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Tomb Raider: Legend

I'm not sure when things started getting out of hand with Lara Croft.

She's been on the cover of the late great Face magazine (where she was compared to Pamela Anderson and Yoda), the subject of numerous feminist academic research papers and she's been described as both a cultural icon and 'one of the most fascinating and enigmatic figures of our time' (by the developers of course). She's starred in a couple of ropey films and been used to sell everything from Lucozade to AT&T mobiles. The trouble is, when you start concentrating on extra-curricular activities like this, your day job suffers and one of the things that made her famous - the Tomb Raider games - have now made her a laughing stock.

So it's make or break time. And despite fearing the worst, the good news which I'll get out of the way early doors, is that there's plenty of life in the old dog yet. Crystal Dynamics have taken the essence of Tomb Raider, tightened the dynamics and delivered a solid, if short, game without any visible bugs.

It kicks off with a flashback - a narrative device that's used throughout the game to piece together Lara's past - to a plane crash in Nepal, before moving to the present-day and the obligatory tutorial which deposits you in a good old-fashioned tomb. And this is where you get on with what Lara does best - solving puzzles, pushing and pulling crates and dispatching bad guys and endangered wildlife with your trusty pistols. And while it doesn't manage to create the same sense of awe as the original, you have to put that down to the fact that we're spoilt for choice these days.

HELPING HAND
The pacing of the game is almost perfect. You're propelled through the game on the edge of your seat without spending too much time working out where to go or what you're supposed to be doing. Regular checkpoints mean that you never have to backtrack more than one puzzle (or several somersaults) if you die, but it never feels like you're on rails. Everything's been designed to make the game flow as smoothly as possible.

Take the new grappling hook, which you use to retrieve crates or swing to remote areas of the level. Rather than letting you work out which objects you can use through trial and error, relevant surfaces shimmer to give you a visual clue. And if that's not enough, you can use your binoculars to analyse objects and see whether you can move them, grab them or shoot them. In addition, your new 'accurate-aim' crosshair changes colour to ram the message home, as well as letting you shoot precisely at remote targets.

This perfect balance carries through to the puzzles, which are on the right side of frustrating, while being entirely logical and hard enough to give you a real sense of satisfaction when you crack them. (I must admit to almost whooping after cracking one first time, but thankfully I came to my senses in time.) The developers have even managed to avoid relying on obtuse methods of dispatching the end-of-level bosses, although the final battle is keyboard-smashingly hard, especially if you get sucked in without the maximum number of health packs.

GOING UNDERGROUND
The story takes in a huge span of Lara's life, and it's a quest to discover what happened to her mum and best friend Amanda, both of whom are missing presumed dead. And while much has been made of the fact that Legend takes Lara back underground, good game design means you don't have to keep a good woman down to provide the necessary thrills. In the eight (big) levels, you traverse the globe, taking in not only tombs, but a military base, a museum in Cornwall and a couple of giant skyscrapers in Japan. And it's the latter level that perfectly encapsulates the new game. It's so good that I'm not going to spoil any of the details for you, aside from the fact that Lara's definitely got a bit of Posh about her in a black cocktail dress.

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