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Retrospective: Tomb Raider Legend


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Image credit: Eurogamer

Crystal Dynamics' first go at the Tomb Raider license must have been terrifying. Such an enormously famous series in the hands of Core, so spectacularly falling to pieces after Angel Of Darkness, Tomb Raider was at once one of the most famous franchises in the world and one of the most despised. Lara overkill combined with the unmitigated disaster of its sixth game meant that it was something of a poisoned chalice that was handed to the Californian developers, and the result is a fascinating combination of fervent loyalty to the series mixed in with some interesting new ideas.

It wasn't until Crystal Dynamics' third game, Underworld, that it'd really make the series its own (although that's a phrase that I think will look silly when the new Tomb Raider is released). But with Legend, as much as it reproduced the style of puzzles and combat almost zealously, it also made the extraordinary decision to take Lara out of isolation and surround her by friends.

From the very start, and without any rational introduction or establishment, there are people in your ear. First there's Alister: he's British, a worrywart, and he offers historical advice for Lara as she explores. He's accompanied by Zip, who was obviously the inspiration for this idea, having previously existed for a level in the underrated Tomb Raider: Chronicles, guiding Lara through some hacking. He's your techspert, a resident source of sarcasm and he annoys Alister greatly.

I can see why the addition of these two would upset some. Lara had, apart from that brief sequence in Chronicles, done things on her own. She was very much isolated when on missions. But here there was frequent banter, changing the atmosphere significantly, and I'd argue mostly very successfully.

Hearing Keeley Hawes respond to Alister's panicked question, "Are we going to crash?" with, "Not unless it's absolutely necessary," is a real pleasure. And popping the majesty of the moment when you discover the giant building behind the waterfall with Zip chipping in, "Oooh! That's where we put the temple!" offers a smile where most games would go po-faced.

Yes, I fancy her. You've got a problem with that? She's very special and clever.

And it's exquisitely British, too. When realising that the clues (oh yes "the plot" well, Lara's friend Amanda didn't die when she thought she did, and there's this sword in bits, and something about Lara's mum, and so on) are taking them from their exotic worldwide locations to, well, Cornwall, Lara replies, "As in, take the M5 to the A30, Cornwall?"

And this is never bettered than when in Cornwall, at the decaying King Arthur museum, with the displays still offering their narrated scenes when you press the buttons. Each is riddled with mistakes driving Alister to distraction, offering many great lines from Zip and Lara as they torture him further.

At the same time it's so religiously faithful to the classic Raiders, as if Crystal Dynamics felt it wasn't allowed to mess with some things. So Lara still jumps from block to grip, pole to swinging rope, and while her feet are set free of the gridded floors that always felt so silly, this is still a world exactly designed to match her precise abilities. And it's still a world filled with endangered species for Lara to slaughter.