Tomb Raider Legend

Xbox 360

Review by Pete Dorr



Graphics: 8

Sound: 8

Gameplay: 7

Overall: 7


I was really excited to read about a new Tomb Raider game that went back to its roots of actually exploring ruins and tombs, but I was still hoping that it would still feel like the good old Tomb Raider games where you really had to EXPLORE every little nook and cranny to find that one little ledge to the exit. I kept away from gameplay videos and such so that going into the game would be a complete surprise.

tombraiderl2360.jpg (164975 bytes)The number one problem with games these days is frame rate. I'm not one to complain about it, since to me only certain games suffer from that problem (racing games for example), but in TRL's case it does have some problems where the frame rate is low, not even in crowded areas. Luckily it doesn't take away from the games beauty, and since you are basically in enclosed places most of the time. You are never really running around to experience the bad frame rate.

Besides that, the game looks pretty damn awesome in terms of its environments. You go from a ruin in a rainforest to abandoned villages in Peru, and eventually you are scaling the side of a snowy mountain looking over miles of land. It all looks great, and the tombs have great uses of shadows. The first time you see this HUGE waterfall that takes up the whole screen your jaw will drop as you realize just how real and believable the world setting is.

There are some complaints though. Character models are not all too refined. For example, all of the characters faces have tons of clipping, such as eyes showing behind their hair. Their eyes and eyelashes seem strangely stuck on, and all enemies are exactly alike. That's right, every bad guy you encounter is wearing the same exact clothes. However, the animations of Lara are dead on, she moves with ease, and long gone are the robotic movements of her PS1 days; it's just too bad all enemy models are still horribly stiff.

I have never really cared much about Lara in general. Her background never interested me. All I know is she raids tombs, and does a damn good job of it. The game introduces you to a plot that unravels Lara's past, showing you her childhood and how she lost her mother, and how this all ties together with some excalibur sword, some wacky friend that she believes got killed long ago. Luckily everything was well acted out, and Lara had personality. It is a pretty weird story that might have you wondering at points "why the hell am I here again, fighting this... thing?", but luckily you don't have to watch too many cut scenes throughout the game.

There are seven different levels to play through, each in a new location somewhere else in the world. Anywhere from Tokyo to Africa, Lara is there in this adventure. Each location is littered with some easy (and not so easy) medals to find throughout the adventure, which adds a collection aspect typical of adventure games. This was must needed for the otherwise repetitive gameplay. They could have come up with more clever hiding spots for the medals, but that's just a minor complaint.

Exploring the tombs and levels is just fun, and in many cases you will find yourself hundreds, maybe thousands of feet in the air dangling by one hand, shimmying your way across a six inch ledge. That's what gives this game its fun flavor, the constant sense of danger. However, once you experience the danger once, it sticks with the game until the end. What I mean is this: The game has five main elements to it.

1)    Climbing- Every level, no matter where will have these painfully obvious ledges that you use to shimmy across. They are marked by often brighter, colors or are obvious to see that you must climb them. While this might be good for people who are obviously irritated by not having the game hold their hand, in a way it takes away from the sense of exploration when the path is laid clearly in front of you. It doesn't help that the camera shifts directly in the direction of the path you must take while climbing, making it very hard not to see the path given to you.

2)    Swinging- Mixed in with the climbing are poles that you use to swing from place to place. It might seem cool at first, but once you reach the third level and see those damn poles again, it gets old fast. You know something is wrong when you are at the end of the earth, climbing an ice wall, and suddenly out of nowhere there is this perfect metal pole there for you to swing on, it kind of ruins the experience. Not only that, but swinging on poles is so on rails its not even funny. The game makes it REALLY hard to screw up on a pole jump, because the release point is mapped to one location, so if you press the jump button and you don't jump until one second later, it because the game wants you to release at one specific point only, so really there is no challenge to pole jumping.

3)    Box pushing- Every level, no matter where, is going to have you in somehow or another pushing around boxes. Each level in the game usually has one main puzzle that requires pushing blocks around to different switches until you guess the right order. You use the boxes in other ways, but not many. Put it this way, once you figure out how to use the boxes for certain puzzles, the rest of the game every time you see that situation again you know exactly what you must do. Often times the box puzzles can be pretty obvious, but other take some thinking.

tombraiderl3360.jpg (95999 bytes)4)    Grappling- Lara comes equipped with a magnetic grappling hook that lets here get a hold of any metal object, which are clearly marked in the game as more brightly colored object, with an obvious shine to them. In a way it's helpful, but it points out what parts of the environments you must use so obviously that it solves the puzzles for you. You walk into a huge room, and in the distance you see a bright shine, so you must know that object is either used to A) swing on or B) move. It does add something new to the game, but truly it doesn't add much value to the gameplay.

5)    Shooting- When Lara isn't figuring out puzzles she is gun fighting with some very generic enemies. There are only two types of enemies in the game (yes, TWO). One is the human, who often stands still and shoot bullets yelling different remarks. They either throw a grenade, shoot a automatic gun, or snipe with laser rifles at close range. The second enemies are cougar/dogs. They are so badly implemented that you would think that they were slapped into the game two days before it was released. They have some of the worst AI ever, looking like robots, and they spend more time just running towards you than actually attacking you. Needless to say they are useless, despite that you encounter maybe 10 of them throughout the whole game.

Gunplay (luckily) is kept to a minimum, because it is very loose and unsatisfying. Your bullets fire extremely slow (from the hand guns) and are very inaccurate at medium-long range. It all just feels so loose and unpolished. However it isn't bad enough that it ruins the game, because like I said, gunplay is kept to a minimum. Perhaps if the aiming and AI had been fixed, and maybe some different enemies, this would have been a shining moment for the game.

Boss battles are one of the best parts of the game, because each one is very fast paced and often requires a few attempts before you finally figure out what must be done. However, they don't last long. Once you figure out the solution, it only takes a few hits to finish off the boss. One battle in particular I finished in maybe two minutes, and the final battle (while really cool) was so easy that its not even worth worrying about how to stay alive.

Each level takes 30 minutes to one and a half hours to complete. Each has a main puzzle, which usually takes the longest to figure out. However, they all lack variety because each one has you pushing around blocks, or swinging on ropes. Not to say that's all too bad, but it starts to get old after awhile. Different puzzles should have been used, because after the third level or so, you know all there is to know about the game and will rarely be faced with any unique or new challenges.

Just to make things a bit worse for you, the game makes you play two bike chase sequences that are horribly bad, and last about 10 minutes each. The controls are so loose, and all of it seems so out of place. You just escaped a level, and are surrounded by enemies, but suddenly and magically there is a motorcycle for you to ride away with. Then you are killing wave after wave of enemies on motorcycles, with absolutely no depth to it at all. Ride on a straight path, avoid the barrels, hold the shoot button, and that's it. They luckily only take up about 20 minutes of the game, but for what its worth that's 20 minutes of wasted time.

Voice acting is superb, and luckily Lara is played perfectly with the right attitude to make her believable. All other characters also have fitting voice actors, except this one girl (Amanda) who I could swear sounds like every Saturday morning cartoon girl, a really annoying voice. Environments all have their little noises, like birds chirping, water running, rocks falling, it all adds to the environment greatly. Too bad the enemies sound totally generic during battle. The music is also an ambient upbeat soundtrack, fitting the mood of each scene. In a fight sequence its upbeat, and during a raid in a tomb it has different kinds of tribal music.

tomraiderl1360.jpg (95944 bytes)Luckily the days of the grid based Tomb Raider games are gone. Everything is now swift and easily controlled. Each one of Lara's mechanisms is mapped to the D-Pad, so pressing up uses a health pack, right is your binoculars, left is a light source, and down is the changing of guns. It works out much better than having to access a menu for it all. One of the bigger problems with adventure games is the camera, and luckily TRL does a good job of giving you a free moving camera, but during its tight quarters it steers you in the right direction instead of having to fiddle around with it to see where you must jump to next, but it pays its price as I said earlier by paving the direct road for you through many of its jumping sequences.

Besides the main adventure (which can be beaten in 7-10 hours), you get to explore Lara's beautiful (and huge) mansion, littered with some of the games most complex puzzles, and more secrets to find. Speaking of secrets, along your journey of completing levels and finding medals, you are awarded with weapon upgrades, new costumes, 3D models to look at, and more. None of it is so gratifying that it makes you want to beat the game 100% to get everything, but it is some replay value. There are also time trials which require you to get through each of the levels as fast as you can, so if you are into these types of things they are readily available. Besides all of that, there is really nothing left for you to do, and there is little reason to go back and replay the game more than once.

Sadly the game did not turn out as well as it could have. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed playing the game through and exploring its tombs and various other locations. It is very linear , and there is always one path to travel, so really there is little actual "exploring" involved to find the right path. Solutions are mapped out so obvious, such as the poles, shining objects, and gripping ledges, that you rarely have to search for your next path. This is also worsened by a camera, which automatically moves in the direction of the next jumping platform. You know exactly where to go.

With all of that aside though, it was still fun. It's a good sign that the series is back on track. Old Tomb Raider fans will definitely appreciate what Legend brings back to the table, but there are still a number of problems.


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Last updated: Sunday, April 23, 2006 02:44 PM