle as I was faced with just how far we’ve come since then from a technological standpoint. Blurry terrain has been replaced with detailed textures, additional environmental and atmospheric elements have been incorporated (including moodier lighting, fog, fireflies, more realistic water, and new skyboxes), draw distance has been drastically increased, and the updated Lara Croft model perfectly encapsulates her appearance from the original cover art and marketing materials of the time.

Enemy and creature models are likewise touched up, but don’t appear to be too realistic or overly detailed. They manage to still retain that authentic old-school quality while boasting noticeable improvements. In fact, I’d say that’s the case for the overall design philosophy of the remaster’s aesthetics. Somehow, a near-perfect balance has been struck here between old and new – everything looks better, but you’re still able to “see” and “feel” the originals through the paintwork. Emphasis on the “feel” part, in particular.

Precision platforming is still the name of the game, and Lara’s tank controls are very much present. A “modern” movement alternative, inspired by more recent games in the franchise, mainly from the Legend timeline, has been incorporated for those out there who might struggle to come to grips with the traditional control scheme. While I certainly appreciate the inclusion of an additional option for getting Lara through each chapter, I ended up sticking to the good ol’ tank mobility as it felt more reliable, in my opinion. Finer movement and jump preparation also feel unnecessarily difficult to pull off under modern controls.

As much as it may pain you in 2024, I would still highly suggest giving the default primarily d-pad focused movement a try before jumping straight into the modern setup – and perhaps working on your patience and breathing exercises, especially if you’ve never played any of these titles in the past. You’re probably going to die a lot as a direct result of messing up jumps or simply walking off a ledge, if wrestling with the camera or coming face-to-face with an impeccably placed trap/enemy doesn’t get you first. These struggles are all integral to capturing that authentic ‘90s Tomb Raider charm and are just as much a part of the game’s DNA as its core gameplay, varied settings, and unforgettable soundtrack, I’d argue.

You’re probably going to die a lot as a direct result of messing up jumps or simply walking off a ledge, if wrestling with the camera or coming face-to-face with an impeccably placed trap/enemy doesn’t get you first.

Throughout your international adventures, each location now accompanied by an improved loading screen, you’re free to capture as many beautifully updated sights and moments of heightened anxiety as you want using the newly introduced photo mode. Adjusting Lara’s pose, facial expression, outfit, and equipped weaponry are all you’ve really got in terms of customisation options before snapping that million-dollar shot – plus, it also functions within the PS1 display mode. If stepping into the new and improved Lost Valley doesn’t have you reflexively reaching for that metaphorical camera, you may, in fact, have no soul.

While the remasters all look great and play wonderfully, there were a few exceedingly rare instances of textures bugging out or appearing brighter than intended that were impossible to not notice, as well as an equally infrequent number of objects seemingly vanishing when viewed from certain camera angles. Thankfully, like I said, these issues don’t occur nearly often enough to merit being labelled a serious problem.

Shadows, on the other hand, seem to constantly behave in bizarre ways. Some disappear entirely before alarmingly and suddenly popping back into view, others show up in unexpected places. I’m no expert on shadow logic, but it just feels remarkably inconsistent most of the time. Once again, not too big of a deal, though. Accessibility options are also basically non-existent, with the only major selections on offer taking the form of enabling subtitles and adjusting controller sensitivity or dead zones.

Easily the worst and most frustrating aspect of these remasters, by a long shot, is how easily missable almost every key or other small lootable item is – even with the excellent new interaction indicator setting turned on. Med-kits and ammunition are fine in my books (all now represented using 3D models instead of 2D sprites), but the keys (also 3D) this time around are so ridiculously tiny it almost feels like an actual scaling mistake.

While the remasters all look great and play wonderfully, there were a few exceedingly rare instances of textures bugging out or appearing brighter than intended that were impossible to not notice.

Levels like The Cistern illustrate this problem perfectly, and it’s totally possible to even run over these items without realising you’ve done so thanks to how much the assets blend into the floor texture. The moodier lighting doesn’t help the situation much either, and you’ll likely find yourself using the PS1 toggle to see these items with greater clarity or to get a better idea of where you’re supposed to head next thanks to its (mostly) brighter visuals. If you suspect one of those pesky keys is lying around, hit that mode switch and do a few camera twirls for good measure.

Minor technical issues and frustrations aside, Tomb Raider I-III Remastered is genuinely one of the most faithful and well-executed remasters I’ve seen in a very long time – an exceptionally potent nostalgia trip and a fresh experience all at once. This project truly exudes that labour of love energy and goes to show how beneficial bringing individuals who sincerely harbour nothing but fondness for a series into the developmental side of things can add up to a final product appreciated by both outsiders and long-time fans alike. I can only hope that the remaining Original timeline Tomb Raider titles eventually receive the same treatment at some point in the future – including The Angel of Darkness.

*PS5 Review code provided by Aspyr | Reviewed by Ryan Pretorius

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