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Review: Tomb Raider Legend

Posted Mar-04 2007 by ron

For Gamecube, runs on Wii

Having a female protagonist can do strange things to your game. After Core Design released the first Tomb Raider game in 1996 to great acclaim, the series unfortunately started to go down the easy route and narrowed its focus on selling Lara Croft's immense hay-stack. Thus the past decade has seen countless Tomb Raider sequels, and lately even movies, of ever dwindling quality levels, only to be offset by those certain character attributes that would make school-boys giggle like proverbial school-girls.
With Tomb Raider Legend we're now very glad to attest that the game series has stopped trying to give new meaning to the phrase "booby trap".

That however doesn't mean Lara Croft had suddenly become an old hag.

Lara Croft posing
 for the camera (Tomb Raider Legend screenshot, Gamecube)

If you previously enjoyed looking at Lara Croft, Legend still lets you do that. The good news though is that the latest entry in the series also doubles up as an interesting game. A classic win-win situation.

For those new to the series, Lara Croft combines the roles of an archeologist and avid free-climber, ascending mountains, finding ways through various ruins and caves, and solving puzzles along the way. Beyond the usual action-adventure fare of pushing boxes onto pressure plates, she can hang off of the narrowest of ledges and jump rather elegantly between walls, poles, ropes and sometimes rotating water-wheels. In other words you get to control a sportive woman in an interesting line of work.

The game plays out in a third-person perspective where most of Lara's actions are controlled by just two buttons and the left analog stick. The buttons are context-sensitive in a pleasing, consistent fashion: the A button lets you jump, or generally go up, i.e. climbing on top of the ledge you're hanging from, or trying to launch yourself upward to grab a higher ledge. At other times the A button will engage a grappling hook that practically extends your forward jump etc.
The B button on the other hand will satisfy all your requirements of ducking, rolling and dropping down from ropes, chains, ledges etc. It's a nicely fluent way to control Lara's quite extensive range of moves.

Lara Croft doing
her most basic motions (Tomb Raider Legend screenshot, Gamecube, collage)

Lara Croft caught in her natural habitat, doing what she likes to do: free-climbing, playing with a chain (a rope would work just as well), hanging off a pole in preparation of a swirling dismount, and of course deciphering ancient inscriptions.

Fluidity is indeed one of Legend's strengths. The game animates all those limbs not just for show, but to forgive minor inaccuracies in the direction of your jumps, so that Lara can reach out to grab onto a rope that she would have just jumped past in other games. Likewise you can jump toward a ledge or a bar at the "wrong" angle and still grab it, and get auto-aligned properly for the daring continuation jump.

On occasions where you're jumping not quite far enough, instead of letting you plummet to your death, if you got at least close to the next ledge, the game lets Lara get an insecure grip with just one hand and seamlessly inserts a button-mashing mini-game that lets you save her from falling. We really loved the idea, as messing up still results in extra work and hence sloppy play is properly discouraged. Even though you won't have to redo a whole section, you are still taught very clearly that you should play more precisely. Good low-level gameplay design right there folks.

Lara standing before an
extended free-climbing exercise

The very first minutes of the game. We'll soon be climbing all the way up there, swinging across a gap with the help of that rope on the left side, entering a small tunnel, coming back out of the cave on the right side, jumping further out, then edging back along a very narrow ledge to finally reach the source of that waterfall. Tomb Raider Legend's refined controls and forgiving gameplay system allow that to be a pleasant activity.

If you mess up even more, and fall to your temporary demise, the game always lets you retry from a point which is mere seconds away from your prior point of failure. Plus you can not only save your game anywhere, but when you reload you'll actually be right in the same space, in front of the same obstacle you were trying to get around when you left off. Not all console games go to such lengths to make themselves as playable as possible, but for Tomb Raider Legend we will gladly draw any number of big green check-marks.

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