Review by Speedy Boris

"Beats the Pants Off All Previous Tomb Raider Games"

Finally, a Tomb Raider game that gets it right. After a revolutionary first game, a sequel that somehow managed to top it, and a third game that was... good, but not great, we got a string of mediocre and lousy sequels. In fact, many fans had given up hope that the series could get with the times and be enjoyable. Thankfully, game development switched to Crystal Dynamics, who completely redid the entire game engine, tightened the gameplay, polished the visuals, and brought the series back to its roots. As a result, Tomb Raider Legend became the first TR game in over six years to provide a fun experience.

1) Graphics: This category is kind of a given, since the game is on the modern platforms and thus would naturally have better graphics than a PS1, but even for its platform, the graphics are quite impressive. We get lushly rendered and varied, detailed environments (everything from jungles to cities to snow mountains to deserts), 60 frames per second on the XBox version, and natural, interconnected body movements. No robotic movement that we saw in the first few Tomb Raider games. Lara's character model has been given a HUGE overhaul; not only does she feature more polygons than ever to give her a smooth appearance (as opposed to jagged like the PS1 games), but even her facial expressions and eye movements change when she's standing still. Simply put, the game looks amazing, and that's a good thing for the kind of series that this is: Raiding ancient tombs and exploring exotic environments.

2) Sound: Compared to the first five Tomb Raider games, this game has quite a bit more voice acting in it, especially during the gameplay itself. Your navigators will frequently chime in and ask Lara something or provide her information. Luckily they aren't annoying, and overall the voice acting is quite good. Lara's voice acting, especially, is a major improvement.

Music is par for the course in the series; we get beautiful orchestral music, with an emphasis on ambient noise for many tracks. It's a bit less memorable than the PS1 Tomb Raider games (in other words, you won't be humming most of the tunes in here), but it's serviceable and provides the necessary atmosphere.

Sounds are appropriate for the environments, and are more immersive than the PS1 games. The footstep sounds change depending on the surface in which you walk, there are lots of subtle environmental sounds like rocks crumbling and weather, and the game takes advantage of directional sound, making it a multi-dimensional feast for the ears.

3) Controls: Now this is where the game has been given the biggest overhaul. Gone is the archaic "square environments" game engine from Tomb Raider 1-5. Instead, Lara actually can walk as fast or as slow as you want, simply by how much you push the joystick. She has no predetermined length of land that she'll step by a button tap anymore, thankfully.

In fact, Lara is 10x faster than she was in the PS1 games. Whereas you could count the seconds it would take to lift herself onto the top of a rock in Tomb Raider 1, for example, here it's almost instantaneous. This makes going through levels far less painful, as she can zip through them in far less time. In fact, the game eliminates a run button entirely because it's no longer needed, really.

The game presents plenty of new abilities: A grapple hook, which can help you swing across pits (as well as to pull objects and grab remote items); pole swinging, which makes you feel like an acrobat; a more refined and varied ledge shimmy; the ability to fire from turrets; and many more. The grapple hook is an especially impressive new feature, as it allows for a wide variety of methods to solve puzzles, due to how versatile it is.

4) Gameplay: As stated before, Tomb Raider Legend brings the series back to its roots, for the most part. No pointless city levels (well, there is one, but it's so well-done and a nice change of pace that I can't hate it), no pointless "going back through levels you've completed just to activate a switch" that was so prevalent in Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, no excess of gun fighting, just good old fashioned tomb raiding.

Now, yes, the game does tend to pit you against human opponents more than lower creatures like jaguars or supernatural/mythical enemies, which were more common in Tomb Raider 1, but oh well. Can't have everything. I will say however, that if they make a new Tomb Raider game, I'd like to see a return of the enemies such as the mummies, bats, bears, wolves, gorillas, creatures made of stone, and the like.

One thing the game truly succeeds at is its level design. Gone are the sprawling, multi-path caverns where it was easy to get lost and often difficult to know where to go. The levels are linear, in that there's one set path to follow, and honestly, after the last few games, where it was sometimes tough to know where to go without a strategy guide, this is a refreshing change. It's like each room is its own puzzle, completely separate from the rest, and thus you can focus more of your energy on one thing instead of multi-tasking and fearfully wondering, "Am I doing this level in the right order?" This also means far less backtracking; in this game, you pretty much go forward constantly, which makes things far less confusing and time-consuming.

Tomb Raider Legend also succeeds in its unlockables. Unlike previous TR games, which basically had no reward for collecting the secret items in each level (and if they did, minimal at best), Tomb Raider Legend provides a wealth of items that encourage exploration. If tons of alternate outfits wasn't enough (which you can then use when you replay levels), you can unlock character profiles, 3D models/artwork, extra game modes, previous cinemas, and other goodies.

And hallelujah, the game ditches the annoying "one level save per two blocks" that was featured in Tomb Raider TLR & Chronicles. The saving system is smart, in that you have one save and the game lets you go back and replay any level you've beaten, so that you can either find secrets you missed before or just to relive the fun with new outfits. In terms of saving inside the levels themselves, we have no annoying save crystals to find or collect. The game automatically saves when you reach certain checkpoints, which thankfully occur very often. Well done.

The downside? The game is only eight levels (and the last one is just a boss fight), so old school Tomb Raider fans used to levels in the double digits might be disappointed. However, this is one of those cases where the short length of the game doesn't matter, as it's more about the experience playing it than quantity of levels. Plus, after how ridiculously long and hard Tomb Raider 3 & TLR were, eight short but sweet levels is a nice change of pace, and makes the plot tighter, too.

5) Overall: If you've been disappointed by the Tomb Raider series for the last 6-7 years (heaven knows I have, and this is coming from a fan), I highly recommend you give Tomb Raider Legend a try. It throws out the out-dated game engine for a more modern one, the presentation has been given a huge facelift, there's incentive to take your time and find all the secrets, and while the game is short, it provides a thrilling experience while it lasts. Maybe there's some life in the series yet.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 01/31/07

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