Tomb Raider revolutionized gaming in the nineties with three dimensional environments and challenging, complex action. Its protagonist became an iconic character, appeared in many sequels and even starred in her own movies. However, the series started to lose its originality after its initial huge success. Angel of Darkness, the first Tomb Raider for the 128 bit consoles, was not what people expected. Then, Legend came out and showed that you should never underestimate Lara Croft.
The story of Tomb Raider Legend is about Lara searching for an ancient artifact that is connected with King Arthur’s myth and possesses magical properties. A rich guy also wants the same thing, so the two of them collide. To finish the race first Lara will have to follow the footsteps of her own parents.
Although the plot is simple Lara’s character is well written, especially when she recollects her past. Her observations, humor and self-confidence show that she is more than a pretty, intrepid explorer while her reactions when she is hurt, e.g. if she accidentally falls in frozen water, make her more real. She also speaks frequently with her friends, who watch her through a satellite connection; sometimes these dialogues are interesting, other times they spoil the game’s atmosphere of seclusion.
As in all Tomb Raider adventures, the gameplay is about exploration, combat, puzzles and platform action.
Stages are linear and not too long, so, you don’t need to remember where you’ve been or wonder where you should go to next. Nevertheless, you have to observe your surroundings because everything exists for a reason and figuring out that reason is essential (and fun). Following the old tradition, each stage holds some hidden artifacts and if you collect them you unlock extras, such as costumes.
Fighting involves shooting armed mercenaries or wild animals with Lara’s twin pistols or weapons such as automatic rifles. The auto-aim makes combat easy and if you move constantly you should not have a problem unless you are hit by a grenade or machine gun. Bosses, on the other hand, require special tactics to defeat, for example there was a guy that jumped on platforms and healed himself, so I had to destroy these platforms first (use the first person view to hit small targets!).
Moving objects is an important part of the action. Boulders or cages are needed to avoid traps and hazards, for example to block a set of rotating blades, or to press switches on the ground and activate mechanisms controlling sealed doors. Thinking your next move before you act is necessary to progress, however there are no cryptic puzzles or levers hidden in impossible to find places.
Of course, Lara remains an amazing acrobat, comparable only to heroes like Prince of Persia: she can jump over bottomless pits, climb on steep cliffs, swing from poles and ropes effortlessly or hang from ledges with an iron grip. Much of the game’s enjoyment is derived from applying these abilities to overcome various challenges and reach a distant location. Although the same basic elements, such as ledges or platforms, are used everywhere, there is always something new around the corner to test your gaming skills.
As every adventurer, Lara has her own gadgets, the grappling hook being worthy of separate note. It allows her to swing to distant spots, like Indiana Jones’s whip, or pull objects to her, e.g. a raft in order to board it and cross a pool. The hook can only be attached to metal surfaces, which shine conveniently.
Another memorable aspect is the bike sessions. During those, Lara rides a bike as fast as she can, shooting enemies on other vehicles, avoiding obstacles and collecting health items. Chasing a train, jumping over cliffs and finally landing on top of it was great fun.
Locations include an African temple hidden behind a waterfall and decorated with foreboding stone statues, a frozen military base where secret experiments of advanced technology were conducted and a medieval burial ground with coffins, intricate lanterns and pools of water. Right from the start, when Lara finds herself near a mountain stream with a beautiful view, everything is drawn with amazing scenery, excellent colors and attention to detail. There are some nice effects too, such as Lara’s shadow appearing on the wall of an excavation site or mist rising in a dark corridor.
In relation to the main character, the heroine is designed according to her “old” style, like a person from a comic book; I appreciate that. Her animation is fantastic and her dariing moves are a joy to watch. In addition, she changes outfits according to the location, e.g. when she visits a snowy mountain slope in Tibet or a luxurious bar in a Japanese skyscraper.
The sound effects and music do not stand out but they get the job done. On the other hand, the voice acting is very good and the actress playing Lara has captured the essence of her character.
The control system is friendly and functional, making the action more enjoyable. The face buttons are for firing the grappling hook, jumping, rolling or ducking and interacting with the environment; the triggers are for auto-aiming and shooting. Lastly, the directional button allows you to consume a health pack, turn on a flashlight, use a pair of binoculars (this may reveal parts of a mechanism) or switch weapons.
Concerning the difficulty, the game is more than fair: there is an automatic save point after every sequence of challenges, for example a big room with collapsing platforms or a fight against a group of Yakuza members, plenty of health items can be found and enemies, falls or traps usually deal medium damage. Generally, the game’s concept is to motivate the player to think and discover, not punish him/her for every mistake.
In conclusion, Tomb Raider Legend is among the best XBOX games. Besides its impressive technical quality and artistic finesse, it offers a perfectly balanced combination of narration and various types of action. All gamers should try it, even if they are not fond of the genre. The satisfaction you feel every time you complete a mission or escape from a room full of traps is hard to match.
Article by Dimitris