Tomb Raider 1-3 Remastered is an (almost) perfect return to the 90s era of gaming

Tomb Raider Remastered
(Image credit: Windows Central)

I absolutely love Tomb Raider as a franchise. I’ve played all the games, including the newer Legend and Reboot trilogies, and I love them all in their own special ways. But the classic games will always hold a special place in my heart, which is why I was beyond excited when I heard that Tomb Raider Remastered was happening.

Tomb Raider 3 was the first Tomb Raider game I ever played, and it quite literally transformed my world. It was the first video game I got for my PlayStation 1, and I quickly fell in love with everything from the level design, atmosphere, and character. As I kid, I remember it looking so realistic, and I was certain video game graphics had peaked at that moment.

Cut to 2024, and me loading up Tomb Raider I-III Remastered on my Xbox Series X. My first stop is Lara’s Home in Tomb Raider 1, as it acts as an excellent tutorial level for those who may not remember the controls. The game took only a few seconds to load, and once I was in the first thing I did was attempt to switch to the modern graphics.

Imagine my surprise when I hit the graphics switch button only to realize that the new graphics were already on, and I had just switched over to the classic graphics from 1996. Now, this isn’t a jab at the new graphics at all. The new graphics are literally perfect. They capture the atmosphere and essence of the classics so well that they match what I remember the “realistic” graphics looking like as a kid.

(Side note: I do love how the classic graphics also drop the framerate to what appears to be a locked 30fps, which really adds to that nostalgic feeling of playing a PlayStation 1 game. The modern graphics run at an unlocked frame rate.)

Some of the environmental work done to the main game levels are incredible; everything from realistic foliage to small details like light sources have been considered in the remaster. As an example, there’s now snowfall in the first level of the first game that gently falls from the sky where there are gaps in the caves.

Small details make a big difference in this revisited classic. (Image credit: Windows Central)

The gameplay is pretty much untouched, which is something I know a lot of die-hard Tomb Raider classic fans are going to thoroughly enjoy. That said, there are some minor quality of life improvements across the three games that I think all players will appreciate. For example, Lara’s jumping in Tomb Raider 1 is now much more responsive, with the ability to twist mid-air, akin to the behavior introduced in Tomb Raider 2 and 3.

There’s also now an icon that appears when you’re near an actionable item like a switch or lever, and pickups are now rendered in 3D instead of 2D sprites. The biggest addition to the game is an optional new control scheme which attempts to mimic how Lara moves in the more modern games.

This is notable, as the original Tomb Raider games are famous for their clunky and unresponsive controls. Using the classic controls, Lara feels like an absolute tank to manoeuvre, which some may prefer. Essentially, the modern controls offer responsive movement and a simplified control scheme, but at the cost of precision. The tank controls are much more precise, but much harder to master.

Every environment has been painstakingly remastered. (Image credit: Windows Central)

I certainly prefer the classic controls, as I feel the level design lends itself better to it. You’ll quite often find yourself platforming or moving through a level that requires jumping and grabbing onto ledges in specific areas, and the modern controls just make it a little harder to be precise in these scenarios. I suppose that’s why you have the choice to switch between modern and classic controls at any point during gameplay, which is always great to see.

Lastly, there's also a new camera mode that lets you change Lara's outfit, make her pose in funny and cool stances, and fly around the entire level. This is a really nice addition, and I find it can even help with figuring out puzzles as it lets you look around in areas you may not know how to get to just yet. Is this cheating? Maybe, but who cares.

Almost perfect

The remaster has pretty much nailed the visuals and gameplay, but there are a couple of additional areas that I think have been sorely missed, primarily the pre-rendered cutscenes and in-game sounds. The pre-rendered cutscenes are ripped straight out of the 90s, upscaled (likely using AI,) and that’s about it.

Cutscenes stand out like a sore thumb in this version. (Image credit: Windows Central)

It’s quite jarring going from the remastered in-game cutscenes to the pre-rendered ones, which now bear little resemblance to the remaster itself. It’s not the end of the world, but those cutscenes really are old 90s CGI, and a real throwback once your brain has gotten used to the newer graphics.

Regarding the in-game sounds, I do wish they had put some time into remastering a lot of the ambient sounds and effects. I just wish things like footsteps and guns sounded a little more modern, as currently they feel like they were ripped straight from the 90s with no further edits.

I’m sure this was a deliberate choice by the developers to remain as close to the classics as possible. I certainly appreciate that, but I just wish there was an option for remastered sounds, similar to what Microsoft did with the Halo CE and Halo 2 remasters.

Replaying Tomb Raider was a blast from the past in every sense. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Overall, I think the Tomb Raider Remastered is the closest we’ve ever gotten to a modern-day return of the classic Lara Croft. I didn’t realize how much I missed this version of Lara until playing through these games, and now I hope the upcoming new Tomb Raider game restores this iconic version of the character. For fans of the classics, Tomb Raider I-III Remastered is a sure addition to the best Xbox games and greatest PC games.

I still consider the original run of Tomb Raider games incomplete, because Angel of Darkness (which I will defend forever) never finished its story arc. I know it was probably finished in a book somewhere, but that doesn’t count. Let me have a Tomb Raider 4-6 Remaster too, and then an all-new Tomb Raider 7, please!

Tomb Raider I-III Remastered Starring Lara Croft — $29.99 at Microsoft Store (Xbox) | Nintendo (Switch) | Steam (PC)

Tomb Raider I-III Remastered Starring Lara Croft — <a href="https://click.linksynergy.com/deeplink?id=kXQk6%2AivFEQ&mid=24542&u1=hawk-custom-tracking&murl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.xbox.com%2Fen-US%2Fgames%2Fstore%2Ftomb_raider_I_III_starring_lara_croft%2F9N25D4T3L8JX" data-link-merchant="xbox.com"" target="_blank">$29.99 at Microsoft Store (Xbox) | <a href="https://www.nintendo.com/en-ca/store/products/tomb-raider-i-iii-remastered-starring-lara-croft-switch/" data-link-merchant="nintendo.com"" data-link-merchant="xbox.com"" target="_blank">Nintendo (Switch) | <a href="https://store.steampowered.com/app/2478970/Tomb_Raider_IIII_Remastered_Starring_Lara_Croft/" data-link-merchant="store.steampowered.com"" data-link-merchant="nintendo.com"" data-link-merchant="xbox.com"" target="_blank">Steam (PC)

Relive the trilogy that kicked off a cultural phenomenon. Play as Lara Craft in the original trilogy fully restored into a definitive edition on console and PC. Available on Feb. 14, 2024.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter and Threads