Crystal Dynamics breathes life into an aging video game starlet so that she may live to kill again. And again. And Again. by Mike Chasselwaite
April 14, 2006 – Tomb Raider: Legend is the definitive sequel/prequel/quadquel to the Tomb Raider series. It’s hard to imagine where it can go from here. The problem facing the glut of sequels from the original game, which debuted some 10 years ago, was that this was a hard act to follow. Some games just say everything that they have to say within a sequel or two – if they are lucky. Some developers continue to milk their cash cow until it yields nothing but dry powder – in the case of the Tomb Raider sequels, enough powder to create a desert.
The developers of Legend, have done their collective homework and produced a Tomb Raider game that might not have been possible three or four years ago thanks to new technologies. They are hoping that enough water has passed to cleanse the bad taste left in peoples’ mouths by The Angel of Darkness. This version follows the same formula as the original, it just does it so much better. I just hope that we don’t see another army of unimaginative sequels based on this version because it really doesn’t cover any new ground.
This version has obviously been inspired by the movies that featured Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft. You will note that the Lara Croft character has assimilated some of Jolie’s physical traits, most notably her shadowy eyes and luscious lips. We won’t mention the other “attributes.”
The cutscenes are truly cinematic with excellent writing and good voiceovers. The story features flashbacks to a time when Lara was a young and innocent girl. While on a plane with her mother, a sudden crash landing put them in the middle of a jungle filled with strange objects and markings. After activating an artifact, Lara’s mother disappeared into a mysterious void. This event marked the beginning the Lara’s crusade and eventual transformation into the Tomb Raider.
Lara handles like a dream. She’s got lots of moves and couldn’t be much easier to control. She is responsive and has more freedom than ever before. Whether it’s combat, acrobatic skills, vehicle operating or puzzle solving, you will feel in total control. The menus are easy to navigate and the interface is designed so that you’re never more than one button away from a command.
Moves include climbing, jumping, swimming, sprinting, jumping, punching, kicking, sliding, shooting, throwing and shimmying. Jumps can be small or long. You no longer have to worry about loading the jumps with three steps. While perched on a ledge or when climbing a wall, she can do a somersault and back flip and land directly behind an enemy. This is especially useful to avoid getting hit by the enemy. You can take them by surprise and attack them where they are more vulnerable as they may have armor or shields to prevent frontal attacks.
Training sessions will help you get the hang of things. A grapple hook comes in handy for a variety of tasks including pulling you up to greater heights or having it wrap around an enemy whom you can pull toward you for a good beating. Grenades can be tossed in virtually any direction but be wary of the physics as they tend to bounce around a lot. The pistols are back and include a lock-on targeting feature that lets you run and gun with a greater degree of accuracy. The pistols never run out of ammo and there is a form of bullet time that can be activated when the screen is overrun with enemies.
There just never seems to be a dull moment in this game. All of the elements are very well balanced and the puzzles are less esoteric than they have been in the past. Not only is there less busy work such as backtracking, but the puzzles have more of an embedded feel to them – as though they are actually part of the environment and not just tacked on to add content. They range in difficulty but are very satisfying to solve. Just keep your eyes open in the immediate environment for clues and items that you can use.
Locations include Bolivia, Africa, England and the Himalayan Mountains. In these areas you’ll enter various caves, labyrinths, secret temples and other environments where you’ll encounter loose rocks, falling ledges, booby trapped platforms, exploding barrels, puzzle switches, zip lines and of course various animals such as wild dogs and lions. These animals take too many shots to kill. Some might consider this part of the challenge but they could have lost these critters for this new version. Another location that you’ll enjoy exploring is the Croft Mansion. It’s full of treasures and all kinds of unlockables and secrets. You’ll have to solve some pretty involved puzzles to get to the goodies but it’s worth the effort.
Graphically the series has never looked better. There are some jaggies and some framerate farts but nothing that will detract from the gameplay. The water effects are really nice, and we all know how difficult it is to make water look fluid. The character models move very smoothly and the difference between the in-game characters and the cutscenes are less pronounced. The music is symphonic and highlights the situations and mood of the game. You can replay levels with time trials and go back and collect all of the gold, silver and bronze but with no extra modes or multi-player, the replay value is limited.
It’s finally good to see Lara back. It’s also nice to see her front, if you know what I mean?
- Lara Croft evolved! – the sexy, dual-pistol wielding heroine is presented like never before with new graphic and animation sets, presenting Lara in the finest fidelity to date
- Return to the tombs! – discover and explore living breathing, lost ancient realms that hold clues to the secrets of Lara’s past. Physics, Water and Fire systems bring the perilous environments of Lara’s world alive, and challenge the player to improvise solutions to obstacles
- The Intuitive and Fluid Control System movement allows you to keep Lara in continuous motion; seamlessly handle any obstacle and interact dynamically with any surface
- Experience the new legend of the Tomb Raider series! – the future of the adrenaline-fueled adventure meets the promise of the next generation gaming systems.
- Utilize strength and intelligence on your quest! – use the grappling hook, an arsenal of new weapons, communications devices, and other tools to achieve your goals.
- Travel the globe to the world’s most exotic locales! – explore ancient tombs, treacherous jungles, snowy mountain ranges, and much more.
By Mike Chasselwaite
CCC Freelance Writer