STAFF REVIEW of Tomb Raider: Legend (Xbox 360)

Sunday, April 9, 2006.
by Adam Rivard

Tomb Raider: Legend Box art One of the most successful video game series of all time returns from the dead with Tomb Raider: Legend. This is the latest adventure starring modern day adventuress Lara Croft (Oh and by the way, Lara has recently been awarded a Guinness World Record for ?Most Successful Human Videogame Heroine?). Brains, Beauty and Smoking Guns; Tomb Raider has always been more about deliberately paced brain teasing adventure than run n gun action, and Tomb Raider Legend is definitely no exception, you'll have quite a fine time solving the game's many intricate puzzles. If I were to describe this game I would say (and I know this may sound a little weird) but if Prince of Persia we?re to get down a dirty and have a baby with Splinter Cell the baby?s name would be Tomb Raider Legend. It?s basically all the cool maneuvers from PoP but with guns, hence the splinter cell factor. Now it?s been about three years since the last installment, the dust has been left to settle and gamers are once again intrigued to see what the new creators have in store for all of us 360 owners. This time around, Lara has more personality and abilities, all blended with a darker and more in depth story than before, far more enthralling than the same old ?find this and discover that? gimmick from all the previous games. Eidos has worked hard on re creating Tomb Raider in the manner it was originally supposed to be handled: Lara Croft is a beautiful, athletic female Indiana Jones with the uncanny knack of surviving the most amazing potential catastrophes. Only, under the helm of Crystal Dynamics, Lara is growing out of the cardboard shell of the past with a deeper, more involving story incorporating a ghost from the past.

Right off the bat Tomb Raider: Legend feels drastically different to its predecessors (in a good way). Crystal Dynamics appear to have taken a simpler, more traditional approach to this 3rd person action-adventure. Yet they were not shy to add a handful of subtle innovations such as rhythmically tapping a button to climb and swing across ledges quicker and with more momentum. Camera control still has the customary loose feeling at present, often requiring a lot of effort to maintain a correct angle; however generally Tomb Raider: Legend looks likely to put the series back to where it belongs: Lara back to doing what she does best while letting gamers observe her every jiggle (Hey what can I say, these next gen graphics are VERY realistic). The opening section provides the chance to reacquaint yourself with the basics. Jumping across gaps now has Lara making a swaying motion and requires players to jump while she's swaying forward to achieve the safest jump. Conversely if you miss a jump slightly a button appears on screen (?Y?) that you have to tap and attempt to grab a more secure hold on near by ledges. Combat appears to be a little bit too basic, but fits the fluid nature of the game, leaping into areas and laying down the fire with dual handguns. It?s just what you want from Tomb Raider.

Not only has Lara learnt a handful of new tricks and techniques, but also has a new belt of gadgets that would make even Sam Fisher a little jealous. A magnetic grappling hook is the most significant addition, which enables Lara to interact with the environment and swing across huge canyon-like holes. A personal light provides illumination in the many dark situations Lara finds herself in, along with a waterproof PDA that provides essential mission info and inventory information.

Scattered across levels are environment sensitive actions that can be performed, such as pushing a group of boulders to create a landslide on unsuspecting victims below or making a pillar collapse to the ground. This is rather handy and provides a good sense of interaction with the environment. Tomb Raider: Legend continues the resurgence of the series, with the reappearance of classic traps. These range from swinging over a chasm full of spikes to pushing a crate between crushing wall, etc. If you're a fan of the series it's exactly what you're after from a Tomb Raider title but with sweet, sweet 360 graphics. You also can?t forget the thrill of accomplishing substantial amounts of thought provoking puzzles and the satisfying moments when their solutions become clear.

Now on to the stress test! On the default difficulty setting, I?ve played the first five levels and nothing really posed much of a challenge, though that's certainly not a criticism. The first two are basically just action packed tutorials which are pretty useful if your not a fan of the series. The most obvious explanation for the ease with which I was able to get through the first five levels is the large number of first aid kits that I found, combined with the fact that Lara is able to carry three of them simultaneously for use later. Again, this isn't a criticism, because given that the game's gymnastics and puzzles are unlikely to change according to your chosen difficulty level, it stands to reason that the main differences between the easiest and hardest settings is the strength of enemies and the number of first aid and ammo pickups available. The game also becomes progressively more difficult as you get further into it (obviously!). Now for something new: Can you say vehicles? This is one component of the game that proves that Eidos is trying to mix it up a bit. Early on in the game you will have the opportunity to test some of these babies out in the wide open desert. Mechanics for the vehicles are nice and tight, and the models are beautiful. Missions incorporating them are not necessarily hard, all the missions do is change the pace of the puzzle monotone of the game and for people who know and love Tomb Raider I think you will accept it with open arms. Also for all of you that love gamer points on the 360 Tomb Raider Legend has 23 achievements with 1000 points to be collected. These range from typical stuff like time trials throughout levels to beating the game on the hardest difficulty and to collecting medals.

I don?t know what intrigues me the most with TR:L?s visuals. Perhaps it?s the excellent level structure, architecture, or artworks in each of the Tomb Raider levels. Eidos did actually examine real archeological digs and modeled the level structure and design after them. That shows you that Eidos was really serious about Tomb Raider this time around. They put in the time, and did the research, to make a great product and it certainly paid off. Or maybe it?s the amazing level of attention paid to the small stuff that intrigues my eyes. For example when Lara is under water the motions look flawlessly real and then once she gets out you can see drops of water dripping from her hair. The majority of this game will amaze you. Quite often, the various scenery looks more like a static computer render than a fully interactive 3D environment. The texture work and use of bump mapping reaches new heights, with a very wet, organic feel. You?ll almost feel hot and sticky just by making your way through the lush temple areas. Light beams cast realistically on the terrain, providing a beautiful feel. Obviously this is due to the Xbox 360's high def capabilities. When combined with the excellent animations, the game feels incredibly cinematic. Each level is a grand set piece in which players stylishly accomplish their goals. The entertainment industry loves to speculate on the convergence of video games and film and visually, TR:L is a very good example. The coolest part of the game is the graphics when Lara is swimming. You actually feel like you have jumped in the water with her and are swimming inside her polygon body. From pulling yourself up a wall to jumping across a broken bridge, just snagging the ledge on the other side and hoisting yourself to safety, Tomb Raider goes the extra mile (or two) to make all animations look as a real person would. There were times when I was so caught up in the game that it was almost like watching a movie. It takes some real kick !&%$@#* graphics to pull me that far into a game. There is, however, a problem with break up when you get too close to a wall. There were a number of times that the camera angle was not pointing in a helpful direction, allowing enemies to attack unopposed. Overall, the graphics are well above average though.

The tracks set the mood for the dangers that await around the corners, and then dynamically change to forewarn of approaching enemies. Sure, it?s nothing new to games, but the music arrangement provides the extra ambiance of a movie like feel. The sound effects receive similar praise. The environmental effects are incredibly detailed and include radio chatter, raindrops, wind, and mechanical hums. With the exception of the frequent and annoying grunting from Lara, the sounds and music are simply amazing. The deep soundtrack compliments the overall dark mood of the game. And the voice-overs are awesome, too! There is no delay in the speech and animation which is to be expected with next gen video games. Lara?s dialogue is as strong as her character, in game motions are aggressive, and together they make for an acceptable offering. Fans of the series will not be disappointed. And Oh yeah! I forgot to mention that this game features the voice of Spooks actress Keeley Hawes as Lara.

Tomb Raider is a challenging game that takes a lot of mental ability. It can be frustrating at times, but is always engrossing. I found that I could not wait to see what secret was lurking behind the door I'd just opened. If you ever want to unlock all the secrets of this game, I suggest you go out and get yourself a good strategy guide. Don't look at it unless you are really stuck. After playing Tomb Raider, you will quickly realize what felt like ten minutes was actually an hour and a half. The tedious maneuvers required in some areas are quite frustrating. It really makes me mad when it takes me 10 minutes to climb up a wall, just to step off the edge at the top while trying to line Lara up to make a jump, or to jump and have her fall a fingernail short. Oh well, I guess it is worth another 10 minutes to climb the wall again, because I am dying to know what is on the other side! Intense is the first word that comes to mind when thinking of Tomb Raider Legend. A definite thrill ride from beginning to end that relies heavily on its Hollywood style presentation but equally true gameplay. Hindered ever so slightly by repetitive enemies and puzzles, Tomb Raider Legend still provides plenty of bang for your buck. I don?t really have any suggestions. I?m not saying it?s a perfect game that has no quirks but it?s everything you can ask for in a next-gen Tomb Raider game!

Overall: 8.8 / 10
Gameplay: 8.6 / 10
Visuals: 8.8 / 10
Sound: 8.6 / 10


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