Sunday, March 3

Tomb Raider I-III Remaster Review

I played on: Switch
I paid: £34.99
Available on: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series S & X, PC, Switch
Notes: n/a

Tomb Raider I-III Remastered is a graphical and control remaster for the original 3 Tomb Raider games. These are old games, originally releasing once a year between 1996-1998. Does this remaster do enough to bring these classic gems up to modern standards?

Tomb Raider tells the story of Lara Croft. A modern-day English Indiana Jones. Lara Croft is an adventurous young woman. Despite inheriting a fortune from her parents and living in a luxurious mansion she often uses her wealth to hunt down and collect powerful artifacts from around the world. Tomb Raider 1 sees her uncovering the Scion of Atlantis. During this she, discovers preserved dinosaurs, finds a statue of King Midas that can turn anything it touches into solid gold, uncovers the lost island of Atlantis, and destroys said island. She then mounts the dinosaur’s head above her fireplace and displays the Scion inside a hidden room within her mansion. This is what I love about this version of Lara Croft. She’s just a bonkers, over-the-top, villain who literally does whatever she wants without considering the ramifications. She raids the tombs of cultures outside of her own then steals their artifacts and hides them away inside her mansion. Lara Croft is nuts in these games, and I love it. Her character is so much larger than life. Tomb Raider 2 sees her hunting for an ancient Chinese dagger that can turn people into a literal Dragon. The third game then sees her hunting down 6 artifacts carved from a meteorite that all have magical powers. This game has my favourite level of these classic era games. That being Area 51. Yes, of course, Lara finds aliens and even a UFO.

The remaster of these games is very faithful to the originals. It uses the same engine, controls, and FMV cutscenes. There is an option for modern controls, but I found them to be far inferior to the classic tank controls. You’re able to switch between the classic and remastered graphics with the click of a button. I love this. I’ve not played these games since I was a kid, so I found myself surprised with how much the classic graphics have aged. That being said, I love the new graphics. They keep the feel of the originals but feel much more modern and sharper. The lighting was also a massive improvement. These games can get dark which makes the flares introduced in Tomb Raider 2 even more useful. The story and graphics are only so much of a game though. What really counts is how it controls.

When the original Tomb Raider released in 1996 the gaming scene was very different to what it is now. Gaming in 3D spaces was very new as most games until this point had existed in 2D.  As such there were no conventions or industry standards in terms of how to control games in this new perspective. Because of this, Tomb Raider controls very differently to how most modern games do. The best way to explain how these games control without giving you a tutorial for them is to mention that the world exists on a grid. Lara moves on this grid and in relation to the squares that it’s made up of. Each jump, roll, dive or movement will move a certain amount of these squares. This can feel like the game has control latency to those who are not yet accustomed with it. I’ve seen this mentioned in a lot of reviews online. It’s not. If you want Lara to take a running jump then you will need to line her up, then run forward while holding jump. She will then jump after she has run 1 square. The same goes for the grab button. You don’t have to just tap it; you need to hold it down and Lara will then grab hold of the ledge when she can. This game has really smooth, precise, controls that allow for a lot of accurate platforming when you understand them. Despite this, I feel like a lot of modern or younger players may find this learning curve a little too much. You don’t just have to learn the controls; you also need to unlearn everything that modern action platforming games have made industry standard. You do have the modern control scheme but this just doesn't work. You see with it, Lara doesn't move on the grid and as such lining up tough jumps or acrobatics is nearly impossible.

This game is also littered with outdated gaming cliches and to be honest not ones I miss. Newbie traps are sprinkled throughout the games but are mostly found within Tomb Raider 3. These include things like a trap door opening out of nowhere dropping Lara to her death below or boulders coming out of nowhere. If you want to avoid replaying large parts of the levels over and over, then you will need to save often. Then you have what I like to call ‘health tests.’ These are things like a jump or drop that will cost Lara a certain amount of health and are unavoidable. If you’re short on health kits to heal her up beforehand then your just unable to progress without finding one. I was never short on them myself but if you were then this could possibly soft lock you into needing to restart the entire level. This stuff was just normal for games of this era. Playing it today, in a time where player quality of life is at an all-time high, just makes it feel even more unfair and annoying.

Then you have the rather racist level in Tomb Raider 3. It’s the Coastal Village level for anyone interested. Lara explores a South Pacific Island tribe that’s in possession of one of the meteorite artifacts. She, a white English woman, enters their village and kills everyone she sees there. You could argue that they attack first but this is a strange woman who doesn’t speak their language turning up to steal their religious artifact. It doesn’t help that they are portrayed as brutal cannibals. It’s an outdated racist trope that sees the barbaric savage black man attempt to capture and eat the brave noble educated white man. I hate seeing it in a game as modern as 1998. Should it have been removed or edited from the game? I’m not sure. You could argue in favour of preserving art, even the more horrible parts of it. I would agree with that but then again, it's not like this remaster has replaced the original games. You can still download the classic versions on Steam and GOG or track down a console version on eBay. The bigger issue is how to remove them without breaking the narrative of the game. Sadly, I don’t think that is possible. The tribe, their cannibalism, and their savagery are all part of the plot and lore around the meteorite artifacts. So, I feel like there is no real way to remove this racist trope from this remaster. I do, however, feel that if it was possible, then doing so would have been the best option.

Despite all of this, I loved my time with this game. It’s been, at least, 20 years since I’ve last played any of them. To be honest I was amazed at how much I enjoyed my time. Tomb Raider is a series, that until now, I’ve not really paid attention to. After playing this remaster though I’ve hunted down the old PS1 copies and plan to replay them all. Including the 3 classic era games I missed out on when younger. I was clearly impressed with this remaster. It's gone and made a budding Tomb Raider fan out of me. 

Do I think everyone should rush out and buy this remaster? Sadly, no. These games are very dated. In more ways than just visuals. In order to enjoy them you need to unlearn a lot of what modern 3D games have established as standard. This means that the learning curve is steep and not one I think most younger players would enjoy. It’s a game from a different time and this remaster isn’t enough to shake that off. If you’re a gamer who remembers these games, then this is absolutely the best way to play them now. They look better, sound better, and thanks to the Switch and Steam Deck can be played anywhere you want. These are the definitive versions of Tomb Raider 1, 2, and 3. I loved them, they may well win my game of the year, but I don’t think that newer players will be able to see past the tough learning curve.

Recommendation Rating: 7 out of 10.

No comments:

Post a Comment