Once around the block
If you do, though, don't expect an awful lot in the replayability stakes. Fair enough, there's the Time Trial mode (which is nothing more than the same level again, against the clock), and the temptation of earning more achievement points through completing these (on the 360, at least), or via the Hard Mode. But the various other unlockables (like costumes, art, pistol upgrades, cheats and the like) are pretty underwhelming compared to, for example, games like Resident Evil 4, and at the end of it, you'll wonder exactly why you spent so much time scooping up all those hard-to-reach artefacts.
But as much as we've laboured the point at how straightforward and easy Tomb Raider Legend is, there are a few memorable moments (towards the end) where it feels like the team completely neglected to adopt the same 'always make it fun' mentality. Inconsistencies creep in. Levels suddenly seem chock full of red herrings. Control prompts fail to appear. Suddenly you'll be running around wondering what the hell you're meant to do. You'll try everything. Shoot everything. Leap off everything 29 times. Grapple everything 134 times. You'll swear 97 times. And then, almost by accident, you'll do something that works. Something you swear you tried the very first time you arrived in the room. Something so simple that you feel shame-faced with stupidity. And then the same thing happens in the next room, and then the easy-as-pie boss stumps you for the same reason. It's crushing. The fact that the exact same things happened to a colleague made us feel slightly less idiotic, but even so, it highlights the fact that there's a fine line between forgiving game design and being frustrated to death by the lack of signposting (that appears in every other instance in the entire game) and presence of numerous red herrings (which haven't appeared anywhere else). Just so you know. Maybe the game's delay was to try and make it more accessible? They so nearly got it right, too.
Assessing Tomb Raider Legend's technical merits is a bit of a cloudy issue. If you're expecting its arrival on the 360 to herald some kind of next-gen dawn for Lara, then you'll be sorely disappointed. Much like so many of the early 360 games, it's an obvious port that's essentially been given the next gen 'treatment', for what that's worth. This means that, yes, it's by far the best-looking console version, but one that bears all the hallmarks of 'last gen' game and level design, albeit with the added benefit of some nice lighting effects, and, of course, high definition resolution. There's also the issue that some levels are far better than others, so the quality actually varies quite significantly between downright bland and delightful. Some of the more traditional Tomb Raiding levels seem to work best, with lush foliage, crumbling ruins and nice water effects to admire. Even the Japan level, stood on the rooftops, works well, but then you'll be wondering what on Earth went wrong with the Russian level, with its sub-GoldenEye surroundings. With only eight levels (including the Croft mansion) in the entire game, it's strange that Crystal Dynamics couldn't pull all the stops out for what is, after all, quite a short game.
But one thing that's simply unacceptable is the sludgy frame rate that seems to follow the game like a bad smell throughout. If the game could be seen to be pushing the mighty 360 beyond its means, then you'd accept that this was a small price to pay. But although the normal mapping, intricate texturing, lighting and particle effects help make this by far the best looking Tomb Raider adventure yet, there's really nothing outstanding or amazing on view to suggest that this should cause the game's frame rate to chug so noticeably for much of the time. It's not as if the levels are exactly epic in scale or ambition. Indeed, for the most part, they're tight, intricate and focused, and there's nothing on the scale of some of the more memorable ones in the original, ten year old Tomb Raider. Not even close.
That said, Lara herself is wonderfully animated, and can now pull off some remarkable acrobatics with grace and style. Climbing, swinging and vaulting around looks incredibly slick, and there's a real sense of foot tingling momentum as you pull off the more improbable feats. However, as detailed and delightful as Lara looks these days, much of the effort invested in her suite of new attacks has been wasted. For example, thanks to the ease of the gun combat, almost all of the new melee moves (slide attack, power kick, aerial attack, grapple attack) are completely redundant, as is the ability to do endless somersaults.
Also, Crystal Dynamics seems to have inherited Core Design's tendency to make all of the enemies look totally generic. So, as great as Lara looks, the baddies you're facing off against look almost identical throughout the game. Yawn. The bosses certainly look quite impressive, but their attack patterns are so limited that any sense of excitement soon dissolves. Overall, there's this lingering sense that the game has been primarily designed with the PS2 in mind, and as such the limitations that places on the game design is really transparent. 360 owners should be advised that they're only getting a shinier version - and one that doesn't even run as smoothly as it should.
Almost nearly there
Panning back to the bigger picture, there's no doubt that Tomb Raider Legend is, overall, a pretty entertaining game that long-term fans of the series will be reasonably satisfied by. The way that Crystal Dynamics has, on its debut for the franchise, managed to recapture a large chunk of what made the game such a hit in the first place is truly commendable. The adventuring, exploration, atmosphere and puzzling essence that we've been hankering after makes a stylish return, and with a control system that's - for the most part - slick and well implemented. After the shock of Angel of Darkness, getting the series anywhere close to being back on track feel like a victory.
But let's be realistic: Legend is not all that it could have been. It's justifiably irksome that the combat is so utterly lame from start to finish, and that there are some truly awful driving sections and pointless slo-mo action sequences that boggle the mind with their spellbinding rubbishness - and were it not for their fleeting appearances, the game could have easily been a disaster. There's no doubt, too, that the game could and should have been much more impressive on a technical level. In 2006, on a machine as powerful as the 360, we should absolutely not have to put up with creaking frame rates and silly clipping issues (where metal jaws can apparently go through giant fish monsters and Lara can walk on air). It's fairly obvious that Legend game wasn't designed for the 360, but even against the best action adventures of recent times (like God of War or the Prince of Persia trilogy) it falls some way short of matching the standard we've become accustomed to in recent years - both on a gameplay and on a technical level.
Tomb Raider Legend is not the stunning return to form we were hoping for, but is certainly a leap in the right direction that clings on by its finger tips to being generally solid, and mostly very entertaining addition to the series. Legend bodes well for future releases, and the Welcome mat may be out for Lara this time, but there's only so long Eidos can trade on past glories.