Lara Croft in TR3
Screenshot by Destructoid

Tomb Raider Remastered I-III is a nostalgic walk through the Croft museum

Newstalgia done right

The Tomb Raider series is what got my love for video games rolling in the first place. Conversely, the trend of remastering and remaking every great game in existence — instead of boldly giving the rough ones a retry — is what’s led to me falling out of love with it once in the past.

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I knew that looking at a simple remaster of the original three, and possibly best, games in a series that speaks to me so dearly after a blockbuster Tomb Raider Anniversary remake failed to capture my interest could prove a challenge, but I’m happy to announce that sometimes I’m just dumb.

The remastered versions of the original trilogy rule. They have some problems that we’ll get to, yes, but for the most part they’re just plain gorgeous and add quality-of-life improvements that you can make use of or ignore. It never forces you to overwrite your memories by trampling the original experience with junk. Also, this package provides players with the option to play the best and most pristine version of the OG trilogy as well.

The great: the gameplay options, the visuals, the respect for the source material

One of the many fears of anyone who loves Tomb Raider reading about a possible remaster or remake is the fear of its legendary clunkiness, but I have good news. The good people at Aspyr included various completely optional customization settings to modernize the original gameplay. That’s excellent, though I must admit I found myself enjoying the clunkiness of the original TR’s gameplay for possibly a bit too long before I decided to give the new tools a go.

If you’re a modernist or just want to break free from the tyranny of tank controls, there’s “modern control” mode, which allows you to turn Lara on a dime. There are also neat indications when items or levers you can interact with are around.

These additions will likely feel great for both newer players and old ones who want to experience the old games in a new way. My only problem with them is that they might make the game too easy for more seasoned players. Either way, it’s important to note that there’s little to no change to the level design of the original three games.

The remastered levels look great. The new Lara model is perfect, and the new texture work is, well:

Screenshot by Destructoid

The one big change you might notice is the lighting. As you can see above, light sources are now realistic, meaning that the new take on the games, especially the first one, no longer features closed corridors that are magically lit. Aspyr put little openings on the ceilings and walls here and there, and it’s a nice touch that doesn’t alter the gameplay at all. Similarly, the “classic” version is much darker in areas that should never have been lit in the first place.

One of the things I’ve always said about Tomb Raider 1 that very few agreed with was that it is a horror game. That might’ve been because I was very young when I first played it, but I stand by it. The new lighting, both on the remastered and original modes, enhance the underrated qualities of Tomb Raider as a horror game quite a bit, and also allows players to have fresh experiences when visiting areas they thought they knew.

Screenshot by Destructoid

Good luck disagreeing with me now.

I also love these new openings because they finally explain the presence of so many live wolves inside that first cave, even though the only thing anyone’s fed them in years was Lara’s friend.

My favorite surprise, however, is the remaster doesn’t just let you play the old versions of the original game just for comparison’s sake. You can also play it at full HD res, but without any changes to the textures of any of the original three games, in original mode. It’s like a small remaster inside a big one for people who, like me, don’t like big remasters.

Many will also be happy that the most famous encounter in the first game — you know which one:

Finally graces us with a beautiful skybox. And that’s not the only one. Whenever you get to look at the sky in these games, which becomes more and more of a thing after the first installment, you’re always treated to some gorgeous-looking skies. Below is the beautiful sun that greets you just a few minutes after Tomb Raider III tries to kill you with one of the most unfair traps in gaming history.

Screenshot by Destructoid

And if that doesn’t look good enough for you, you’ll be pleased to know that this remaster also includes a photo mode that I’m willing to bet will get very popular.

Screenshot by Destructoid

To cap it all off, the sound effects are HD versions of the first recordings, and they’re top-notch. Get ready for that nostalgia to hit hard as soon as you enter the menu screen.

The not-so-good

One possibly disappointing aspect is the cutscenes. There are no new cutscenes here, which I’m totally okay with. Still, being left with just what feels like a barely even upscaled version of the old stuff is likely the weakest aspect of this remastering effort.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the devs made neat HD loading screens for the levels. It’s a nice touch, though the game loads everything instantly, so enjoy trying to memorize them in the, like, two milliseconds that you get before the level starts.

Screenshot by Destructoid

The camera controls also struck me as odd, originally. Using the right analog stick to move the camera just felt wonky, but then I realized that right-stick camera control wasn’t even a thing in the original games, so the fact that it’s even there is still a plus.

Controls might feel iffy at first as well, especially if you’re playing with the analog stick of your PS5 DualSense, which I’m assuming you are in 2024. If you want to avoid the good old directional buttons, you might benefit from configuring your stick’s dead zone to add more responsiveness. It seriously improved my gameplay experience.

It’s also somewhat important to note that even though most new textures look gorgeous in HD, there are also some — though not many from my time playing — that feature some trippy bugs. Sadly, I can’t convey them via screenshot because they’re sneaky and only show when in motion, but you’ll know what I’m talking about as soon as you come across your first ladder.

Oh, and many of the new enemy models also don’t look great, unless they’re going for more of a Tekken 2 Kuma look.

Screenshot by Destructoid

I remember how most enemies in the original trilogy, especially the ones from the first game, gave me the creeps. Having a remaster that features such a perfect Lara model but a bunch of goofy-looking enemies kills the vibe a bit. After having seen that bear above, there’s no way I’ll ever convince a teenager that the first encounter with a bear in the original TR was genuinely terrifying.

Good thing that what always made the series work for me was the environments, but those also feature one inexplicably goofy problem: the water effects. Don’t get me wrong. The water’s surface motion and textures look great, but there’s no cool visual effect to make you feel like you’re underwater, even in the remastered mode. I find that hilarious because that’s one of the first things I remember being in the original version of Tomb Raider on the ancient Sega Saturn, and not on the PlayStation version. The Saturn remains undefeated. You read that here.

The great more than outweighs the meh

Bottom line, I find this an almost unbelievable package for just $30. Tomb Raider was revolutionary when it came out, but it was never not clunky. Playing it like this allowed me to both enjoy the clunkiness and then finally say goodbye to it — and then promptly begin to miss the clunkiness.

The good thing is that you can play any of these games in any way that you want to experience them. Anyone who’s new to the series is welcome to do away with all the outdated gameplay or to see how it was in the good old days. I can’t promise newcomers that they’ll find something completely refreshing that they’ll want to finish, or promise old fans that this will fully quench their thirst for OG Lara adventures. But I’m pretty sure that this remaster did both of those things for me.


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Author
Tiago Manuel
Tiago is a freelancer who used to write about video games, cults, and video game cults. He now writes for Destructoid in an attempt to find himself on the winning side when the robot uprising comes.