Booting up The Tomb Raider Trilogy for PS3, I forgot that these games starred Lara Croft. In fact, I forgot all about Lara Croft. Beyond appearing in “hot babes of video games” lists in late ’90s gaming magazines, she was never relevant to me and neither were her games. But they made so many of them! And here are three of them, two originally released for PS2 (Legend and Anniversary) and one that already came out on Xbox 360 and PS3 in 2008 (Underworld), combined into one high-definition re-release.
So how does one who never cared about Lara Croft or her games, find them?
Well, I’m pretty bad at them. At least I’m pretty bad at the first one in the collection, Tomb Raider Legend. Not an hour in and I already got stuck at some environmental puzzle that involves pushing a rock to get to a high place. The game’s been out for a while, so I could have looked up a FAQ online. Instead, I saved, backed out to the main menu, and selected Tomb Raider Anniversary.
Hey, Lara wears her classic teal top in this one! That one I’ve only seen in screenshots and fan art in Ultra Game Players. Most likely because Anniversary is a remake of the original game from 1996. So, in a way, I’m finally playing the original game. And yeah, she’s still a balloon-proportioned cartoon, so I’m glad the new Lara in the upcoming reboot resembles a human being. The upgrade to HD does make the Anniversary version (and Legend) of Lara look, um, shiny and smooth though, and the environmental graphics are solid, even if some textures look outdated and all these moss-covered caves tend to bore after a while.
Underworld, since it was released three years ago, still holds up graphically, and aurally, though I would’ve done something less over-dramatic with the music. Does Tomb Raider really demand Dies Irae on the soundtrack? And for some reason, the music in the PS2 upgrades play way too loud, enough to drown out character voices and sound tinny on normal TV speakers. It would be wise to turn the music volume down in the in-game options for Legend and Anniversary.
The thing I like most about these games, they don’t waste any time. The set-ups are quick and to the point — Lara wants artifacts — and bam, the games start. No overwrought cutscenes (I’ve had enough of those lately), just pure gameplay. On the flip side, what these games don’t do well is establish who these people are. Lara is British, rich, has infinite ammo, and is a girl because the designers wanted the mostly male audience to have a nice rear to stare at. That’s understandable, er, somewhat. Her support team? No idea who they are. But I guess they don’t matter. We just want to go spelunking around alone, jump and swing across chasms and murder exotic wildlife.
On that end, the Tomb Raider games do very well. They control fine, jumping and shimmying across the environments feels all right, in spite of the controllable camera’s funkiness at times. Shooting is just simple lock-on auto-targeting with a few little gimmicks to keep killing semi-interesting like dodging at the right time to pull off a head shot, but most of the time dodging just makes the camera go crazy and the whole situation devolves into frantic button-mashing. The best parts of these games are exploring the environment and solving puzzles, so it makes one wonder why they bothered putting combat in at all. Even Ico and Mirror’s Edge had rudimentary bad guy stomping, I guess because no one’s willing to buy a video game unless you can kill something in it.
That said, I feel a little bad for ignoring Lara all this time since she was there alongside Super Mario 64 during the early days of 3D platforming. She’s a part of the video game culture, and if you’re looking into catching up like I did, you may want to look into Trilogy. If you’re one of Lara’s long-time admirers chances are you already played these games to death. In which case, unless you really want them in HD, ignore this bundle and continue counting down the days to that reboot.