Tomb Raider I-II-III Remastered Starring Lara Croft Review (PS5)

Tomb Raider I-II-III Remastered Starring Lara Croft Review: Does Lara Croft Matter In 2024?

Tomb Raider

As someone who grew up in the 90s, I find it weird how little Lara Croft matters in gaming today. Sure, her most recent trilogy, which ended in 2018, was well-received. Six years later, though, it doesn’t feel strange that we’ve gone six years without a new Tomb Raider game, which is weird in itself. People still know who Lara Croft is, but do they care? The publishers of these releases clearly hope so, even putting Lara’s name in the title of this collection, but I have my doubts.

Compare that to the heyday of the Tomb Raider series, represented by the three games included in this latest release, Tomb Raider I-II-III Remastered Starring Lara Croft. They came out three years in a row, with just over two years between the release of the first and third games. That was a very different era, with a very different timeline for making major games, but during that time, Lara Croft was one of the five most famous video game characters around. Her games sold millions of copies and helped change how the general public saw video games.

 

The Game That Started It All

 

Tomb Raider

Were these games ever any good, though? That’s the question I keep returning to after spending time with these remastered versions of the original trilogy. I’ve come to the decision that the answer is yes, at least to a degree, but I have to qualify that statement more than I expected going in. The first Tomb Raider is a fascinating game that tries to take a style of precision platforming that was extremely popular in 2D and make it work in 3D. The results are certainly mixed, but the team at Core Design did an admirable job of giving you the tools you needed for the job. Lara has all kinds of flips, jumps, twists, and turns to help her make precise jumps while exploring tombs. An extreme degree of precision is needed, and that’s extremely difficult to deal with using the tank controls the game was made with, but once you get the hang of things, everything is very doable.

Some of the level design here is fantastic, too, with fascinating stages to explore filled with hidden chambers, useful pickups, and combat, which never really feels great but isn’t a deal breaker. This release even includes the formerly PC-only expansion for the game, along with those for the other two titles included, which players who grew up with these titles on consoles will appreciate.

For all that holds up about the first Tomb Raider regarding level design and sense of exploration, many things are hard to go back to, while others never really worked in the first place. The game’s tank controls are something modern players simply aren’t used to and are very hard to wrap your head around. Even as someone who played these games in the 90s and many other games with similar controls, it’s hard to go back after so many years. On top of that, Lara is barely a character. It’s hard to get invested in her in an era where her looking good on the box is no longer a major appeal. The developers seemed to let her character design and the characterization of similar treasure-hunting characters from other media do the work, but it doesn’t quite get it done in 2023. That’s before we even get into the outright racist depictions of some of the native people in these games and the reckoning that many have had in the last thirty years that stealing artifacts from other cultures is generally a bad thing. I do appreciate that Aspyr chose to leave this content in the game with a disclaimer upfront. We shouldn’t hide from the past. If these games are to continue to matter, their history is a part of them and one that shouldn’t be hidden away. Still, they’re a rough play in spots.

 

A Modern Touch

 

Tomb Raider

When we think of a remaster, that often comes with merely a graphical upgrade, though we sometimes get a few nice quality-of-life improvements as well. The team behind these remasters did both, but both are a pretty mixed success at best, with some of these improvements simply not working as they should. Graphically, I actually think the development team did a nice job for the most part. They’ve crafted a remastered look that still evokes the polygonal games these are while cleaning things up to look more presentable on a modern display. They don’t look like games coming out in 2024, but they aren’t trying to. Instead, they look like your nostalgia remembers the original versions looking instead of how they actually do. If you need a reminder, you can switch to the original graphics with the tap of a button, though the original look runs notably worse and has more issues with the camera, which was never a strength of these titles and has real problems now. My only issue with the look of these games is that, at times, they have a hard time capturing the feel of certain areas in the original game. The lighting in many areas is entirely different, and while that isn’t inherently bad, it gives a very different feel at times.

The other major change in this release is a new modern control scheme. This allows players to ditch the tank controls and move Lara around in a way that feels much more modern. It’s an excellent idea, and there are parts of the game where I absolutely prefer these controls. It becomes clear very quickly, though, that they don’t work well. The levels here were designed around the original controls. Certain jumps feel near impossible with the modern controls. You still have a weird lack of responsiveness, which has always been an issue for the series. There are certain moves you simply can’t do with modern controls. I ended up switching back to the original tank controls rather quickly, as they simply made playing the game far easier once I was able to adjust. That said, I almost wish that instead of a button to switch between modern and original graphics, we’d been given a button to switch between modern and original controls. This would have been the best of both worlds. Instead, switching is buried in convoluted menus that you simply won’t want to be digging through every few minutes.

Any other modern amenities have been forsaken. There are no auto-save or save states here. Very few modern games require players to be careful about saving their progress, and I expect more than a few players will lose more progress than they need to, even after the point they probably should remember to save regularly. There are no new abilities, difficulty options, or anything to make this a more accessible game beyond the failed attempt at modern controls and the updated graphics. These sorts of changes, or even just options, would have gone a long way to making this feel like an essential release. If the goal was to reach beyond fans of the original games, I don’t expect to see a lot of success.

 

Diminishing Returns

 

Tomb Raider

The team at Core put out two additional games in two additional years, and considering the quick turnaround, there’s a lot to be impressed by in Tomb Raider II. The levels are still brilliantly designed. Lara has new moves and new weapons and travels to far more varied locales. In many ways, it’s the sequel you’d want to the original, though notably one without many tricks up its sleeve. The most significant transition was a larger focus on combat and human foes, which feels like the wrong way for this series to have progressed, as these encounters were the least interesting part of the first game. Still, there’s a lot to like about Tomb Raider II if you like the first game.

That’s a lot less true in the third game. Here, you can really feel the diminishing returns of putting out another of these games so quickly. The level design is outright awful at times, and while there are some decent areas, they don’t make up for the game’s more significant issues. The opening level is one of the worst I can remember playing in some time. If you love the first two games, you’ll still likely enjoy this one overall, but it’s a lot harder to fall in love with Lara for a third time.

 

Conclusion

 

Tomb Raider I-II-III Remastered Starring Lara Croft takes a franchise that was flawed even in the 90s and does nothing interesting to update it. The new graphics are nice when they aren’t ruining the atmosphere of certain areas, but the modern controls somehow make these games a worse experience. There are plenty of great adventures out there starring Lara Croft. Her last trilogy was excellent, and even the 360-era titles, starting with Tomb Raider Legend, largely hold up. These original releases, though, have simply been eclipsed by far too many games at this point and are only really worth returning to if your nostalgia demands one more trip into these tombs.


Final Verdict: 2.5/5

Available on: PS5 (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Switch, PC; Publisher: Aspyr; Developer: Aspyr, Crystal Dynamics; Players: 1; Released: February 14th, 2024; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $29.99

Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Tomb Raider I-II-III Remastered Starring Lara Croft provided by the publisher.

 

Andrew Thornton
Andrew has been writing about video games for nearly twenty years, contributing to publications such as DarkStation, Games Are Fun, and the E-mpire Ltd. network. He enjoys most genres but is always pulled back to classic RPG's, with his favorite games ever including Suikoden II, Panzer Dragoon Saga, and Phantasy Star IV. Don't worry though, he thinks new games are cool too, with more recent favorites like Hades, Rocket League, and Splatoon 2 stealing hundreds of hours of his life. When he isn't playing games he's often watching classic movies, catching a basketball game, or reading the first twenty pages of a book before getting busy and forgetting about it.

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