Platform GameCube
Playstation 2
Xbox 360
Release Date NA: April 7, 2006
JP: April 11, 2006
Developer Crystal Dynamics
Publisher Eidos Interactive
ESRB T - Blood, Language, Violence, Suggestive Themes

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.

Distinguishing Features:
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 kinetically-charged flashlight.

Most 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.

Level 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.

The 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 bad.

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.

Final Verdict:
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.

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