Tomb Raider I-III Remastered (2024): Community perceptions

Llewella Chapman (University of East Anglia, UK)

2 May 2024


To continue reviewing the remastered Tomb Raider games, this week I interview two members of the Tomb Raider community, who both stream the games on Twitch, Rizza and Tom_Bow_, to understand how they came to play and later run the original games, and their thoughts on the remastered versions.[i]

Challenge running Tomb Raider: Rizza

(You can catch Rizza’s streams at https://www.twitch.tv/imrizza)[ii]

Q: How and when did you come to play the original Tomb Raider games, and what did you particularly like/enjoy about them?

I started with Tomb Raider II (1997) [TR2]. I was 3 or 4 years old, and I had no idea how to control Lara Croft or anything. I would always go to the training level, ‘Lara’s Home’, and play around. Growing up I would always do the assault course or run around and put Lara’s butler, Winston, in the fridge – I didn’t know that putting him in the fridge was a thing; I didn’t know other players did this until I got older. I thought it was just a ‘me thing’ … so it was kind of funny that I later found out that everybody does this: ‘okay, so this is a thing now’ [laughs]. But I would just kind of run around, and I didn’t really know how to do anything, where to go; I didn’t even know what the story was about.

It was just nice as a little girl to see this powerful, independent female character, and I was just drawn to that. As a kid, I would always act like her, pick up my toys and mimic the “ah ha!” sounds she makes in TR2 when picking up items. I would try to crawl into tight spaces, and I’d go to the playground, play around and pretend someone was controlling me like how I controlled Lara. She was just very empowering to me as a child and also when growing up. I invested a lot of time in playing these games, also playing the Crystal Dynamics reboot (2013). I really enjoyed playing the Tomb Raider games a lot.

Q: What interested you learning to challenge and speedrun Tomb Raider and stream it on Twitch?

When I was a teenager, I would play Tomb Raider over and over. If I became tired of playing some other game, I found that I would never get bored of Tomb Raider: the games never became old to me. It was my brother who suggested to me that as I “played this game all the time, why don’t you do video tutorials to show people how to get through Tomb Raider, because maybe there are people out there who don’t know how to do that?” I guess I thought ‘I could think about that, but I don’t know…’, as back then it wasn’t as common [to record gameplay videos] 15 years ago … It’s big now, but it wasn’t back then. Being a female, being a gamer, it just wasn’t that common at that time. Finding out that another girl was a gamer was really rare.

As I got older, I broke out of that shell, and my husband suggested: “Why don’t you try streaming? You like being talkative and meeting new people…”, and I thought ‘Why not? I can try it’. My first Tomb Raider stream was a TR2 ‘all secrets’ playthrough in August 2022.[iii] I wanted to do something that I was already comfortable with – I’d played this game forever, and I knew where all the secrets were, no problem. So that was where I started to meet people before branching out. I looked in the Tomb Raider speedrun category [on speedrun.com] and found that people were actually running it.

I went and viewed other people’s streams to say “Hi”, and The first person I came across was Footi. Watching him I discovered ‘challenge runs’, where you play the games ‘No Loads, No Meds’ [NLNM]. This means no healing or dying and reloading during the game, which you play in one sitting. I thought, ‘this is kind of my thing’, because I love challenges, I love to challenge myself and I wanted to try it.

From there, I branded myself as playing Tomb Raider during my streams. I did try to branch out and play something different, but it didn’t work, it wasn’t for me, and I went back to Tomb Raider [laughs]. It’s just me, it’s who I am. Playing Tomb Raider is what I enjoy, it makes me feel good and I’m comfortable running it. I’ve worked in customer services since I was 16, and I’m super chatty. I love talking to people while I stream and engaging with them. Even when my viewers aren’t chatty, I’m still talking [laughs].

There has been an increase in women streamers and not just in TR, in the streaming world just alone. This has been amazing to connect with these other women streamers along with other momma streamers; it has made me feel like I am not alone! It makes me feel comfortable in the streaming/gaming world, along with being a momma and taking care of my family.

Q: Do you have any advice for people who want to learn how to challenge run the original games?

I watched video tutorials on YouTube and I have a notebook that is full of Tomb Raider strats [strategies] and guides on what I need to do to get through the levels. So I highlight what secrets are important, where I’m supposed to go if something gets difficult etc. I have little tips and tricks, and strats that I added myself from things I discovered, and from watching other streamers. Footi was a huge inspiration to me when it came to challenge runs.

So far, I’ve done TR1, TR2 and Tomb Raider III: The Adventures of Lara Croft (1998) [TR3] NLNM, ‘No Loads No Meds All Secrets’ [NLNMAS], and ‘No Loads No Meds All Secrets Pistols Only’ [NLNMASPO]. TR3 NLNMASPO was the last challenge run I completed of the original games. It took me about six months to finally complete that challenge, and TR3 is well known among the fan community to be one of the hardest Tomb Raider games to play. To do the game ‘Pistols Only’ was a huge accomplishment for me. It took me about six hours to run [laughs], and I’m the third person in the world to ever complete that challenge [the others are TheWorldlyGamer and DouglasMcDoggett]. So it’s really cool to be included in that.

Some people don’t like ‘Pistols Only’. I’m sure it can get a little boring to play, and it’s long, but I like doing challenges like that, things that other people won’t do. I’m like, ‘Oh, let me try it then’ [laughs]. There’s no way I’m trying that challenge ever again: it took so long. I was like, ‘Nope, I’m good, I’m done’ [laughs]. I deleted the game from my computer after I finished it, as I knew the remasters were coming out, and I just didn’t want to see it anymore [laughs]. It’s funny, because a lot of people don’t like the London-based levels, it’s not a fan favourite, but London is my favourite, and ‘Aldwych’ is my favourite level.

Q: Prior to the release of the Remasters, I think you were trying a different type of challenge to No Loads No Meds: glitchless speedrunning Tomb Raider (1996) [TR1]?

I’m currently 14th on the leaderboard, and I did make it into the top 10. When I was getting into learning how to speedrun TR1, I love to study and do my homework, figuring out how to do and get better, and eventually teach people how to do the same. That’s my whole goal: to show other people that they can do this too. It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner and not an expert; you can do it if you put the effort into it, you can do it too. I got into glitchless speedrunning and I did TR1, I will be doing the others too … I want to do all the challenges; I want to and am trying to do everything [laughs].

Q: Are there particular new strategies and optimisations you’ve developed to challenge run or speedrun these games?

There are new strategies that I learned from speedrunning that are a little different than a NLNM challenge because it’s all about going as fast as you can. Whereas in NLNM you attempt to not heal or die during the run, which means you need to be slower and more patient. With speedrunning, I’ve learned trickier jumps, and learned how every little step is part of a sequence. Sometimes you will find me counting while running. It helps me set up jumps and movements more precisely. Little did I know there was a lot more to speedrunning than JUST speedrunning!

Rizza speedrunning ‘Caves’ in Tomb Raider Remastered. Courtesy of Rizza.

Q: What do you generally think of the remastered games? Have you enjoyed playing them?

I love them, I love everything about them. I love that newer people are coming into the community, and that’s what I love the most about the remasters: being able to meet new people.

I also love that for the remasters that they included ‘New Game +’ [NG+], which is basically like a challenge run. You can reload, but there are no medi packs at all throughout the entire game. You just collect ammunition in place of where those medi packs would normally be. I really like what they did with that, they clearly thought about the fans, and challenge runners and speedrunners who take time to play these games, and those who are new to the ‘classic’ games and want a challenge.[iv] They also added crystals into the Steam (PC) version of Tomb Raider so you can save and heal too, because enemies do more damage in NG+.[v] It was cool, because you now have to think and strategize about pathing and what crystals you choose to save at during particular points during gameplay.

The only ones I haven’t played yet are the expansion packs, Tomb Raider II: Golden Mask (1999) and Tomb Raider III: The Lost Artefact (2000), but I’ve played all the three main games over my Twitch stream, which took about 12 hours [laughs]. We went through everything, tried out some NLNM strats, some speedrun strats, messed around with a couple of things to see what was different or remained the same, what’s easier/harder. It was really, really good, and I had a great time, finding out the things that were the same, relieved that ‘we can still do this’ [laughs].

I would love to see Tomb Raider IV: The Last Revelation (1999) [TR4] remastered, but we’ll see. To me, it seems like the remasters are doing really well, I’ve seen a lot of people say really good things about it, fans and also newcomers.

Q: What are the key differences between the original games and the remastered games?

The textures are very, very different, but I feel like it’s a ‘good different’: what the developers of the remasters did was bring the game to life, especially in some areas. For me, when you’re in the ‘Atlantis’ levels in TR1, I feel they really brought the textures and lava alive. It’s very bright, and it looks hot. The whole walls look like muscles and it looks gross, but it is supposed to be gross and look disgusting [laughs]. There are some ceilings I’ve noticed, for example in ‘Opera House’ in TR2, they added a big chandelier, broken windows, etc. It’s just little things like that which I noticed, and the additions make it look really good. They brought in a lot of lighting through the sky box in TR1, for example they did that in ‘Caves’, opened up walls, etc. There are some areas of TR1 where they really brought the areas and textures alive, especially for a game originally developed in the 1990s.

I also really loved the remastered cat suit that Lara wears in the London levels in TR3, they made it shiny and actually look like a cat suit. In the original it just looks like an outfit, but now they’ve brought that to life too. I really, really liked this.

Figure 1: Remastered textures used in the ‘Atlantis’ level in Tomb Raider.

Figure 2: The chandelier included in the remastered ‘Opera House’ level in Tomb Raider II.

Figure 3: Lara Croft’s catsuit, worn in the ‘London’ levels for Tomb Raider III.

Q: What about movement mechanics? Are there any issues you’d like to be fixed in later patches?

Some new mechanics and animations have been added, and I thought that was really cool. They included some movements for Lara that were taken from TR4 and Tomb Raider: Chronicles (2000) [TR5], for example the crawl and roll movement, and the sprint bar in TR3 has changed so you can continue to sprint when the bar reaches its lowest point, unlike in the original game. It changes things for speedrunning too, and the new movements might make things a little bit faster. I like that they included really fan-based ideas in the remasters.

I’m not a huge fan of the modern controls, I can say that. I think I will stick with the tank controls [laughs]. I mean, no new game is perfect, some things are buggy, some things I’ve noticed are a little different, but I think they will fix certain things like the ‘achievements’. I’ve completed around 200 achievements, making sure I take my time to go through every game to collect them. Zenuriko and I have created an Excel document that I’ve shared with my followers, and which I’m happy to share with anybody who wants to look at it and keep track of their own progress. It has all of the achievements listed for each game, and I have highlighted different things. For example, if it’s in green I’ve collected the achievement, red means I still need to do it, and then I highlight the ones in blue that I’ve done but are not triggering, so they are buggy. Some of the achievements are really, really weird, and really, really picky as well, and I’ve been making notes as to why they might not be triggering, or that you might have to finish the level before it registers, etc.

Aspyr have a website link to submit any issues we notice, so we have been doing that too as a community … I mean, those things are going to happen when a new game comes out, nothing is ever going to be peachy keen and perfect; you’re going to have small little mess-ups and things like that, and those can be easily fixed and patched over time.

Figure 4: Excel spreadsheet designed by Rizza for the Tomb Raider Remastered achievements. Courtesy of Rizza and Zenuriko.

Q: Out of the three remastered games, do you have a ranking in terms of favourite/best?

This is really tough… I would say look-wise, I think the one they remastered the best was TR1. It looks really good, every area looks fantastic. I felt that the developers spent a lot of time on it. I can’t say anything for the expansion packs yet. Then, and others might disagree, I would say TR2. I really liked what they did with some of the lighting in these areas, and some of the areas seem really dark to me, such as the really deep, underwater areas, but I think they did that on purpose to encourage you to use a flare, as when you’re deep under the ocean it’s supposed to be like that [laughs]. I think they’ve made it look more realistic and darker. Then there’s TR3! And I love TR3. Everything looks the same to me in this game, in my opinion. I didn’t see a whole lot of big changes here. So that’s why I would say that’s the third one for me, because I’m not sure they spent as much time on it. But they added an extra cutscene for the ‘Security Compound’ level when Lara wakes up after she has been captured, and that was really cool, I was really excited to see that. I think they took that from the original PlayStation version, as it wasn’t included in the PC version at all.

Q: What’s the next project/challenge run/speedrun challenge for you?

My next challenge right now is to be top 10 in the Tomb Raider Remastered [TRR] category for any% glitchless. I would love to get a nice time and possibly go back to the original game [OG] and improve that time as well. I would also love to continue my NLNM challenges and get started on TR4 NLNM for my community. It’s been an incredible year, and I can’t wait to see what we accomplish as we continue on!

Rizza’s favourite achievement in Tomb Raider running:

Tomb Raider III No Loads, No Meds, All Secrets, Pistols Only Challenge 


Speedrunning Tomb Raider: Tom_Bow_

(You can catch Tom_Bow_’s streams at https://www.twitch.tv/tom_bow_)[vi]

Q: How and when did you come to play the original Tomb Raider games, and what did you particularly like/enjoy about them?

I think we got a PS1 at some point in 1999 and my dad would buy a new game every now and then. I don’t remember much from back then but I do remember playing through the first level of Tomb Raider, ‘Caves’, with my dad and my brother and it being really exciting. I think the sense of discovery was the most captivating thing. I played Tomb Raider, Tomb Raider II and a demo of Tomb Raider: Chronicles, amongst other great titles like Rayman (1995), Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back (1997), and Wipeout 2097 (1996). Then when I was at university, I shared a house with a PlayStation (PS1) gaming enthusiast and someone had left this big old CRT TV [cathode ray tube television] in the lounge. So we set up his PS1, and I brought the old games my parents had kept so I rediscovered Tomb Raider at this point. It was also around this time Tomb Raider (2013) came out and I became interested in the history of Tomb Raider, although after university I never played the classics again on PS1.

Q: What interested you learning to speedrun Tomb Raider and stream it on Twitch?

I had been watching some Tomb Raider streamers starting in 2019, which was mostly people playing Tomb Raider Level Editor games [TRLEs], but I eventually started watching speedrunners such as Eycore and critzB.[vii] I had no intention to play the games myself, let alone speedrun them. But then COVID and lockdowns came along and I had to find things to do.

At this point, I thought speedrunning was the most interesting way to play to games, so I thought ‘why not learn it?’ I spent some evenings and weekends learning how to speedrun TR1, having not speedrun anything before. After learning some of the difficult moves, I realised I was interested in finding faster ways of doing things. I am a creative person and I really like deciphering puzzles and problem solving and, when I applied this to speedruns, ideas for faster strats and sequences seemed to come naturally. I recorded runs offline and didn’t consider streaming. In 2021 I started learning glitched speedruns, which are faster than the glitchless runs I’d begun with. I became more confident with the level of my speedrunning, and I decided to try streaming some runs. I wasn’t naturally drawn to streaming, but it became a natural thing to do over time. I find streaming speedruns more motivating than just recording runs ‘offline’, and it makes it easier to share ideas and help other runners, as well as having a good time.

Q: You are the current world record holder for Tomb Raider Any% (PC), with a time of 55 minutes 07 seconds. How does it feel to have achieved this?

I don’t think I’m the best speedrunner when it comes to the classic TR games, but I am innovative and always keen to improve existing strategies, which means I spend more time searching for improvements than actually doing runs. Ultimately, practice pays off when it comes to speedrunning, so I’m relieved and satisfied when I’m able to put everything to the test and beat existing records with the help of these new strats. My 55:07 run is improvable to below 55 minutes, which would be a bit more of a satisfying achievement, so there is the looming prospect of going for this goal at some point in the future.

Q: The game mechanics for Tomb Raider are different to the later games – I wondered whether you could explain how the mechanics work with the first game, and the types of glitches that can be achieved?

The mechanics of the original Tomb Raider are the simplest of all the classic TRs, which means there are the fewer glitches that can be performed. Even so, there are plenty of glitches that are incorporated in the Any% speedrun (the fastest category), including the ‘wall bug’ which is quite a game-breaking glitch, which was fixed from TR2 onwards, so is exclusive to TR1. The wall bug allows you to jump into certain walls in a precise way to teleport to platforms above. We use it quite a lot, most notably in the ‘Atlantis’ level, which would normally be a long level, where a single wall bug will skip basically the entire level.

QWOP is probably the most iconic glitch in the TR speedrunning community, where Lara slides along the ground in a pose resembling the athlete in Bennett Foddy’s hilariously infuriating game (QWOP, 2008). We use the QWOP glitch to skip certain obstacles, and it had a huge impact on TR1 and TR2 speedruns back when it was discovered.[viii]

‘Atlantis’ wall bug glitch in Tomb Raider.

QWOP glitch used in ‘Natla’s Mines’ in Tomb Raider.

Q: You’ve developed new strategies and optimisations to speedrun the first Tomb Raider game. How do you go about testing and discovering these? Do you have a favourite optimisation that you have found?

Unfortunately, some of the glitches are ridiculously precise and can only be performed in tool-assisted speedruns (TAS) or by using setups, where fixed moves are performed, usually slowly and carefully, to achieve a consistent outcome. A setup can vary a lot in complexity, but there is a three-way trade-off between complexity, speed, and difficulty of execution. Some of the setups I have found were a fairly long process – the process itself could easily fill another blog post! But it always starts with trial and error, and always record everything(!) – just in case you find something by accident.

The QWOP strat at the start of the ‘City of Vilcabamba’ level is one of the biggest single improvements for the Any% speedrun in the last few years, so that’s definitely one of the best strats I’ve implemented.

I always remind myself that every little thing adds up, and some of the smallest optimisations I’ve found are also some of my favourites, such as a smooth sequence of jumps over the pillars at the end of the final level, ‘The Great Pyramid’, which only saves a couple of seconds (for glitchless speedruns) but is so satisfying to see.

City of Vilcabamba’ QWOP glitch in Tomb Raider. Courtesy of Tom_Bow_.

‘Pillar sequence in ‘The Great Pyramid’ in Tomb Raider. Courtesy of Tom_Bow_.

Q: Do you have any advice for people who want to learn how to speedrun the original games?

If you think you can manage some level stress and disappointment (which comes with the challenge), and you have enough motivation, then the next hardest thing about speedrunning Tomb Raider is just remembering how to do everything that you’ve learned. Patience is essential. It took me quite a while to learn a whole run to the point where I wasn’t forgetting what sequence was coming next, but it got a lot easier after this point.

Q: What do you generally think of the remastered games (movement mechanics, graphics, model, etc.)? Have you enjoyed playing them? Are there any issues you’d like to be fixed in later patches?

I’ve enjoyed playing the remasters so much. They did a great job on the treatment of the graphics. It keeps so much detail from the original games whilst enhancing it all with up-to-date FPS [frames per second], clever lighting and sound design. Aspyr/Saber have used all the original code from Core Design, which made it especially interesting to discover the games as a speedrunner – so many of the glitches from the original games still work in the remasters, something I don’t think many in the speedrunning community would have predicted. There were a few annoying issues with the initial release but these have mostly been fixed by a recent update.[ix]

Q: What are the key differences between the original game and the remastered game in terms of glitches? Are there some that are now redundant, have you found any new ones? Will you attempt to develop a speedrun for this version?

Because most of the glitches from the original games are pretty much the same, it means I didn’t actually have to learn that much new stuff to speedrun the remaster of TR1. So that was a huge bonus for me and I am currently speedrunning the Any% category. It just looks so much better than the original game and runs so smoothly, so it’s just a great experience for me overall. One big difference with the mechanics is the running jumps for TR1, which were made to be the same as in TR2 and TR3. This change meant that almost all the setups for precise glitches from the original game would not work in the remaster. However, the glitches themselves mostly still work, so new setups can be (and have been) found for glitched speedruns.

In terms of glitches that no longer work, there are some significant ones such as a skip for the gold key in Tomb of Tihocan and a door skip in Natla’s Mines, where a slower route has to been taken now, at least until a different way to glitch may be discovered.

There are a number of glitches that have already been discovered in the remasters. However, a lot of them are in TR3 only, and the ones that are new for TR1 are not currently useful for speedrunning. Actually, in any video game it is often the case with newly discovered glitches that a glitch may be really interesting in itself but it quickly turns out to be completely useless for speedruns.

‘Tomb of Tihocan’ “Skyfish” glitch in Tomb Raider.

‘Natla’s Mines’ door skip glitch in Tomb Raider.

Q: Remaster or remake: do you have any thoughts on the changes/additions made to the graphics/level design and how they’ve been updated?

It’s a very faithful remaster and TR1 especially benefits so much from updated textures, models and the whole graphics package. The level designs are unchanged from the original game, and they really didn’t need to be changed. Among things I especially like – the walls in the ‘Atlantis’ levels when you’re inside the pyramid are very creepy now, perhaps a little too real-looking with the beating hearts and pulsing brains, but it really feels like you’re inside a living, growing thing.

The improved models for all the enemies are excellent, and the enemies’ movements are smoothed out a lot compared to the original game. I don’t really have anything negative to say about the graphics or the level design.

Q: What do you think of the addition of modern controls? Will this make much difference to speedrunning this version of the game?

Modern controls are a fantastic addition, and there has already been an uptake in the use of the modern controls by some of the top speedrunners. It will make a difference to speedrunning in all the games, especially glitchless speedrunning, where the movement advantages really pay off. I’m looking forward to getting into speedrunning using them, just haven’t the time yet to get used to them – it really is totally different to playing with tank controls so will certainly take me time to adapt.

Q: Out of the three remastered games, do you have a ranking in terms of favourite/best?

Sadly, I haven’t had time to explore TR3 or The Lost Artefact, yet. I am biased of course because of my attachment to speedrunning TR1, but I think TR1 and its expansion pack, Tomb Raider: Unfinished Business (1997) [TRUB], were improved the most by the remasters. The more varied levels of TR2 are no less lovingly treated, and the atmosphere, often down to the improved lighting, is much more immersive in levels like ‘The Great Wall’, ‘Barkhang Monastery’ and ‘Temple of Xian’.

Q: What’s the next project/speedrun challenge for you?

I have no idea! I will see how long the remasters keep me occupied – probably at least till the end of 2024.

Tom_Bow_’s favourite achievement in Tomb Raider running:

Tomb Raider: Unfinished Business (1998) Any% glitched speedrun


With huge thanks to Rizza and Tom_Bow_ for their time!


Notes

[i] Running’ the game refers to using player-defined goals and rules as opposed to ‘playing’ the game normally. Examples include completing levels as fast as possible (speedrunning), but can also include ‘running’ a game whilst using no health packs or saves (challenge running).

[ii] Rizza’s interview took place online via Zoom on 26 February 2024. Transcribed by author. Rizza answered some follow-up questions via Discord (12 April 2024).

[iii] An ‘All Secrets’ playthrough of Tomb Raider means you collect items in spaces that are typically not visited in the general gameplay route, encouraging exploration, and you either collect extra items, as in TR1 or TR3, or in TR2, players collect a stone, jade and gold dragon item to receive the extra goodies.

[iv] ‘Classic’ refers to the Tomb Raider games developed by Core Design and published between 1996 and 2003 before development was taken over by Crystal Dynamics.

[v] Originally, crystals were only available in the PlayStation version of Tomb Raider.

[vi] Tom_Bow_’s interview took place in writing with question-and-answer documents shared via Discord messages (22 March 2024).

[vii] TLREs refer to levels and games made by fans using the Tomb Raider Level Editor that was released with Tomb Raider: Chronicles.

[viii] You can view Eycore’s documentary on the Tomb Raider QWOP glitch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4sIgvVK1os (accessed 22 March 2024).

[ix] The remastered game was released on 14 February 2024 (to tie-in with Lara Croft’s fictional birthday), with a later patch added on 19 March 2024, and again on 11 April 2024. All screenshots used in this blog post are from the 11 April patch.


Llewella Chapman is a visiting scholar based at the University of East Anglia, UK. Her research interests include film and video game history, gender and costume. Her first monograph, Fashioning James Bond: Costume, Gender and Identity in the World of 007 was published by Bloomsbury in 2022. She has also published an article on the work of Vicky Arnold (script writer) and Heather Gibson (level designer) for the early Tomb Raider franchise in the journal Feminist Media Studies (2023), DOI: 10.1080/14680777.2023.2217346.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

Review, Tomb Raider I: Tomb Raider I – III Remastered, 2024, Aspyr/Crystal Dynamics/Saber Games, RRP: £24.99 (Steam/PC version)

Llewella Chapman (University of East Anglia, UK)

17 February 2024


‘Made by the fans, for the fans’ very much sums up this lovingly-crafted and faithful remaster of the first three games and their accompanying expansion packs of the Tomb Raider franchise, originally developed by Core Design and published by Eidos Interactive between 1996 and 1998.

Fans of these games have been calling for them to be remastered for many years. Following the publishing takeover of the franchise by Embracer in 2022 and the commission that shortly followed, Aspyr employed fans experienced in creating their own Tomb Raider engines, renders, mods and artworks in order to achieve this, including Timur ‘XProger’ Gagiev, Yousef ‘Troye’ Shaqqouri, Michael Chaban (Arsunt), Giovanni Lucca, Konrad Majewski, Monika Erosova (Raina Audron), Ian Turner, Axel Hatté (Delca) and Jason Chester, as well as others.[1] As XProger tweeted on the day of the remaster’s release, aptly on Lara Croft’s fictional birthday:

I am grateful for the heads of @SaberGames for trusting me to lead the project and assemble a dream team of true fans … From the beginning, we had complete freedom and set ourselves an impossible goal, which could only be approached by a small ‘Development Team’ of crazy people, ready to work 24/7 [over the] next year with an absolute vision of what and for whom we [were] doing. Thanks to all the original developers and community, we eagerly read ALL your comments, interviews, reviews and reactions. The responsibility to all of you was higher than the fear of deadlines and the insane amount of work.

(Twitter, 14 February 2024, 10.20pm, https://twitter.com/XProger_san/status/1757892574092636206)

 

Besides XProger’s tweet thread acknowledging fan involvement in the remastered games, the admission of working ‘24/7’ and the ‘insane’ amount of work over the period of a year echoes the pressures of the small development team who originally worked on Tomb Raider (1996). This included crunch and tight deadlines, leading to the high levels of exhaustion that some of the original team experienced, which have often been overlooked when discussing and celebrating the ingenuity of what made this game, and its subsequent sequels, remake and now a remaster, special and appreciated by many.

It is with this understanding that I review the remaster of Tomb Raider. This will be followed by further reviews of Tomb Raider II (originally released in 1997) and Tomb Raider III (originally released in 1998). In some ways, it is difficult to review the first game, owing to my familiarity with it and its ‘tank controls’, although this has also helped me to make a comparison between how the original was/is played, versus what is offered by its remastered version.

‘Take a look at this, Lara’: The design

The remastered Lara model is certainly a beauty; it is clear that this is one of the elements that has received a lot of time and investment, and it shows. Lara (designed for the original game by Toby Gard) now retains the same model in all three remastered games (Figure 1). The model, designed by Konrad Majewski, was inspired by the three games FMVs, and in the first game Lara now also wears her hair in the bubble braid style. The hair extension doesn’t always work; at points it flicks over her backpack in an awkward way, at other times, it thins out and sometimes passes through her body, which was one of the reasons the original development team removed the unruly braid from Tomb Raider in the first place. But, nonetheless, the model has been beautifully rendered, and no longer does Lara need to source her bras from Jean Paul Gaultier.

Figure 1

On reviewing the original game’s levels in 1996, Charlie Brooker praised ‘now, thanks to Core Design, it’s possible to be an explorer without leaving your seat … Tomb Raider’s environment is utterly believable. Architecturally, it’s often stunning … some of the architecture is prettier than Lara herself’ (emphasis in original, PC Zone, December 1996: 75, 78). Many of these textures and environments have been respectfully and creatively upscaled, in keeping with the look and feel of playing the originals, with a few, rather lovely, environment additions. For example, in ‘The Cistern’, there are now puddles of reflective water on floor tiles, as well as dripping water that falls from the ceiling. When you kill Egyptian mummies and Atlantean enemies in the later levels of the game, they not only explode beside Lara, but also form a cloud of blood around her (Figure 2), enhancing the experience of being in the environment as a whole – something that the original version achieved so admirably in 1996, and has been wonderfully captured and updated in the remastered version.

Figure 2

Admittedly, I believe that some of the upgraded (and AI-upscaled) textures do not quite work, particularly in the ‘Atlantis’ and ‘Great Pyramid’ levels. In the original Tomb Raider, the textures, attributed to Heather Gibson, and atmosphere and design, attributed to Neal Boyd, always reminded me somewhat of Alien (1979) – very much a return to the womb – and the ‘body horror’ genre of films such as The Fly (1986). Whereas the textures for these levels as they appear in the remaster are somewhat cartoonish in their renders (Figure 3), removing the feeling of pulsating claustrophobia and fascinating grossness, which the originals levels captured so well in 1996. The FMVs, too, are probably the least restored of the remasters, likely owing lack of original sources, budget and time constraints, and merely offer AI-upscaled versions as there was little that could be done with the low-resolution originals.

Figure 3

A more troublesome issue is that owing to the upscaled textures and change to lighting (many areas appear darker than in the original), this means that the items to be collected – keys, medipacks, ammunition, etc. – are sometimes difficult, and at points near impossible, to spot, which will likely cause frustration to new players unfamiliar with Tomb Raider.

However, there are some wonderful upscaled textures, artistic renders and lighting to be admired when playing through the training and game levels. Who knew Lara owned such a prestigious collection of artworks in her manor (to the point where she owns four – presumably original and subsequent copies – of Girl with the Pearl Earring, Johannes Vermeer, 1665)? It’s an art historian’s dream. I also enjoyed travelling through Greece, where much was to be appreciated regarding the male form (Figure 4), including a humourous placement of key slot and tile (Figure 5), and some beautiful, evocative lighting (Figures 6 and 7).

Figure 4

Figure 5

Figure 6

Figure 7

‘A kind of evolution on steroids’: Camera movement

An apocryphal story, once read and never, unfortunately, forgotten, is that there was once a fan-created ‘guide’ to advise players where best to view Lara’s posterior captured by different camera angles. Not any more in these remasters (unless you toggle the key to flit between the original and remastered graphics)! The removal of the ‘bottom line’ means that no longer does the camera at times caress Lara’s backside, but rather, directs us to admire other elements instead. The difference in camera position and angles, however, does mean that this changes how the game is played in some ways. At times, I found the camera position a little irritating, and needed to switch to the original graphics, but ultimately it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the gameplay. Although for new players, I suspect the camera may cause frustration at points, especially when combined with the unfamiliar control system.

‘No!’: Attempting to control Lara

As part of the remaster, players can now switch between ‘tank’ (original) and ‘modern’ (remastered) controls whenever they so choose. The new controls are based on those implemented by Crystal Dynamics for Tomb Raider: Legend (2006), Anniversary (2007) and Underworld (2008).[2] So how ‘modern’ these controls actually are by 2024 standards remains to be seen.

For those unfamiliar with the mechanics of the original games, the way Tomb Raider was programmed by Paul Douglas and Gavin Rummery led to a grid system that players navigated with tank controls to make, sometimes often precise, movements to explore the 3D level terrains. As most other reviewers of the remasters have found, these controls not only offer a factor of nostalgia for those who played the originals, but you are also left wondering how new players will react to this control system.

In terms of the ‘modern’ controls, they are generally fine when using it for combat situations or exploring open areas, however not so much when you need to make that precise jump and grab to reach a ledge there, or that flip backwards when landing on an exact spot to reach a secret area here. Basically, the modern controls have difficulty connecting to the very grid system the original game was built upon, and I found that at points the camera angles offered when using ‘modern’ rather than ‘tank’ controls were problematic. This is not helped by the inability to perform certain moves in order to achieve certain feats, such as ‘side’ and ‘back step’ being unavailable, and that ‘side’ and ‘back’ flips only work when guns are drawn. I believe that either control system is where it will make or break playing the game for newcomers to these games in particular.

‘Say Cheese!’: The additions

Additions to the remaster, besides being able to choose between original and remastered graphics as well as control systems, include a ‘photo mode’, now a mainstream inclusion among newly-released games. I attempted to use the photo mode for the purposes of this review, which led to Figure 8, but other than for my own gratuitous fun, it didn’t really do anything to enhance my overall experience of the game. Photo mode is more likely to be enjoyed by players wishing to share their ‘favourite’ or ‘comical’ captures on social media, and as is common in gaming nowadays, to assist in the marketing of the game.

Figure 8

Achievements and trophies to be collected have also been added, as with other remastered games, and the inclusion of these is a requirement of Sony and Xbox. Again, this feature isn’t really aimed at gamers such as myself: back in 1996 it was an ‘achievement’ in itself to finish the game without the need to receive a notification for completing it. But I think that they nicely capture the inherent wit and humour afforded in the original games, such as ‘Like Dorothy’, which is a cheeky reference to the inspiration of The Wizard of Oz (1939) behind the level cheat codes used in the original games. Although these features don’t appeal to me personally, I understand that for some fans and new players to these games that these will enhance their gameplaying experience.

Summary

From the outset, it is clear that despite time constraints, the sheer amount of work needed to realise the remaster project as a whole, and possibly, I suspect, budgetary ones too, Tomb Raider I (as it has been classified so as to differentiate itself within the group of games offered in the remaster) is a labour of love for those involved in its development. While I believe that it is Tomb Raider fans and game historians who will get the most pleasure out of this game/project as a whole, owing to their desire to play these games, whereas the control systems/camera angles may be off-putting for new players, I think that the remaster of the first game is an admirable achievement. For all three games, and their expansion packs, to be so lovingly restored and available on a variety of consoles, at an extraordinarily reasonable price too, is to be celebrated. Vivat Lara! I don’t think we’ve ever seen enough…

A copy of Tomb Raider I-III Remastered was provided for review by Crystal Dynamics/Aspyr.


Notes

[1] With huge thanks to Alex, webmaster of core-design.com, for helping me to identify some of the fans involved in the remasters of Tomb Raider.

[2] As confirmed by Aspyr (8 February 2024): https://support.aspyr.com/hc/en-us/articles/23948827137549-Modern-Controls-Overview-Tomb-Raider-I-III-Remastered


Llewella Chapman is a visiting scholar based at the University of East Anglia, UK. Her research interests include film and video game history, gender and costume. Her first monograph, Fashioning James Bond: Costume, Gender and Identity in the World of 007 was published by Bloomsbury in 2022. She has also published an article on the work of Vicky Arnold (script writer) and Heather Gibson (level designer) for the early Tomb Raider franchise in the journal Feminist Media Studies (2023), DOI: 10.1080/14680777.2023.2217346.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

IAMHIST Challenge event: Moving Images, Institutional Bodies

Date: 5 November 2021

Time: 11:30am – 5:30pm (GMT)

Price: £4 (including booking fee) / free for members and concessions, and IAMHIST members

Venue: Cinema 1, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (this will be an in-person event)

Registration Link:  https://www.ica.art/films/symposium-moving-images-institutional-bodies

(IAMHIST members can attend this event for free: to register, please email ankorporaal@gmail.com)

This event is curated and moderated by Astrid Korporaal, PhD candidate at Kingston University and Lecturer at the University of Groningen.


This event explores the creative and ethical use of moving image, film and photography as a medium for engaging with contested institutional collections, archives and histories. Specifically, institutions connected to the incarceration, exploitation and separation of bodies and objects from specific social, geographical, and cultural contexts. The symposium aims to bring the history of representational image-making and mass media at the service of colonial, carceral and imperialist archives and collections, into dialogue with the potential capacity of image-makers to disrupt these institutional lineages. It aims to explore how documentary media have been used to shape the collective definitions and accepted values of authenticity, truth, belonging, criminality and ownership in public and private spaces

While research has been done into the history of audio-visual media used as techniques for categorising, classifying, documenting and surveilling colonial and incarcerated subjects, this event aims to develop a further perspective. It brings together academics, artists, curators and historians, to explore what Ariella Azoulay calls ‘potential history’ in promoting the creative, critical and decolonial repositioning of archives, institutions and creative practices.

The artists and researchers presenting in this event expand our notions of what it means to give and receive access to restricted spaces. How do the images we are able to circulate run parallel the movements that bodies can make across borders? And might creative interventions with the technologies that give us access to images, influence the histories of bodies that we are able to tell?

Schedule:

11:30: Introductions + screening (tbc)

12:00: Panel 1: Institutional Archives, Research Companions and Unruly Histories

12:15: Erika Tan on her film works engaging with colonial museums in ‘Malaya’ and the connection between historical and technological dislocations of objects and entering into a dialogue with the forgotten history of a Malayan weaver, Halimah Binti Abdullah, who was brought to the British Empire exhibition in Wembley in 1924.

12:45: Nikolaus Perneczsky in conversation with Didi Cheeka on moving image restitution histories and archives, with a screening of Cheeka’s film Memory Also Die (2020) which focuses on memory as political taboo, fifty years after the collective trauma responsible for the death of memory in Nigeria: Biafra.

13:15: Panel discussion

13:45: Lunch break

14:45: Panel 2: Institutional Inversions and Reclamations

15:00: Screening of Adam Khalil, Zack Khalil and Jackson Polys’ video works, The Violence of a Civilization Without Secrets (2019) and Culture Capture: Terminal Adddition (2017, with Bayley Sweitzer) which critique institutional archives, collection and the excavation of indigenous cultural heritage for outsiders’ consumption.

15:30: Judy Price on her research on Holloway Woman’s Prison and her film installation The Good Enough Mother (2020), which features a sculpture of a baby from the Dorich House Museum acquired for the first Mother and Baby Unit at HMP Holloway in 1948 and explores the subject of incarcerated pregnancy.

16:00 Khadija Carroll on her artistic work and collaborative research with the Immigration Detention Archive and the Pitt Rivers Museum.

16:30 Rhea Storr on her work and research into the heritage and bodily resistance of Junkanoo, Bahamian carnival, with a screening of her work Here is the Imagination of the Black Radical (2020)

17:00 Panel discussion


 Speakers include: 

Erika Tan is an artist, curator and researcher whose work focuses on the postcolonial, transnational and decolonial – working with archival artefacts, exhibition histories, received narratives, contested heritage, subjugated voices and the transnational movement of ideas, people and objects. Tan is currently The Stanley Picker Fine Art Fellow. Her work has been exhibited & collected internationally. Current projects include: Art Histories of a Forever War—Modernism Between Space and Home, Taipei Fine Art Museum; ESOK, Jakarta Biennial, Indonesia; Frequencies of Tradition, Incheon Art Platform, Korea; In/reproduction: The 4th Global Overseas Chinese Artists Exhibition, He Xiangning Art Museum, Shenzhen China; Barang-Barang, Stanley Picker Fellowship exhibition, Kingston School of Art; “Asian Heads” Dorich House Museum, London.

Didi Cheeka is co-founder and curator of Lagos Film Society – an alternative cinema center dedicated to the founding of Nigeria’s first arthouse cinema. He is the artistic director of Decasia – Berlin-Lagos Archive Film Festival. Didi is currently researching and digitizing Nigeria’s rediscovered audiovisual archives.

Nikolaus Perneczky is a writer and curator based in London. His postdoctoral research project—a critical inquiry into the politics and ethics of global film heritage—considers the archive(s) of World Cinema in relation to colonial legacies of epistemic violence and unequal exchange. Along with curator and archivist June Givanni, Nikolaus is currently working on a podcast series on Africa’s moving image heritage and the question of restitution.

Adam Khalil and Zack Khalil (Ojibway) are filmmakers and artists from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and currently based in Brooklyn, New York. Their work subverts traditional forms of ethnography through humor, transgression, and innovative documentary practice. Their films and installations have been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, Walker Arts Center, e-flux, UnionDocs, and Microscope Gallery.

Jackson Polys is an artist who lives and works between what is currently called Alaska and New York.  His work reflects examinations into the limits and viability of desires for indigenous growth. He began carving with his father, Tlingit artist Nathan Jackson, in high school, has worked as an artist based in Alaska as Stron Softi, with solo exhibitions at the Alaska State Museum and the Anchorage Museum, and holds an MFA in Visual Arts from Columbia University’s School of the Arts (2015).

Judy Rabinowitz Price is interested in how art can produce different ways of thinking about contested sites and engage with collective struggles. Her research-led practice includes photography, moving image and sound, composed as single-screen works and multiscreen installations.  Price often draws on images and sounds from archival sources as well as the sustained study of a place or space through networks, collaborations and activism. Palestine was an enduring focus of her work from 2008-2017 with two bodies of work Within This Narrow Strip of Land (2008) and Quarries of Wandering Form (2017).Her most recent work explores how women are affected by the criminal justice system in the UK through the prism of HMS Holloway that was decommissioned in 2016.  The End of a Sentence 2020 draws on individual and collective stories of prison to make visible issues around gender, class, race and economy as well as reflecting on Holloway’s legacy spatially and ideologically as a site of remembrance and absence.

Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll is an Austrian-Australian artist and historian based in Vienna. She is the Chair of Global Art at the University of Birmingham, Professor of History at the Central European University. Her films and installations have been shown internationally including at the Venice, Marrakech, and Sharjah Biennales, ZKM, Manifesta, Taxispalais, Extracity, HKW, Royal Museums Greenwich, Savvy, LUX, Chisenhale, SPACE, Project Art Centre Gallery Dublin, St Kilda, Melbourne, and the Casablanca Film Festival. She is the author of the books Art in the Time of Colony (2014); The Importance of Being Anachronistic: Contemporary Aboriginal Art and Museum Reparations (2016), Botanical Drift: Protagonists of the Invasive Herbarium (2017); Mit Fremden Federn: El Penacho und die Frage der Restitution (2021); The Contested Crown: Repatriation Politics between Mexico and Europe (2022). She is the co-author of Bordered Lives: Immigration Detention Archive (2020) and co-editor of Third Text journal.  www.kdja.org

Rhea Storr is an artist filmmaker who makes work about the representation of Black and mixed-race cultures. Masquerade as a site of protest or subversion is an ongoing theme in her work in addition to the effect of environment on cultural production. She is a co-director of not nowhere an artists’ film co-operative and resident at Somerset House, London. Storr is the winner of the Aesthetica Art Prize 2020 and the inaugural Louis Le Prince Experimental Film Prize. Recent screenings/exhibitions include New York Film Festival, London Film Festival, European Media Art Festival, Hamburg Short Film Festival, Artist Film International (Whitechapel Gallery) and National Museum of African American History and Culture.


This is event is support by the International Association for Media and Art History’s IAMHIST Challenge, and the Make Film History project. Make Film History is funded by UKRI-AHRC and the Irish Research Council under the ‘UK-Ireland Collaboration in the Digital Humanities Networking Call’ (grant numbers AH/V002066/1 and IRC/V002066/1).

Rhea Storr, Here is the Imagination of the Black Radical (Still), 2020

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