Tomb Raider: Legend, video game, box art, Tomb Raider, Lara Croft, sky

Review: Tomb Raider: Legend

What happens when you combine the world-famous Arthurian legends with adventurer Lara Croft and the mystery of her mother’s disappearance? You get the first game in Crystal Dynamics’ LAU trilogy: Tomb Raider: Legend.

Kevin, contributorKevin a geek who plays Dungeons & Dragons and any role-playing game that pops in his path; as well as a video-gamer who likes anime, reads manga, watches cartoons and buys tens of novels a year. Take a look at his blog The Mental Attic where he invites readers to ‘Think Better, Think Bigger!’.

Title overview   |   Initial impressions   |   Plot   |   Gameplay   |
Visuals and audio   |   Replay and innovation   |
Screenshots and videos   |   Final thoughts   |   Review round-up

Title overview

Name: Tomb Raider: Legend
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Release date: April 2006
PEGI rating: 16
Platforms: DS, Game Boy Advance, GameCube, PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3 PSP, Xbox, Xbox 360
More information: Official website

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Initial impressions

When Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness met with abysmal reviews and sales, Eidos Interactive did the unthinkable. They took the Tomb Raider property from its creators Core Design and gave it to Crystal Dynamics, famous for the phenomenal Legacy of Kain series, to see if they could salvage the franchise. While the game met with scepticism, Tomb Raider: Legend became the title with the highest acclaim and sales since Tomb Raider II — considered by fans to be the best of the Core Design releases.

Like many lovers of the series I became disillusioned with it after the disastrous Tomb Raider Chronicles and The Angel of Darkness, so when I heard the people behind my beloved Legacy of Kain were handling Lara Croft I couldn’t help but be excited. I knew they could deliver an amazing story and I just couldn’t wait to see what it was like. Recently, much like with Tomb Raider: Underworld, I played through this title as part of my Let’s Play series. It’s the third title I completed as I make my way back through the series in reverse order.

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As a child travelling with her mother, Lara’s private jet crashes in the Himalayas. They seek shelter in a temple after escaping from the wreckage and she finds a strange contraption that looks oddly like a Stargate from the 1990s film of the same name. Because of her curious nature, she touches the strange sword-like object in a pedestal and the mechanism springs to life; fearing for her daughter’s safety, Lara’s mother jumps in and pulls out the weapon, deactivating the machine but vanishing in the process.

Lara discovers links to Excalibur at a dig in Peru, one of the many names for these swords.

In the present, our heroine tracks down a fragment of a similar sword to a temple in Bolivia and she soon finds herself surrounded by mercenaries. After making her way through the structure’s deadly traps she confronts James Rutland, a rich American businessman and the mercenaries’ employer. He holds a piece of the weapon and seems to know about Lara’s past and, after dealing with his thugs, she travels to a dig in Peru where some of her friends died. Here she discovers links to Excalibur, one of the many names for these swords.

Legend’s plot is perhaps the strongest in the franchise’s history (not including the recent reboot). Lara’s quest is personal, not only fuelled by her love for her mother and desire to find the truth, but also because her discoveries prove her father was right all along and those who mocked his theories were mistaken. You can clearly see this when she finds the pedestal in Bolivia where she kneels down and whispers: “You were right all along Father.” While Rutland serves as main antagonist, his partner Amanda is perhaps the true villain of the game and her history with Lara makes for a compelling enmity. The title does take its liberties with Arthurian legends of course but the way they’re tied them to the Tomb Raider universe is quite smart.

Legend introduces two new characters to the archaeologist’s group. In addition to the ever-trustworthy butler Winston she now has Zip, her private hacker and tech-wizard (a character first introduced in the last level of Chronicles) and Alister, an assistant scholar. They provide most of the conversation and banter, keeping things fresh and animated even as you go through the tombs. Not everyone liked that Lara had their voices in her ear at all times but I think it’s a humanising feature. It’s reasonable for her to have people working for her, friends that worry about her well-being, and it turned her from the unassailable ice-queen into a relatable character.

Legend has no satisfying conclusion and instead sets up the premise for the next game in the series.

The only downside to the story is that it suffers from ‘trilogy syndrome’, and by that I mean it has no satisfying conclusion and instead sets up the premise for the next game in the series. The ending is fantastic and offers some intriguing revelations, but it leaves you with unanswered questions — at least until you play Underworld.

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On the surface Legend plays the same way as every other Tomb Raider before it. You control Lara in third-person and she runs, climbs, jumps and fires her guns at the same time. She still has dedicated walking and crouching buttons, but Crystal Dynamics expanded on her move-set and in the process redefined what it is to play as the archaeologist.

Firstly, they added autograb to her list of moves, making it so you don’t need to press a button — or hold it — for Lara to grab onto ledges and other climbable surfaces. Instead of maintaining your grip, the action button now lets you move or climb faster, easing some of the lengthier climbing segments. To encourage this, the developer introduced collapsible ledges; with these you have to move as fast as possible before they crumbled, giving you a nice and quick adrenalin rush.

If you tap the roll button a few times Lara performs multiple flips and acrobatics – clearing the rooms faster than she normally would and looking quite stylish at the same time.

The second thing they did was give Lara a rolling action. With this you can roll into or through tight quarters while increasing her overall movement speed. In fact, if you tap the roll button a few more times she performs multiple flips and acrobatics – clearing the rooms faster than she normally would – while at the same time looking quite stylish.

Finally, the biggest improvement is the zip-line. The Legend of Zelda gave us the hookshot but Legend lets us use it while on the move and it’s great. Our heroine can use the tool to hang onto latch-points to swing over chasms, rappel down or even run along walls. She can also use it to grab onto objects and drag them.

Speaking of dragging, the title changed the way Lara pushed boxes and other objects. While before she had to move them in a straight line, either forwards or backwards, here you can grab onto an object and drag it in any direction – thus making it much easier to position cages and boxes on switches. In one of the earlier puzzles you need to carefully place a box on an improvised see-saw to propel it onto a ledge; not only is it a clever use of physics but it would’ve been nightmarish to pull off without the new controls.

Your twin guns lack punch so being able to pick up your opponents’ weapons to use against them is a fantastic option.

One of my favourite mechanics in this game (which unfortunately didn’t make it into the other entries in the trilogy) is picking up enemy weapons and using them. From the earliest stage you’ll come across mercenaries and while your twin guns are perfectly functional, they lack the punch of your opponents’ weapons so being able to pick the guns up to use against them is a fantastic option. At least until you get your hands on the artefact, anyway.

This is perhaps the biggest change compared to previous instalments in the series, and a trend that continues in Underworld: the ability to use a legendary artefact. In previous games these were just objects for the quest and used as items, but Legend gives you a powerful mythical sword to wave around — the kind you pull out of a stone and makes you a sovereign. It’s amazing.

But while I mention all these improvements on the overall formula the title does have its flaws, the main one being the chase sequences. More often than I would’ve liked, you’re forced on motorcycle chases against mercenaries. While riding you need to avoid obstacles, pick up medkits and shoot down all enemies, but there isn’t any way of avoiding enemy fire no matter how skilled a player you are. It’s just a matter of doing it until you are lucky enough to make it through. This is especially true in the hard difficulty, where opponents deal tremendous amounts of damage while you deal very little. The Kazakhstan chase sequence is particularly bad.

The quicktime events feel tacked on, as if they were something added at the end of the development cycle.

The other major issue with gameplay is the addition of quicktime events on cutscenes. These are mild compared to some of the modern uses of this mechanics and you have ample time to press the buttons but they feel tacked on, as if it was something added at the end of the development cycle to match current gaming trends.

Boss fights are a mixed bunch, not in quality but in terms of style and gameplay. For example, one of the earliest battles is a shootout with a magically-enhanced Yakuza where you’ll need to fire whilst timing jumps and crouches; then a second fight is a puzzle-type encounter where you must throw a demon against a force field. These break the monotony that comes from fighting hordes of human enemies. The final level and boss fight are intense and the game builds up to it so that when you finally get there, you’re pumped and ready for action. The enemy can and will kill you quite easily if you’re not paying attention, and the rolling mechanic becomes extremely important to avoid its powerful attacks.

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Visuals and audio

At the time of its release, Legend gave us the best-looking classic Lara Croft — at least until Underworld came along. She looked amazing and above all, human. Where her measurements had become something of a running joke with previous instalments, such as her bust-size increasing with the polygon count, the title opted for more natural features; she was still an idealised female form but at least realistic.

The next-generation options on PC actually make Lara look worse.

It’s interesting — and sad — to point out that the game comes with next-generation options on PC and instead of improving her appearance, these actually make her look worse. In fact she doesn’t look like herself at all! Worse still, the options often cause the title to crash and have to be disabled to even run the game properly.

In terms of environments, Legend does a good job with its ruins, adding intricate details such as long flowing cobwebs, skeletons and crumbling sections of walls. The Arthurian Museum and tomb are particularly good, including their obviously-fake references. The Croft Manor is included as a playable extra and the level of detail is astounding; every room feels lived in, the library full of books you’d want to read and gardens which make you want to lie there and listen to the trickle of the fountain.

But the environments during the chase sequences have bad textures and are generally flat and uninteresting, with just a few rocks, trees and either dirt or snow. They’re a palette change away from each other and the textures get so bad during the Kazakhstan sequence that you can see through the floor.

Lara’s charm is still there and she can talk anyone into anything, but now there’s a human-being behind her eyes.

Keeley Hawes takes the helm as Lara’s voice and does a superb job with the role, adding some humanity and vulnerability to the confident and witty ice-queen we already loved. Her charm is still there and she can talk anyone into anything but now there’s a human-being behind her eyes, someone with cares and concerns not only for the mystery surrounding her mother and her father’s legacy but also for those closest to her. Zip and Alister, our heroine’s new companions, give her people to worry (and boss) about.

The soundtrack continues the series’ proud tradition of amazing scores. But what sets it apart from other entries is that the music in a stage flows naturally from one piece into the next. For example, the Japan mission music starts off with a techno beat while Lara is at a party but when the fighting begins it transitions into adventure battle music, while still keeping the techno beat at its core; it doesn’t feel like a replacement song but an extension of the original, a natural evolution to the piece. The same applies to every song in the game, and even the traditional ‘discovery’ jingle of the series can sometimes transition into stage music.

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Replay and innovation

Legend, much like other titles in the series, has hundreds of collectibles that unlock cheats, artwork and even costumes. The latter in particular take some effort to collect and range from skimpy bikini to Union Jack shirt and jeans. These trophies are hidden around the stages and hunting them will keep you coming back; and there’s also the Croft Manor, with its own share of secrets and trials to overcome.

What makes the trials so challenging — and fun — is that you’re not competing against yourself but against a set timer.

Beating the title unlocks the time trial mode, where you race to beat each stage as fast as you can. It’s perfect practice if you ever wish to speedrun the game. What makes the trials so challenging — and fun — is that you’re not competing against yourself but against a set timer. If you’re looking to clear everything, you’ll need to complete these for the bonus content they unlock.

Legend changed everything for the Tomb Raider series in both gameplay and storytelling. It gave us a personal quest for Lara and humanised her in the process, taking one of gaming’s icons and making her relatable. The enhancements in gameplay, such as taking enemy weapons, fast-movement along ledges, fluid animations and seamless environment navigation have influenced releases made since then, the Uncharted series in particular — so much so that its protagonist is often referred to as ‘Dude Croft’ in joke.

Its success also allowed Crystal Dynamics to keep a firm hold on the intellectual property (IP). Without this, they would never have been able to release the reboot series.

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Screenshots and videos

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Final thoughts

Not only is this game highly influential to the rest of the series and the genre, it’s also extremely fun.

Here’s the most important question: should this game be part of future 1001 lists? The answer is a definite yes, a ‘hell yes’ even. It completely reimagined Lara Croft as a human-being before the reboot sent her younger-self on a hellish journey of ‘survival’. Not only is this game highly influential to the rest of the series and the genre, it’s also extremely fun! There are very few experiences in gaming that compare to the feeling of waving Excalibur around. Compared to the sword, using Mjolnir in Tomb Raider: Underworld is dull.

Tomb Raider: Legend is one hell of a ride and you’ll be laughing and cheering for as long as it lasts. Even the frustrating bits aren’t enough to diminish the experience. If you want to know about the Tomb Raider games that came before the 2013 reboot, this one should be at the top or near the top of your list.

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Review round-up

Reviewed: PC
Source: We bought the game from Steam for £4.99
Positive: Fun and epic – and redesigned what it is to play as Lara Croft
Negative: Doesn’t offer a satisfying conclusion; and next-gen options cause graphics issues
Score: 45 out of 60
Grade: Buy it now!
Tomb Raider: Legend, video game, review, graph, Buy it now!

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