Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend Reader Review
Tomb Raider has been stuck in a rut of its own making for some time. Especially after the last offering, Angel of Darkness, got both a critical and commercial panning (something we don't see enough of these days, perhaps!) - it was a truly dire game. I hated it. I even did my own reader review and gave it a 2. 'Twas truly, utterly dire and awful.
So you can appreciate that I was sceptical over Legend at first. Past experience has made me feel that Lara was nothing more than a cash-cow, a slave for money. Core Design, her creators, pimped her out far too much, and for silly things (Lucozade ads, anyone remember those?). With the awful second film and I think most people tired of Lara, all of this culminated in the owners, Eidos, taking Lara away from her parents, and placing her in the care of Crystal Dynamics.
And all told, it was a very, VERY good decision.
From the very start, it's instantly recognisable that a lot has changed. Everything is less rigid and precise thanks to the disollution of the GRID system, and flows far more naturally and fluidly than ever. From the first cutscene to the last encounter, everything feels natural and faster, cleaner. There is no doubt that visually, it's leaps and bounds ahead of it's last incarnation, with stunning locales and setpieces that truly boggle the mind and look simply stunning - from flying through the air in Tokyo to the simply jaw-dropping waterfall in Ghana, there is a lot to be impressed with in terms of level design.
Which leads naturally onto the next point of interest, and something the series hasn't been too well known for doing. Level design, or namely, platforming. Hey, a Tomb Raider has to grab ledges and do a spot of platforming from time to time, it's not all about the pretty locales. For this, Crystal Dynamics should be applauded and jeered in equal measure. Everything moves mith grace and elegance, both challenging and forgiving. The design of each of the eight (Well, seven in my eyes) stages on offer is wonderful, each one crafted. Of course, inevitable slips happen so two features had to be improved, namely the checkpoint system - which checkpoints between each major segment of each stage, which is a vast improvement and means you never really have to replay more than five or ten minutes of a stage, and they had to make it a little easier and forgiving on slight mistakes - whereas in past games the series would have brutally bludgeoned you to death for the slightest error of judgement, Legend implements an invisible guidance system in places, to make sure you don't die on silly things, and a grab system, so if you do jump too soon, Lara grabs with one hand - hitting triangle will get her other hand up to steady herself.
The platforming setpieces have more than a nod and a wink towards another series which polished this genre to the brink of perfection, namely the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time trilogy. At times, I actually wondered if some of those who worked on the Sands of Time actually defected to assist in this title. The platforming segments are wonderful, clean and natural, but they are horribly reminiscent of Prince of Persia and it is hard to escape that. The grapple function, as wonderful and welcome as it is, does feel similar in style and usage to The Two Thrones. Even the motorbike sections have been done in a similar fashion in The Two Thrones' chariot segments. It's all lovely and welcome, but you can't help but feel like they cheated a little...
Combat, too, had to be redone, and again, it's a mixed bag. The lock on feature, and jumping on and over foes (to the tired old slo-mo function. Yawn.) is all very nice, and normally you wouldn't complain. But here there are more evident cracks. A limited choice of weapons is a bit boring (Until you get the one at the very end. Phwoar!), and grenades that never seem to do as you want them to, start making a meal out of what could have been a real reinvention. Using environmental hazards to your advantage is welcome, but nothing new or exciting. It's just a little bland and predictable, and not even the last encounter should provide any serious challenge.
But then there is light, and a spark that makes you love Lara again. These sparks come in the form of the controls - which feel so fresh and invigorating that it's hard not to love them - and the plot and dialogue. Which deserves praise for going above and beyond the call of duty. If anything, it was the plot and dialogue that made me enjoy this game so much more. Lara's witty edge has returned, and the moaning of her two companions on the other end of her headset, Zip and Alister, as well as the interaction with the enemies (and their mutterings to themselves and each other). Oddly enough, there is no end-of-the-world stuff to this, which is rather refreshing in itself, so it all feels relaxed and more like an adventure, than a race against time.
Of course, some things never change. Namely, that bloody camera system is still a royal pain in the backside, sometimes things aren't so inherently obvious and in one or two places, you might be wandering around for a while before you figure out what a puzzle actually wants you to do. This game also seems to follow a trend by being very short - as I mentioned earlier, there are seven stages (and the final encounter) and all are surprisingly brief. Enjoyable, but very brief. And when it's all over, you can settle down to exploring Lara's manor, which is also nice and chock full of secrets (like the game proper), but ultimately still feeling like a bit of an oversight than a proper chunk of the game.
Tomb Raider: Legend is a huge step in the right direction. Crystal Dynamics should be credited for managing to lift a tired series on the verge of collapse and giving some fresh life into it. But nothing in this game hasn't been seen before, and many things have been done very recently too. So while it's certainly an adventure platformer to be savoured, it still leaves an empty feeling... you cannot escape that it's nothing terribly new or exciting, just doing things that have been done, and doing them very well.
Hopefully we'll see more of an improvement on this in a future entry into the franchise. But for now, enjoy it, have fun, but don't expect to be doing anything which we haven't done before. That is the main problem, and the hardest hurdle to overcome...
7 / 10