After the crushing disappointment that was Angel of Darkness, you could have easily imagined we had seen the last game in the Tomb Raider series. Perhaps you imagined Lara was stuck on the silver screen in the form of Ms Jolie. Thankfully this will not be the case. Eidos has once again pulled a pretty spectacular rabbit out of Lara’s hat with Tomb Raider: Legend. This new title takes us back to the old school Tomb Raider action, but in a whole new way.
Once more, our erstwhile heroine faces a race against time to unearth an ancient artifact. The artifact is powerful enough to bring about the end of the world if Lara’s enemy gets to it first. Once again we scour tombs and fight goons. We wrestle wild animals and mythical monsters into submission, all the while keeping a weather-eye out for the ‘enemy’… This is the original Tomb Raider all over again – but better! Tomb Raider: Legend has better graphics, better gadgets, and better moves. Even Lara’s voice is perfect. As Lara Croft, Keely Hawes from UKTV’s Spooks delivers just the right mix of class and attitude!
A whole host of new and not so new lighting techniques have been crammed in by Core Design’s replacement Crystal Dynamics. Normal, Diffuse and Specular mapping, along with specific shading techniques including one known as ‘Fresnel Shading’ which shows realistic highlights when an object is backlit, give this game a realism that previous versions couldn’t hope to achieve.
The old ‘checkpoint’ game saving system is back in Tomb Raider: legend. But fortunately, the checkpoints are widely spread throughout the environment. Players will not have to go over a great deal of old ground when they miss a vital handhold and have to reload the game. The checkpoints also appear automatically, usually after a difficult sequence. Players are not required to manually collect a checkpoint icon. The Croft Manor is also back in Tomb Raider: Legend along with the obligatory ‘gym’ and the pool.
Purists may not like Lara Croft’s altered biography that appears in Tomb Raider: Legend and the game’s manual. The original biography had our girl disowned by her parents who disapproved of Lara’s antics. Now however, it seems that her mother died when she was a little girl, leaving her to follow in her father’s footsteps in much the same way her onscreen alter ego did… Croft Manor, too, has been given a facelift so that it appears, at least on first glance, to resemble quite closely the house found in Holywood. However, the manor’s new features more than make up for this resemblance. Instead of being a staging post where Lara can practice her moves, the house is now a game in itself, with secret panels, rewards, and puzzles all its own – but before you start going through the manor, I’d recommend looking up what color Cerulean is, or at least having a dictionary on hand – if you get it wrong you could be running around for hours trying to break the puzzle where you will use this hint!!
The action starts off, as always, with Lara off on some quest for an artifact. Unfortunately, she is as usual thwarted at this early stage of the game. Thus, a worldwide tour taking Lara from South America to Africa, Europe, and Asia ensues. New gadgets make it possible for Lara to perform new moves. This means that Tomb Raider: Legend features a whole host of new ways to get out of, and into, trouble!
Lara’s most interesting, new gadget is the magnetic grapple. This allows her to swing from objects. The magnetic grapple also gives Lara the ability to pull items towards her, including goons who persist in being too far away to shoot! Of course the grapple is crucial for some puzzles, but the gadget is great fun even when you are just ‘hanging around.’
Lara’s binoculars also make things simpler through the use of their RAD function. The binoculars give players the ability to determine if a usable item is mechanical, movable, explosive, or just plain kickable, as well as providing an extreme close-up view. The PLS (personal light source) is a great advantage too. Lara now has access to light at the touch of a button, rather than having to run around with a flare as in the previous Tomb Raider games.
Collecting artifacts along the way gives additional bonuses. Some are in the form of enhancements or power-ups and can be used during gameplay, for example pistol upgrades. Others give players access to character profiles, concept art and outfits not found in the game and can only be viewed or used at Croft Manor.
The whole puzzle system has become much more approachable too. The puzzles have generally been simplified, but this does not mean that they are dumbed-down. In fact, Crystal Dynamics has developed a physics-system that allows Lara to use levers, weight, and movement to solve puzzles. This works better than running back and forth between different locations and to pull levers and find obscure keys that unlock doors you have not even seen. The puzzles often have more than one solution. This reduces frustration for the player and increases the playability of Tomb Raider: Legend.
All in all, this game is an absolute hit! When it first appeared, the original Tomb Raider was rightly credited for giving the Playstation its dominance over similar systems 10 years ago. With its superior graphics, Tomb Raider: Legend could do the same for the Xbox 360. The actual game content remains identical across all the platforms for which Tomb Raider: Legend was released. But the additional work done on both Lara and her environments means that Xbox 360 owners will be in for an extra special treat. The rest of us will have to make do with the merely spectacular! Take the plunge and buy Tomb Raider: Legend now. You won’t be sorry!!