Tomb Raider: Legend (TR:L) is the latest installment in the Tomb
Raider series, and the eighth game to date, if you’re keeping track.
If you play video games and have not heard of Tomb Raider, you do not
actually play video games or are under the age of 12. It is a
last-ditch attempt by Eidos to revive their failing flagship
franchise, and it seems that handing off the development rights to
another company was definitely a step in the right direction.
Eidos decided to take the development rights from Core Design, the
company responsible for the first five(!) pieces of trash in the series,
and gave it to Crystal Dynamics (CD), also responsible for Legacy of
Kain, among other games.
The level design has been
overhauled, and everything looks a lot nicer, especially since the
levels no longer look like they were designed on graph paper. Lara has
also received a few fancy gadgets, like a magnetic grapple, a pair of
binoculars with a fancy new analysis mode, and a
gamers over or around the age of 20 have pretty fond memories of the
first two games. The large, intricate landscapes and undeniable sex
appeal of Lara Croft were very large selling points. Unfortunately,
Tomb Raider 3 began a long trend of, in the words of amib, “excuses to refine Lara’s character model at the expense of level
design and gameplay.” This would not be rectified until April of 2006,
when TR:L was released.
TR:L made sure to stick to the basics:
running around in the jungle, finding old bits of other civilizations
and taking them, and performing acrobatic stunts rivaled by either
Olympics gymnastics teams or the Cirque Du Soleil. Lara also
explores the depths of an Arthurian castle in London, and scales
the outside of several Japanese skyscrapers in Tokyo. Japan is one
of my personal favorites and shows off an obvious Hong Kong action
flick influence. The game has a much more pronounced movie feel
overall, due to the faster pacing of levels and combat and the somewhat
more exotic locales.
Lara lands in
Bolivia, after getting a call from one of her friends in the field
about a recent discovery of a large stone dais and altar similar to one
Lara’s father had discovered years ago. She lands and realizes that the
dais is a copy of the one her mother died at, several years ago in a
crash landing in Siberia. Unfortunately for Lara, someone else has
also begun investigating the ruins: a philanthropist named Rutland with
a private army and less-than-noble motivations. By his side is a woman
who looks a lot like one of Lara’s old collegues, who died in the
collapse of some ruins in Peru. The key to the operation of the dais is
a sword, shattered into pieces. Lara’s mother died pulling out the
sword, and the pieces have since been scattered across the globe.
As mentioned earlier, the game has a much more cinematic pacing and
feel. Some action-oriented cutscenes even add button presses, like the
ones found in Shenmue or Resident Evil 4. These are exactly like
you would expect, like dodging a falling pillar or grabbing a
falling relic from the wreck of an airplane. One thing I noticed while
playing is that most of the failed sequences are (intentionally?)
hilarious, especially the ones while on the train. Fortunately, CD was
nice enough to compile a movie of all the possible failures, which can
be viewed once you finish the game.
One of the buttons is
bound as a context button. It is used to do things like kick open
doors while carrying your gun or speed up your climb along a ledge or
up a rope, as well as the regular ole "use" button for doors and
switches. In addition, if you flub a jump by a little bit, Lara will
catch whatever she was pointed at by one hand, allowing you a "second
chance" to hit the context button and get a firmer hold on whatever
you landed on. It's very well executed, and is a boon to both newcomers
and experts; newcomers will enjoy the added safety net, and anyone
trying to finish a timed level will enjoy not having to reload because
they mistimed a jump by a foot or two.
CD has also added a few
special vehicle missions: Lara has to chase down or run from the bad
guys, and hops on her motorcycle to do it. These play out like pretty
much every other vehicle level you can imagine like this, and is
definitely one of the weaker portions of the game. They are
well-executed in spite of this, and do (admittedly) provide a nice
interlude to all the running and jumping around.
design is well-planned; most confusions in where to go were caused by
my insistence on searching every corner before proceeding to the next
room, as opposed to any generality on the designers’ part. The
puzzles are fairly clear, though most center around needing to get to a
difficult place or move fast enough to operate a switch.
music isn’t very notable, but as to whether that’s a good or bad
thing is left up to the reader. At least it isn’t both notable and
The only problem I had was with the length of the
game. It will only take seven or eight hours to complete, though this
again may also be a good thing for anyone who has other things to do
besides video games. All of the unlocks are attained through clearing
time trials of the levels or finding the treasures scattered through
all three difficulties of the levels. Difficulty, by the way, only
affects enemy strength and endurance.
I liked it a lot, though my tastes tend heavily toward games in this
genre. It is a good rental for a weekend, and definitely worth picking
up used as something to play during the week when you only have an hour
or two to play at a time. If you're a fan of the franchise and hoping
for something good to finally come out of the series, you are
definitely in luck.