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Tomb Raider I-III Remastered – Too Faithful For Its Own Good

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All views are that of the author and are not influenced by any copies of games provided by publishers for review purposes.

Tomb Raider I-III Remastered Starring Lara Croft is a remaster of the original three Tomb Raider adventures. This definitive collection includes all expansions and secret levels, including Tomb Raider I + Unfinished Business, Tomb Raider II + Golden Mask, and Tomb Raider III + The Lost Artifact.

This remaster is developed and published by Aspyr with collaboration from Crystal Dynamics, and is available on PS5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and PC.

Remastered games walk a thin line between balancing the pull of nostalgia while attracting new players. I would say this is universally true for almost all games that have been remastered over the years (and there’s been quite a few), but I’m not sure if that holds up as much for Aspyr’s remaster of Lara Croft’s iconic adventures. Whether or not this was intentional, Tomb Raider I-III Remastered Starring Lara Croft (yes, that is the full title) can be quite challenging for someone unfamiliar with the franchise or particularly the original trilogy, but it is about as faithful to the source material as a game can be.

Gameplay mechanics remain largely untouched with controls that might feel clunky in modern standards. Camera angles are not intuitive for a new player, which might lead to awkward staring at walls or jumping when you intend to shoot, and vice versa. While I appreciate the nostalgia of playing a game like the very first Tomb Raider and preserving the frustrating experience that I had in the mid-90s, this remaster does make me question why the gameplay mechanics were left to the dust. It seems almost intentional when you compare it to the visuals and a few other quality of life improvements, but it left me longing for better combat controls almost every step of the way. I will also never understand how the swimming mechanics are supposed to work. Even the option to switch from tank to modern controls does not do Lara—or players—much justice. 

There’s no denying that the strengths of the Tomb Raider series lie in the puzzles and immersive exploration. If you wanted to live our your adventure-seeking fantasy of finding ancient artifacts and firing dual pistols at wild beasts, then this remaster is for you. The three games will transport you to immersive worlds the same way the original games and the modern second-era trilogy did. It certainly helps to have the expansions and secret levels included, guaranteeing hours of puzzle-solving fun.

Moreso than the more recent trilogy, Tomb Raider I-III showcases that these games are less about the third-person adventure and more about puzzle solving. Spending hours in this remaster showcases just how good this franchise always has been at designing meticulous levels and immersing players. I hate to double-down on this, but so many puzzles are hindered by awkward controls and getting Lara to grab on to ledges with correct timing.

The biggest upgrade to these games is most certainly the visuals. While it still may not hold up to the standards of current AAA games, the modernized character models and environments in Tomb Raider I-III Remastered are certainly improved. Gone are the days of low-poly, low-res Lara Croft, but even more interesting is the option to toggle the original “rough” graphics at any point during gameplay. With the simple press of a button, you can seamlessly transport Lara to the 90s and back again to the modern day graphics without having to toggle through the settings screen. It’s pretty nifty and I found myself comparing the two visuals more often than not, treating these games more like a tech demo than I expected.

That thin line between nostalgia and new players means your experiences will vary depending on how important the classic graphics mean to you. For me, I have a soft spot for the 2013-2018 Tomb Raider trilogy more than the original games and I still found this remaster to be visually impressive, given the context I have about the 90s games. I can’t say the same will be true for someone experiencing this for the first time and expecting Uncharted 4 visuals. In other words, you really should not walk into this expecting Uncharted 4 visuals.

The soundtrack luckily maintains the original atmosphere, including Lara Croft’s iconic voice throughout all three games. Sadly, some sound effects remain a bit outdated—such as waterfall effects—and the overall ambience music is a little muted compared to other games. There are also way less Lara grunts, and that’s a minus in my book.

Luckily, I had little to no performance issues with this remaster, playing it on a mid-tier PC. I encountered a couple of bugs, mainly in the second entry, but nothing seemed too glitchy or game-breaking for me, and loading screens were impressively brief. As with most games and specifications, experiences will vary.

The Tomb Raider games have never been known for their replayability given their linear level designs. Once you’ve solved a puzzle, there is little to no reason to return to it. However, secret levels, collectibles and more challenging puzzles scattered throughout the three games make revisiting your adventures more likely.

One notable accessibility feature in the game is button remapping, something I wish every single video game has. The option to switch between classic and modern controls is pretty nifty, though it still doesn’t take away some of the clunkiness I mentioned earlier about camera angles and positioning. Sadly, there isn’t much else on the accessibility front to write home about; the limited attention to such features feels like a faithful remaster of the classic games, for worse.

Tomb Raider I-III Remastered offers a faithful experience for fans familiar with the iconic games that started it all. While the improved visuals and a nifty toggle to switch between classic and modern graphics elevate the experience, the outdated controls leave something to be desired about the core gameplay mechanics. But if you’re just looking for the classic Lara Croft adventure experience, you won’t be disappointed.

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