GameSpotScore: 7.8

It's been almost 10 years since the first Tomb Raider was released, and while video games have come a long way since then, the Tomb Raider series hasn't kept pace. Problems such as clunky controls and a frustrating camera, which were excusable in the early games, have steadily degraded the quality of the series releases over time. The latest installment, Tomb Raider: Legend, finally brings the series into the 21st Century while staying true to the adventurous spirit of the early games.

Tomb Raider: Legend follows the exploits of Lara Croft as she tries to solve the mysteries of her past. Specifically, she's investigating the death of her mother several years earlier. One thing leads to another and somehow the legend of King Arthur becomes involved, along with a magical sword that has been broken into fragments and scattered throughout the world. The story is barely coherent, but it serves its purpose in that it gives Lara an excuse to travel from one exotic locale to the next in search of these artifacts. The game takes you to places such as Ghana, Peru, Tokyo, England, and Kazakhstan, and all of the locations look great. And while Lara sticks mostly to tombs and ruins, she also spends time exploring a deserted research facility, hopping about atop skyscrapers, and shooting up bad guys in a rustic village. The variety of levels is great, although you'll end up seeing pretty much the same platforming and box-pushing puzzles wherever you go.

The puzzles in Tomb Raider: Legend can be a bit deceptive at first, but once you learn how the game works, the puzzles become very simple. Most of the game is spent solving basic switch puzzles as you work your way through each level in search of the next artifact. Aside from dragging around boxes to weigh down switches or jam traps, there are a lot of fun platforming sections that let you take full advantage of Lara's affinity for high-flying acrobatics. You can hang on ledges, swing on ropes, swing between platforms (via a magnetic grapple), and vault off conveniently placed beams. The controls are a lot more fluid and responsive than they have been in previous Tomb Raider games, which makes Lara movements feel much more natural than before. The controls are precise, but not punishingly so. You often only have to jump in the general direction of the next platform and the game will compensate by automatically connecting Lara to the intended surface. Once you get the hang of it you can effortlessly overcome even the most imposing obstacles without difficulty. It's also always abundantly clear which ledges you can hang on or jump between, so the only challenge is positioning the camera so you can see where you're trying to go, which can be frustrating. In tight spots it can be difficult to get a good view of the ledge you need to jump to, and sometimes it's easy to misjudge a jump if you don't have the camera aligned just right. The camera problems are intermittent though, and most of the time you have a fairly good view of the surroundings. And even though the platforming is fairly easy, it's still satisfying thanks to some great-looking animations and level designs that convey an excellent sense of peril.

Of course, Lara is skilled with weapons and is more than willing to serve up some hot lead when the situation calls for it. You'll have to shoot up plenty of generic enemy goons and a few leopards here and there. You can lock on to an enemy by holding a button, and then you mash the fire button until the enemy is dead. You can also throw grenades, as well as perform slide tackles or aerial assaults. When you run up to an enemy, you can jump off his head and flip through the air in slow motion while shooting him. It's a neat effect, but not especially useful or necessary, since it takes more time to get in close to an enemy than it does to just blast him from afar. Sometimes you can shoot at certain objects in the environment, which are clearly indicated with a large button icon. You can shoot barrels to blow them up, shoot stone pillars and watch them fall on enemies, and initiate all kinds of other scripted events. The gunplay is not that fun though, because it's easy and because the guns don't feel powerful or distinct at all.

Aside from solving puzzles and indiscriminately killing enemies, there are a few other activities you can partake in. There are two motorcycle levels where you have to hop on an improbably placed Ducati and speed after other vehicles while shooting wave after wave of mobile enemies and catching air off jumps. The motorcycle physics are very loose, and the riding sections in Legends feel more akin to a rail shooter than a racing game. There are a handful of interactive cutscenes that require you to press a certain button as an icon appears on screen, much like the cutscenes in Resident Evil 4. And like Leon Kennedy, Lara can meet her demise in many different ways with some crazy death sequences that you get to see if you fail to hit the right button at the right time.



On your first play through, you can easily beat the game in less than seven hours on the default difficulty setting. You can then go back through and play again on a higher difficulty, but it doesn't make much of a difference because the challenge in Legend comes from the puzzles, and those never change. Once you've figured out how to solve each puzzle, the only challenge left is to find all the hidden items in each level or to replay each level in time-trial mode. You can unlock new outfits, movies, models, and so on, but even with all that, you can easily see all this game has to offer in a single weekend.

Legend looks great on each of the consoles, with convincingly dark and decrepit environments and plenty of detail and lighting effects. The Xbox 360 version offers some sharper detail, nicer lighting effects, and an abundance of shiny surfaces. Each version of the game suffers from occasional frame rate instability, though. It never gets unbearably slow, but it never quite runs as smoothly as it should. The sound is excellent in each version of the game, with good music, plenty of ambient noise, and excellent voice work that really lends a lot of personality to each character--especially Lara.

Tomb Raider: Legend is a good return to the roots of the series. It doesn't do anything new or different, but it has a great blend of action and adventure that will always keep you moving and interested. The problem is that it moves a bit too fast, and it's all over way too soon.

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It's been almost ten years since Lara Croft debuted in Tomb Raider, a groundbreaking action / adventure that took so-called Prince of Persia-style platforming into the realm of 3D. While she got off to a great start, the years, and the sequels that came with them, were increasingly unkind to Eidos' buxom adventuress. In fact, her last game was so bad that Eidos yanked the Tomb Raider property away from its traditional team and gave it to Crystal Dynamics. That must've hurt, but history will show it was a wise move. Tomb Raider Legend, the fruit of that new development deal, is rapidly nearing completion, and even in its unfinished state it's clearly the best darn game Lara's ever had the honor of starring in.

One of the designers' main goals in Legend is to humanize Lara Croft. Previous games have portrayed her as rather cold-blooded; in fact, if you look back, most of the major characters she's encountered have ended up dead. While Legend is not going to make major changes to the series canon, it will try to show us how she reached that point and the reasons why she's the gun-slingin' mercenary she is today. A lot of this story will be revealed as she pursues an artifact from her past, but Crystal Dynamics and Eidos are keeping more or less mum about further story specifics.

Free at Last

That's just fine, because the gameplay seems to speak pretty well for itself. Crystal Dynamics' single biggest focus was on perfecting Lara's animation and control, and the new team seems to have nailed it. For starters, they've eliminated "the grid." Previous Tomb Raiders and derivatives like Prince of Persia: Sands of Time kept the heroes stuck on an invisible grid that limited movement possibilities but made it easy to set up precise jumps and the like. That outdated convention is no more; Lara now controls with a newfound fluidity and responsiveness that compares favorably to any 3D platformer.


To further distance Legend from the old grid-based movements, the developers have added a special button that gives you even more control over Lara's actions. It's context sensitive. You can tap while she's climbing a ladder to execute a speedy ascent; likewise when clambering hand-over-hand across a chasm. If you barely make a jump and end up with a weak handhold, you might have to give the button a quick smack before Lara loses her grip and falls (the game prompts you). Skilled players can even hit it preemptively before a jump ends to ensure that she makes the quickest and smoothest possible transition upon catching the wall. In effect, Crystal Dynamics have added an analog skill factor that's long been missing from the rote, jump-and-climb gameplay of Tomb Raider and its ilk. The new button not only lets you speed through familiar obstacles, it constantly keeps you involved in the minute-to-minute action.

What's Old is New

One criticism of the more recent Tomb Raiders is a lack of, well, tombs. Urban environments just don't have the same appeal, and Legend's designers fully agree. Legend will have a city level or two (and we'll be interested to see how they spiff 'em up), but Legend focuses overwhelmingly on old-school tomb raiding of the sort Lara encountered back in '96. Spike traps, rolling boulders, hidden spears, mysteriously moving statues... it's good to be home. One of the demo levels we played -- it looked like a tomb, incidentally -- demonstrated some of the puzzle and gameplay mechanics we can look forward to. The sequence starts when you discover a round boulder, about as big as Lara, and roll it into a depressed spot on the ground. That turns out to be a switch of some sort, and there are two more nearby. However, you've got to do some looking around to find the other two boulders. The first one proves to be ensconced in the top of an ancient statue. Not a problem. Lara can hook her new grappling hook into the statue's face and pull the entire thing down with little more than a sharp tug. One ball down, one to go.

The other one is up and to the right, several levels above the main floor. A bit of tenuous wall-climbing ensues, showing off the vastly improved climbing and grappling mechanics described above. Once at the top, a little push send the ball rolling down (with realistic physics) and it's a simple matter to clamber down and complete the puzzle. An ancient stone door rumbles open and Lara's on her way to bigger and better puzzles. Perhaps this sequence sounds unremarkable, because we've all played plenty of games full of stereotypical crate and switch puzzles. True enough, so it speaks to the quality of Tomb Raider Legend's design and implementation that such basic gameplay concepts can feel fun and even fresh again.


Another new element appears soon after this puzzle -- Crystal calls these "super action" sequences. You might know them better as Shenmue's Quick Timer Events, wherein the game calls on you to quickly press a button which determines whether your character successfully performs an athletic feat or dies trying. This early one requires three inputs to make Lara successfully cross a series of crumbling pillars that span a chasm. We messed up twice at different points, leading to two different death animations. A developer actually noted that some of the later death animations are spectacular, so at least us incompetent tomb raiders have something to look forward to. Speaking of death, the restart points come early and often, so you should seldom have far to backtrack upon screwing the pooch of the ancients.

Never One For Subtlety

Lara's always been a shoot first, ask later kind of gal, and she's no different this time out. She has, however, gained a few new tricks to help her take down her enemies with style. For starters, when it's not destroying priceless objets d'art, her grappling hook can be used to snag enemies and reel them in, not unlike the maneuver made famous by legendary Mortal Kombatant Scorpion. You can use this to yank unfortunate bad guys off high ledges, or just to reel them in as the first stage of a combo attack.

Once they're close, a kick can be used to stun them. Better yet, tap the jump button twice in succession to plant a boot in their face and launch off their body, turning around in mid-air to unleash a slow-motion barrage of bullets. The slow-motion effect kicks in only during certain key moves; when you see it, you can rest assured that you're inflicting some gnarly damage. Coolest of all is the new "target of opportunity" system. If you ever see a button prompt appear over something in the environment, that means you can shoot it with a single tap. When that object happens to be, say, the gas tank of a huge truck, well, we'll leave it to you to connect the dots.

Now that Lara controls so well, she's a much better dodger. While most of the enemies will make use of hitscan-style bullet weapons, you can significantly reduce the damage she takes by diving and rolling like a madwoman. Some enemies also have laser-sighted rifles. If you ever see that thin red beam flick about, think of it as a very good suggestion to roll, jump, or otherwise get the hell out of wherever you're standing. Version Variations

Tomb Raider Legend is a pretty good-looking game based on animation and character models alone. We're sure you've already noticed that Lara's been completely overhauled in the polygon department, and she actually looks fairly human, now. But beyond the basics, each version of the game will have different strengths and weaknesses.

Unsurprisingly, the PC and Xbox 360 versions will lead the pack in graphics. Normal, diffuse, parallax, and several other types of mapping will gives these versions an extra edge, with four to eight times the texture data of the other games. Much like those notorious basketball players, Lara will gleam when wet, and dry off over time. Similarly, rolling around in the dirt will give her that not-so-fresh look. Further, real-time lighting adds extra dazzle to her flashlight, and the Xbox 360 version will feature Live! awareness and achievements. The one disappointment so far is that the 360 version will only run at 30 frames per second. Its 720p widescreen looks nice, but not so much that it shouldn't be humming along at 60.


The Xbox version, by comparison, is actually the one version that does run at 60 fps. While it lacks most of those fancy effects mentioned above, it still features significantly more detailed textures than the PS2 version, and the smoother framerate is a treat. The PS2 version is the least impressive of the console SKUs, but that's to be expected, and it still looks very good. Xbox and PS2 both support widescreen, by the way.

Believe it or not, the little PSP version is looking pretty darn impressive itself. Its adventure will be pretty much identical to that of the console versions, albeit with somewhat toned down graphics. Still, it runs at a fair clip and it looks like the excellent gameplay of its big sisters is pretty much intact. In fact, it features three exclusive multiplayer modes. Two of these involve racing to collect treasures and racing to complete randomly generated obstacle courses, while the third has each player hiding a treasure in the environment and then racing to find their opponents'. Not really anything to buy the game over, but it's nice that Crystal's given the PSP version a bit of extra attention. It should also have a few other bonus features, but mum's the word at the moment.

Back in Business

After taking in two hours' worth of action, there's no doubt in our minds: Lara Croft is back. After so many shameless cash-run sequels, it's a joy to reconnect with a character who showed so much promise nearly a decade ago. If Crystal Dynamics can maintain the level of quality it showed off today, Tomb Raider Legend will reestablish Tomb Raider as one of the preeminent franchises in action gaming. Not only that, Lara's got a really cute butt. The game's due April 11th, with the Xbox 360 version trailing a month or two behind. Get your fill of the old games now, because they're going to feel even more archaic once Legend hits.

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Nearly 10 years ago a little-known British developer crafted a title whose impact on the videogame world would be massive and permanent. Tomb Raider starring Lara Croft graced game systems in November 1996. Within a year, the sexy, smart and sassy heroine would go on to become world-famous for her voluptuous build, can-do attitude, and endless mass market appeal. Along with Shigeru Miyamoto's brilliant Super Mario 64, the first Tomb Raider illuminated new corridors in 3D game development, showing fresh possibilities in character and game design, 3D control, and camera work.

A lot has happened since the heady days of Core Design and Eidos Entertainment's first big splash. It's been nearly a decade. Lara's popularity has continued to thrive well into this century, especially with two movies starring Angelina Jolie, but though she remained a cultural icon to the masses, her games went down the toilet. After Tomb Raider 2, fans got five progressively worse sequels, the last of which was so second-rate that Eidos canned Core Design from its own series.

Enter Crystal Dynamics, the Menlo Park, Ca. developer best known for its gothic action-adventure game, Legacy of Kain. Crystal D spent more than a year researching the Tomb Raider series before it actually started the design proper, digging up the essentials to figure out what people loved so much about the originals and how to return to that point. Among other beneficial moves, original designer and animator Toby Gard was retained as a consultant. And the team's research pointed to a few things: people love exploring enormous exotic locales, they love great stories, and they want the freedom of making an acrobatic character move nimbly and athletically. That's exactly what we get with Tomb Raider: Legend. Crystal D's fresh approach, erudite design and execution, and its focus on good controls, smart puzzles, and competent combat, do the trick. They've resurrected an icon and a legacy from its tumultuous past by making the best and most definitive Tomb Raider yet.

Slated for PC, PS2, Xbox and Xbox 360 (with a PSP release in May), the game starts with a focused thematic storyline that carries all the way to its final moments. In one of the first of many flashback moments, Lara and her mum begin the game traveling in a small airplane. Suddenly an engine catches on fire and they have to crash land. The two make it through the crash unharmed, but they find themselves in an ancient land with strange iconography and mystical architecture. Lara activates an ancient artifact and her mother is sucked into a magic vortex that pretty much ends Lara's childhood on the spot. The game proper starts soon thereafter in modern times in Bolivia with Lara Croft climbing cliff sides, a little reminiscent but a lot less vain than Tom Cruise's intro to Mission Impossible 2.

The narrative proceeds through in-game dialog, cutscenes, and flashback sequences, both watchable and playable. Just like in Resident Evil 4 (or Diehard Aracde if you want to get technical), many cutscenes demand quick interactions to keep Lara alive, and the extra effort pays off. It's clear Crystal D has done its homework. The story unfolds at a healthy pace, the dialog is extremely well handled, and while there are some obvious videogame archetypes, the enemies aren't terribly comic or over-exaggerated. The dialog is crisp and nicely edited. Lara is witty, and then it's back to the action. But Crystal D does develop Lara's character. You do get the feeling that she has a past that drives and haunts her, and she shows some real emotion. As Lara says to an engineer friend, she is in the business of digging up things. That's what this narrative does well. Crystal D builds her character and makes you care for Lara. Considering the history of the series, that's a daunting task.

The funny thing about Tomb Raider: Legend is how much has changed, yet remained the same. Crystal D made distinct changes to the game's every aspect, yet Legend is still very much a Tomb Raider action-adventure title. The core evolution to the once diminished series is how Lara controls. Moving Lara around environments is not an issue any longer. She is not tied to an invisible grid. There are no rigid means to make short jumps and or three-step rules to make a long jump. With the exception of gravity, she's free. Particular changes to her means of locomotion are all in the details, however, and these improvements make this adventure game worth your while. Lara can still jump, swim, walk and run, climb on poles, ladders, ropes, cliff sides, and she can shimmy and vault. When shimmying across a cliffside or climbing up a mountain, for example, by pressing a single button Lara can double time it across the object. This is pulled off by rhythmically pushing the button to her motion. Seems simple enough, but it actually speeds up the game's pace, an idea the previous six games could've used. While clinging to a cliffside, she can jump backward or aim at a 45-degree angle. This addition was in Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, but here it actually works smoothly and without frustration.

Little flourishes create a sense of experimentation and playfulness in Legend. Lara pulls off a beautiful swan dive from a 20-story African cliff into a massive lake. By pressing and holding a button while grabbing a cliffside, Lara can transform a normal jump into a silky smooth back-bend to a perfect landing. If you time it right, she executes a series of back flips and summersaults into a mid-air summersault finish. She feels nimble and athletic, easy and actually fun to manipulate. Not such a hard concept for most people to grasp, but for this series, control has been a bane. The swimming mechanics are smooth and likeable too. Mind you, Tomb Raider: Legend isn't as artistically stylistic or as mechanically high-end as Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, but overall, Lara's fluidity and dexterous nature are of high caliber.

Combat was also once a thorn in Tomb Raider's side, but not any more. Lara doesn't control that much differently, strangely, but many improvements have been handled with skill and attention so that combat isn't arduous. Lara's been given more moves, she animates very well, and she is quick to respond at all times. You'll still control her from a third-person perspective, she still has auto-target lock-on aim and, when in combat, simultaneously jumping and shooting are a must. But that's about it. Crystal D grafted on a free-range shot, which is slow and still targets to the chest, but it aims the gun at anybody, any object, at any time. You'll also find a little bullet time going on. When in punching range, Lara can jump off an enemy's chest or head, enter into "focus" mode, and spring behind them and shoot -- all in one swift set of motions. (This works especially well with guards wielding shields.)

There is more. Her multi-purpose grappling hook hauls enemies into her clutches. She also has a slide attack, which can send enemies into a nice juggle; and she can hit and kick, too. On the weapons front, Lara can wield two weapons and grenades simultaneously, and her trademark pistols never run out of bullets. On the consoles, switching weapons is as simple as pressing down on the D-pad, and grenades are handled with the shoulder/bumper buttons. The grenades mechanic is weak and those hot potatoes will bounce like Mexican jumping beans (often returning to you). By the way, the D-pad also activates her PLS (personal light source) fashioned on her chest, refills the health meter, and pulls up a slick little set of binoculars, which come in handy when confronted by a tough puzzle. All of her weapons and tools are a single button press away, streamlining the action and stepping up the game's pace. Thank God for Crystal D.

You'll actually feel good about getting into a fight now. After you play through the built-in training session a gang of thugs immediately ambushes you. It's all good. Crystal D loads the environments with interactive obstacles ranging from exploding barrels to breakable cliffsides, loose rocks, zip lines, and other things. Gone is the clunky stealth mode from Angel of Darkness, the run and walk buttons, and the inane, awkward, and painful fighting and shooting schemes. Crystal has made Tomb Raider a competent, fun-to-play action-adventure game. They didn't reinvent the wheel, but Tomb Raider is functional and exciting on many levels.

Too bad the animal fights are still retarded. Wild dogs and lion fights seem to be just like they were before. It takes like 5-7 shots to kill one of these things. On that same subject (on things that the team might want to do away with in the future), Lara still rides a handful of vehicles. The main new vehicle is a motorcycle, which Lara will mount twice in the game. The motorcycle riding is simple, arcade-style stuff. It serves more to break up the action than to provide much of a thrill. The cycle segments are OK, but their addition isn't worthy enough or distinct enough to get terribly excited about.

Speaking of old ideas, the Croft Mansion is back. Instead of a training ground, however, it's Lara's own personal tomb to raid, filled with an array of genius-level puzzles. The mansion is a freestanding home that's meant just for exploration, outside of the story proper. It's filled with collectibles, secrets and hidden stuff. In fact, the Mansion is my favorite level of them all. Overall, there are eight huge missions that take place in Bolivia, Kazakhstan, Africa, England, and the Himalayas, each mission mixing indoor and outdoor environments.

TR: Legend is primary 70% adventure and 30% action, in that order. In every level, you'll find that getting from point A to point B isn't like crossing the street to get a gallon of milk. It's an act of life or death and requires acrobatic heroism of the highest order. But hey, it's a videogame, not real life. Helping you cross terrain and attack enemies is the grappling hook. This new tool works nicely into Lara's repertoire, breaking up basic jumps, flips, and pole spins. It also works into boss fights (of which there are five). Every step of the way, you'll encounter puzzles of some magnitude. The puzzles range from simple to moderately difficult, but thankfully there is no trace of the annoying Tomb Raider 3-style cross-the-country-for-one-tiny-hard-to-see-item-then-return-to-another-country-to-unlock-a-door-then-return-to-obscure-spot-#876-if-you-can-find-it. Instead, you'll find block and giant ball puzzles. A good bit of physics were added to the puzzle-solving, requiring you to observe your environment and recognize the required objects in it.

Regardless of which system you buy this on, Crystal Dynamics' art direction and design are top notch. The attract cinematic is Bond-like and on target. The menus and interfaces are all sleek, easy, and fast. The game really is attractive on all levels. Obviously, the Xbox 360 and PC versions will shine the brightest. In particular, the Xbox 360 version offers an enormous amount of specialty shaders and lighting techniques that add texture and detail to otherwise normal environments.

You'll see a little bit of aliasing in 480p on any system and occasional PS2 framerate hiccups. On 360, by bumping up the resolution to 720p you eliminate that issue. On 360 in 720p, you'll also get to appreciate the particles in the air, the atmosphere, the water, and the lighting at their full potential. Crank the res to 1080i and the effects are even greater, but the framerate drops a touch. But the PS2 and Xbox visuals shouldn't be ignored by any means. The PS2 version especially looks good for te machine's capabilities. The water effects, large, well-detailed level, explosions, and the clarity of all the objects, enemies, and creatures are all high.

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It has been a rollercoaster ride for the proclaimed first lady of video games, Ms. Lara Croft, since her 1996 debut on the PlayStation. Many gamers were immediately charmed by Lara’s voluptuous appearance and cheeky disposition – her tomb raiding adventures weren’t too shabby either.

After the sequel, the Tomb Raider franchise unfortunately hit a stone wall, and was unable to find its way out of mediocrity. This all culminated in the abnormally long titled Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness. This one was certainly no angel, and Eidos was left to ponder their next move with one of gaming’s most popular properties. Enter Crystal Dynamics – the development studio most well known for the Legacy of Kain series. After looking at the success of the 2003 release, Legacy of Kain: Defiance, Eidos saw many aspects that the next Tomb Raider could draw from. Make no mistake; raising a floundering franchise to its once prominent heights is no easy task – especially with millions of fanboys waiting in anticipation. Was Crystal D able to right the ship?


The lighting effects are stunning in HD.


Gameplay

It’s apparent that Crystal Dynamics wanted to take the Tomb Raider franchise back to its roots, which means plenty of adventure and puzzle solving. There is a good mix of third-person action elements and the occasional motorcycle ride, but these feel like afterthoughts when compared with the Indiana Jones-inspired exploration. This is even more evident in the overall production of Tomb Raider Legend as it has a legitimate cinematic quality to it. The in-game cut-scenes are excellently written and framed, and the story even touches on Lara’s childhood, the loss of her mother, friends (supposedly), and more. Despite trekking to seven different worldwide locations, Tomb Raider Legend ties things together fairly well. The story progression leaves just enough info to whet the appetite before moving on.



Control wise, it’s out with the old and in with the new…sort of. The clunky controls that were so limiting in previous Tomb Raider efforts have been replaced with a more free form mechanic. It’s not completely open-ended, as the geometry and level design ultimately determines exactly where Lara can explore. Those familiar with Legacy of Kain: Defiance will immediately notice how similar both games feel.

Probably the most lackluster portion of Tomb Raider Legend is the combat. Shooting consists of a lock-on targeting system that can be a bit sketchy. Flicking the right stick cycles through enemies, but because Lara must stay nimble in her gun

Much of Legend consists of simple platforming concepts – jump here, scale this ledge, climb this pole, and so on. For the most part, everything works as it should and you aren’t left fighting the controls and camera. As with any third-person action/adventure, there are trouble spots, but thankfully they have been kept to a minimum.

Puzzle solving can be tricky on occasion, but it is usually due to missing a hint or important item that is just out of view. When things get tough, Lara’s Remote Analysis Device (R.A.D.) can be used to indicate specific objects and how they can be interacted with. For example, a set of fasteners on top of a giant computer monitor will blink while in R.A.D. mode to demonstrate that they can be moved. While you may know it can move, the answer isn’t just handed to you. How can I move it? Can I climb up there? Should I use my magnetic grappling device? While the “moving box” puzzle may be an adventure cliché, Crystal D managed to spruce things up a bit. After a few hours with Legend, the puzzles do follow similar patterns, but they still provide some challenging (a fun challenge, that is) moments.


To emphasize some of Lara’s exploits, a few cinematic action sequences make an appearance in Tomb Raider Legend. This is simply a game based on timing where a specific button or direction must be pressed at the exact moment the indicator pops onscreen. Remember how Dragon’s Lair worked? Same thing, but without the bumbling Dirk the Daring.

Puzzle solving plays a key role in Legend.


A few motorcycle chases are thrown into the mix, but are merely filler in between on foot stages. The targeting system is simplified so you can keep one eye on the road and the other on enemies, but it really isn’t all that important. You can usually just keep the throttle down and jet through with little effort.

Each environment is sprinkled with a number of rewards. The bronze are of course the easiest to find, while the gold ones are only for the real diehard explorers. It’s a simple concept: the more rewards you find, the more unlockables and Game Achievements you’ll attain. After completing each mission, the opportunity to replay them on a new difficulty or in the Time Trial mode is available. Time Trials are tough to say the least. They play just like the regular story missions, complete with the same puzzles, same enemies, but now you have the clock as an added foe. The Croft Manor provides a scavenger hunt-like mission for true completists.

Overall Gameplay Impressions:

It seems as though that the Tomb Raider franchise is back on track. Thanks to a renewed focus on adventure and exploration, Lara no longer feels like an aging hag. I particularly love how you are thrown to the wolves from the get-go. No boring tutorial sections - just start exploring. Some of the combat could need a shot in the arm, but the pros of Lara’s latest endeavor far outweigh the negative. Expect 10 hours tops to complete Legend on the medium difficulty – just about the norm for action/adventures nowadays. The inclusion of the Croft Mansion as a scavenger hunt, and the ability to replay each mission in a Time Trial adds some replay value. The Game Achievements (23 in total) are thought out well, consisting of bronze, silver, and gold reward collection, along with the overall completion of the story and each time trial. It’s nice to have Lara on the Xbox 360, and her debut doesn’t disappoint.

When it comes to a next-generation game, many Xbox 360 owners hem and haw over “ported” titles. The criticisms of Tomb Raider Legend began even before the first Xbox 360 screenshot was released. Well, quit yer bitchin’, because Lara looks mighty fine. Admittedly, we were a bit skeptical of what Legend would bring to the table graphically, but surprisingly it really provides that extra something that makes it special.

Even on a non-HD television, the increased clarity of the bump mapping and lighting effects add to the entire Tomb Raider feel. In fact, this is the most Tomb Raider-ish that the series has ever been – if that makes any sense. Up close you’ll notice the pores on Lara’s skin, the detail on the weapons are amazing, the water effects impress – everything just pops off the screen.


Unfortunately, all is not rosy. Even though the majority of the environments have an organic quality to them, you’ll still notice more than a few flat textures. Despite the action onscreen never really going into overdrive, the framerate has a tendency to slow slightly.

Lara has never looked so sexy.


Audio

Crystal Dynamics always manages to include strong voice-over performances in their games, and Tomb Raider Legend is no different. Lara is just as sassy as ever, but doesn’t come across as a spoiled brat. She is intriguing, she is sexy, and you want to play with her – in a manner of speaking. Even the chatter from joe bad guy comes off well.

The surround sound aspect is subtle, as it should be, but plays a vital role in replicating locations like Bolivia and Ghana. Throw in a finely crafted soundtrack that includes everything from tribal beats to a full symphony ensemble, and you have the finishing touches to a solid adventure experience.

The Bottom Line

It’s about time that Lara Croft received the prime treatment. While many gamers put such a strong emphasis on the British beauty, Tomb Raider Legend would be a solid action adventure title, even without Ms. Croft as the heroine. With a renewed focus on adventure and the inclusion of a less restrictive control scheme, Crystal Dynamics has managed to rekindle the fading flame of the Tomb Raider franchise. Although it is a bit on the short side, a multitude of extras and the tough Time Trial mode will extends the Croft experience.



Background:
Lara Croft returns in another installment of the Tomb Raider series. Tomb Raider: Legend breathes new life into the Lara Croft franchise. Lara comes alive with intricately animated expressions, moves and abilities. An arsenal of modern equipment, such as a magnetic grappling device, binoculars, frag grenades, personal lighting device and communications equipment, will allow gamers to explore wonderfully rendered levels as never before.

Features:
# Lara comes to life - the dual-pistol-wielding adventurer’s polygon count and animation set has been increased significantly, presenting Lara in the finest fidelity to date
# Return to the Tombs: Lara’s new quest brings her to lost ancient realms that guard Secrets of the Past
# Fluid movement: the revamped control system provides intuitive and fluid character movement
# Dynamic animation system puts focus on continuous motion, giving Lara the ability to seamlessly handle any obstacle and interact dynamically with any surface
# Move and shoot. Lara uses her physical prowess to combine gunplay with unique signature moves
# Variety of player choice - intelligently use the environment, technical gear and weapons to overcome challenging situations.
# Physics, Water and Fire systems bring the perilous environments of Lara’s world alive, and challenge the player to improvise solutions to obstacles
# Visit a vast array of cinematic & exotic locations including ancient tombs, dangerous jungles, snowy mountain ruins and numerous unexpected surprises in between!

Tomb Raider: Legend is a brief but fun adventure that just about anyone can enjoy.
The Good: Lara has tons of great-looking moves and abilities; varied levels take you to exotic locations all over the world; excellent voice work and sound; great graphics and detailed environments.
The Bad: The game is short and not very challenging; unstable frame rate; the camera is occasionally frustrating; weak gunplay.

It's been almost 10 years since the first Tomb Raider was released, and while video games have come a long way since then, the Tomb Raider series hasn't kept pace. Problems such as clunky controls and a frustrating camera, which were excusable in the early games, have steadily degraded the quality of the series releases over time. The latest installment, Tomb Raider: Legend, finally brings the series into the 21st Century while staying true to the adventurous spirit of the early games.


Lara Croft is back to kick some ass and collect some artifacts in Tomb Raider: Legend.

Tomb Raider: Legend follows the exploits of Lara Croft as she tries to solve the mysteries of her past. Specifically, she's investigating the death of her mother several years earlier. One thing leads to another and somehow the legend of King Arthur becomes involved, along with a magical sword that has been broken into fragments and scattered throughout the world. The story is barely coherent, but it serves its purpose in that it gives Lara an excuse to travel from one exotic locale to the next in search of these artifacts. The game takes you to places such as Ghana, Peru, Tokyo, England, and Kazakhstan, and all of the locations look great. And while Lara sticks mostly to tombs and ruins, she also spends time exploring a deserted research facility, hopping about atop skyscrapers, and shooting up bad guys in a rustic village. The variety of levels is great, although you'll end up seeing pretty much the same platforming and box-pushing puzzles wherever you go.

The puzzles in Tomb Raider: Legend can be a bit deceptive at first, but once you learn how the game works, the puzzles become very simple. Most of the game is spent solving basic switch puzzles as you work your way through each level in search of the next artifact. Aside from dragging around boxes to weigh down switches or jam traps, there are a lot of fun platforming sections that let you take full advantage of Lara's affinity for high-flying acrobatics. You can hang on ledges, swing on ropes, swing between platforms (via a magnetic grapple), and vault off conveniently placed beams. The controls are a lot more fluid and responsive than they have been in previous Tomb Raider games, which makes Lara movements feel much more natural than before. The controls are precise, but not punishingly so. You often only have to jump in the general direction of the next platform and the game will compensate by automatically connecting Lara to the intended surface. Once you get the hang of it you can effortlessly overcome even the most imposing obstacles without difficulty. It's also always abundantly clear which ledges you can hang on or jump between, so the only challenge is positioning the camera so you can see where you're trying to go, which can be frustrating. In tight spots it can be difficult to get a good view of the ledge you need to jump to, and sometimes it's easy to misjudge a jump if you don't have the camera aligned just right. The camera problems are intermittent though, and most of the time you have a fairly good view of the surroundings. And even though the platforming is fairly easy, it's still satisfying thanks to some great-looking animations and level designs that convey an excellent sense of peril.

Of course, Lara is skilled with weapons and is more than willing to serve up some hot lead when the situation calls for it. You'll have to shoot up plenty of generic enemy goons and a few leopards here and there. You can lock on to an enemy by holding a button, and then you mash the fire button until the enemy is dead. You can also throw grenades, as well as perform slide tackles or aerial assaults. When you run up to an enemy, you can jump off his head and flip through the air in slow motion while shooting him. It's a neat effect, but not especially useful or necessary, since it takes more time to get in close to an enemy than it does to just blast him from afar. Sometimes you can shoot at certain objects in the environment, which are clearly indicated with a large button icon. You can shoot barrels to blow them up, shoot stone pillars and watch them fall on enemies, and initiate all kinds of other scripted events. The gunplay is not that fun though, because it's easy and because the guns don't feel powerful or distinct at all.

Aside from solving puzzles and indiscriminately killing enemies, there are a few other activities you can partake in. There are two motorcycle levels where you have to hop on an improbably placed Ducati and speed after other vehicles while shooting wave after wave of mobile enemies and catching air off jumps. The motorcycle physics are very loose, and the riding sections in Legends feel more akin to a rail shooter than a racing game. There are a handful of interactive cutscenes that require you to press a certain button as an icon appears on screen, much like the cutscenes in Resident Evil 4. And like Leon Kennedy, Lara can meet her demise in many different ways with some crazy death sequences that you get to see if you fail to hit the right button at the right time.

On your first play through, you can easily beat the game in less than seven hours on the default difficulty setting. You can then go back through and play again on a higher difficulty, but it doesn't make much of a difference because the challenge in Legend comes from the puzzles, and those never change. Once you've figured out how to solve each puzzle, the only challenge left is to find all the hidden items in each level or to replay each level in time-trial mode. You can unlock new outfits, movies, models, and so on, but even with all that, you can easily see all this game has to offer in a single weekend.


Luckily, there are plenty of heavy boxes lying around in ancient ruins just in case you need to weigh down a switch or something.

Legend looks great on each of the consoles, with convincingly dark and decrepit environments and plenty of detail and lighting effects. The Xbox 360 version offers some sharper detail, nicer lighting effects, and an abundance of shiny surfaces. Each version of the game suffers from occasional frame rate instability, though. It never gets unbearably slow, but it never quite runs as smoothly as it should. The sound is excellent in each version of the game, with good music, plenty of ambient noise, and excellent voice work that really lends a lot of personality to each character--especially Lara.

Tomb Raider: Legend is a good return to the roots of the series. It doesn't do anything new or different, but it has a great blend of action and adventure that will always keep you moving and interested. The problem is that it moves a bit too fast, and it's all over way too soon.


Almost three years on from the Angel of Darkness debacle, Eidos knew it had a mammoth task on its hands to restore public confidence in a brand that had suffered the most humiliating critical backlash in years. Only Driv3r came anywhere near close in terms of a public mauling, and the indifferent commercial performance of Parallel Lines suggests that consumers aren't as forgiving as publishers might hope. What are the chances of Crystal Dynamics' debut Tomb Raider offering of turning the tide of ill will?
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Wisely, the Californian developer has gone for the 'safety first' policy of taking the gameplay back to basics, back to the late '90s vintage when Lara's improbably proportioned torso bestrode every other magazine cover. Almost everything that made AoD a painful, hateful experience has been ditched, with much of the old-style Tomb Raider II-era globe-trotting, Tomb Raiding that so many of us loved brought back to the fore. Right from the opening section of the Bolivia level, it's immediately obvious how much homage to past glories that Legend pays, but this familiarity largely breeds warm, lasting nostalgia, rather than instant contempt.

No one should expect any kind of gameplay revolution here, though, and rightly so. Legend is full-on old-style Lara adventure, complete with its fair share of levers to pull, pressure pads to activate, traps to avoid and neuter, blocks to push and ropes to swing.
I feel stronger now
Zoom in'Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend' Screenshot cosy

Lara in rare cosy jumper moment.

But (wait!) it's not the tired, cynical retread of the past you might expect, with the obligatory New Gadgets and Equipment(TM) increasing the interaction with the environment like never before. Chief of these is the Metallic Grappling Device, which not only plays its part in many of the puzzles, but also helps as a jump aid to help you swing across huge gaps, and a means of dragging enemies towards you in combat. To avoid the potential frustration of trial and error, all items you can grapple with have "visually distinct surfaces" (i.e. they look shinier than everything else), and once you've attached it, you can then drag it towards you, allowing you to yank pillars, boxes, switches and the like as a means of getting from A to B. Sometimes it's simply to provide a means to block the slicing blades of death from ripping your limbs asunder, other times to give you a means to avoid being roasted alive, or even to weigh something down. In many ways, Legend would be more aptly summed up as Tomb Raider Grapple, such is its reliance on this new gizmo, but it's definitely one of the better new additions. As a result, there's actually far less switch-pushing and pulling during your adventuring, and much more time spent wondering which cunning way you can use your grapple next.

Elsewhere, Lara's also been kitted out with binoculars and a Metroid Prime-style scanner, known as the Remote Analysis Device which allows you to scan the environment and find weak spots, or whether items can be moved or operated in some way - though most of the time it's pretty self-evident anyway. In addition, you also have access to a Silent Hill-esque chest-mounted torch (a - get this - Personal Light Source), which shows off the lovely dynamic lighting effects rather nicely, but - annoyingly - runs out of batteries if you leave it on for more than about a minute and then quickly recharges, begging the question, why not just let you switch it on and off? Why frustrate the player for no reason at all? Game designers, eh? Cuh.

Another item in your 'gear' is a stock of health packs (up to a maximum of three), which you can administer yourself (with a quick push of 'up' on the d-pad) when you're about to die. It's certainly a useful addition but in terms of New Things About Lara, that's about your lot. Sure, the game also tries its hand at new ideas in other areas, such as punctuating the general action at key points with some short 'cinematic' slo-mo action sequences where you have to press a specific button when prompted, but they're hilariously basic, more than a little bit pointless and not worth dwelling on, to be honest. Even less worthy are the game's two motorbike driving/shooting sections, which come across as a feeble attempt at variation, but merely serve to illustrate that Crystal Dynamics should stick to what it is best at.
Pixel imperfect
Zoom in'Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend' Screenshot grapple

She'd be stuffed without that grapple.

Aside from silly novelties, though, perhaps the most significant - and welcome -change to the gameplay is that Lara has been set free from the old grid-based control system, which is both a Very Good Thing, and occasionally a Not So Good Thing, as you'll discover. Old hands will notice immediately that her movements definitely feel slicker than ever. Every acrobatic somersault, every ledge shimmy and death-defying leap can now be pulled off with an assurance and a confidence that makes the game instantly feel more responsive and more enjoyable to play. The previous pixel-perfect precision that dogged some of the older games has been replaced by a system that - more often than not - reads the player's intentions. Leaps of faith to and from ropes, for example, work the way you always wanted them to, with a certain amount of invisible 'assistance' from the computer to make sure you connect. No longer does scaling crumbling rock faces and vaulting from one wobbly ledge to another require such a testing degree of "whoops, one pixel out" trial and error, with mis-timed jumps often resulting in a one-handed grasp, where players have to quickly press the Y button to steady themselves. This all makes the game feel a whole lot easier than Tomb Raider veterans might remember. It's certainly more forgiving in many respects, although there are occasions where not having a grid system means you can't just take the required number of steps back and do a run-up like before, but we can't say we missed that approach.

The combat controls certainly make things pretty straightforward for the most part, too, with a simple system that tasks the player with little more than holding down the left trigger to lock-on and fire with the right trigger. Thanks to a combination of generous controls, infinite pistol ammo and some pretty dim enemy AI, the occasions when you're heavily outnumbered pass off without incident at every stage of the game. Enemies obligingly stand around waiting to be killed (sometimes, gasp, moving behind cover), and even the ones that wield riot shields can be dispatched with a single well-placed grenade. As a nod to the past, Legend even throws in a few Leopards (and Pitbulls) throughout the game, but even they can't be bothered to put up a good fight, and the bosses - almost without exception - are unimaginative in the extreme and incredibly easy to dispatch, and only tend to hold you up via some illogical puzzle element. That said, it's just as well the combat amounts to a tiny portion of the overall gameplay - if it was a remotely important part of the experience we'd be more bothered by how utterly useless it is, but we're prepared to be slightly more forgiving than we might be because we enjoyed the main adventuring element.

A special mention has to be made about Legend's sensible checkpointing system. Often the difference between a satisfying game and a hugely frustrating one, Legend gets it right here by stopping short of the hideously forgiving quicksave method, and keeps you wanting more by never forcing the player to redo more than a few minutes of gameplay. But with several 'second chance'-type mechanics, and an unprecedented degree of hints and prompts flashing up to remind you which button to press, most experienced players will romp through the seven main levels in no more than 11-12 hours. While this undoubtedly makes the game feel somewhat shorter than previous epics, the payback is that frustration levels are kept to a minimum as a result, entertainment levels are generally high and you might actually feel compelled to see Legend all the way to the end.

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.
Zoom in'Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend' Screenshot memory

Swimming's barely featured in Legend, but it's a nice trip down memory lane when you do.

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.
Cruddy frame
Zoom in'Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend' Screenshot perv

Amanda in full perv suit. She's not nearly as evil as she needs to be.

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.

The first Tomb Raider title to be designed by Crystal Dynamics (after years under original creator Core), Tomb Raider: Legends is an all-new start for Lara Croft. New character animations and control schemes compliment the more natural character design and level details for the most immersive chapter in the series. Lara comes packing modern devices such as a magnetic grappling device, binoculars, frag grenades, personal lighting device and communications equipment for her all-new adventure.

Average Score: 7.4
Average Industry Score: 6.9

The last time Lara Croft was in a game worth playing, Final Fantasy VII had the hottest graphics ever, no one was entirely sure if Zelda would work in 3D, and only a handful of NES vets had any clue who Solid Snake was. Nine years is a long, long time in videogames -- the difference between the NES's heyday and the Dreamcast's launch, to give one example -- so it's pretty easy to understand why the Tomb Raider series entered the year 2006 as more of an irrelevant footnote in history than a cherished classic.

Tomb Raider: Legend was likely to be Lara's final, make-or-break last-ditch effort, a chance to determine once and for all if the first two Raiders were lucky flukes or if, in fact, with the proper time and effort the series could be relevant to the world at large. As it happens, the answer is "relevant." For the first time in far too long, a Tomb Raider title has more value as a game than as the punch line for a cautionary tale on the dangers of overextending a franchise.

Legend isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination. The combat could use more polish, or maybe Lara and her enemies simply need to stop in for a group eye exam -- gunplay at greater than 10 meters is annoyingly hit-or-miss, emphasis on miss. Worse, the quest is punctuated by two completely awful bike chase sequences that drag on into seemingly endless exercises in endurance. And finally, it's jarringly short, with an ending that's not so much a cliff-hanger as an interruption.

Then again, when was the last time anyone actually complained about a Tomb Raider game being too short? Typically, Lara's adventures seem to go on and on. Coming to the end and wanting more is something new to the series, and a welcome change of pace. In a sense, it seems to encapsulate Crystal Dynamics' approach to Legend: Keep the things about Raider that work, change the things that don't.

To that end, both the controls and storyline from 2003's abysmal Angel of Darkness have been completely abandoned, making this a fresh start that shucks off all the missteps of previous games. For the first time ever, Lara Croft controls fluidly -- her world isn't divided into little squares, and she can perform complex series of acrobatic maneuvers without a pause (and often has to, later in the game). For the first time, there's actually a cohesive plot running throughout the adventure, propelled by radio commentary from Lara's tech crew and augmented by flashbacks that delve into her past, particularly the circumstances of the deadly plane crash that transformed her from a pampered rich kid into a heat-packing badass.

And despite everyone's lousy aim, even combat works well. Lara can duck and dive and take cover, and she's completely abandoned her melee attacks to focus entirely on guns and grenades, making for an unabashedly Halo-esque system. She also has a magnetic grappling hook -- shades of Prince of Persia -- along with a Metroid Prime-style scanning ability. Oh, and there's a little God of War in the use of the Triangle button as a special action trigger. Sometimes it allows her to recover quickly from a clumsy jump, while other times it lets her shoot something in the combat environment to put a special kind of hurt on the bad guys. And then there's the Shenmue-derived quick-time event sequences....

But if you're going to borrow, why not from the best? Crystal Dynamics has done a great job of implementing features from other games into a smart, entertaining package that -- and this is the important part -- feels wholly like Tomb Raider. More to the point, it feels like the game Raider has always wanted to be.

The secret is in the environments. They're epic in scale, daunting in their complexity, deadly in their design. And a good half of the stages send Lara back into her favorite turf, crumbling ruins filled with cunning hazards. The ancient deathtraps are punctuated with more modern settings, and in several cases one setting bleeds seamlessly into the next, sometimes quite cleverly. Fans often complain when Lara mucks around for too long in urban environments ("It's called Tomb Raider") but Legend offers a perfect balance of dusty ruins and bustling cityscapes, with the occasional dusty cityscape tossed in for good measure. Each globe-spanning level is a self-contained experience and can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to complete.

The disconnect between stages combined with the constant radio chatter means that Legend is lacking in the sense of isolation and exploration that made the original game so haunting, but it also means there's far more variety, both in terms of scenery and tasks. A boss encounter pops up every few stages, although they're primarily remarkable for how frustrating they are. Still, they're doled out in just the right proportion -- much like everything in Legend.



Bikes and bosses aside, where Legend truly excels is in its sense of pacing. Gun battles are used as a sort of punctuation, bookends to the exploration and puzzle-solving at the core of the game. Half an hour of pit-leaping, wall-scaling, and blade-dodging is frequently capped off with a pitched battle that gives each section a satisfying sense of closure. Legend's designers have an excellent sense of how a game should flow, and the result is an adventure that never becomes dull and rarely feels forced.

Of course, Legend isn't going to change the world. It's hardly the monumental, influential work that the original Tomb Raider was, but it doesn't really need to be. It proves Tomb Raider's success was the result of a great gameplay idea that holds up 10 years later, not just the result of good timing at the cusp of the 3D revolution. And it's good, addictive fun that deserves a fair chance from Raider fans and detractors alike. It's been a long time in coming, but Crystal Dynamics has given us a great reminder of why we started playing these games in the first place.

FOR ANYONE WHO SPEAKS IN SPANISH... IT'S TRANSLATED... :thumbup:

Cambio de desarrollador para la séptima entrega de las aventuras de Lara Croft ¿Conseguirá Crystal Dinamics lo que no pudo hacer Core Design con la anterior entrega?.

Monotonía, decepción y cambio

Lara Croft ha sido, para bien o para mal, un icono del cambio de los videojuegos a una audiencia más amplia y adulta. Pero, a la vez que Lara se hacía más popular sus juegos iban decreciendo en calidad, llegando a extremos un tanto mediocres con el reciente Angel of Darkness. Realmente, y viendo las últimas entregas para PSX, nadie esperaba una revolución por parte de Core Design en PS2, pero sí al menos una mejora sustancial de apartados como el control o los gráficos. La decepción fue grande, y aunque el juego no pasaba de mediocre, todos aquellos fanáticos de Lara Croft criticaron duramente el juego por su insufrible control y obsoleto apartado visual. Las ventas fueron la demostración empírica de esta decepción, y Eidos confirmó el hecho llevando el desarrollo de la próxima entrega de Core Design a Crystal Dinamics.

No era, sin duda, una compañía novata en los juegos de plataformas o habilidad: Sus títulos como Gex la habían cimentado una reputación notable en la época de los 32 bits. Aparte, Whiplash fue uno de los mejores y más desconocidos plataformas en PlayStation 2. La elección era obvia, y para demérito de Core Design, ha sido totalmente acertada: Crystal Dinamics ha conseguido que Tomb Raider tenga un genial apartado visual, unido a un buen diseño y magnífico control. Se acabaron las muertes absurdas por errores de detección de los botones en el juego, ahora saltar de un acantilado a otro será lo más sencillo del mundo. Y, aparte, al fin cuenta con una historia un poco más hilada que lo habitual.

Del pasado al presente

Esta entrega combina una narrativa más avanzada, en la cual junto al hilo principal que combina la arqueología y las conspiraciones veremos recuerdos de Lara intercalados. La mejora es evidente, ya que permite que el jugador se identifique mucho más con la protagonista. Aparte, los antiguos diálogos (bastante poco edificantes) se han visto sustituidos por un Lara con más personalidad, con continuas ironías sobre su situación en el nivel. Se notan los desarrolladores del muy divertido Whiplash detrás. Todo ello completamente doblado al castellano, e integrado perfectamente en la acción. Los valores de producción, por tanto, están a un nivel muy superior a las anteriores entregas, lo que introduce al jugador de manera eficiente en el desarrollo.

Un nuevo control

El desarrollo mimetiza a la perfección las anteriores entregas de Tomb Raider, pero pronto descubrirás que los cambios son muy profundos en el control. A pesar de que los niveles estilo gruta, infiltración, o habilidad siguen copando el desarrollo, todo se nota más natural en el discurrir del juego. Nada hay, por tanto, de los antiguos bloqueos que provocaban más de un conato de desesperación en el jugador. Lara se controla perfectamente, con una precisión que llega a recordar a títulos como Mario Sunshine. Esto es, el salto de liana en liana, o simplemente, el clásico botón par agarrarse a los salientes han sido optimizados de una forma sobresaliente, acabando con la frustración clásica en la franquicia. Esto, en principio, podría no gustar a todos aquellos que gusten del control antiguo, pero Crystal Dinamics ha sido respetuosa al seguir su senda y no alterarlo, sólo mejorarlo. Simplemente, funciona mejor.

Hay algunas mejoras que tienen, de hecho, toques maestros. Ahora, en el caso de estar colgados en un saliente y no saber a que dirección ir, Lara realizará una animación enfocándose directamente a la plataforma a la cual va a saltar. Este cambio, que podría ser nimio, demuestra el grado de perfección que llega a alcanzar el juego en este aspecto. Esto demuestra, también, una ley clásica en el mundo de los videojuegos: A un gran control se le une siempre un buen número de animaciones. Lara ahora se mueve de manera natural, y no de la forma robótica de anteriores entregas. Todo ello será una sorpresa para el jugador habituado a la saga, que comprobará el salto mayúsculo que ha realizado Crystal Dinamics en el control. Por último, se ha añadido una especie de gancho que actúa como cierta arma que suele usar el Dr. Jones en sus películas. Sólo se usará en los saltos de longitud más amplios.

hope this review helped you...

wun