Tomb Raider: Legend Review
I thought about starting this review with a study of what Tomb Raider steals from other movies and games, where the series has innovated, what games have ripped off Tomb Raider, and how the series has progressed in the last ten years. But let's face it; since about the second Tomb Raider game, the series has just plain sucked. With some key personnel back on board, the guys at Crystal Dynamics and Eidos have put together Tomb Raider Legend, a game that's much more true to what made the series actually attractive in the first place.
Of course Lara Croft is back as the well-endowed, yet athletic protagonist, and this time she's going to delve into a mystery that involves her parents, long lost friends, and plenty of ancient ruins to explore through. Even though Angelina Jolie did a pretty good job as Lara in the movies, the developers are striking out on their own yet again, making this Lara much like a more detailed version of the original from the first game (and this becomes more obvious once you play a level that's a flashback with the classic Lara outfit).
Unlike past Tomb Raider games, Legend goes back to its roots with a healthy does of exploration and puzzle-solving. You'll still use your dual pistols, complete with infinite ammo, to take out plenty of bad guys throughout the game, but another important thing to mention is that the killing of various forms of wildlife is pretty much gone. There will be a leopard or an attack dog to kill every once in a while, but mostly you're going to be fighting various commandos that also want whatever Lara's in those ruins to find.
Combat is much more stylish than in the earlier games, as Lara can still flip, dive, and roll while shooting, but now she's got even more acrobatic moves. Charge an enemy and slide at them, and you'll pop them up into the air, ragdoll-physics-style, and keep shooting them. Jump at an enemy and then jump again once your feet reach their face, and Lara will do a graceful, slow motion backflip off of the guy's head while shooting him simultaneously. We've seen this kind of stuff in games before, but the delivery here is very satisfying. And Lara isn't just limited to pistols; she can carry an extra weapon on her back, like an assault rifle, grenade launcher, or shotgun. These weapons have limited ammo, along with the very powerful grenades that she can carry.
Lara's got plenty of moves she can employ even when her guns are safely in their holsters. When it comes to acrobatic moves, the revival of the Prince of Persia series of games seemed to pick up where classic Tomb Raider left off (and even this series borrowed plenty of platforming elements from the original Prince of Persia games from the late 80s and early 90s), and now Tomb Raider Legend has picked it up again. Lara moves gracefully as she hops, climbs, flips, and shimmies around. The animations are great and the situations Lara gets into can get intense, as there are a few scripted sequence, complete with a "tap this button right now or Lara gets crushed or falls to her death" element, which will keep you on your toes. Some Tomb Raider purists might scoff at these part-Dragon's Lair, part-Shenmue moments, but I think it's a good way to make sure that players are paying attention to the action at all times, even if it's during a cutscene.
Mixed in with the platforming and action elements are some new sequences on a motorcycle, although the player will find quickly that while Lara can shoot from the bike, you really have to watch the path in front of you. Every bump against the wall or a rock costs you plenty of health, so watch the road! Well, in this case, watch the dirt path. These sequences are kind of fun but leave something to be desired, especially the very, very short motorcycle sequence in Tokyo.
When it comes to challenge, most of Tomb Raider Legend's difficulty comes from the puzzles that are laid out in many of the ruins. Combat is usually pretty easy since everyone but Lara is a terrible shot and most of your enemies stand still while you're flying around the room, and the controls are pretty sharp and easy to get used to. That leaves actually figuring out what to do when the game presents a puzzle, and the first major one will test your logic skills right from the start. Sure, Lara has some crazy binoculars that can "scan" items like what we saw in Metroid Prime (although the function of this is less for backstory and more for identifying things you need to use to solve the puzzle), but the game still doesn't tell you how to solve anything. You'll have to figure them out for yourself.
The addition of a grappling hook makes for some interesting gameplay in Legend. You'll need to use it to pull things towards you, smash open something important, actually pull yourself towards something else, or even swing from the ceiling like Indiana Jones on his whip. That last bit only happens in specific spots, though, so you can't just use it to go all Tarzan to escape an area.
The Xbox 360 version of the game of course has excellent graphics, but the frame rate can get iffy at certain times. While the developers seem to have tried to make sure that there aren't any major frame rate issues that pop up in mid-jump or during combat, it's a little disconcerting having the game slow down significantly just because you decided to swing the camera around a bit.
The locales you'll be visiting in Legend range from the Ghana rain forests to Bolivia, to Kazakhstan and Tokyo, and even Peru. The developers have done a great job mixing up the pacing, sending you back into ruins just before you get tired of shimmying around the edge on a Tokyo skyscraper (and vice versa). While Lara's adventure this time around is pretty short, the exploration elements, great visuals that the Xbox 360 can produce, and even the surprisingly interesting story all come together to make a pretty solid game anyway. Those who aren't big on finding hidden bonus items or replaying levels in a "time attack" mode might find that the price is too high to pay for six to eight hours of gameplay, but there's plenty here to satisfy both those who like to rent or buy their games.