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Tomb Raider I-III Remastered Review: Lovingly Crofted

Platform reviewed: Xbox Series X

Also on: Steam, PS4/PS5, Nintendo Switch

Price: $29.99

It's hard to believe that the Tomb Raider franchise is fast approaching its 30th anniversary. Ever since the first title released on Sony's PlayStation and the Sega Saturn, I was enamored with Lara Croft. No, not for that reason. OK, well, kind of for that reason – but mostly because I was a huge fan of the setting and gameplay. Adventure games have always been one of my favorite genres, with Pitfall! and Jungle Hunt on the Atari 2600 being my first loves. Something about being in long-forgotten lands, fighting mythical creatures, and exploring ancient temples is just so much fun.

When it first released in 1996, the original Tomb Raider took the world by storm. Since then, we've had games on pretty much every console, reboots, a couple spin-offs, movies, comic books, and yes, even a Lara Croft rubber duck. As much as I enjoy all the games in the series, the original ones have a special place in my heart. So when Tomb Raider I-III Remastered was announced, I was thrilled. I couldn't wait to to dive back into Lara's classic adventures and see if they still held up. After doing some digging, I can say that Lara definitely shows her age, but the end result is still as fun as I remember.

Tomb Raider I-III Remastered is precisely what you'd expect it to be – a collection of remakes of the first three games in the franchise. While they could have just thrown some ROMs together and shipped a barebones game our way, the developers at Aspyr took the extra step. Not only do we get the original games in all their polygonal goodness, but we are also treated to a full upgrade in terms of graphics and controls, all bonus content, and some extra bells and whistles that make this a worthy collection. I would have loved to see full manual scans or collections of other memorabilia, but what we have here is acceptable.

For sake of brevity, I won't get deep into the entire lore of the Tomb Raider games. Plus, if you don't know much about them by now, then shame on you! But basically, you play as international adventurer and socialite Lara Croft as she travels the globe, exploring forgotten lands, seeking treasures and, of course, saving humanity. The games are a healthy mixture of platforming, exploration, and combat – all the elements one could ask for in an adventure game. So now that we are on up-to-date on Lara's escapades, let's see if the game is worth its weight in gold (and yes, that was a Tomb Raider I Midas reference).

The games all play exactly like their original counterparts, and this is both a blessing and a curse. Remember, the Tomb Raider games came out at a time when 3D games were in their infancy, and developers were still struggling with how to best utilize the controls. Not only that, but when the first Tomb Raider game released, the PlayStation controller didn't have analog sticks. We were stuck with the famous d-pad “tank controls” - a scheme that didn't offer full 3D movement. You'd use left and right on the d-pad to turn, up to move forward, and down to take a backwards hop. It was clunky, but at the time it was all we had and we had to make do.

Tomb Raider I-III Remastered incorporates the same tank controls, and it does take some getting used to. Even those of use who grew up playing the game in this manner would need to spend some time re-training our brains to get comfortable. Fortunately, Aspyr updated the games with a more modern control scheme, which allows for a much smoother experience. And this is where one of the game's issues arises. In a lot of its segments, the Tomb Raider games require precise platforming. You need to time jumps perfectly to avoid traps, fight enemies, and reach hidden rooms. For those of us using the modern control scheme, this can prove to be quite a problem. I can't count how many times I've had to reload a save because a poorly-executed jump led to poor Lara plummeting to her death at the bottom of a pit (that snap when she hits the ground really gets to you). So the solution I was able to find during these frustrating parts was to switch the controls back to tank, carefully make my way to the destination, then switch back to modern controls. It's not pretty and it gets aggravating, but it works. So if you are going to get the game just be aware that you may struggle with the controls a bit.

Another issue I have is with the camera. Again, this is another instance where the game shows its age. There are times where the camera gets stuck and I'm staring at either a wall, floor, or a half-transparent Lara. Other times, the camera goes absolutely haywire and I have no idea what's happening. This usually occurs when I'm backed into a corner, so it's not super common. But it is an annoyance when I'm backing up to start a series of jumps and I can't get my bearings straight.

In addition to the controls, I also found myself swapping out the aesthetics quite a bit. With a quick press of a button, you can toggle between the original 1996 polygons and the updated graphics. While the game is absolutely beautiful with the remastered visuals, it does tend to get dark and I have trouble finding ledges, ultimately end up getting pretty lost. So here I am once again, constantly changing between the two styles, as the original graphics are much brighter. While this is a concern, it's not really a major one. The swapping is seamless, and I really do love those old-school graphics. As much as I love the old graphics, the updated visuals are absolutely gorgeous. The lighting is phenomenal and the game runs at a silky-smooth 60 frames per second in remastered mode. Yes, the original graphics still suffer from that janky 30 FPS, but in my opinion that adds to the overall charm and nostalgia of the classic games.

The last thing I'll call out isn't so much a concern as it is a warning. We've become so accustomed to auto-save in games that oftentimes we forget to save our progress. Please be aware of this while playing Tomb Raider I-III Remastered! Saves (with the exception of beating a level) are MANUAL! You are responsible for recording your progress – so do it early and do it often. It took me a while to remember that I should save my game every 10 minutes or so, otherwise one failed leap will result in a lot of replaying the same area over and over. So please – save your game.

But when it comes to charm and nostalgia, this game is a treasure. The moment I booted up the game, I couldn't help but smile. The original soundtrack is fully carried over to this title, and I had completely forgotten how much I loved the music in this game. I was immediately taken back to high school, playing this game for the first time and being drawn into this world. All the sound effects remain, and there's something so eerie and calm about searching an ancient site, only for the intense music to suddenly kick in when an enemy is approaching. And when that T-Rex music hits, old man Mike freaked out just as much as teenage Mike.

One other thing I loved about this game was the photo mode. It's always fun, and a good break from the usual game, when you can pause it and take a snip of that perfect attack, jump, or yes, even death. But the photo mode comes with an added benefit. The Tomb Raider games have a lot of hidden areas and hard-to-find artifacts. With photo mode, you can freely move the camera around to locate where these treasures lie. Is it cheating? Eh, kinda - but still fun!

Final Grade: B+

Tomb Raider I-III Remastered is a love letter to those of us who grew up with Lara Croft. Aspyr took the original games and added a ton of TLC, making them accessible and enjoyable to today's audience. While there are some issues that come with the game's transfer, the end result is a very enjoyable one. Plus, at $29.99, it's 100% worth it at only $10 per game. So whether you are a Tomb Raider historian or just discovering the games, Tomb Raider I-III Remastered is worth digging up.



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