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.

How To Get Published In An Academic Journal

Emma Grylls, Taylor & Francis

10 August 2017

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Submitting to an academic journal can be daunting if you have not done it before – or even if you have!

There are of course many other outlets for your work, including blogs, debates, conference panels and social media. But a journal with a good reputation is a recognized vehicle for research and will have a network of scholars around it (and you can still make use of other outlets if you choose this option).

This blog will focus on how to publish a journal article, and things to consider along the way…

1. Think about why you are doing it

Publishing a journal article can be a lot of work, so it’s a good idea to think first about why you are doing it. So why publish? Well, it enables you to stake your claim to your ideas and the importance of your work. This could be important for your future career. It’s also a way to join a conversation with other scholars in your field and to give others across the globe a chance to encounter your ideas.

2. Consider what you have to say

Think about your ideas and what you want to focus on. Do you have something new and original to say? Is it potentially useful? If the answer to one or both of these is yes, then it’s likely to be of interest to other scholars! If, on the other hand, you are already yawning as you set pen to paper, please rethink: remember, you could be working on this for quite some time, and you will have a hard time getting others engaged in your ideas if you are already boring yourself stiff as you write…

3. Choose the right journal

I’d recommend choosing your journal in the early stages. Check its reputation with your peers and your supervisor or mentor. Speak to people who have published in the journal – what has their experience been? Check that it has a robust peer review policy, too, as this is a key indicator of quality.

If in doubt, you can use Think. Check. Submit., a set of tools to help you check that you are submitting your article to a respected journal from a reputable publisher.

Overall, ask yourself: is this journal a good fit for your research, and will it help you reach your target audience?

4. Do your homework

Now it’s time to read some back issues, to familiarize yourself with the scope of the journal as well as points of style. This is in no way to dilute your own individual voice and perspective, but simply to ensure that your paper will be ‘in scope’ and to save yourself time re-formatting it further down the line.

All journals have an ‘aims & scope’ statement and an ‘instructions for authors’ or ‘instructions for contributors’ page. Do read these carefully to be sure you understand the remit of the journal and all the nitty gritty, such as word limits! For all Taylor & Francis journals, you can navigate to these pages from the journal homepage:

5. Keep the end goal in mind

Once you have chosen your journal and done your homework, it’s time to bring it back to the bigger picture again. What is your overall purpose for publishing? Who are you writing for? Keeping your audience in mind – whether that’s researchers, practitioners or the general public – will help you to stay focused and tailor your approach.

You may be reworking an existing piece of work, such as a blog post, a conference paper or a PhD chapter. Make sure you adapt your piece in terms of style, methodology and length as needed – don’t just copy and paste! A PhD chapter could be 15-20,000 words, whereas a typical journal article might be 8-10,000 words – that’s a lot of cutting down. If you are planning on adapting a chapter from your PhD thesis, be sure to check your institution’s guidelines first.

6. Check your author ethics

Always reference your own work (as well as anyone else’s work) if you have referred to it in your paper. The paper itself should not be a verbatim reproduction of something you have already published – it needs to be a piece of original writing.

Don’t send your paper to more than one journal at a time, as this could mean that several referees review the same paper needlessly, or it could even go through the publication process at two different publishers.

And, if you’re using any material owned by a third party, such as images or screengrabs, check whether you need to obtain written permission to use it, and if you do then get that done before you submit your paper. If in doubt, the journal editor and the publisher should be able to advise you.

Further guidance is available here: http://authorservices.taylorandfrancis.com/ethics-for-authors/

7. Understand peer review

Peer review is a collaborative process whereby authors can get constructive feedback from independent experts. The role of these experts – known as referees, reviewers or readers – is to check methodology, provide polite feedback and, ultimately, improve the quality of the published paper. As mentioned by James Chapman in his blog, “Publish or be Damned,” the process can take time so patience is key!

When you get the feedback on your paper, remember it is normal for revisions to be requested. Do allow some time to do further work on your paper at this stage. Try not to take feedback personally, but instead see it as an opportunity to learn and grow. If you do disagree with particular points then be sure to discuss it with the journal editor – but be specific and assertive (not defensive or aggressive!)

That being said, try to accept the suggested revisions where possible and to return your paper on time. Being gracious and professional will pay dividends in the long run.

8. Congratulations, you’re published!

Hopefully, your article will then be accepted and it will move into production, where you’ll proof your article and it will be typeset and copyedited and made ready for online and print publication.

After your article is published, you can promote it by posting a link to it on your departmental website or your accounts on social media and academic networking sites.

Taylor & Francis also offers 50 free eprints to every author, including co-authors (different publishers have different policies on this). More and more authors are posting links to this on social media or in their email signatures and this is a highly effective way of driving people to your article.

For more tips, visit: http://authorservices.taylorandfrancis.com/ensuring-your-research-makes-an-impact/

Go forth and publish!


Emma Grylls is the Managing Editor for the History journals at Routledge, Taylor & Francis. She has a Master’s in Comparative Literature from UCL and a Diploma in Translation (DipTrans) in French-to-English translation.


Please see the PDF below for Emma’s PowerPoint presentation on ‘Publishing in academic journals: Tips to help you succeed’, which she delivered during the ‘Publishing Workshop’ at the biennial IAMHIST Conference, ‘Media and History: Crime, Violence and Justice’, University of Paris 2, July 10-13 2017:

How to get published (Emma Grylls, Taylor & Francis)

 

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