Review: The Tomb Raider Trilogy (Sony PS3)

The Tomb Raider Trilogy
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Action
Release Date: 03/22/2011

Tomb Raider has always been a big game title for me. I had the original on PC and picked it up again for the original PlayStation. Same too for Tomb Raider II. Then college hit for the second time and I didn’t have time or money for many games. I eventually got a PS2 and was thrilled to see at the time that new Tomb Raider titles were coming out. I snatched up Legend and Anniversary. I didn’t get a PS3 right away, so I ended up missing out on Underworld when that hit on the PS2 a year later as I’d just gotten laid off. I was actually quite happy to see this title coming out as I rarely turn my PS2 on much anymore since my PS3 has become the main go-to for entertainment in our living room. So did the revamp of Legend and Anniversary turn out great or just so so, and would my hopes that Underworld would be any good get sealed away for all time? Let’s take a look.

Story/Modes

Since this is a compilation, I’m going to break down the three titles a bit in each section of the review and give some overall thoughts. Let’s take a look at the first game on the disc.

Tomb Raider Legend

Legend starts off with exploring some of Lara’s past and the disappearance of her mother, then drops you right into a tomb in Bolivia. She’s there on rumors that there’s a device in the tomb that resembles the one involved in her mother’s disappearance. One of her former friends who she failed to save, Amanda, is out not only for blood, but what looks to be the sword of legend, Excalibur. We end up globe-hopping as per the norm in a Tomb Raider game as Lara tries to unravel not only the mystery of her mother’s disappearance but also to try to stop her former friend from reeking whatever havoc she plans with Excalibur. While a bit on the short side, and very much tying into the events of Underworld, the story here is pretty interesting and it’s something that the series had lacked a bit in the past, preferring to throw you into the action right away with very little motivation behind it. I think what really hooked me more than exploring the tombs, was unraveling the mystery to see where the story went next.

Tomb Raider Anniversary

Rather than just do a straight up remake of the first Tomb Raider game for the series’ 10th anniversary, Crystal Dynamics instead decided to not only expand the levels, but to amp up the story-telling a bit to invest us all a bit more in what was going on, and for the most part it works. The plot is a bit simple much like the first game, and while this version of the game can stand on its own, it still helps to tie into the trilogy that Crystal Dynamics has made. Still set in 1996 like the first game, Anniversary takes place before most of what happens in Tomb Raider Legend, so you could play this one first, but from a gameplay perspective, as well as release schedule, this one feels more advanced and is located in the middle of the other games on the menu. More on that later.

You’re contacted through a third party, Larson, who works for a woman named Natla, about hunting down the Scion, something Lara had hunted years before with her father. Larson tries to take the piece you find, and after knocking him out, Lara heads to Natla’s office to see what’s really going on. It seems Lara isn’t the only treasure hunter out looking for the Scion as Natla has hired others to find more pieces. Lara then begins to hunt for the rest of the Scion, and Natla’s true motives finally come to light as she’s revealed to be something other than human and more than a little honked off at Lara for interfering with her plans. I really liked the expanded bits of story and the depth they added to it, not just in facial animations to really drive the emotion across, but the story itself feels a bit more fleshed out than the original.

Tomb Raider Underworld

Underworld kicks off rather dramatically with the destruction of Croft Manor. Not only do you see it in real time as you start a new game, but you see it in reverse as the camera pans through it as the idling sequence on the menu. Lara has been attacked by her Doppelganger and her friends don’t trust her very much as they just watched her blow up her own home with them inside. The story jumps back to a week before the explosion as Lara is searching for Avalon, the place she believes her mother was transported to in the previous game chronologically, Legend. Instead what she finds is a connection to the Norse gods and what appears to be Thor’s Gauntlet in one of the tombs named after a Norse realm of the dead. She’s attacked by some mercenaries, hired by her former friend Amanda who has decided to pursue Lara even further despite Lara’s warnings otherwise. They take the gauntlet and Lara boards their ship to retrieve it, only to find that Amanda has a very special prisoner aboard, Natla from Anniversary who has info on where to go next. As the ship explodes and sinks around her, Lara recovers the gauntlet from Amanda.

Lara has a hard time trusting Natla as she knows that she’s in this for herself, but at the moment their goals are the same, which is to find the Norse Underworld where her mother was supposedly transported. More information surfaces that shows that Lara’s own father had worked with Natla before and things had not ended well between them. The situation only go from bad to worse as the story progresses and we’re taken on an emotional roller coaster up until the very end.

All in all I’d have to say the overall story arc for the Trilogy is pretty good. While Anniversary is really the only title of the three that can truly stand on its own and not rely on a sequel to finish the story, or a previous game to lead us through the events of the current one, Crystal Dynamics did a great job not only making me care much more for Lara as a character as well as her friends, but also giving the games themselves some real depth to them. And seeing as all three games are collected here, it really makes this even better, almost as good as getting the original trilogy of Star Wars as a boxed set, almost.

Story/Modes Rating: Incredible

Graphics

For this release we’re getting a graphical overhaul on two of the games as they were originally only released on the PS2, but it’s not just limited to textures as some of the areas get new meshes imported from what I’m guessing is the Xbox 360 version of the game to bring them a bit more inline with Underworld, which has its advantages and disadvantages.

Tomb Raider Legend

To me this one does seem a step or two above what we got visually on the PS2, but it falls far short of Underworld and even Anniversary’s update as far as visuals go. The characters seem a bit more like plastic here, and there are some visual glitches here and there and the shadows look a bit blocky. The environments look much better. The draw distance is significantly improved and things seem more alive, and at the same time it feels like it lost something getting this upgrade. They used a lot of fog effects on the original PS2 version, my guess is to hide the fact that the draw distance wasn’t quite so good. The fog gave the tombs especially this surreal or other-worldly feel to them that seems like it’s missing here. It’s still a nice improvement over the PS2 version as the comparison shots I’ve got here can attest to, but it’s far from perfect.

Tomb Raider Anniversary

While Legend is only a slight step up, Anniversary is leaps and bounds ahead and nearly as good to me visually as Underworld. There are still some obvious tells that Lara is more of a video game character in this one just in her animations, but the environments look amazing. Honestly with this version I’m no longer jealous that the 360 version looked much better than the PS2 version at the time, because this update gives the game a visual kick that really works. In Legend you can kind of tell the game was an update, but it’s far less apparent here. Anniversary feels visually more like a current-gen title in this state and I really have to give them props for this update.

Tomb Raider Underworld

Underworld already has current gen visuals, and I love the animations in the game. They went with motion capture on this one and while Lara still has most of her moves from the previous games, they are much more realistic in the way she walks, runs, jumps, moves up stairs, the list goes on. When you’re going through an environment Lara moves brush out of her way. The only time I didn’t have her do something with it was the bamboo trees in a few areas where I could walk through them, which was a little odd when everything else seemed so solid. The weather effects are also well done and really bring all of this to life. Along with the weather effects is the fact that whatever you do in game, stays. Kill an animal, it’ll lay there. Crawl through a tunnel, Lara will get dirty. It was so subtle I didn’t notice it at first, but once you do it really adds to the experience.

While I was disappointed with some of the graphical glitches in Legend especially when my original PS2 version was lacking them, Anniversary more than made it up to me and Underworld was great at showing what they could really do with the current gen hardware. My HD TV approves.

Graphics Rating: Great

Sound

I’m not going to break this section down much at all, because really all three games are amazing in this department. I love that not only did they keep using the original Tomb Raider theme with a bit of an update, but they used it well. The incidental music and the battle music all flow well together and it’s not jarring when it transitions. While some of the music isn’t memorable, I find myself humming many of the tunes over again later. One of the other things I liked about this set of games is they kept the cast consistent. Not only are they good at bringing more out of the characters than we’d gotten in the past, but I find Lara’s voice her charming but also commanding when needed. I’ll be sad to see her go for the new Tomb Raider game they’re working on.

Sound really is one of the things I harp on video game developers for taking too lightly and Crystal Dynamics hasn’t here. Months were spent refining not only the music for the game but the other audio as well and it really comes out as you play the games but even more so in Underworld. I think I need to find myself the soundtrack to these and that’s not something I often do for video game titles at all.

Sound Rating: Classic

Control and Gameplay

I’m going to start this section out with something that applies to each and every title in this series. It’s something they’ve never quite gotten right in any Tomb Raider title, and I think fans of the games will agree, developers, please fix your damned camera! For the most part it behaves when you’re moving about or hanging off a wall. The tombs in each of these games are huge epic affairs, but when you are in a tight spot and you need to be able to see where you’re jumping to, the camera becomes possessed and suddenly you can’t quite get the right angle to see that next ledge or pipe to hang from. This is especially problematic when you’re hanging over a chasm of death! Thankfully almost all of these areas are near checkpoints so it’s usually a short hop back, which means they know the camera can suck, and yet, there it is.

Tomb Raider Legend and Anniversary pretty much share the same controls and gameplay elements, especially sharing the same game engine, so they get lumped together here. One of the things the developers did to change up the game a bit was to introduce a magnetic grapple, which you get good use out of, either for swinging, or for pulling objects down. It’s a nice extra mechanic to go with the run, jump, shoot that’s become standard Tomb Raider fare. There are also driving sequences in Legend that aren’t too bad. The games also utilize quick time events during cut-scenes to get you more involved. In each of these you can go back to Croft Manor to explore and play a bit and as always terrorize the Butler. The targeting system works pretty well in each title. Then there’s the hidden treasures in each area you’re in as well to make exploring that little bit more interesting.

Then you get to Underworld, and they’ve gone and mucked about with the control scheme a bit. So instead of firing my pistols I was throwing sticky bombs. I adjusted after accidentally lobbing one at a bat that flew near my head and then exploded. Not a good time. Aside from changing up the controls, Underworld also opened up how you explore. There’s always an easy way to get around, but the easy way isn’t always the most fun. The same run, jump, shoot and grapple mechanic is there, but they’ve also added a wall jump ability that works well in some areas and in others it makes you cringe, all because of that damnable camera. Underworld feels far less linear as you explore, even when re-treading out of a tomb you can still take a different route than you used to get in and fnid even more stuff.

Underworld also made the change that what you do has a lasting effect, so if you pull down a wall or statue it will still be there when you get back. Had to shoot a rampaging tiger, it will still be laying there when you go back through. The controls for each game got tighter as they went so you feel even more in control when you get to Underworld, but in some cases they still feel pretty loose. Jumping from pillar to pillar is actually pretty easy when you’re on top for instance, but if you’re hanging off of one ledge trying to get to another, sometimes that left control stick isn’t giving you quite the direction you want to leap in. I tried this on separate controllers and had the same effect, so it’s definitely the game itself. So while there have some real improvements as they went through the games, there is still room for improvement.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Very Good

Replayability

All of the games have various things to unlock with collectibles and such. Up until this release only Underworld had trophy support for obvious reasons, but this release gives Legend and Anniversary trophies as well, so for those trophy hounds you’ll be playing levels all over again to get those three platinum’s you get off of this one collection. Each has a different difficulty level that really does change things a bit as well. One of the things that really helps the replayability is the different paths you can take in Underworld. Being able to choose how you go about getting places or solving puzzles makes things a bit more interesting and going back and trying different methods of getting around can be a lot of fun.

Replayability Rating: Good

Balance

One of the first things that got me was the cost of this collection. It’s very reasonably priced at $40 retail right now for three grade-A big budget titles. You’re getting between 15 and 30 hours of play value on your first run through if you do each title the first time. So for $20 less than another new big budget action title out there you’re getting more time than most new titles give you. Three platinum trophies for the trophy hounds is also very nice. Instead of a quick cash grab they did spend some effort going in and revamping two of the previous titles in the series to bring them more in line with Underworld with slightly mixed results.

The games do increase with difficulty within each one, and the puzzles come in a variety of means to clear them. The difficulty level increases the challenge of enemies on a nice scale, and I really felt I was getting my money’s worth in spades with this even already owning Legend and Anniversary for the PS2. If I’d already had Underworld I may have passed this up, but in my situation this was a perfect addition to my PS3 collection and now that I’ve seen the HD versions in action I think it was more than worth it.

Balance Rating: Great

Originality

Being a collection title, there isn’t much new here for originality. There are a nice collection of behind the scenes videos from each title still here, the full version and improved versions of each game. You also get a decent theme for your PS3 and some nice costumes for your avatars in PS Home for those that use it. One thing I would have loved to see is the DLC that Xbox users got for Underworld, but if I remember correctly Microsoft helped fund those so it was very unlikely to happen. Even a little bit more extra here would have been nice, but you can’t expect a collection of already released titles to have much going on for originality.

Originality Rating: Below Average

Addictiveness

Each of these titles is fun to play. I found myself losing hours to playing them originally, and playing them over again has sucked me in, much to my wife’s dismay as my hours play time moved into two and a half one day and four hours another. While there are a few buggy issues with the graphics, for the most part the games themselves didn’t seem to have very many bugs at all while I was playing around and exploring and trying purposely to find something wrong. I also loved the fact that each game gets a bit more inventive so exploring in each brings on new challenges even with somewhat similar game mechanics in each one. The story itself is enough for me to get lost in. I love a good mystery and each one has its own and also ties into the others in ways to keep this set fairly cohesive.

Addictiveness Rating: Good

Appeal Factor

Personally, I think these are three of the best titles in the Tomb Raider franchise. They did enough to re-invent Lara for these without completely changing who she was. This also collects the last three titles in the series before they reboot it again this fall. It’s priced really well, and for fans who have none of the games, it offers up a chance to pick them up. Honestly, as a Tomb Raider fan I don’t know why you wouldn’t pick this up unless you have all three already. Even with the graphic glitches in Legend, I prefer these versions over their PS2 counterparts, if only for the convenience of only having to pop one disc in and being able to hop between all three games at once on a whim. And I’ll say it again, three platinum trophies, trophy hounds!

Appeal Factor Rating: Classic

Miscellaneous

I usually reserve this section for bugs and what not and there are some here. The camera is an issue and always has been, no matter who is developing these games. I mean I’ve been dealing with this thing since 1996. Both the revamped HD versions of Legend and Anniversary have a way to not only exit to the main menu of the game, but also to then exit out to choose another title. Underworld won’t let you out to the main menu, and if you want to drop to another title on the disc you’ll have to hit up your crossbar and quit that way and start the game up again. Kind of annoying there.

Like I mentioned earlier, Legend has some visual bugs. I only keep bringing them up because they are really noticeable in the first section in Bolivia right off the bat where Lara is ascending the side of the mountain. The shadows there look really blocky and the rock face has some glaring issues in its mesh. There are more that pop up here and there, but a little bit more polish and I wouldn’t be complaining about it, now would I?

While I nitpick about some of the bugs, the use of motion capture really stands out in Underworld. To me it’s the first time Lara has moved like a real human being and not some out of this world cartoon character. Sure she does some of the same moves, but it’s more like you’d see a real person do it. This led to some interesting issues though, and it wasn’t just Underworld, I saw this in Anniversary as well. I see it a lot in the MMOs I play. You either tend to be in the ground a few inches without any effect on the surroundings or floating a few inches above it. It didn’t happen often in any of the games on the disc, but I did see it happen a few times while I was pausing to catch a breather.

Miscellaneous Rating: Mediocre

The Scores
Story/Modes Rating: Incredible
Graphics Rating: Great
Sound Rating: Classic
Control and Gameplay Rating: Very Good
Replayability Rating: Good
Balance Rating: Great
Originality Rating: Below Average
Addictiveness Rating: Good
Appeal Factor Rating: Classic
Miscellaneous Rating: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
asheresize The Tomb Raider Trilogy is a nice collection of some of the best games in the series. Both Legend and Anniversary get revamped to work on a more visual level with their PS3 counterpart Underworld. I have to say I loved playing this and recommend it to any fan of the series. If you already have all three games I might hesitate as you’re not getting anything new other than visuals and trophies for the two PS2 titles. The price is great for what you’re getting and it’s nice to have the whole story on one disc before Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix reboot the franchise again this year, this trilogy being a slight reboot from Lara’s history already.

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