Tomb Raider: Legend
After playing the original Tomb Raider on PC and its sequel on Playstation I never really returned to the series. While this means that I was mercifully spared “The Angel of Darkness” it also meant that I had no idea what to expect from “Legend.” With Crystal Dynamics at the helm after Core Design was booted from their own series anything was possible.
The game opens with a flashback of a nine year old Lara surviving a plane crash along with her mother. After a series of events in a nearby Himalayan temple leads to her mother’s disappearance and presumed death, Lara is haunted by the incident, believing it to be her fault. When a new artifact is uncovered which seems to be tied to the events of her childhood, Lara sets off in hot pursuit across the globe. Lara’s latest adventure takes her to locations such as Bolivia, Peru, Japan, Africa and even Kazakhstan. There are some rivals who employ mercenaries to try and thwart her, but for the most part it is Lara by herself exploring exotic locations as it should be.
Unfortunately the sense of loneliness and desolation you would expect to find in ancient tombs is spoiled somewhat by Zip and Alistair. These two are research assistants to Lara and tend to babble at her via her headset. They stop just short of being a complete pain in the rear, but I did wish a few times that there was some way to shut them up. Hearing stuff like “Watch out!” as the floor around Lara starts crumbling is hardly useful or entertaining. Apart from her stay at home sidekicks Lara has a few more new tricks up her sleeve. First up is the rather grandiose sounding “Personal Light Source” which is basically just a wonky torch that switches off all the time to recharge. Next up is the binoculars with “Remote Analysis Device” which shows you if an item can be interacted with. It sounds useful, but is rather redundant as most things are very obvious. It also invokes comments like “Aah now that’s cool” from your headset honchos no matter what you point it at which is annoying. Thankfully the “Magnetic Grapple” is a piece of equipment that is genuinely useful. Lara can use it to swing across gaps or pull distant objects closer, but it can only be used on clearly designed surfaces. The game is quite fond of this gadget so expect to use it a lot.
As I’ve mentioned it’s been years since I last played a Tomb Raider game but Legend definitely felt much easier than what I remember of past titles. Levels are very linear and liberally sprinkled with checkpoints so if you die you never have to repeat too much. You’ll definitely don’t want to die however, as loading times are fairly lengthy and you have to suffer through one with each reload. The game is not very long and most players will have seen all it has to offer in less than ten hours if not eight. As short as the game is there is still padding in the form of motorbike sections which drag on a bit and feel out of place compared to the rest of the game. There game is also quite fond of throwing Quick Time Events at you where you have to press the buttons flashing on the screen to prevent instant death. For replay value you can attempt any completed levels in the “Time Trial” mode where you have a limited amount of time to finish the stage. Hidden gold, silver and bronze rewards are also scattered about the levels for completionists and those who want to unlock extra goodies like concept art and character profiles. Finally there is Croft Mansion, which can be explored at any time after completing the first level. All in all it’s a decent amount of content, although those looking for a multi-player fix are out of luck.
Gameplay wise there is a good balance between exploring and combat. You are able to lock-on to enemies, so gun battles are fairly easy provided you stay on the move. Enemies are a rather boring and predictable bunch, consisting of the usual assortment of villainous henchmen. Wildlife is however not exempt from Lara’s wrath either. Our fearless tomb raider can pick up guns dropped by enemies and even use grenades against them but is no slouch in the melee department. Sliding into enemies or vaulting over them while firing is fun, but the strength of the game is definitely not the combat. Lara can carry up to three health packs, but I rarely needed to use these apart from during boss fights. These showdowns are not too hard, but usually require some sort of tactic instead of just straightforward blasting.
While the visuals in the game are not too shabby it’s definitely not the best that the Xbox360 is capable of producing. The game is clearly just a port from the previous generation of consoles with some added visual gloss. This means that even with the better lighting and resolution the game sometimes looks a bit dated. This isn’t to say that there are not any impressive set pieces, swan diving off a cliff next to a huge waterfall in Ghana for example, just that it could have been so much better. At least all the animations for the lead character is very smooth which is more than I can say about the frame rate I’m afraid. While it was never bad enough to seriously impact the gameplay, it was very noticeable on several occasions.
The thing that I recall most vividly about the original titles was how fiddly the controls were. Thankfully, Tomb Raider Legend features a very agile and responsive Lara. I had no trouble maneuvering her around the trap filled tombs, although she did plunge to her death a few times due to some awkward camera angles. The controls for the motorbike sections were not that great, but at least there were not many of these interludes .The voice acting is good and Keeley Hawes does a great job lending her vocals to Lara. It is clear that a bit of work went into the soundtrack as well as there are some very nice tunes that is perfectly suited for the locations.
Eidos definitely made the right choice by putting Crystal Dynamics in charge of this project. Another bad title after The Angel of Darkness would probably have been the final nail in the coffin for this franchise. While Legend is not perfect it is definitely a step in the right direction for the franchise. It could have benefited from a slight longer campaign and probably a few more taxing puzzles, but it at least shifted the focus back to what Lara does best, raiding tombs. It doesn’t matter if you are a longtime fan of the series or a newcomer; this is a great place to become reacquainted with Ms. Croft.
*Review originally published in 2006.