Review by Nehti
"They're starting over, and that's a good thing."
This is a spherical look at all Tomb Raiders, focusing on the seventh. I talk about all the games in this review, in order to succeed my goal of giving a catholic impression of the latest.
Tomb Raider: Legend, unofficially known as Tomb Raider 7, is Eidos's newest installation to one of the most famous series of adventure games in the last decade. Everybody knows Lara Croft- even those who've never played the game. They've just heard about the cyber-babe with the badass attitude and the British accent, who even made it (unfortunately) to the big screen. But they haven't all necessarily played Tomb Raider.
They're really lucky, because if you play the games, at least the ones before Legend, you literally reach some points when you want to tear your hair out, not to mention want to kill Lara with your own hands. Yes. Her controls in Tomb Raider I, II,III,IV,V and VI are really that bad, at times. Especially in VI, Angel of Darkness, they surpassed every conceivable margin of control sluggishness and just became unbearably unresponsive.
Now, before I continue with this review, let me just say that I'll treat the reader as though they have never actually played even one Lara Croft game, in order to fully express the sentiments of someone whose played Tomb Raider games over the last decade and witnessed their decline with honest disappointment.
Let's start with what happened long long ago. In 1996, producer Eidos and designer Core hit the nail straight in the head by creating the type of game the world needed to see. Tomb Raider (the first) was a great success. for its time. It had ok graphics, Indiana Jones- reminiscent storyline (and we know how people love wild adventures in the Aztek/Egyptian ruins) and an explosive heroine -the personification of an ideally confident, rich, beautiful, successful, athletic woman, who chooses not to marry another rich man but to raid ancient tombs. What more do you want? The world needed an innovation, and Lara was it.
But, really, that was it. After Tomb Raider I, other companies caught on what the audience liked and started to improve their games. Tomb Raider II is in exactly the same style as Tomb Raider I, only with a little better graphics. Some consider Tomb Raider II to have been the best in the series, and they're probably right, since II had the interesting storyline that the first lacked and just the right combinations of shooters and puzzles t o become somewhat of a thrilling experience.
Then came TR III. Now this, in my opinion, is where things started to disintegrate. TR III was a 1998-1999 production. You'd think after two years of doing the same thing they'd catch on and start to improve their game engines. But no sir, they made another clone game, just like TR II, but with marginally better graphics and different storyline. Though generally entertaining, it became clear that the Tomb Raider series where something very restricted and to an extent, backward. They weren't improving their control engines, like they should have been after years of making the same game. Instead, they were repeating themselves, having found a recipe that worked and sticking with it all the way. They were obviously making clone games, basing the games' originality on the storylines. But then again, none of the Tomb Raider's -not even Legend for that matter- really has an easily comprehensible, clearly logical storyline. Their great advantage is Lara: she's the star of the show, and she's what this is all about.
However, by the time they produced TR IV, the world was asking for evolution. They wanted Lara to have new spiffy moves, innovative puzzles to solve. It became clear that the Tomb Raider sequels were collapsing in their repetitiveness. Thus, Tomb Raider IV became "The Last Revelation". I played Tomb Raider IV...and enjoyed it very very very much, even though it was extremely difficult and preposterously long. Eidos promised us - like every year- that after The Last Revelation, Lara would change, would become a new generation game, complete with all new-gen features. We all thought they'd manage it. How very disappointed we ended up getting.
First of all, they took five years (five long years, in which they produced Tomb Raider Chronicles, a sort of side-story based game which was fun to play, but not real Tomb Raider) to create Angel Of Darkness. They thought that when the fans had asked for innovation, they were asking for a 'darker, more mysterious' Lara. In their effort to become trendy and new, they lost site of what made Tomb Raider special. Angel of Darkness-which obviously shipped unfinished- was literally a nightmare. NIGHTMARE. I finished it once, and shall never deign to touch it again. The graphics, though better than before, were unacceptably low for the sheer time the game had taken to be made. The controls were inexplicably crippled, making one wonder what on earth had urged Core to toggle with them at all.
Really, this is important for my review: I cannot stress clearly enough the problematic aspects of Angel of Darkness. It is important that one understands this: Core Design had been working on this game for five years and in the end, it still shipped unfinished. I think I mustn't be cruel: the game had some good things going...a fairly interesting storyline, which, however, didn't tie in with the cliffhanger end of TR IV and V. To make things clear for you, in the end of TR IV, Lara is hanging from a cliff (a literal cliffhanger) and falls down to the void. in Tomb Raider V we witness her funeral. In TR VI, she's suddenly alive again and in France.
Also, in TR VI, they've tried to install these RPG- reminiscent sequences where you have to elect dialogue choices and can play other characters save for Lara. The really backward thing they did, though, was install a "powering-up" system, where you were forced to complete a task irrelevant to the progression of the game, so that you could "power-up" Lara and make her stronger. It seems that, during her long years of becoming an 'angel of darkness' Lara fell out of shape. Needless problems which one would never encounter in previous tomb raiders, like this powering-up system (which is truly frustrating), the 'grip meter' (which supposedly indicates Lara's faltering grip on a ledge) or the 'stealth mode' are seemingly just there to frustrate the player, and seem utterly useless.
Other aspects, like persistent difficulty, reigned over TR VI. And it's not the good kind of difficulty from TR III and IV, where you have to use your head to solve a puzzle. It's the spastic kind of difficulty where you keep losing because of an erroneously timed jump or a literally unbeatable foe. The game just screamed 'unfinished, ufurnished, lost in space'!! This is clearly indicated by the fact that Eidos released an internet patch only a few days after they shipped TR VI to the world, which would help run the cutscenes of the game in pc. Apparently, they hadn't even doublechecked the game cds to see if they worked.
It was a digital nightmare. And far from the next generation game it should have been.
And then, like a bright light in the horizon, Lara Croft returns again. We disbelieving fans are aghast, speechless as we rush through a new game - a good new game- which seems to finally reach that 'innovation' goal. Innovative while in the same time returning to the true roots of Tomb Raider.
After the colossal disappointment of Angel of Darkness, I think it was clear that a new sequel would either spell utter disaster for the Lara series or finally put it in the right track. Luckily for us, Eidos made a smart move in switching designer companies. No more good ol' Core design. Crystal Dynamics took over, and immediately improved every aspect of the game.
After the enraged outcry for the control system of the previous game, they realized the first thing they had to do was fix that. And fix it they did. It's almost unreal how well Lara controls in Tomb Raider Legend. She runs, jumps, rolls when you want her to, without the frustrating glitches or the awkward camera of before. No more frustration about aligning your jumps perfectly. Lara seems to have become much smarter in her time of absence: she grabs the desired ledge automatically, even if you don't jump perfectly to its direction. The improved control system is such a relief when following the prequel, that it truly is the thing that shines out the most for a long-time fan of the series.
The next thing they improved, and I mean seriously improved, were the graphics. The graphics of the previous game were acceptable for 2002, but painfully unremarkable for 2005, when the game actually shipped. Now, they've fixed that aspect as well, bringing a truly modern Lara back on stage. Her sprite is flawless, moving and acting like a real woman. They've elaborately edited her facial expressions so that, even during gameplay, when the graphics are supposed to be of lower quality than in cutscenes, Lara looks and feels real. She even shrugs in exasperation when she can't understand what object you want her to use. It's brilliant, I tell you.
I won't become repetitive about the utter magnificence of their landscapes. I'm sure all the other reviews-at least the ones I've read- stress the wonderful textures and patterns of the game locations. They've stressed equally enough how tough these next-generation graphics are for your computer. Unless you've got some really serious equipment and a great screen input, the pixel rates are going to be very hard on your machine. To be fair, however, if you do meet the outworldly system requirements, the graphics are so magnificent that they literally take your breath away. You feel like you're actually located in Africa, rainy England or Nepal.
When it comes to the character sprites, none shines as much as Lara's, but then again, she is the star of the show. Even so, the other characters do look and behave naturally, albeit in a more sketchy, pixelly way.
Lara's new costume collection is also elaborately created and cared for, so that it gives the illusion of her being an actual person, who changes clothes now and then. This wasn't executed so naturally in Angel of Darkness and Chronicles, where it all seemed a bit artificial.
The other newest element they added was the concept of 'Lara's team' and 'Lara's friends'. We've got a lot of talking in this game, and it's really good. As Lara executes superhuman acrobatics in the terraces of skyscrapers or the mountains of Bolivia, her friends Zip and Alister (Zip having shown up briefly in Chronicles) talk to her via her headphone. The voice acting might possibly be one of the best, if not the best (and I'm not exaggerating out of excitement) I've ever heard in this kind of game. The inflections are all realistic, to such an extent that one feels they're actually hearing Zip though a headphone. What's interesting is that the majority of these dialogues are quite freshly entertaining and serve as an enjoyable distraction from the Tomb Raiding, showing the player that Lara is an actual person -not only a heroine- and has a life somewhere.
Not only that, but Zip's comments while Lara is trekking her way through Tombs are things that the player is likely to be thinking himself, and is thus humoured to actually hear being said. In the other games, we never knew who Lara was, what she was thinking. After playing Legend, I feel I can actually outline her character. I got a better impression of Lara in Legend than I did in the movies, which were supposed (I repeat: supposed) to turn Lara from a cartoon to an actual character.
Her friends actually talk and behave just like partners should, and if a Tomb Raider movie was made now, I bet they'd have Zip and Alister there somewhere. They've done a great job trying to build up the characters in this game, weaving elements of Lara's past in the story line. By the end of the game, you actually feel that, in a way, this is the first Tomb Raider, and you're getting to know Lara all over again -in a new, improved way. She talks, she laughs...it's fun to experience. I couldn't even begin to imagine a situation like this one when I was wondering the death traps of TR IV. Back then it was just me and Lara. And the death traps. Now we've got this whole band of characters, giving the game some substance.
The story line isn't something fantastic. It feels more like another excuse for Lara to go trampling all over the six continents. Even so, it's less artificial than in the other games, since there are concrete charaters involved. The villain this time is someone form Lara's past. Also, there are flashbacks in the story which give the impression of realism- the impression of logical consecutiveness. This is something the other games lacked.
However, the thing the other games had and this one doesn't is length. This game is very addictive and very fun...while it lasts. After playing it, the only thing that really got stuck in my mind was that I wanted more of it. More of Lara's crazy escapades. However, I guess I must have really enjoyed it if I liked it enough to write a review for it!!
However, as all things go, this too has its bad aspects, as well as its good ones. My main complaint about the game is that it is separated in an emancipated eight levels, which are repetitive and not very challenging. Even in Hard difficulty, the gunfights are predictable and slightly redundant. The puzzles aren't very challeging to solve. They have very little from Lara's past adventures. It's like there are four-five objects in this game : boulder, crate, lever, spikes, motorcycles etc which are repeated in a different pattern for each level. It has nothing to do with TR IV or III, where you literally never knew what was coming next. This game was linear and short, which was a surprise for the 7.5 GiGA it requires in your hard disk. The graphics and characterization took a lot of space, leaving diversity of gamelplay a bit scorned.
Even so, though slightly predictable, the sequences -even gunfights- in this game, were enjoyable and fast paced. To be honest, I rather liked the shooter. My only problem was that there weren't a lot of guns -like in TR II, III. IV or V. Be it the pistols or anything else, the outcome was only slightly altered in this game. The motorcycle chase levels, though repetitive, were very fun. They're reminiscent of other race games, but they were really great. Only in retrospect do I realize the game was repetitive. When I was playing it, I never notied it much.
The thing that really got to me, however, was that the game doesn't let you save wherever you wish. They use the playstationy tactique of checkpoints, as an alternate way of automatic saving. However, in this way, personally speaking, I didn't feel at liberty with the game. It's linear structure made me feel that once I went forward, I couldn't go back. In the final boss fight, for example, there are two checkpoints. The boss fight is seperated into two parts: an easy part and a hard part. The easy part is meant to be there for the player to assemble med-packs and prepare for the hard part. Not predicting this, I beat the easy part without assembling as many health packets as I could. When the hard part started, the checkpoint automatically saved. The result? Every time I loaded, I was stuck in a hard boss fight without many med-kits. There was a checkpoint before the easy part, too, but the game wouldn't let me return to it. I had to replay the game from the closest save to the final boss fight. Anyway, since the game is fast-paced and linear, I didn't have much trouble with this kind of thing.
Overall, if I had to compare it with any of the previous Tomb Raiders it would be, ironically, the very first one. Like Legend, the first game was composed of short-lengthed levels and fast-paced action. To me, it appears that Eidos is trying to start over. Perhaps TR 8 -which I'm looking forward to- will be longer and harder, as these are mainly the only complaints I have about legend. I wanted it to last longer and more difficult. Then again, perhaps consice and with good gameplay (TR7) is better than prolonged and crippling (TR6). Having finished the game and having played Tomb Raider for at least six or seven years, I feel like Legend is a new beginning- an effort to wipe the slate clean and start over. It's a success.
Storyline: 7/10 - - It's interesting - not great, mind you, but interesting with a few cool twists here and there. It leaves prospects for an even more interesting story in TR8. It interweaves a lot with Lara's past and helps define he character, for once. It appears more like an introduction to an epic adventure, which, I hope, will take place in the upcoming games.
Graphics: 9/10 - - andI'm being very strict. The drawback is that you need some insane screen power and graphic card , but if you do meet the requirements, the sheer magnificence of the graphics will make your jaw drop. The player feels as though he's located in the landscape.
Voice Acting 10/10 - - no complaints there. I found not even a speck of unrealistic dialogue in the whole game. especially when it comes to Lara and co, the voices were not only realistic, but matching to the characters' appearance.
Sound effects: 9/10 - - I never really noticed there were any sound effects, which I guess was a good thing. The guns click when you take them out, they make realistic shooting sounds, the bad guys drop dead with a thud...Well yes, I guess the sound effects worked ok...Oh! come to think of it, there was something brilliant. When the enemies are around you, but haven't noticed you, they often talk to each other- there are some hillarious dialogues between guards! Also, in a level that takes place in Japan, I enjoyed listening to the baddies yell Japanese at each other. "Search for her!" "She's coming this way!" "Damnit!!" etc...
Soundtrack: 7/10 - - It's not very distinct, as in previous games. The opening video has a cool tune, but none of the levels have a really memorable theme song. I noticed parts of the soundtrack were identical or only partially altered from the soundtrack of TR IV and V.
Gameplay: 8/10 - - Best controls in a Tomb Raider game yet. Lara moves smoothly and responsively. It's like a dream come true. We've got the standard gunfight -cerebral puzzle - gunfight - jumping puzzle structure again, but with less challenging puzzles than before. There are three motorcycle sequences where Lara uses Ducati bikes to perform impressive acrobatics on roofs or participate in wild chases.There are also some interactive sequences where one must press the correct arrow key in the right times so as to save Lara from certain death. Main gameplay drawback is that it is repetitive and not challenging.
Replayability: - - Even in Hard mode, it's not so hard, save for a select few bossfights. There are unlockables like extra outfits, location concepts, special cheat codes etc., which can be earned by beating levels in time trial mode or uncovering secret rewards in each level. Overall, I'd think one would want to replay the game after they've finished, if only just to see the locations and hear Zip on the headphone again.
Buy or Rent: - - Tricky question...The main feature of this game is that it can be played by anyone, even by someone who has never played Tomb Raider before. For an average-to-slow gamer, it should take about 10-11 hours at the most (and I'm grossly exaggerating). To a serious addict, it won't keep you rolling for more than 7 hours. The unlockables and time trials may keep you interested for a while though. If you've never played Tomb Raider and are thinking about starting, let me just tell you, this is not a representative classic Lara. It's possibly better for you than a representative classic Lara, because it is simple, linear, and without the glitches. And it's fun, unlike a few of the previous ones. So, if you want to see what all those people saw in Lara in 1996, play this game, not the others. For 2007, this game is close to what Tomb Raider I was in 1996- a new beginning. Rent it. If you've never played Lara Croft, rent it. Then see if you like it, and if you don't, then ditch it. For diehard Lara fans, however, buy it. Even though it's not as big as the others and not as difficult, you're going to enjoy it (if only for the improved controls, finally!!!). It's a must buy for a Tomb Raider fan. It's preposterous for someone to have gone and bought the nightmarish prequel and not this one.
Because this one is a good, enjoyable game. Finally, you don't feel like Lara's trying to frustrate you. Instead, learning about her character and friends, you feel like you can actually identify with her. Good game. Good, good game. Compared to its direct prequel, it's a prodigy. Don't miss it.
Overall rating: 8.5/10
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/14/06
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