Tomb Raider: Legend Xbox 360 Review

I know what you’re thinking; why is Lara back again? Surely Eidos should have picked themselves up after the abysmal Angel of Darkness and crawled back into the darkness with whatever shreds of dignity they had left? Hold those thoughts just a few minutes for me; you might be pleasantly surprised. Whisper it – the new game is actually quite good.

Graphics
Maybe I’m a little cynical, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the Tomb Raider franchise has been one that has traditionally depended on its graphical content in the same way as Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball on the v1; would Lara have become a cultural icon, even appearing on the cover of Face Magazine, had she looked like a bulldog chewing on a thistle? Considering that gamers have chosen a blue hedgehog and a fat Italian plumber with a two-word vocabulary, the answer could be “perhaps”; but I’d personally like to think it has a little more to do with Lara’s big…pixels. Crafting Lara’s physique always appears to have been a focus for the previous games in the series, and Legends doesn’t fail to deliver; her model is flawless, moving with the times to sport a slightly more “realistic” figure (in the same way that a Hollywood figure might be considered realistic), lightened hair and a redefined face without spade cheeks. Coupled with some absolutely stunning environments (with some of the nicest water and foliage I’ve ever seen in a game), from tropical jungles to skyscraper rooftops, the game is movie-quality in every visual aspect. Sometimes, as is often the case, all this eye-popping detail comes at a cost; there are a couple of areas with some slowdown, but it’s really a mild annoyance.

Gameplay
Throwing off the shackles of…well, death, Lara is back on another archaeological mission to find several pieces of a weapon of ultimate power that destroyed her mother during a disastrous expedition. Okay, it doesn’t sound particularly original; rather like a loose plot to hold together a series of unrelated levels so that the TR franchise could milk the gaming public for a just a little more. Perhaps that’s why its so surprising that the story is actually quite enjoyable, and really follows suit with the movies in term of atmosphere and character (not being content with her ageing butler, Lara is now accompanied by two other stereotypically-cast male assistants that can contact her via her headset throughout the game for some brief humorous interjections). This is a nice change from the games of old, which – in spite of the fact I played TRI, II and III several times over – really didn’t have plots worth remembering.

In another move to completely revamp what was an ageing, tar-pit-ensconced dinosaur of a franchise, the whole control system has (thankfully) been stripped away and replaced with an all-new engine that is more than a little reminiscent of the new Prince of Persia games; full fluid 2D control now takes over from the clunky grid-based system of old, which allows for some great free-flowing leaps and gymnastics. PoP isn’t the only source of this new inspiration; anyone familiar with the QTE (quick time event) as shown in Shenmue and Resident Evil 4 will be right at home with the new interactive cut scenes that crop up here and there in each scenario. Failing to hit the right buttons to coincide with on-screen prompts will see Lara dying in a number of spectacular ways (some of which are so gloriously over the top that the developers saw fit to put in a compilation of them during the credit sequence for your amusement). Thankfully, the system is made a little fairer by using logical buttons; if it’s a jump that’s needed, you will be asked to push the jump button at the right moment in the cinematic.

For the most part, good ol’ puzzles block Lara’s explorative endeavours, requiring her to grapple targets with her new zip line, clamber across rocky faces and, yes, push a few blocks around. Most of these are relatively straight-forward and uninspired, although they are well suited to the different environments she finds herself in. Crystal Dynamics have clearly worked out that, since Lara raids tombs and that tombs are inherently quite dark, light should be pretty much absent from many parts of the game. This isn’t a great hassle thanks to Lara’s new “Personal Light Source” (torch to you and me), which is great for emphasising the claustrophobic nature of the game (perhaps with a passing nod to Silent Hill), but I did find that a few sections were perhaps a bit too dark, making it hard to see exactly what needed to be interacted with. Brightness adjustment is your friend.

The combat system has seen some similar welcome changes; as well as her traditional ability to auto-lock on a target, she can now perform several powerful melee moves, utilise her zip-line to drag enemies towards her, and even step on other games’ toes with a bit of bullet-time. Battles are kept relatively few and far between in Legends, unlike the earlier games; most of the enemies you will have to fight are reserved for the end of each level as a kind of “boss” section, or scattered thinly in ones and twos here and there. This is a bit of a pity, as the combat system in Legends is actually a lot of fun thanks to the more responsive controls and the “wow” factor that comes from the interactive scenery; in almost all the situations that see you fighting several people at once, there will be key areas that can be targeted using Y to trigger off a reaction that will hinder your enemies in some way, such as causing an avalanche or breaking a pillar to crush them. Perhaps the only downside of the combat is that the physics appear to go little crazy every now and then; I once used Lara’s sliding tackle against a man, only to have him fly several feet into the air and bounce even higher off the scenery. Grenades too seem to suffer from this affected gravity; it’s possible to bounce a grenade around an entire clearing and have it fall back at your feet if you aren’t careful.

To break up things up a little, Crystal Dynamics have added a few obligatory vehicle chase sequences to the mix; these revolve around Lara’s trusty motor biking skills, and see you racing to a goal while simultaneously shooting out pursuers and jumping obstacles. These sections seem more like a bit of padding to a noticeably short game than a significant section of game play, and don’t really add anything to the overall experience.

While it seems to have borrowed heavily from a number of other sources, the changes to TR:L’s game play are all positive ones and really make it an enjoyable experience.

Sound
As was the case with the earlier titles in the franchise, music primarily falls back on ambient tones to emphasise the mystery and majesty of the different locations; perhaps even more-so here, as music has been almost stripped away to nothing to allow the sounds of nature (or the tense silence of an ancient tomb, as the case may be) to form a backdrop to Lara’s adventures. Lara’s plummy tones make a welcome return as part of a well-cast set of voiceovers; her English-toff archaeologist companion and streetwise-American technological wizard are more than a little clichéd, but avoid being irritating even while delivering their rather hackneyed humour.

Lifespan
Unfortunately, every game misses one stepping stone, and lifespan is undoubtedly the one that saw Legend falling into the river. The main game can take anywhere from three to eight hours to complete depending on difficulty, which is really unforgivable for a £50 game. This can be significantly boosted out by the intrepid explorer keen on finding all of the hidden artefacts on each level (some of which will require brainpower to reach as well as infinite patience to scour every corner of every level), and opening up the truly huge number of unlockables which range from videos to outfits. Similarly, Lara’s Mansion makes a comeback as a rather challenging optional level. All of this definitely adds some life to the title, but anyone after a truly lengthy adventure game along the lines of the first games will no doubt be disappointed. This is a real shame, as what’s there is fantastic; there just isn’t enough of it.

Overall
The triumphant return to form that Angel of Darkness should have been, easily accessible by newbies and veterans alike. No need to wear a bag over your head any more Lara; your public await you.

9 out of 10
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