The Tomb Raider franchise, created by Toby Gard and Core in 1996, gave gaming one of the most iconic female characters in Lara Croft. The franchise was an instant success both on the PlayStation and in popular culture. Many games were created and two films were made starring Angelina Jolie to huge commercial success. The videogame franchise which started strong became stagnant over the years with many games being critically panned and commercial failures. Eidos, currently who holds the license, decided a change was necessary and outsourced the Tomb Raider franchise to Crystal Dynamics, they debuted their vision on Lara Craft and the Tomb Raider franchise with Tomb Raider: Legend in 2006.
The Tomb Raider reboot was a critical and commercial success and they followed that release with Tomb Raider: Anniversary in 2007 and Tomb Raider Underworld in 2008. Crystal Dynamics was able to re-invigorate the series with a fresh new look; streamlined controls; and a deeper look at Lara Croft, her life, and her past. With another new refresh of the series coming later this year the three Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider games have been re-packaged, Legend and Anniversary given an HD paintjob in the process, and distributed as Tomb Raider Trilogy.
The trilogy is available as a single blu-ray disc exclusively on the PlayStation 3 and as mentioned has HD re-masters of Legend and Anniversary (originally designed for PS2 and Xbox). The trilogy also has Tomb Raider: Underworld which was released for current generation consoles and required no upgrade. The Tomb Raider Trilogy has a slick and serviceable front end for all the games and also features Trophy support added for Legend and Anniversary. Starting the disc results in a well done splash screen with an option to launch any of the three games, once a choice is made the game loads (very quickly) and you have a unified menu screen (in look and feel) for all the titles.
Tomb Raider: Legend
Launched as a reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise in 2006, Tomb Raider: Legend is a terrific entry into the series by new developer Crystal Dynamics. The game features an established Lara Croft character investigating a site that holds the secret to her mother’s disappearance many years ago. This newly redefined Lara Croft is treated as more of a James Bond-style heroine. She has style, resources, athleticism to spare and a thrill seeking manner that is perfectly suited to the characters style. Over the course of the game Lara fights in an evening gown, races a train on a motorcycle, and traverses an arctic wasteland. The varied environments, outfits, and scenarios are more than appreciated and a way to add some appeal to a series that had stagnated for a while.
The story in Tomb Raider: Legend is effective if a tad predictable — a big bad is stealing parts of an ancient sword linked to your mother’s disappearance and you need to stop them. A flashback sequence during the early parts of the game is a neat touch (it puts you in Lara’s classic outfit) and helps set up the characters you deal with throughout the game. Tomb Raider: Legend is a nice mix of action, platforming, and puzzles that stays fresh throughout the adventure. There are also a number of new moves and gadgets like flip dodges and a magnetic grapple that adds depth to the gameplay.
This version features an HD upgrade using Buzz Monkey software and in the case of Legend has mixed results. I found that overall it just seemed like a shiny coat of paint. The graphics were solid when the title was released in 2006 and the change to HD doesn’t seem terribly effective. The audio was already very good and comes across on this release very well; in particular the music during a chase sequence is outstanding. Overall the upgrade to the game graphically doesn’t seem very effective but it is still nice to see the additional polish and the addition of trophies is also appreciated.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary
Following the success of Tomb Raider: Legend Crystal Dynamics went back to the original Tomb Raider game and re-imagined the story with the enhanced engine and gameplay mechanics releasing it as Tomb Raider: Anniversary. The story in Anniversary is much less complex than in Legend. Lara is approached by an associate to retrieve an artifact called the Scion, the hook for her accepting this job is that her father had tried to retrieve the Scion (and failed) in the past. This incentive kickstarts the adventure for Lara and has her raiding tombs in Peru, Greece, and Egypt recovering pieces of the Scion.
The gameplay in Anniversary is not much different from Legend, but it is a significant leap from the original Tomb Raider released 11 years earlier. The action is fast and frantic with traps, enemies, and creatures getting in her way at every turn. The game is very fun to play and the story has been tweaked enough that my interest is held all the way through to see what the outcome would be and what new challenges and puzzles I would face.
By re-imagining the original adventure, Crystal Dynamics has been able to beef up the game with enhanced puzzles, much better combat, and platforming sequences as well as providing an excellent graphical facelift for the game and its heroine. It is almost shocking actually the difference even between Legend and Anniversary. They both use the same engine and both had the HD ‘upgrade’ but Lara Croft and her surroundings look far superior in Anniversary. This extra fidelity combined with the classic adventure and excellent puzzles make this an excellent adventure and frankly a shade better then Legend.
Tomb Raider: Underworld
Aside from some GUI changes and incorporating the trophy patch added to the game after its release Tomb Raider: Underworld is the same game that was released in 2008 for the PS3 and Xbox 360. It is a continuation of the Legend storyline that has Lara Croft trying to discover the mythical hammer of Thor in an attempt to finish something her father started and learn more about her mother. The story itself is not terrible and not great, but serves to get the message across.
It is almost a shame that I played Underworld right after Legend and Anniversary because despite the major graphical overhaul there really is not much new here. Yes there are interesting environments and expansive underwater segments as well as challenging puzzles and combat, but there is no quantum leap in any aspect from the previous (and very good) games. There are a couple of new moves such as shooting at multiple targets and balance walking on beams, but by and large they are small changes. This is not to say the game is bad, it is quite good in fact, but it would have been nice to see an evolution in the storytelling, gameplay, or puzzle mechanics.
Graphically Tomb Raider: Underworld is a pleasure to experience. The design of Lara Croft is toned down somewhat, but she still oozes sexiness. As in Legend she wears many outfits throughout the course of the game and while she still sports a comic book-like style, her body proportions are much more realistic. This Lara Craft also retains dirt and water to an extent and this combined with the sharp backgrounds and models adds a nice look and feel to the game.
The Final Word
Tomb Raider Trilogy is a nice package for those who haven’t experienced all of the games enclosed. The HD treatment of Legend and Anniversary is a decent upgrade and the core experience of both the games benefits from its implementation. The unified launcher and addition of Trophies makes this an attractive way to have all three games. Priced very reasonably, I find it hard not to recommend this package for any fan of the franchise. With a new reboot on the way later this year, now is a good time to see Lara Croft in three of her best adventures to date.
Tomb Raider Trilogy is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Blood, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence.