Tomb Raider 1-3 Remastered Review

A Nostalgic Trip Down the Frustrations of 1996 Gaming

The year 1996 was the year England got knocked out on penalties by Germany in the Euro’s, Dolly the genetically made sheep, was born, Price Andrew divorced Sarah Ferguson, and the Fugee’s song “Killing Me Softly” was the biggest commercial record. It was also the year that the original Tomb Raider, a technical marvel at the time, was released on the Sega Saturn and PlayStation One.

Tomb Raider 1 – 3 Remastered is a trilogy of games, complete with extra levels and new controls, together with a shiny new up-to-date look. The adventures of Lara Croft will have you globe-trotting, alongside some monster-slaying and puzzle-solving. At the time of these games’ releases, it was the nearest thing you could get to an India Jones or Uncharted experience, and they were hugely popular when originally released. However, it’s ironic that the biggest hit of 1996 was “Killing Me Softly” as killing me softly was exactly how I felt playing the remastered PS1 versions of Tomb Raider 1 – 3 on my PS5.

A lot has happened and moved on from 1996, most notably the gameplay design of video games. As the developers have remastered and not remade this trilogy of games, the gameplay you either loved or hated from back in the day is still here in all its ugly glory. 

I’m always a little perplexed with gamers who enjoy inherently hard games. I can see the reward of completing challenging games, but I fail to see where the fun is in repeating the same thing over and over for sometimes hours on end until you finally beat something (this describes my relationship with the game Returnal!).

Tomb Raider, on the other hand, is hard for all the wrong reasons. The combat isn’t massively challenging, nor is the exploration. What makes these games ridiculously harder than they should be, even these remastered versions, is when the mechanics themselves fight against you. 

I’d always remembered the Tomb Raider games being those types of games where you had to be pixel-perfect in all your jumps, leaps, or timings. I was hoping that with the remastered and slightly tweaked versions of these games, this issue would have been addressed, especially as the visuals are now crystal clear and allow you to see exactly where you are going.  

Unfortunately, as the games are still running on the same engine they were originally made with, this is not the case. The fixed camera angle sometimes won’t give you the view you need to see where you need to jump, or the button prompts repeatedly don’t seem to register. I wondered if it was just me that got the missed button presses or obtuse camera angles, but upon reading other people’s experiences of this remaster, I realized I was not alone. 

The problem with all this was that one wrong jump or one unregistered button press could undo hours of work simply due to a technical game engine-related reason and not due to the player’s lack of skill. 

Then, there is the design of the games themselves. Most series of games get better as they progress by learning and listening to feedback from the fans for the next iteration. For Tomb Raider 1 -3, the opposite seems to be the case. 

The first Tomb Raider does a great job of easing the player into the experience. This is despite the game never highlighting what actions the player can take as the game needs more tutorials. By the end of the first game, however, after figuring out what you can and can’t get Lara to do, it made sense. Tomb Raider III, however, starts off expecting the player to already know everything from the LITERAL get-go. Couple this with the unmitigated mess of the opening level, and I wanted to turn the game off in utter frustration. 

The Tomb Raider games had me constantly asking myself, “Where is the fun in all of this?”. For example, when swimming in water, there was no explanation of how to get out of the water. I spent hours looking for a ladder or something that would allow me to climb out and then gave up in frustration. Imagine my horror when I later watched a YouTube walkthrough that showed the player easily climb out anywhere they wanted simply due to the fact they knew the R2 action button would pull Lara out. There was/is no tutorial in the game itself advising you of this. 

However, if you have the patience for this type of game, the rewards are wonderful. There is an air of simple elegance and simplicity about exploring a level that doesn’t give you any clues and finding the way through it. YouTube was still a distant pipe dream in 1996, so there were no walkthrough guides for this era of games! 

At times, the organic way you discover levers, which made an opening for where you needed to go, and little hidden nooks or entrances with loot or items to find that you stumbled across, still holds a wow factor that a lot of modern games completely miss today. The sense of satisfaction in completing a particularly tricky, almost obtuse, puzzle is palpable. 

Arguably the best aspect of the game, however, are the visuals. Despite the age of the games, the remastered visuals are clear and crisp. This, coupled with Lara’s ability to move in diagonals instead of in straight line with the previous “tank” controls, does give the player more freedom to enjoy the games.

The visuals, especially the lighting, almost make the games feel like they are completely different experiences to those who have played the games when they were originally released. The audio is still a little barebones due to limited gameplay effects and only occasional background music for set-piece moments, but they are still serviceable for your needs.

 

Summary

Is this a great PS1 remaster? Yes, it most certainly is, and one of the best PS1 remasters that springs to mind. However, at the end of the day, it felt like the only thing that was actually remastered were the sharper visuals. Everything else still feels so 1996! This may be music to the ears of those who want to reminisce about playing these games again, but for a new audience, I feel it will just highlight how frustrating the mechanics of old games were.

Developer: Aspyr/Crystal Dynamics/Core Design

Publisher: Aspyr

Platforms: PlayStation 4 & 5, Xbox One X/S, Nintendo Switch, Windows

Release Date: 14th February 2024

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