Lady Croft, how we’ve missed you. Welcome back to your rightful place as ‘No.1 kick-ass chick of the gaming world’. After the debacle that was Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, fans of the series felt let down, and perhaps—worse still—thought it may prove an unfitting end for a franchise they’d grown to love. When news emerged that Tomb Raider was getting another outing through developers Crystal Dynamics, the feeling of this particular fan was one of antipathy, apathy, and a little dash of hope. I’m pleased to say that the ‘hope’ I always held for this title has proven to be rightly assigned. So, let’s get to it shall we…
The first couple of Tomb Raider games had something special (other than the obvious inclusion of Ms. Lara Croft), and the overall stories and ‘feeling’ of the games was something that just felt right. The graphics, though blocky, had a certain magical feel to them, as did the sound. Gameplay also offered something a little different in terms of a lead female heroine without a heroic male counterpart. It was an oddity (sadly, it largely still is), but it worked and it worked well. However, the subsequent titles took a distinct turn for the worse and seemed to degrade in quality with each passing outing. It was therefore perhaps only natural that news stories concerning a new Tomb Raider game were first received by gamers with considerable trepidation; even its gorgeous trailers and focused PR hype didn’t quell the worries felt by most gamers—and particularly the huge fans of the series (as I am). Yet, despite the worries, I’m pleased to report that any fan of the first couple of Tomb Raider releases is going to be in gaming ecstasy with Tomb Raider: Legend since it harks back to those titles with much relish and adds in some of the feel of the first Tomb Raider film (the good bits, not the dire bits). Essentially, what you have here is an astounding game for fans of the series and a very good game for those that don’t ‘get’ the whole Tomb Raider thrill.
The overall story of Tomb Raider: Legend is simply too good to spoil by going into detail, so I’m not about to. Basically, you’re playing as Lara Croft, who’s set out on yet another adventure, which ultimately becomes personal—as per usual. Lara is sent trekking all over the globe seeking out the ancient artefacts that she holds so dear, and this time she’s doing it with a few added gadgets. The introduction of a waterproof PDA, grappling hook extraordinaire, and beautiful guns mean that Lara can handle any situation. Tomb Raider: Legend offers players the usual puzzle-based and third-person perspective style of gameplay, but it’s been spruced up in various places to make it better fit a next-generation title. There are also extremely cool additional athletic moves that Lara can now execute—one of the most awe-inspiring examples is when the game camera goes into glorious slow-mo as Lara attacks an enemy by jumping over their head, flipping backwards, and shooting them simultaneously. Yes, it’s all completely unbelievable, but then that’s what Tomb Raider has always been about. The game has a great blend of relatively taxing puzzles mixed with straightforward shooting, and interesting storylines, which—for me at least—make Tomb Raider: Legend the kind of game where you’ll actively want to finish just to discover what’s going to happen. As previously mentioned, there are odes to the Tomb Raider movies included in Legend and this certainly adds to the game’s coolness factor as you can tell the developers knew how to implement what the fans really wanted. The control system on this title is great, it’s easy to pick up and play and doesn’t take long to master the multitude of moves that Lara has at her disposal. No expense has been spared in making Lara capable of tons of funky moves, and thankfully all the original ones fans have come to love from the other games are still there too. Lara can still swan dive, she can still perform handstands, jumps to either side, as well as back flips and rolls, and all of this is easy to carry out on the 360’s controller. There’s also tiny mini game sections interspersed throughout, these are a lot of fun and simple to negotiate, whilst really showing off just how cool Lady Croft is.
Graphically, Tomb Raider: Legend is stunning. The detailing on Lara herself is quite astounding, and she’s beautifully crafted—as is everything else. Environments are sprawling, whether interior or exterior, and they convey bags of that invaluable charm that existed in those first few games; the Tomb Raider ambiance is certainly there and it still works. Character models are superb, though there’s the usual array of cloned generic bad guys, but this is common in most titles so hardly a huge point of contention. For those interested in Lara’s ‘assets’, she still appears as thoroughly unbelievable as ever, but that’s how she’s meant to be, so there’s not much else to say about that really. The addition of subtle detail touches like smoking guns and Lara’s misty breath whilst in cold environments brings extra depth to the game, and players will likely find themselves becoming quite absorbed in its overall beauty. Legend has plenty of detail throughout and there are also cheat codes to unlock that show the game in various other graphical formats. Another nice little touch that reveals just how much work goes into creating the look(s) we see onscreen.
The audio in Tomb Raider: Legend is also beautifully executed. The musical score is worthy of a big budget movie and sound effects are spot on too. British actress Keeley Hawes sounds perfect as Lara and the other in-game character performances are superlative too. There’s wisecracking aplenty from Lady Croft and even depth of emotion as the story unfolds. Personally speaking, the only thing I truly missed in terms of sound were those satisfying musical inserts that would accompany the uncovering of a secret in the original games. Yet it’s a tiny personal qualm and not one that’s likely to be of any consequence to all but the most ardent Tomb Raider fans. Each in-game location has been lovingly created with its own music and you can really get into the yoga meditation music at certain parts of the game—just what every girl needs before blowing someone’s head off. As with the Tomb Raider movies, most of the best lines belong to the lovely Lara and it’s nice to see the developers have given her more character depth through the audio. Deaf gamers will sadly not get to experience the full extent of the game’s layered atmosphere, however there are dialogue subtitles that can be switched on and off.
Dear female gamers—where to begin? We whine about gaming’s lack of playable females all the time because, more often than not, as women we’re sidelined when it comes to playable characters. Usually you’ll only get to play as a male lead character when there is no gender choice. But Tomb Raider differs of course, because it’s all about the girls. Even the key ‘bad guy’, Amanda Evert, is female; though her appearances in-game are sparse at best, which is a shame as she then seems more of a token character in many ways. Still, if you top this off with Mrs. Croft appearing along with Lara’s friend Anaya, it’s a female gamers nirvana. That’s not to say the game is without cool male characters; there are Lara’s faithful assistants, Alistair and Zip, and also her loyal butler, Winston. Along with these good guys there’s a wealth of evil in the form of mercenaries and Amanda Evert’s partner in crime, Rutland. It’s so refreshing, and downright excellent, that Lara is such a brilliant playable character that you can’t help but love this game for staying true to its roots and for putting females in the forefront. Another of the cool things about Tomb Raider: Legend is that it looks as though there’s going to be a sequel at some point in the future, hopefully focusing on some more of Lara’s past—which she partially uncovers in this game.
Overall, Tomb Raider: Legend is fantastic. There are a few tiny glitches with the graphics, and in terms of longevity, if the game is played on the ‘easy’ setting then it won’t take too long to finish. The included motorbike sequences seem a little dubious and slightly out of place within the game, and while it’s a nice idea to have Lara thundering along on a bike, it just tends to interrupt the gameplay flow. The bike’s controls are not all that great either, so if there are any negatives to be leveled at the game, then here is where they occur. Anyone who’s a fan of the Tomb Raider series will simply love Legend, and those who aren’t may enjoy it—or loathe it—for being so similar to the old games. There are plenty of unlockables and achievements in Tomb Raider: Legend, and this offers extra content and a greater depth to the game. When finished on the easier gameplay settings players can always go back and finish up on more difficult settings, while making a point of collecting every in-game item to unlock concept art, clothing, upgrades, and more.
As a games reviewer, and fan of the Tomb Raider franchise, it is SO satisfying to be able to write the following words: Tomb Raider is great again. I can’t wait for the next installment, and I really hope this game sells well enough to warrant anotherl. For the Tomb Raider fan it is well worth the money, despite the relatively short game length, it’s definitely worth owning. Lara Croft the Tomb Raider is truly a Legend.
Review by Angela