Review by MaesterMagus

"Close look at an amazing game..."

Tomb Raider: Legends

Introduction:

Well, Lara has certainly come a long way in the ten or so years since her pixilated figure first minced across our screens. We've had the good, the not-so good, the average and of course the absolute classics. And now, after a rather disappointing last outing (Angel of Darkness) we have “Tomb Raider: Legends.”

TRL is certainly a huge step for the franchise and it was obvious after the last TR game that the follow up would either make or break it. I'll make this clear straight away: It does not break it...

Story: 7

Fairly interesting… The story is primarily about an artifact (well duh, this is Tomb Raider), which is an exceptionally powerful weapon (and I guarantee you've heard of it before) and Lara's quest to get it. Nothing new there really.

What makes the story of this particular installment above average, is how the particular quest ties in with Lara's past. I won't spoil it, but it has a lot to do with Lara's parents and a certain old acquaintance of hers. The story is helped by the mythology surrounding Lara's quest, which is of course actual mythology and the fact that the game is excellently scripted (the dialogue between Lara and her allies is often rather funny and informative).

On the whole the story is more then good enough.

Gameplay: 10

This is Tomb Raider how it was meant to be: It's fast, exciting and surprisingly varied. The most notable comparison people have made so far is to the Prince of Persia games. This is true to some extent, but I believe it to be much more than that.

The general gist behind the levels is using the environment: Branches, ropes, cliff edges, objects; everything has a function. Lara can grapple, climb, leap, swing, swim and everything in between. The gameplay here is radically improved, so much it's barely the same. The constant, fixed camera from the last generation Lara outings has been completely abolished much like Angel of Darkness. However, unlike AoD, this time it actually works and it works well. Of course, the camera is also moveable with the right analogue stick and/or the mouse (on a PC), which means none of that AoD frustration (not being able to see where you're jumping to etc) is present in Legends. For lack of a better word, the overall execution of the gameplay is perfect. So what is there to do?

Well, each level consists of various factors: Combat, movement (getting from place to place), puzzles and of course the occasional boss fight. There is also at least one action sequence in each level. These are like interactive cut scenes where an event takes place, usually involving high amounts of action and you have to push corresponding buttons in order to get Lara through it. This is a very cool idea and the action scenes themselves are something the directors of The Matrix would be proud of.

Then there's the bike… Oh yes the bike! At a few points in the game you get to take a break from the archaeology gig and just let rip. Now let me say, this is fantastic. The thrill of leaping from a cliff onto the roof of a moving train, while people are trying to kill you, is something everyone should experience, while speeding off the roof of one skyscraper onto another is straight from the movie “True Lies”. What can I say, it's awesome.

Combat in Tomb Raider games is something I've always felt was a bit lacking. In most cases it was a matter of pressing triangle and keeping the ‘X' button pushed in until your opponent was dead. Thankfully, combat (much like everything else) has been given a good workout. While Lara is aiming, she can kick opponents, roll into them and jump off them (which is ultra cool, quite like bullet time from The Matrix and the Max Payne games). She can also aim manually, which is a handy feature and also something you need to do in some levels to progress further. It actually feels like a shoot ‘em up when bombarded with enemies and it's never frustrating. Of course, when under heavy fire the environment is always able to help: shooting explosive barrels will take out enemies, as will shooting rocks and causing them to fall. Of course, you could always get up close and personal and utilize some of her new close quarters combat tricks.

To summarize: The gameplay in Legends is without a doubt the best it's ever been in a Tomb Raider game; there's everything we all used to love and a lot more besides. Phenomenal.

Graphics: 10

The graphics in this game are spectacular. Everything looks amazing. The backgrounds are vast and eye-catching and the character design is flawless. The water actually looks like water and when Lara emerges from having a swim, she actually looks wet. I mean really. This game is seriously polished, at the end of the games very first cut scene it took me a few seconds for me to realize I was in control of Lara. I thought “Woah, I'm actually playing the game and it looks this good?”

The environments, objects, buildings, you name it, its verging very near “realistic”. Looking down the side of a building in Japan you can actually see cars moving in the streets below. There are waterfalls that flow into the horizon and ancient temples in the snowy distance. The reflective surfaces and shadow effects are flawless and the aforementioned “wet look” will make your jaw drop. Of course, all this is before you enable the Next Generation features (PC of course).

And then of course, there's Lara. Remember the days when she had blocks for hands, flippers for feet and two cones on her chest? Character design in videogames has come a long way since then and the new Legends Lara is the physical embodiment of all those improvements. The attention to detail here is staggering. Lara moves like a person in every single way. When she's running, jumping, swimming; she lives.

While playing around with the camera I came to notice a few things too: Lara's expression actually changes. If you look at her face and fire a gun, you can see her bare her teeth and pull her “action” look. Similarly, if you stand her idle and push the ‘interact' button, she raises her eyebrows, shrugs her shoulders and pulls an expression best described as “I dunno, what the hell are you asking me for?”

Exceptionally immersive, it's like the tagline for this game says: Seeing really is believing.

Sound: 10

There isn't really much to say about the sound, it blends in so well to generate an ambient effect you sometimes don't realize there are sound effects happening. Whether it's birds from a forest in the valley or the change in Lara's footsteps as she changes from wearing shoes to running barefoot, the sound is ever-present and plays an almost equal a part as the graphics in creating an authentic world where you can become completely immersed.

The music, like the previous Tomb Raider games, plays just the right notes at just the right times. It's not a very “show off” soundtrack, but that's a very good thing. It's closer and more apparent when it's needed and sometimes it takes the back seat and simply lets the roaring of a waterfall fill the stereo spectrum. From delicate orchestral choirs upon entering a temple to the more obvious, techno adrenalin beats that ensue over a chase scene, the music just fits.

Perfect sound design and music coupled with some top-notch voice acting. What more could you ask for?

Play Time/Replayabilty: 7

A popular (if indeed the only) complaint about Legend is this: There's not enough of it. Sure, it feels a little short; it's so damn addictive you'll want to race through, but with a playtime of around 10-12 hours on your first playthrough, I realized there are plenty of games around shorter than that. So, it's not strictly the length of the game that bothers me, it's just that it leaves you wanting more!

Still, quality over quantity, I believe it is the mark of a good game when the only thing you could call “wrong” is that you want to play more of it. This is something I remember feeling from the Metal Gear Solid games too, but hey, now they're some of my favorite games and now, so is this.

Of course, completion of this game warrants another couple of playthroughs, meaning the actual length of playtime this game provides is quite high. There are the rewards to collect which unlock bonus materiel, the Time trials to complete which offers more bonus materiel, costumes to unlock and of course, Lara's cryptic mansion to figure out.

Overall, it is adequate, but you still won't shake the feeling that there should be another five levels… Of course if you had another five you would then want another five… and another…

Final Recommendation:

A soundtrack that takes you to the locations, gameplay that actually gives you cravings, a story good enough to keep you interested and visuals that make your TV/Monitor become a window into a whole other world.

So, Buy or Rent?

You could play through the game once if you rented it, but then when you return the game to the store you would buy it anyway, so save the rental money. Best game of the year so far? Well yes, this would be it.
Final Score: Seeing is believing; 10/10


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 04/10/06


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