There are plenty of gaming icons, from Master Chief to Mario! But there was a time (the glorious 1990s) when Lara Croft used to rule the world thanks to her mega-hit game series Tomb Raider. Everyone knew and loved Lara Croft, through the games, marketing and her glamour Girl status. It’s somewhat odd but funny to look back at that in particular, but Lara was so much more. She was a strong female protagonist, a leading lady with brains and brawn, a great role model, and just an all-around icon. And even after 25 years, the original trilogy is held in high regard, even as the series evolved/rebooted several times.

While Crystal Dynamics works on the next mainline Tomb Raider game, we have been blessed with a remaster of the original trilogy thanks to Aspyr. With new graphical enhancements, quality-of-life features, and some surprises included.

So, is it worth diving back into the tombs of 90’s gaming for some grand adventuring with the icon that is Lara Croft?

What is the Tomb Raider I – III Remaster?

Okay, I won’t go on about the importance of Tomb Raider/Lara Croft, but the original games are something quite special to fans and gaming. 3D technology was very tricky in the mid-90s with many games having tried and failed, but Tomb Raider managed to crack it. The design philosophy of Tomb Raider is quite interesting with its tiled-based construction, and any keen game designer should read up on it to understand measurements and logic.

Now the old games have been widely available and easy to access for the last two decades, but of course, some aspects have not aged all that well, with lacking controller support and dated graphics (despite the original TR III still looking quite nice). So a full remaster was a great way to celebrate and replay these games in a modern era.

Now these aren’t full remakes, with the core gameplay mechanics of all three games remaining intact. Be it all the good, the bad, and the ugly. However, there are many quality-of-life inclusions which indeed make this a truly worthy package, as well as a nice shiny overhaul on the visuals for a phenomenal sense of presentation. But be it the overall package does lack some desirable content.

This review will go over the quality-of-life changes, remaster advancements, and general overview of all three games to give you an understanding from a newcomer’s perspective.

Lara and these old Tombs look better than ever before

Remasters have become somewhat of a punchline in recent years, with the likes of The Last of Us 2 raising eyebrows making us question why older games are given any love and the remaster treatment. Hearing that the classic Tomb Raider Trilogy was being remastered was like melted gold in my ears! Seeing it finally in action after months of speculation brought a massive sign of relief and washing of joy, as this is a worthy remaster that’s fit for new and old fans. Honestly, I did fear this could be another GTA: Definitive Edition. So glad my fears were put into the grave.

However, there was the question of how far Aspyr would go with these remasters, as a “remaster” could mean a whole number of things. Revamping graphics only? Revamping entire gameplay mechanics? Removing and adding in different elements?

First, I give massive praise to the overall presentation and work that has gone into making these classic games fully playable in the modern era, for all types of players. The level of polish is excellent, and the fact Aspyr kept everything from the original games, and adapted new features and quality-of-life changes on the foundations without compromise is remarkable. This overshadowed the likes of the Metal Gear Solid remake (2002) and the Medievil remake (2019) which either interfered too much or too little with the designs.

The original Tomb Raider trilogy were timeless games, and Aspyr knew what worked, what didn’t and where they could add small, but meaningful touches to make them not entirely better, but much stronger, fairer gaming experiences in the modern day.

I was thrilled at the prospect of switching between old and new visuals, as I could see just how far we’ve come in terms of graphical fidelity. The original games being over 25 years old will mean things like no lip-syncing, lack of lighting effects for the most part, and limited field of view present. With the remaster everything feels much smoother, and sharper for detail and scope, such as no more “Fog of War” covering the landscape, thus revealing a denser environment made up of foliage and organic matter like trees, ivy and even must making Lara’s world feel more alive.

Water appears more organic, having that weight and pressure which older games lacked, with textures on stone, metal, and tile adding a much grander sense of clarity. I love the fact that all 2D sprites have been replaced with 3D models, with the likes of TR I’s Sphinx in the City of Khamoon, having a fully 3D rendered face instead of a flat 2D PNG. Everything from environments to weapon models and key items has been fully and beautifully rendered, without compromise or massive deviations that ruin the feel of the game.

Not Next Gen, but full of love, care and great craft .... I mean Croft

While not “next-gen” or in line with the reboot, the upscaling and visual improvements, and small details added to the environment such as the foliage and density are truly exceptional. Even small touches like when Lara fires her weapons, there are shell casings flying out and muzzle flares lighting up around her. This critical attention to detail just adds so much more vibrancy and a thriving sense of semi-realism you won’t help but admire.

All in-game cutscenes have been fully upscaled too (meaning I can finally see those weird muscle dudes from Tomb Raider II looking much more normal), and everything from snowy environments, underwater caves, and the golden sands of Egypt all looking incredibly clearer, having a better sense of geometry, and running all at a smooth performance. All those pixelated statue faces on the walls, and flat rocky surfaces all now look crisper, bulkier and not so flat, thanks to the uses of  Physically based rendering and manual crafting.

Everything looks incredible, provided you don’t need photorealism to have a great-looking game.

Aside from the upscaled visuals, the remaster brings in modern controls allowing for a more fluent and easier-to-grasp sense of direction. B to be fair, the tank controls feel much better this time round and maybe with the improved frame rate, I found this to be the best way to play. I stuck with these as I’ve played the original games many times before, and to be honest, doing certain things like jumping backwards with modern controls was difficult to do. The design of these games was with tank controls in mind, and modern controls can’t seem to replicate certain actions like simply hopping backwards without turning around 180 degrees.

So sadly, the modern controls don’t mesh well with the core gameplay, intended movement, and level design, making Lara a bit wild to controls and frustrating a times. However, for vehicles, the modern controls are a freaking lifesaver!

As for other accessibility features, there is a minor yet meaningful inclusion with the interaction icon. When near collectable or interactive items, a point of interest icon appears signalling you can pick up or use something there. It’s a neat feature, and while much of the Tomb Raider games are clear in their UI, Tomb Raider III does have some confusing puzzles and item locations like the second London level and the infamous ticket machine puzzle. I do feel maybe the icon could be bigger for some players, but it’s clear enough that most players can identify it.

And I feel what Aspry have done mechanically is add in a list of small changes, which do add up quite significantly. Such as the jumping roll now being in TR I, being able to restart a level (which was only ever on the original PC version), subtitles, and move save slots than the original games, can be easily overlooked, but are super considerate and help in the grand scheme of things.

And I love the revamped loading screens and main menu backgrounds, which all look so amazing.

Aspyr has been highly respectful to encourage a better vision of the original game to modern standards. Such as Tomb Raider I now have a sky box which the other two games have, making them all coherent. The “Fog of war” did add somewhat of an atmosphere, but also felt damaging to the scale. Now in these remasters we can finally see everything in its grandest scale and it’s utterly breathtaking in so many instances. Such as seeing TR I’s Colosseum in its entirety, the Lost Valley with a beautiful skybox and misty glare covering the land and peeking out over the horizons of Nevada were simply stunning. And the creepy aesthetics of levels such as the Floating Islands, and Atlantis, are still here and remain ultra creative and visually mesmerising. However, I found the lighting and atmosphere in some areas of TR III to be weaker in the remaster. More on that later.

Let there be light in darkness, and better vehicle controls for the kayak

My biggest fear was that some elements of the visuals which were great in the original would be lost, and mostly that fear has been laid to rest. Tomb Raider I and II look amazing and are the most needed for visual upgrading.

But in terms of evolution between all three games, there were leaps and bounds, particularly with Tomb Raider III, which included dynamic lighting, and stellar environmental design. And while there are some much-needed improvements, some of the quirky, surreal lighting, and trippy sky boxes aren’t as immersive as the original.

Granted, London is much better regarding the lighting as any fan will tell you that London, in particular the underwater sections was a horrid mess you could not see in. The remaster completely changes the scope and clarity for the better regarding lighting, as you can now see where you are going in the maze-like areas of the London underground. But there is some atmosphere lost in the grand scheme of things, with less surreal lighting and colouring in levels like Area 51 (although the Alien and ship look very awesome!).  

Then there are little things which seem a little odd to remove. Like the removal of the TR II inventory background, which was beautiful and waved like a piece of fabric. It’s completely gone in the remastered version, and no inventory backgrounds have been added to TR I and TR III. They’re just blank like the original versions.

I was a little disappointed by the lack of new in-game features, such as an aim switch, allowing you to switch targets you're aiming at. Making it easier to not hit friendly NPCs by mistake. This was a big problem before as friendly NPCs turn on you even when accidentally fired on once, and sadly it still is a problem.

I get Aspyr did respect the original in every way, shape and form, and added in only critical elements to objectively make all three games better. As I understand adding a sprint mechanic in TR I would break the game (even though the original glitches, including the corner one, are still present!). But having some more little graphical elements like inventory backgrounds, aim-switching and leaving certain environmental elements alone would have been nice.

However, with these small detractions, do come more positives overall. The immense presentational upgrade, excellent sound design and the integrity of the original games are still here. And they do outshine the missteps present.

Okay, so quick overview of each Tomb Raider game incoming, here we go!

Tomb Raider I

Personally, my favourite Tomb Raider of all, as it’s a great all-rounder for the adventure, story, level design and gameplay. I thoroughly enjoy the story with Lara and Natla making a great rivalry, the cosmic horror elements, the 90’s cheese, and just how refreshing Lara is as a bad-ass protagonist stands out even to this day.

Level design is simple, yet strong, with plenty of puzzle solving, platforming, neat secrets to discover, foes to take on, and just some breathtaking scenery made even better thanks to the remastered visuals. The other two titles do have their strengths over the original, but also some big flaws that don’t appear here.

Not to forget, the first Tomb Raider is quite ground-breaking, a little more so than most people give it credit for. It passes the Bechdel Test, it doesn’t overly sexualise Lara Croft (this happened in the marketing, not the games) and making her a strong, but also clumsy and funny character helped define her presence in gaming, and overall, the story was just perfectly paced, with timelessly perfect gameplay interweaved! As the meme says, Perfection.  

Also, Shelley Blond was the best voice of Lara Croft.

Tomb Raider II

Only a year later, did Core Designs bring us Tomb Raider II, which keeps the formula very much the same, but adds in some great elements, such as bigger, more open areas, drivable vehicles, more weapons, and new moves for Lara. The story is very simple and does lack some memorable elements compared to the first. But the story goes to some neat places, including a mythical, cosmic area that has floating islands made from solid jade.

Now I love the first third and last third. There are some of the best levels here, including The Great Wall (one of the best levels ever in the series). But the sections on the rig, and under the ocean, aren’t the best and do drag on. And the enemies are way too spongey. Now it would have been great if enemy HP was lower (or adjustable) or if aim switching was implemented to avoid firing on friendly NPCs. But overall, there are some fantastic moments from the fight with the Dragon, Venice, the home invasion climax, and fighting mythical creatures in the mountains of Tibet. Bloody brilliant, except for the middle of the game!

Tomb Raider III

Okay, this is the best and worst of the trilogy. I used to love/hate this game hardcore, but the hate is much less so with the remaster improvements and quality of life changes.

Tomb Raider III again came out after a year from II and doesn’t change much of the core gameplay, but does add in a lot of new features both graphically and gameplay. Lara is on the hunt for cosmic artefacts which give powers to those who hold them. Taking her from India, Nevada, South Pacific and London. It’s a neat story, that does have some cool horror elements which make it feel like a John Carpenter creation.

There are a lot of great levels here, with the likes of Nevada and Area 51, the Crash site in the South Pacific which features blasting a hoard of dinosaurs down with a massive cannon, to London where Lara must fight a powerful foe while climbing a building, and a great venture through the jungles of India. Tomb Raider III has some amazing set-pieces, boss battles, excellent puzzles, and generally remarkable level design, which stand above the rest of the series.

But there are some massive issues with difficulty, the vehicle controls are some of the worst in the series (with only the modern controls making them far better), and some levels are so confusing and riddled with trial-and-error moments (like London … total BS at times). But the remaster’s new features right a lot of wrongs, with as I said before, making the hated moments less painful. However, it still can be utterly confusing and unfairly so in a lot of instances, but there is so much great level design and set-pieces here to make up for it. Plus, a great selection of weapons, outfits, and locations make this the most expansive and engaging of the three.

Lara’s backpack has a lot of new goodies

Now I have gone over what these remasters improve/upgrade for presentation and accessibility, but let’s go over the extras to finish off.

The photo mode is a nice touch, and I can see this being massively popular. I did use the mode myself and was thrilled with taking photos of the most iconic moments in these games. And the switching between old and new graphics is seamless and great for old fans who want to compare. Even during cutscenes and loading screens. As mentioned, I loved the fact the core of each game is kept intact, down to the same old cheat codes and glitches being there to use and exploit.

The fact that now all the expansions are together in one place, is simply astonishing and great for those who missed them back in the 90s. The expansions are all terrific, particularly with levels like The House of the Cat, The Channel Crossing and Highland Fling in TR II. And as a bonus, each game is a new game plus once completed (I recall TR I had this originally, but not the others).

Now when it comes to everything else … there isn’t much else. I and many others surely had wild hopes that new features and elements would be added in. While the included expansions are truly awesome additions, there isn’t much else about fleshing this out into the ultimate comeback package.

I would have loved some documentary material showing the history of Lara Croft, maybe seeing a behind-the-scenes on Aspyr’s work on this remaster. How about extra modes? New cheat codes and so forth. Just something a little bit extra. But then again, other remasters which have been praised don’t do anything near the same level as the Tomb Raider Remaster, especially with accessibility (certainly not the Crash Bandicoot remasters, or the GTA definitely).  

I do wish however there were just a couple of other things to make this a true celebration, or at least bring in a big surprise like a boss rush mode, driving mode, all weapons across all games, or some concept art at least. I mean the Quake II remaster had new levels and a ton of other stuff.

But in all honesty, this was a tough call and I’m extremely happy that I can play these classic games easily now, with great graphical enhancements, modern features such as saving at any time I want, and small touches to make them much more accessible to younger, and even older gamers.


To wrap this all up for newcomers and old fans, I highly recommend the Tomb Raider Remaster. As a long-time fan, it’s amazing to replay these games once again with a fresh coat of paint, and new features which make them mechanically better than ever before. I love the love and care put into bringing this game back to life in the modern age of gaming, without compromising and removing anything from the heart of these games.

Now I would have loved to have seen things such as concept art, making of videos and maybe some extra modes to truly make these remasters be so much more. But there was a great passion for upscaling, modernising in all the right ways, and strengthening these classic games for new fans and old. For the asking price, this is an amazing package for three classic games being beautifully remastered, keeping all core intact, adding in good modern features for accessibility and re-playability.

The original Tomb Raider games are timeless and wonderful, with such a long legacy of creativity, engaging puzzles, and level design, and all led by a fantastic, and iconic leading lady. I applaud Aspyr for their work on these Remasters, and I give my ever-eternal thanks to the team at Core Design back in the 1990s for making my childhood so awesome.

++ All three classic Tomb Raider games are intact, and highly accessible
++ Stunning visual upgrades and amazing quality-of-life changes
++ Still timeless and wholesomely fun games
++ Vehicle controls, TR III’s infamous bad lighting, and other issues tweaked to be better.
++ Can save anywhere, anytime, thank Jesus!
+ Includes expansions, keeps all the cheat codes and all the good stuff from before

- It would have been nice to have concept art, commentary, and behind-the-scenes footage
- Modern controls aren’t great for moving Lara
- Some aspects of the original aesthetics are lost in Tomb Raider III

A PS5 review copy of the Tomb Raider I – III Remaster was kindly provided by the publisher