I need a girl like Lara Croft. She's a no-nonsense kind of gal who has a knack for solving ancient mysteries and getting the goods. She's also great at killing dinosaurs, climbing up giant mountains, swimming and hand-to-hand combat, but I don't need any of those skills at the moment. I just need somebody who will search the ends of the earth looking for the answer to the ultimate mystery: Why this game is called The Tomb Raider Trilogy.
Going in I figured this had to be a collection of the first three Tomb Raider games, released between 1996 and 1998. But I was wrong. Instead this is a budget-priced compilation of Tomb Raider Legend (2006), Tomb Raider Anniversary (2007) and Tomb Raider Underworld (2008). All three of these games are exciting action games full of complex puzzles, high adventure and huge set pieces that like to explode. But how are these three games a trilogy?
Oh sure, all three of these games came out within a year of each other. All three of these games are using a variation on the same control scheme and even character models. And I suppose these are the three most recent Tomb Raider games. But it's hard to call something a trilogy when there are nine main series games (and a tenth on the way). And besides, Tomb Raider Anniversary is a remake of the first game, which makes calling this a trilogy even more confusing.
Even if the name doesn't make a whole lot of sense, The Tomb Raider Trilogy offers enough excellent content to keep your mind off of the matter for at least a few weeks. All three of these games make a strong argument for why people should care about Lara Croft's continuing adventures, though it's clear from this $40 compilation that there's still some room to grow.
In case you missed the Tomb Raider series, you play adventure-seeker Lara Croft. She's equal parts Indiana Jones and a pin-up model; kicking butt, solving centuries-old puzzles and, most importantly, looking good doing it. The formula hasn't changed much since the first game, though we certainly saw a nice evolution of the scope from one game to the next.
Up first is Tomb Raider Legend, the 2007 game that singlehandedly made Lara Croft relevant again. With a brand new engine, an ambitious story and a decade to work out the franchise's many kinks, Legend delivered. The diverse levels, exotic backdrops and fast-paced narrative made this the first must-own Tomb Raider game since the series inception. Now four years later the game doesn't feel nearly as fresh, but Lara's adventure is still worth experiencing.
The second game in the collection is Tomb Raider Anniversary, a remake of the original 1996 game. Anniversary uses the same graphics engine and gameplay as Legend to modernize the good, but woefully out of date adventure game. Traversing the huge caverns is a breeze in this remake, though I still found myself getting lost in the labyrinthine level designs. Although this remake was released in 2007 and hit the Xbox 360, this is Anniversary's first appearance on the PlayStation 3. The updated graphics look good, but the real star here is the effortless control.
The final game of this "trilogy" is Tomb Raider Underworld, a game that has already been released on the PlayStation 3. Unlike Legend and Anniversary, you won't find any graphical enhancements in Underworld.
No matter how you cut it, there's a lot of content in The Tomb Raider Trilogy. While the three games vary in length, it's going to take you a few dozen hours to see all three credit sequences. In that time our hero will search for the mysteries surrounding King Arthur's Sword in the Stone, the Holy Grail, Norse mythology and even dinosaurs. This series covers a lot of ground, and it's all available on this awfully convenient Blu-Ray disc.
Both Legend and Anniversary feature upgraded graphics, though the two games still look outdated by today's standards. The game boasts that they are "remastered in high definition," however they don't look much different from the Xbox 360 versions released a few years ago. The difference is night and day when comparing it to the PlayStation 2 games, which were shipped late in that console's life. Of the three, Underworld is understandably the most visually impressive.
On top of the (mostly) improved graphics, The Tomb Raider Trilogy also features an incredible amount of bonus content. The most interesting content involves the multiple making-of videos, which not only shows how these games were developed, but also help fill in the history of Lara Croft. My only complaint is that there's not more of it. I would love to see them go deeper into the Tomb Raider misfires and what they took from those experiences.
By refining the control mechanics, adding some much-needed variety and improving the graphics, Crystal Dynamics has a real winner on its hands. The upgraded graphics may not be enough for veterans of the series to buy these games a second time, but anybody looking for a lot of high-stakes adventure at a budget price should climb whatever mountain stands in the way of their local game store.