Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Release Date: April 11, 2006
Here's some perspective: The original Tomb Raider game was released almost 10 years ago. Aside from the immediate sequel, each successive game in the series didn't manage to improve on the original formula. Like an old jalopy that you just keep throwing new parts on in the hope of fixing it, the game eventually broke down; the last iteration was nearly unplayable and most definitely unstable. Could a revision and return to the original form work for Tomb Raider: Legend? The answer is yes.
In Legend, Lara views a flashback of her mother in a plane crash. From that point on, the story is top-notch and quite possibly one of the most exciting aspects of the game, so I will not go too far into the details. However, let it be known that for the first time in the entire series, I was interested in what was going on with the story as Lara moved from location to location. On her quest, she is aided by her techie Zip and her researcher Alister, both of whom continually chatter as the game continues, allowing your relationship with the characters to grow with each snide remark.
Graphically, Legend is beautiful for a current-gen release. Each environment is incredibly open, with the sense of scale literally taking your breath away. At one point, Lara must climb the side of a building, which is not necessarily difficult to complete but incredible to see. Moving from ledge to ledge, Lara's gymnastics give way to death-defying heights as you scale your way to the top of the skyscraper. In Legend, we have one of the best-looking iterations of the Lara character, as she looks much more realistic than ever before. Background textures in the environment generally look great, with some blandness in certain areas. Even with the occasionally repetitive textures, this truly is a beautiful game.
Gameplay is relatively simple, with most of your time spent climbing and performing the tomb gymnastics that made Lara a star in the first place. Moving from area to area, the animations are smooth, with great response and feel as you traverse these dangerous exteriors. As Legend progresses, sequences occur that need accurate and timely button presses, with entertaining and spectacular results. This is particularly nice because although they are basically just cut scenes, it gives the player a small feeling of control over the situation.
In addition to all of Lara's normal physical moves, she also has several new items this go-round, such an ever-useful grappling hook. The hook plays a fairly large part in the title, pulling items around or just allowing Lara to swing across pits and traps, Indiana Jones-style. There is also a personal light which you rarely use and a pair of binoculars featuring a Remote Analysis Device (RAD), which shows you hot spots and important items. There are very few weapons in the game, which is not really a complaint, since there are very few gunfights.
Legend goes out of its way to allow you to easily explore the areas you would like to, without too many distractions, such as people shooting at you. However, when you do hear the bullets whizzing by, the aiming system is so simplistic that it takes all the enjoyment out of the game. Featuring an auto-locking system similar to Grand Theft Auto, Lara has Matrix-like moves with which to dodge enemy attacks. Although this isn't necessarily a problem, it leads to incredibly boring firefights where you almost never die or even get hit. If you go out of your way and manage to get hit, there are health packs everywhere to help you out. On top of that, the mechanics never change, so even some of the bosses can be beaten fairly easily. Throw in the fact that you fight nearly identical enemies on every level, with the occasional dog or leopard thrown in, and the boring combat system takes away from the enjoyment of the overall product.
Strangely, there are also some motorcycle levels in Legend, most likely to liven up the action. The problem is that the sometimes-loose combat controls are even worse here, the levels consist of the same repeated terrain, and the motorcycle rides drag on far too long. The only redeeming aspect is that these segments make you appreciate the regular gameplay that much more.
Puzzles in this game are fairly complex but never give you too much trouble. Although a few of the old Tomb Raider puzzles still exist (pushing boxes around onto triggers), most of the puzzles in Legend are much more advanced. Featuring many moving parts and various chains and pulleys, these seem more like variations of the old game mousetrap, where one small move might make everything go forward. This was one of the best parts of the game, as solving the puzzles filled me with a sense of achievement.
There are a few fairly minor issues with the game, though. I felt like I died too many times due to the game's sensitive controls and not through any fault of my own. For instance, when I would jump from ledge to ledge, Lara would sometimes not grab hold, forcing me to restart again and again. In case of death by controls, Legend helps you out by continually auto-saving your game. With these checkpoints, you can die repeatedly and still restart in a location close to where you were, which will prevent you from throwing down your controller in frustration. You can also manually save at any point in the game, but the price you pay is that it ends up feeling like a much simpler and shorter title because you are being given help that is sometimes unwarranted.
I managed to complete Legend in about seven hours, and I found that it offers very little in the way of replay value; you can replay timed versions of the levels and explore the Croft Manor, but that's about it. Completing the entire game with a 100-percent rating should take competent gamers no more than 14 hours, which is a shame, as Tomb Raider: Legend is really enjoyable for the short time you have with it. It's been a long time since I enjoyed playing a Tomb Raider game, and although there were some failings, they can be easily improved upon in the next rendition. Legend is definitely worth a look for everyone, from action/adventure gamers to people who want to see how a troubled franchise finally souped up its old jalopy.
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