Publisher: Square Enix / Developer: Crystal Dynamics / Price: $39.99 / Played on: PlayStation 3/ ESRB: Teen (Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence)
The videogame business is mature enough that old games are being remastered and repackaged as bundles. One of the latest compilations is Tomb Raider Trilogy, which offers updated versions of 2006’s Tomb Raider: Legend and 2007’s Tomb Raider: Anniversary, as well the comparatively modern Tomb Raider: Underworld. For $40, Tomb Raider Trilogy delivers three full games and some nice bonus content. Are these games enjoyable after all these years? Well, that really depends on your appreciation of gaming history.
All three games in Tomb Raider Trilogy follow the adventures of Lara Croft as she travels the world searching for treasure, solving mysteries, and fighting bad guys. The games blend the feel of an Indiana Jones adventure with sex appeal (British accents are hot… even Rob Smith’s). One of my favorite aspects of the modern Tomb Raider games is how they incorporate various mythologies, including Arthurian, Egyptian, Norse, and Atlantean. All three plots do a good job of mixing mythology and modern fantasy. But while I still enjoy the storytelling aspects of Tomb Raider, the gameplay has been outdone by recent games.
All three games have you exploring, fighting, and solving puzzles. You search numerous areas in all sorts of varied locations scattered across the globe. You fight a wide variety of enemies appropriate to a given location. Every now and then you come across an environmental puzzle that impedes your progress. It’s a successful mix that gamers have grown up on over decades. That said, Tomb Raider: Underworld executes each of these facets much better than that first two games.
Tomb Raider: Legend and Tomb Raider: Anniversary feel tired and cumbersome. These games aren’t that old, but in terms of gameplay they almost feel like they’re two generations old. Obviously Naughty Dog’s Uncharted games have taken action-adventure to new levels. Meanwhile Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia series has done an outstanding job of incorporating puzzle elements in action-adventure games. Compared to the games in those series, these two Tomb Raider titles feel dated (at best) and a little silly (at worst).
Tomb Raider: Underworld, while not perfect by any means, is much better than its two predecessors. It plays snappier, the puzzle solving is more natural and intuitive, the action crisper and more visceral. The game belongs at the same table as Uncharted and Prince of Persia. While a dose of nostalgia is needed to really enjoy the remastered versions of Tomb Raider: Legend and Tomb Raider: Anniversary, Tomb Raider: Underworld stands on its own.
Square Enix also included a bunch of goodies in the Tomb Raider trilogy. I loved the developer diaries for their insight and interesting content. Other additions includes trailers for Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, an XMB theme for your PlayStation 3, and content for PlayStation Home. While I didn’t care for the theme and the Home content, serious series fans will dig this package’s extras.
This situation is similar to the gameplay: the first two games look dated, while the most recent one does not. Tomb Raider: Legend is the worst offender. Although its PlayStation 2 graphics received the HD makeover, the source material still looks old. Even though Tomb Raider: Anniversary uses the same engine, you could tell that the developers were more adept at eking ou every detail they could. As a result, it’s a noticeably better looking game.
As for Tomb Raider: Underworld, the game looked great in 2008 and it still looks great now. Of course this was the only one of the three made for the current generation of consoles, so its relative visual superiority is expected. That said, I was a little surprised at how well the graphics held up. The environments look fantastic–great details with a really lush feel. Lara’s character model and animations are stellar; she’s never looked better and her actions have never looked smoother. Unlike Cameron Diaz, Lara Croft is getting hotter with age.
Troels Brun Folmann’s soundtracks are great and varied. I really love how he takes native sounds from each environment and incorporates them into that level’s track. For example, levels in Asia feature different drums than the levels in Africa. Tomb Raider Trilogy features three wonderful soundtracks that were underrated and were overlooked by many critics during the games’ original releases.
The trilogy features strong voice acting by Keeley Hawes and decent work by the supporting cast. Hawes does a great job in the games, but there are only a handful of other memorable characters. The environmental sound effects are also good and help add to that Indiana Jones feel of adventure. I have no idea what a tyrannosaurus rex really sounds like, but the one in this game sure is scary.
Tomb Raider Trilogy offers dozens of hours of gaming, some fan directed bonus content, and really cool developer diaries. If you consider yourself a gaming history connoisseur it represents great value and a fascinating insight into the evolution of action-adventure titles. If you’re only into the latest and greatest then this is a tough sell. The two oldest games in the compilation look dated, despite the HD remastering. In terms of gameplay, the same two games have also been left in the dust by newer titles. Underworld, the newest game in the trilogy can be found for $15 or less. I enjoyed the special content in Tomb Raider Trilogy and had fun taking a stroll down memory lane. However, I can understand that nostalgia has no value to some gamers and they’d be better off buying Tomb Raider: Underworld for less than half the price of Tomb Raider Trilogy.