Tomb Raider I Remastered Retrospective Review

We’ve come a long, long way together…

There are few games as deserving of preservation as the original Tomb Raider. Not because it’s some timeless masterpiece that holds up today, but as a reminder of where we’ve come from, and how far we’ve come. If you’re a fan of games set 3D environments and played from a third-person perspective – the vast majority of blockbuster titles – you could trace at least some part of their ancestry back to 1996’s Tomb Raider.

Replaying it in 2024, in its freshly remastered form, has been unexpectedly compelling – albeit with a mix of highs and lows I expected. There was raw nostalgia for my 11-year-old self, sitting in front of a small CRT screen, playing it on a SEGA Saturn rented from the local video store – my first experience exploring a truly 3D world after growing up with a NES that was as old as I was, and infrequent visits to arcades to play on-the-rail light-gun games. It was a pivotal moment that ensured video games would became a lifelong hobby – with my very own PSOne and a copy of Tomb Raider II the following year cementing my love of the character and IP.

Tomb Raider I Remastered T-Rex Fight

If you only have experience with the Crystal Dynamics trilogies – 2006’s Legends or 2013’s soft reboot – Lara Croft in 1996 was a rare example of a female protagonist, at least outside of RPGs with character creation, and, rarer still, possessed a physicality typically reserved for male leads. She was an acrobatic heroine with calves, quads, and glutes so strong she could lunge-jump her own height and was strong enough to push and drag around 8 cubic-metre blocks of stone. The first Tomb Raider would pit her against an equally capable villainess and give her the chance to save the world at the expense of power and fame. I doubt representation was Core Designs’ original intent, but Lara nonetheless proved instrumental in drawing more female gamers into a hobby that all too often felt like young to middle-aged men developing games for young to middle-aged men.

Of course, nostalgia can only take you so far and it was impossible to enjoy the remaster without looking at it through the lens of 28-years of gaming advances. Revolutionary for the time – and possessing an impressive sense of scale and verticality that early 3D FPS and dungeon crawlers lacked – Tomb Raider now offers a purity of design, so uncluttered by secondary mechanics it almost feels novel. The bulk of the experience is simply observing, planning, and traversing blocky 3D environments using Lara’s equally rigid, grid-based move-set. The goal? Rarely more complex than finding key items or switches within a level to open the exit to the next, before a crude in-game cutscene or flashier CG variant pushed the story forward.

Tomb Raider I Remastered St. Francis Folly

To spice things up, Lara will sometimes need to solve basic spatial puzzles that typically involve slowly pushing or pulling blocks; while other times she’ll need to draw her weapons to slay a shameful number of endangered species, a few that should’ve stayed extinct, tough mythical creatures, and a handful of human bosses that are an unfortunate reflection of cultural and racial stereotypes in the 1990s. Much like the platforming, combat is all about using Lara’s rigid move-set to avoid enemies that follow far less predictable patterns – often in tight spaces with perilous drops. Combat never feels more than functional, but many encounters can be rendered trivial if you horde powerful ammunition or find high-ground to exploit the limited AI pathfinding. Just don’t stop to ponder who left modern ammunition and health kits in ancient ruins supposedly unexplored in centuries.

By far the greatest challenge comes from mastering the original controls, especially as the alternative controls offered in this remaster are a twitchy abomination not worth considering. It’s a rough transition from modern games – games that strive to make you not think about the complexity of traversal – however, once you’ve get to grips with Lara’s move-set, they feels perfectly suited to the blocky but carefully crafted environments. It’s a game that requires patience, with a strong focus on planning a sequence of moves and lining up jumps, rather than being reactive, and you’ll want to save regularly if you don’t enjoy hearing Lara’s scream followed by a sickening crunch. The obvious caveat to this design is how clumsy and frustrating simple tasks end up feeling – such as lining Lara up to interact with a switch or pick-up, and how long it can take to trek back to the start of a jumping sequence if you mess up.

Moving on to the remastering effort itself – Tomb Raider I Remastered feels smartly touched up and respectful of the original vision, while the only major gripe I have is aforementioned and entirely optional alternate controls. Texture work, character models, and lighting have been overhauled – with the addition of more props where appropriate, and minor geometry changes to introduce new light sources like open ceilings. The world itself is still blocky, and the seams between textures are still obvious, but they feel suitably detailed for modern TVs, those representing water surfaces or lava are better animated, and some even have an impressive parallax effect to simulate depth.

All character models retain their somewhat angular designs and jerky motion, but they look much more detailed and have been embellished with plenty of added detail – including updated faces and basic lip-syncing for in-game cutscenes. Pixelated 2D sprites for pick-ups and props have been replaced with 3D models, and you can enable an interaction icon to make them easier to find – along with switches and key holes. The new lighting model – especially in rare locations that use beautiful new sky-boxes – looks great, adds to the immersion, and even simulates taking on the colour of the environment. There are more atmospheric effects like dust and mist, while a few locations even have puddles with reflections!

Tomb Raider I Remastered Original Visuals
Tomb Raider I Remastered New Visuals

Talking of atmosphere, Tomb Raider I Remastered still relies primarily on ambient audio to capture that feeling of isolation you’d expect exploring long lost tombs – but it feels like they’ve added a few more music triggers and possibly repurposed a few tracks from the later games. In short, this remaster excels at presenting Tomb Raider as you might remember it. There are oddities, like how some areas feel too dark and the new 3D models for key items too small, but you can always swap back and forth between the remastered and classic visual mode – though you then have to deal with a stuttering 30fps cap that feels awful compared to the remasters 60fps achieved through frame interpolation.

All of which brings me to who I’d recommend Tomb Raider I Remastered to. From a pure preservation angle and for those interested in the history of video games, it’s an essential remaster. For those just considering the entertainment potential – this is more for fans of the original, especially those without the patience to deal with DOSBOX settings on PC, or console players that once had to deal with a frustratingly restrictive save crystal mechanic. As a long-time fan, the first three acts in Peru, Greece, and Egypt remain the highlight – and levels like The Lost Valley, St. Francis’ Folly, Temple Midas, Obelisk of Khamoon, and Sanctuary of the Scion have not diminished with age. If anything, they finally have a degree of visual spectacle to complement their impressive scope.

For everyone else still curious in Lara’s original outing, I’d rather suggest Crystal Dynamic’s excellent 2006 reboot, Tomb Raider: Anniversary, which can still serve as an excellent stand-alone experience.

Tomb Raider I Remastered was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a code provided to gameblur by the publisher. It is also available on PC, Xbox One/Series S|X, and PS4/5.

Tomb Raider I Remastered Retrospective Review

Tomb Raider I Remastered Retrospective Review
8 10 0 1
Total Score

The Good

  • It’s classic Tomb Raider at its core
  • A smart and respectful audiovisual overhaul
  • Many great levels still hold up
  • You can use the classic cheat codes to skip through the Atlantis levels
  • Video game preservation

The Bad

  • It’s classic Tomb Raider at its core
  • The alternative control scheme is terrible
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