The original three PS1 Tomb Raider games are remastered for modern consoles and they look and play a lot better than you might think.
Earlier in the year we reviewed a compilation of Monty Mole games from the 8-bit era of British gaming. It’s a franchise that will be all but unknown outside of Europe and yet in the late 80s it was considered one of the best and most influential on the home computer formats of the day. It was great to see the series being remembered in this day and age but at 40 years old the games had little to offer a modern gamer, even those that fondly remembered them from the first time around.
Tomb Raider will be 30 years old in 2026 and you can’t help but wonder when it too is going to pass the event horizon of being too old to be appreciated as anything but a museum piece. We’re happy to say that, thanks to these new remasters of the first three games, that moment is not yet here, even if this compilation is unlikely to earn the series any brand new fans.
That’s remarkable, not just because of the game’s age but because it was one of the very first modern 3D games of any kind. The original version was released only four months after Super Mario 64 and while Tomb Raider was not as polished as Nintendo’s classic it had just as much influence on modern third person action adventures, particularly in the West.
The other key innovation of Tomb Raider was, of course, having a female protagonist, which was almost unheard of at the time. There was always plenty of talk about Lara Croft’s pyramidal breasts but beyond that the games were considerably less sexist then you’d assume for the period, with Lara largely treated like any other wisecracking action hero (which wasn’t a very inspired approach but considerably more interesting than the dour killing machine of the more recent games).
There is a disclaimer that appears before any of the games load, but it was only shown for a second the first time we started up the compilation and has never reappeared, so we only got to read the first half, that warned about stereotyped portrayals of indigenous people. Whether the second paragraph mentioned sexism we don’t know.
Rather than being a bad omen, that apparent bug is not indicative of the rest of the compilation, which has had an unexpected amount of effort put into it, considering the very reasonable asking price. Not only are all three PS1 era games included but so too are all their extra levels and expansions, all of which can be played exactly as they were originally, only at a higher resolution and 60fps frame rate.
That doesn’t, unfortunately, include the cut scenes, which are so primitive it’s often hard to make out what they’re meant to be showing, but the games themselves look a lot better than you’d expect for something that is only 12 years older than Monty Mole. The original tank control system is an option but you can also play the game with modern movement and camera controls (when the original Saturn and PlayStation console versions were released neither system had a controller with analogue sticks).
The modern controls work to hide the grid-based movement system the original games are built on, but that actually makes some of the trickier jumps more difficult, to the point where we sometimes switched back to tank controls for some sections, but it’s all entirely up to you which you use. None of the options make the underwater swimming any easier but that’s just the nature of the original games, which always seemed to bite off more than they can chew in that regard.
The gameplay balance in the old Tomb Raiders is completely different to the modern ones, with no stealth at all until Tomb Raider 3 and relatively little combat – although more does creep in with each sequel, even if it’s never really very good. The focus of the first game is puzzles and platforming, with the former involving lots of block-pushing and switching pulling but never reaching the levels of invention of the Zelda series, even if there is still an old school charm to it.
None of the puzzles were particularly unique to the Tomb Raider series, but the platforming certainly was, since, quite unlike Mario or Sonic, it was very slow and carefully considered, making movement and navigation itself a puzzle. That means a certain amount of trial and error, made worse by the ancient graphics, but it’s unique and interesting, and something that’s almost completely missing from the modern games.
Playing all the entries today, Tomb Raider 3 is easily the least appealing, as it tries to incorporate more action, including vehicle-driving, but it’s clear the game engine is being pushed beyond its limits and it just ends up diluting the original formula. On paper Tomb Raider 2 is probably the best game but it’s the original that we enjoyed the most.
Perhaps that’s partly nostalgia speaking but there’s a sense of exploration and wonder in the first game that is not fully replicated in the sequels. From the slow, surprisingly measured opening to the gradual introduction of complex puzzles and platforming you’re never quite sure what to expect, especially as the game has some fantasy elements and yet the majority of your opponents are just wild animals and, eventually, humans.
That’s what makes the iconic dinosaur encounter so unexpected, because it comes out of nowhere and is never explained. It’s still tense and exciting even now, since you can’t actually kill the beast, and we’ve always been surprised that the series has never leant into fighting cryptids and other fantasy creatures more than it does. Yetis and Tomb Raider 2’s all-important dragon are featured but they always seem a side element, despite them being far more interesting than just shooting humans and endangered animals.
While the remasters would be worthwhile simply with the new control options and higher resolution, if you press the Select button at anytime the graphics instantly flip to a more modern looking version of the game with a much more detailed character model for Lara, better quality textures, and improved lighting. The underlying geometry of the levels is the same but beyond that it could easily be mistaken for a full remake.
There’s also a brand new photo mode, a full suite of achievements for each game, and health bars for enemies during boss battles – so you can see whether you’re actually doing any damage or not.
Our only real complaint with the remasters is that they offer absolutely no help when it comes to saving. There’s no auto-save system, or common remaster features like a rewind, and instead you just manually save whenever you want. That is how the PC version worked back in the day but it’s an unwelcome faff and we got caught out more than once by the default option being to load rather than save, which caused a lot of hair-pulling when we realised we’d just wiped out 30 minutes of progress.
There are also, predictably, no museum features or behind the scenes details, although the low price tag helps to forgive that more easily than usual with a retro release. Perhaps the worse thing about the compilation though is that it makes you feel nostalgic for Tomb Raider and then, just as you begin to wonder what might be next for the franchise, you realise the precarious state developer Crystal Dynamics is in now, being owned by the incompetent Embracer Group.
A new game is supposed to be in development, that is not a direct sequel to the most recent games, but so far there’s been no real indication of what it will be like. We can only hope that it will be a return to form for the franchise though, because while Lara herself deserves more time in the limelight the games themselves are just as important to the history of gaming and there’s still a lot that can be done with their premise.
Tomb Raider I-III Remastered
In Short: A surprisingly good set of remasters, that present the original PS1 trilogy in the best light possible and with some very welcome options for modern controls and graphics.
Pros: The games stand up surprisingly and are very different to the modern titles. Excellent remasters that improve the graphics and controls far more than you’d expect. Sensible price.
Cons: The games are, obviously, old, with a lot more trial and error and instant deaths than you’d expect today. The modern controls don’t always work well with the old grid-based level design.
Formats: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, and PC
Developer: Saber Interactive (original: Core Design)
Release Date: 14th February 2024
Age Rating: 18
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