Tomb Raider Trilogy Review
In my professional opinion, Lara Croft should always be in high-definition. From here on out and until the end of time. This generation has delivered all-HD interactive experiences and for the sake of the veterans, many developers have issued overhauled remakes of their classic titles. We’ve seen plenty of fantastic collections already – all of which featuring recognizable names – and the latest is the Tomb Raider Trilogy from Crystal Dynamics and Square-Enix. Boasting Legend, Anniversary, and Underworld in 720p HD, along with the addition of Trophies and a few other goodies, this assortment is designed to appeal to all the hardcore Lara fans. But even if you’re interested in some solid action/adventures, the Trilogy should probably be on your wish list.
As is the case with any upscaling or upgrade in terms of visuals, not all graphical elements receive the beautiful reconstruction we anticipate. Some of the jaggies so common in the earlier days of PlayStation simply resist the sheer, clear glories of high-definition, and some of that is evident here. But for the most part, the atmospheres and environments become that much more appealing, as the ramped-up detail and enhanced clarity is a pleasure for the eyes. Everything is sharper, from the intimidating creatures to the expansive level design to Lara herself. You just gotta love the beautiful animations and the continual sensation that is intrinsic to all Tomb Raider titles; a feeling that we are indeed exploring uncharted waters with a brave, somewhat cocky treasure hunter. It works, you know?
I can’t be sure if the team tweaked the sound as well as the graphics, but the audio certainly seems to have a fresh coat of polish. That could just be in my head, though; it could be the afterglow of the pretty new visuals that has addled my brain, and caused me to perceive a sound upgrade that isn’t there. Nevertheless, Lara’s voice (Keeley Hawes) is great, most of the effects are prominent and in some cases, frightening, and the original musical compositions are sweeping and fitting. Personally, I’ve always thought this series was far too quiet during intervals of exploration and puzzle-solving, but then again, I’m sort of against raucous melodies and in-your-face effects interfering with my enjoyment. Balance is key, yes? And speaking of balance, it can be off at times in the audio department, but this deficiency is minor.
If you aren’t familiar with the gameplay of a Tomb Raider title, you must turn in your gamer pass tomorrow; your membership has been revoked. Even if it’s not your thing, it’s virtually impossible to have avoided at least seeing snippets of a Lara adventure in the past 15 years or so. And yet, I suppose I should elaborate for the sake of this review; it’s probably necessary for the sake of the three distinct titles, anyway. We start with Legend, which represented a bit of a departure from the norm – one some fans didn’t like, but others tolerated – and presented us with a more modern environment, along with shorter, more crowd-pleasing levels. Arguably, this one has the most diversity of any of the three games, simply because it can be considered a “reboot” in its own right. No repetition of dank, smelly subterranean caves here.
No, we’re all over the place in Legend, giving Ms. Croft the chance to test her acrobatic skills in fresh locales. Plus, we get the new magnetic grapple feature and an attempt to spice up the gunplay with cool slo-mo maneuvers. With every step, it becomes clearer and clearer that Legend was designed to inject new life into an ailing franchise and heroine, and although the fans remain split on the issue, the game was received relatively well and we have to give credit where credit’s due. The effort required to keep Lara on her feet was substantial and in truth, many of the upgrades did work out just fine, although we still had a few control and camera issues. These, unfortunately, continue to pop up throughout this Trilogy; graphics updates won’t eliminate gameplay drawbacks such as these.
Anniversary was a simpler affair, in that it basically went in the opposite direction: rather than adopt a slick new style, it reverted to the old ways, to the ‘90s when Tomb Raider was about…well, raiding tombs and fending off prehistoric beasts. Lara’s skills remained top-notch, of course, and they didn’t sacrifice everything they implemented in Legend, but in general, Anniversary pays homage to the traditional style and format, and there’s nothing wrong with that. As for Underworld, that’s the most recent Lara quest and as it was made for next-gen consoles, it was already in high-definition. It was also the most ambitious title to date, even if it didn’t quite get everything right. Featuring a lot of variety (from Mexico to Thailand) and the deepest set of abilities yet, it’s a robust adventure.
All three games do stand up quite well, and I find that a little surprising. I’ve always, perhaps incorrectly, viewed Tomb Raider as a series that persists in gameplay and control eccentricities, which hinder the experience. Now, there are a few problems that are obvious in all three titles, but given the many different locations, the various storylines, and other significant changes (gadget upgrades, for instance), this trilogy manages to impart a huge amount of enjoyment. Remember, in regards to longevity, such collections are great; for half the price of one new game, we get three full-length titles that were – at one time – big-budget productions. Certain aspects falter over the years and there’s no getting around the control and camera instability, but it was never enough to stop me from playing.
Tomb Raider Trilogy gives the fans just about everything they’d expect: glossier depictions of three relatively popular and solid Lara Croft quests, along with new Trophies/Achievements, outfits for PlayStation Home, and behind-the-scenes stuff, like developer diaries for all three games and a couple trailers for the excellent Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. It’s a darn good package and one the die-hard fans will undoubtedly have to own. As for those who remain a little iffy, just bear in mind that aforementioned longevity and bang for your buck, as well as the prospect of traversing much prettier environments with a much prettier Lara. That’s not an altogether unpleasant prospect, is it?
The Good: New HD graphics greatly enhance environmental and artistic appeal. Package additions are a definite plus. The three games offer distinct experiences. Huge amount of bang for your buck.
The Bad: Visual overhaul can’t stop some elements from appearing dated. Basic gameplay issues remain. Some sections drag.
The Ugly: “Oh, I remember you, Mr. In-My-Way Camera.”
3/24/2011 Ben Dutka