Tomb Raider I-III Remastered Review

February 20, 2024


Also on:
Xbox One
Xbox Series

Lara Croft is, without a doubt, one of my favourite video game protagonists of all time. As a kid, I spent countless hours playing the original Tomb Raider games on the PlayStation One before my parents bought me a modern gaming console, as a teen I loved the Tomb Raider trilogy, and as an adult, I’ve modelled my real-world arsenal based off the weapons she carried. Just so that we’re clear, I’m not a creep who fetishises her or anything, but she’s cool, she’s attractive, and she’s a hell of a lot less weird than Indiana Jones despite having a similar virtual profession. As far as I’m concerned, she’s a near-perfect lead character that embodies everything right about action-adventure video games. And so, needless to say, I was looking forward to playing as her once again when I learned that the trilogy that I enjoyed as a pre-pubescent was getting a remake. But after spending a handful of hours beating levels in that remake, I’m more content to remember her as a dual-wielding badass rather than the lead character in three titles that just haven’t aged well despite their new coat of proverbial paint.

See, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with Tomb Raider I-III Remastered. The game does a great job at updating the original title’s dated visuals, the ability to save and load at will is seriously appreciated, and the fact that it runs on modern computers (or Xbox systems, PlayStation 5 or Nintendo Switch) without an emulator or mods is welcome to say the least. The two decades-old Tomb Raider I, Tomb Raider II, Tomb Raider III and their respective expansion packs have long since started to show their age, especially when it comes to their graphics and resolution settings, and the ability to beat dozens of missions without having to worry about black bars, blocky textures or using your arrow keys to move around is exactly what anyone would have hope to be able to do with a remastered version of the classic trilogy. And so, purely from a technical perspective, the $30/£25 game is a success.

For all you new tomb raiders, be sure to mess around in Lara’s mansion, as it serves as the games’ tutorials, and also unlocks some core memories.

The issue with it is that from an untechnical perspective, by which I mean everything else about it, it’s a failure. For as much I loved the titles back before I had an income of my own, or before my folks finally allowed me to spend my allowance on an Xbox 360, they just aren’t good. Their levels aren’t especially enjoyable, their gunplay is seriously lacklustre, and there are certain elements of their narratives that are a tad problematic. They are, for lack of a better phrase, just aren’t great unless you’re playing them purely for the sake of feeling nostalgic. They aren’t bad, and the titular Lara Croft is just as phenomenal as she was back in the early 2000s, but it simply isn’t fun to roam around confusing environments as a female Indiana Jones while shooting unintelligent artificial intelligences or solving boring puzzles.

Again, I don’t blame the developers for this. Remasters have always existed in a strange place within the video gaming industry, because they force their makers to only focus on audiovisual elements and don’t allow them to do anything about games’ stories or gameplay. So if a title they’re updating had a bad narrative or unenjoyable shooting, so too will the remaster, which is the issue with Tomb Raider I-III Remastered. Aspyr and Crystal Dynamics couldn’t fix the original game’s barely functioning control scheme beyond adding the ability to look around freely, couldn’t make its shooting better, and couldn’t fix the core issues of the Tomb Raider trilogy’s plot. Just like in the O.G. Tomb Raider, the remasters’ cameras are still wonky as all get-out, its tank controls suck, its modern controls aren’t much better, and its levels still have certain sequences that aren’t fun to play through.

Before anyone asks, yes I own an H&K USP because of Tomb Raider.

If you’ve never played the original Tomb Raider games, then, it’s hard to recommend its remaster. Although the series was a key part of my childhood, and at some point or another I’ll write an article about why Lara Croft is one of the best protagonists of all time, it just isn’t a good one given the advancements the industry has made since 2001. If you have played through the franchise on your PlayStation One, it’s still hard to recommend its remaster, though. Its controls are unintuitive despite the best efforts of its developer, its gameplay is seriously outdated, and its narrative leaves a lot to be desired. Unless you’re keen to see a less-blocky Lara Croft, there are better ways to remember a time in your life before you had crippling debt and back pain. It’s without doubt the most definitive version of the protagonist’s original story, and anyone who wants to play it will enjoy its updated visuals and the fact that it runs flawlessly on modern systems. But its story, and everything else about the remaster, simply aren’t all that good through little fault of its developers, but through a lot of fault of the passage of time and the ways video games as a medium have improved in the past 20-odd years.

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Although Tomb Raider Remastered does a phenomenal job at updating the original titles’ graphics, it doesn’t improve their abysmal controls or dated gameplay. ‍
Derek Johnson

Somebody once told me the world was going to roll me, and they were right. I love games that let me take good-looking screenshots and ones that make me depressed, so long as the game doesn't overstay its welcome.