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Tomb Raider I-III Remastered (Switch) Review

by John Rairdin - February 13, 2024, 1:26 pm EST
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Love letter or quick cash grab?

The original Tomb Raider trilogy, especially the first title, is one of those games that has to be viewed in the context of its time. 3D games on home consoles were still relatively young and the first generation of systems built with 3D in mind had only recently been released. One of these was the Sega Saturn, onto which Tomb Raider arrived in 1996 before being released to both the original PlayStation and MS-DOS. That MS-DOS version was the first way I played Tomb Raider as a kid and despite its chunky environments, it felt remarkably immersive at the time. Nearly thirty years later, those first three Tomb Raider games arrive on modern platforms as Tomb Raider I-III Remastered, featuring updated graphics and modernized controls. But do these remasters do enough to shake off the early 3D dust covering these increasingly ancient relics.

In terms of early 3D adventure games, it is important to keep in mind that Tomb Raider serves as a predecessor to later benchmarks such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. As such, it lacks much of the niceties that would become standard in the genre as it went on. The game places a heavy focus on combat and platforming, in addition to puzzle solving. This remastered version largely improves on all of these aspects by offering modern controls in addition to the regular tank controls. These greatly improve the playability of the trilogy in most regards, though they do create a few issues. Namely that Lara’s collision logic is still bound by those original rigid controls, so getting her to line up perfectly with the gridlike geometry when using modern controls can be a bit tricky. I’d often have to make multiple approaches to a ledge before she’d line up with it just right in order to climb up. Other moves, such as the running long jump, are significantly more difficult to trigger while using modern controls. As a result, at times I’d wind up switching back and forth mid stage. All that being said, I found that combat was hugely improved by modern controls; Lara now feels as agile as her foes making combat much more enjoyable.

In my technical preview that I released a few days ago, I broke down how this remaster makes use of much of the same underlying geometry as the original games for its level design. By doing this, the remaster is able to offer seamless swapping between the original version and the remastered version of each game, thanks to collision meshes on the environment being 1:1. The downside is that this low-polygon geometry stands out quite starkly against the much more modern model for Lara and various enemies.

This contrast isn’t helped by the extremely simple, and at times questionable, HD textures used to modernize the geometry. The first game fares the best, with most textures being a flawless match for their low-resolution counterparts. I’m not sure if these were derived from the original source textures that the initial art was sampled from or if they’re recreations, but regardless they convey the original visuals very well at a higher resolution. On the other end of the spectrum are textures that look nothing like those seen in the original games. One rock wall in Tomb Raider II features a picture of real rocks that look totally different from the original texture but the problem runs far deeper than that. To start, the surface photographed is at an angle, rather than head on, so the texture doesn’t like up with the perspective of the surface. Furthermore the photograph is taken under harsh sunlight which is casting hard shadows across the surface of the rock, but this texture is often used in dark caves out of direct sunlight. Textures like these remind me of YouTube videos of Nintendo 64 games remastered in Unreal Engine that simply slap high resolution textures onto the original geometry with no regard for what that geometry was intended to represent. To be blunt, it looks awful. Other textures simply misrepresent what the original game was trying to convey. In one stage, a fast-flowing river texture is replaced with the generic standing water texture completely removing the intended indication to the player that they will be swept up in the current. The first stage of the third game has an animated mud texture that has lost its animation in the remaster. This animation was intended to show the player where they could safely walk, without it the player simply has to guess. All of these textures are simple color textures. None of them feature any modern per-pixel material properties such as bump or normal maps to help them react to the new lighting. I’d have also liked to see parallax or displacement maps to help alleviate the low resolution geometry with some perceived depth without upsetting the original collision mesh. The closest thing I saw were some puddles that featured a basic cube map.

On the bright side all three titles run flawlessly. Check out my technical preview for details but suffice it to say all three hit 1080p docked, 720p handheld, and 60fps pretty much the entire time. And that is worth something, for as much as I can complain about some of the remastering choices, these games all play as well as they possibly could without fundamentally rewriting how they work. That, at the end of the day, is the key factor. I can forgive the occasionally awkward controls, even when using the modern setting. They are that way in order to preserve the option to play these games exactly how they were. I can forgive re-use of the original primitive geometry because it allows you to switch between the remastered version and the original version seamlessly at any time. But the inconsistent, technically lackluster, and artistically questionable way the visuals have been remastered is a huge sticking point for me. Earlier I compared it to an ugly fan remaster of a Nintendo 64 game but in reality, that’s inaccurate as they generally use more complex modern material rendering than Tomb Raider I-III does. But the worst sin of all is that occasionally the remastering literally removes intentional game design choices made for the original game and becomes a worse experience as a result.

Your enjoyment of this collection will depend entirely on why you’re playing it. If you want to play using the original graphics, with optional modernized controls, at a high resolution, and with widescreen support, this is essentially perfect. But if you’re looking for a remastered experience, Tomb Raider I-III is both an artistic mess, and a remarkable misunderstanding of some of the original visual game design. So come for the genre-defining original trilogy, but I wouldn’t recommend staying for their remastered incarnations.


  • Includes the origiinal and remastered version with instant swapping
  • Modern controls largely improve combat and movement
  • Run flawlessly
  • Artistic choices in remastering feel amateurish
  • Certain moves are difficult to trigger with modern controls
  • Collision doesn't always play nice with modern controls
  • Intentional game design elements are not replicated in updated graphics

A review code was provided by the publisher.

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Game Profile

Genre Action
Developer Aspyr Media

Worldwide Releases

na: Tomb Raider I-III Remastered Starring Lara Croft
Release Feb 14, 2024
PublisherAspyr Media
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