Game Rant's Jeff Schille reviews the Tomb Raider Trilogy
The original Tomb Raider released within months of Nintendo's Super Mario 64. The two of them, in one way or another, laid the groundwork for nearly all the 3D games that have been released in the fourteen years since.
Now, on the eve of Lara's latest re-invention, Square Enix has released a compilation of her most recent console adventures, exclusively for the PlayStation 3. Is the Tomb Raider Trilogy a reminder of the enduring strength of the series' design, or a quick cash grab in advance of the anticipated Tomb Raider reboot?
The Tomb Raider Trilogy encompasses three games: Tomb Raider: Legend, Tomb Raider: Anniversary, and Tomb Raider: Underworld. All three are the work of Crystal Dynamics, who inherited the series from Core Design after the the truly embarrassing Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness. The first two games never appeared on the PlayStation 3 (though they did show up on the Xbox 360), and have been remastered in high definition for this collection. The third is identical to its previous retail release.
As games that have been available for a number of years (Underworld, the newest game in the collection, was originally released in 2008), full reviews of each title hardly seem necessary, though a bit of a refresher couldn't hurt.
Tomb Raider: Legend
Legend was Crystal Dynamics' first stab at the franchise, and they faced a number of obstacles. The quality of the Tomb Raider games had been steadily deteriorating for a number of years, the Lara Croft character had lost the cultural cachet she commanded during Tomb Raider's heyday, and the series' controls were hopelessly dated.
Crystal Dynamics solved those problems in one fell swoop. Legend was a high quality product through and through, with modern, fluid control, and a quest that reminded gamers what they liked about Tomb Raider in the first place. Though the motorcycle levels left a bit to be desired, Legend served as a fantastic reboot to the franchise. Without it, we very well might not be discussing Tomb Raider today.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary
Billed as a celebration of the tenth anniversary of the first Tomb Raider, Anniversary is both a re-make and a re-imagining of the first game in the series. By incorporating the streamlined, responsive control of Legend, and excising some of the more ponderously paced portions of the original game, Crystal Dynamics delivered a thoroughly enjoyable update. Particularly for gamers who played through the original when it was new, Anniversary is a testament to how strong Tomb Raider's underlying design has always been.
Tomb Raider: Underworld
Underworld is Tomb Raider for the current generation. Clearly bearing some influence from the first Uncharted (a game who's obvious debt to Tomb Raider can not be overstated), Underworld is more combat heavy than any previous Tomb Raider, and not always to its credit. Still, it's a good looking game and Lara has never been faster or more agile. Not the pinnacle of the series, but a strong game nonetheless.
So, how does Trilogy fare as a package? In a word, wonderfully. Underworld, of course, is a current gen game, and looks it -- it remains visually superior to the remastered games. Still, Legend and Anniversary have never looked better. Playing all three one after another, it's gratifying to see both how the games progress and how they remain true to the core mechanics of exploration and environmental puzzle solving that the series pioneered all those years ago.
Texture detail is appropriate for the HD remakes and often pretty good even by modern standards. Frame rates are nice and smooth, and character control is dead on. But make no mistake, it is not just the HD facelift that makes the Tomb Raider Trilogy worth playing. The games themselves remain remarkably vital -- they are as much fun to play as they've ever been.
To sweeten the deal for potential buyers, Tomb Raider Trilogy also includes a PlayStation 3 theme, avatar outfits for PlayStation Home, and a number of "making of" videos. In fact, the only real strike against the Tomb Raider Trilogy is that it contains none of the DLC content that was released for (and remains exclusive to) the Xbox 360 edition of Tomb Raider: Underworld. In every other way, Trilogy delivers.
With three full games and a modest price tag, it's easy to see the Tomb Raider Trilogy primarily as a great bargain. It is that, but it's also more -- a solid collection of genuinely fun, highly playable games, updated to look better than ever before. Regardless of price, the Tomb Raider Trilogy comes strongly recommended.
The Tomb Raider Trilogy is available now, exclusively for the PlayStation 3.