Tomb Raider: Legend



Genre:   Action

Developer:     Crystal Dynamics, Inc.

Publisher:    Eidos Interactive Ltd

Released:  April, 2006

PC Requirements:   see review




by gremlin


What is it?

I hesitate to say, ‘Where have you been for the last ten years?’ But I have to. If you’ve managed to live in an even vaguely developed country in the last decade without coming across Lara Croft in one form or another, I really don’t know how you’ve managed it! Me on the other hand, well, I have some familiarity with her works.

Scratch that. I’ve bought and completed every single one of the games, including all the so-called Gold expansion packs, and I loved every minute of every one of them. Caveat: there’s always an exception to every rule: the last, seriously clunky opus in the Tomb Raider series. I couldn’t bear to play Angel of Darkness, let alone complete it.

So for me, with that one exception, the Tomb Raider games absolutely define the Action/Adventure genre. The only other games that come close are the modern Prince of Persia games. Tomb Raider games are about dark and dank tombs filled with swinging blades, breaking floors and improbable jumps, strangely polygonal jungles, remarkably cubic icescapes and plenty of lead-footed, rather stupid men to shoot at. You may not believe this – I am male after all – but Tomb Raider has never been about a flowing ponytail above an infeasibly voluminous bosom, attached to an unhealthily slim body with matchstick-thin legs.

So, now to the specifics: Tomb Raider: Legend. This is the seventh game to carry the Tomb Raider moniker since 1996 when Lara first arrived on our PC and PlayStation screens. Yes, the seventh! Regardless of what you think of the main character, the publishers (Eidos each time), the developers (variable, but Crystal Dynamics for this one) or the marketing (thoroughly pervasive and cross-market; fancy a Lucozade, anyone?), seven games, plus expansions is a success in anyone’s book.

Is there a plot?

Here's a question I puzzled over for some time: do Tomb Raider games have plots? Or are the story elements merely excuses to get you from tomb to tomb? Well, usually I would say that's true. In the past, the story has been little more than Lara collecting the pieces of some mysterious treasure, and in the case of Legend, she's apparently still collecting nick-nacks.  But there's a difference. This time, there seems to be more going on. There’s character background and history, there’s even a small amount of character development, and for once there’s a reason for finding all those obscure nick-nacks we covered earlier.

The basic plot is this (and it actually ties in with the notes about Lara’s past in the manual for the original game!): as a young girl, Lara travelled across the Himalayas in a jet. It crashed somewhere in highland Nepal. During the ensuing adventure in a mystical temple, Lara and her mother found a strange sword embedded deep in a stone. After what can only be described as a seriously weird experience, Lara found herself alone in the temple, believing her mother to be dead. She survived a ten-day trek back to ‘civilisation,’ whereupon she was reunited with her father. Now, over ten years later, Lara is exploring some ruined tombs in Bolivia when she discovers a large fragment of a disturbingly familiar weapon in the hands of the competition.

The plot goes on to weave in another thread based upon Lara’s tragic archaeological experiences on a university expedition to Peru. Hmm … odd juxtaposition that one: tragedy and archaeology don’t often find themselves in the same paragraph, let alone the same sentence! (Except when describing something distantly tragic, like Pompeii and Herculaneum, for example.)

Overall, the plot takes us from Bolivia, to Peru, Japan, Ghana, and England – all of which have distinctive environments and challenges.

How do you play?

This is an action game we're talking about here, so there it's about as far from a point-n-click interface as it gets. Mind you, could you possibly imagine controlling something as wildly dynamic as Lara Croft using just a two-button mouse? So, the controls are the standard W, A, S, D for movement, with a cluster of other keys around them for the magnetic grapple (Q), retracting the grapple, interacting with objects and people (E), forward rolls, dropping from ropes and so on (F), drawing or putting away weapons (G), walking/sneaking (Shift) and jumping (Space). You think that's a lot? Well, there are also keys for toggling accurate aiming weapons, using the Personal Light Source (a glorified torch), the binoculars, the heads-up display (HUD), using health packs and switching between weapons. And we haven't even mentioned controlling the camera (you use the mouse), combat (left click to shoot, K to throw a grenade), driving vehicles and swimming.

Basically, if you have any difficulty with keyboard-based games, you'll get out of your depth very quickly in Legend. On the other hand, providing you're used to action and you're using a standard 101-keyboad (or similar) rather than a laptop keyboard, you find the keys fall under the hands with reasonable ease. Laptop keyboards (like my Acer laptop) will have issues with conflicts between extended mode keys like PageDn (use binoculars) and non-extended keys like K (use grenade) which won't work if you use NumLock for ease of access to the extended keys. I suppose this is one of the reasons that the keys can be remapped to suit your requirements.

The game play itself is about exploring environments; running, climbing, swinging and shooting things. There are a few times where the targets are actually animals – which, in these times of greater environmental awareness, sticks in the craw somewhat, especially where those animals are leopards! Personally, I don't have so much of a problem shooting the bad guys, who at least have the real capacity to shoot back with deadly force. Much of the time, Lara's main adversary is the environment itself. Ruined temples contain all sorts of precipitous climbs, crumbling ledges, hidden spaces, nasty traps, and diabolical machines.

Most of the time Lara is completely under your control.  At other times, there are cut-scenes to move the story forward.  Finally, there are hybrid cut-scenes where you have to hit the correct control to make Lara perform manoeuvres to escape a deadly situation. The appropriate control is indicated on screen by a large arrow, making it quite clear what you have to do.  If you get it right, Lara will pull off some spectacular escape -- but if you fail, she dies in a variety of unpleasant ways. The complexity of these sequences increases as the game progresses. I rather enjoyed having a part in this aspect of the storytelling, though I wouldn't place this feature high on a wish list for the next game, should there be one.

There are also timed sequences. Some are deadly, some simply frustrating if you get it wrong. Some of these took me quite some time to conquer. Then of course there are the boss-battles. At the end of each major section of the game, you encounter the 'big bad wolf' for the climactic fight. Some of these fights are winnable by conventional means – i.e. if you shoot the bad guy enough times, he'll die. However the later fights are a matter of finding out what aspect of the environment you can use to defeat the enemy. As always, the key to fighting any enemy in a Tomb Raider game is to keep Lara moving as much as possible.  Otherwise the bad guy's guns will do to her exactly what she is trying to do to them, and unlike many other such games, Lara can't sustain much more damage than the ordinary bad guy grunt in her sights.

Notable Features

As far as I am concerned, the most notable new feature of Legend is the inclusion of more accurate physics. Crystal Dynamics (the developers) seem to have spent time trying to make sure that vehicles react like real vehicles – motorbikes get pretty wild when you get plenty of air beneath the wheels, wooden packing cases break if you apply enough high-velocity hollow points, other objects can be pushed around, kicked and generally abused in a reasonably realistic manner. Do you remember the old cartoon gag of having one character jump on one end of a seesaw and have another thrown into the air? (Hey, that's as subtle as it gets, guys!)

Croft Manor has had a serious upgrade – with its own hidden items, and much more challenging puzzles in its own right. In fact you cannot complete the whole game (achieve 100%) unless you complete the Manor's puzzle. Something else that's had a decent upgrade is the menu system – compared to Angel of Darkness, the menu system is once again clean and clear, and Lara's inventory is easy to access through her PDA (via the Tab key). The PDA also gives a map of the current location, a summary of Lara's immediate objectives, and a record of the rewards you've found.

There are some nice additional extras, though I would suggest that they don't add enormously to the experience. This content is unlocked by finding bonuses in the game – the usual bronze, silver and gold rewards for going off the beaten path and finding those extra little hidey-holes. Lara has a wide range of changes of costume, including all the costumes from the different environments in Legend and some of her earlier incarnations. There are brief character biographies, replays of the in-game cut-scenes (available once you've seen them in-game), reviewable 3D models of people and props, and concept artwork. Not exactly revolutionary, but nice all the same, and more extensive than Chronicles had.

On the game control side, Lara has new targeting modes and moves. She can remain concentrated on a single target or change from target to target as they come into sight or range. She has gained the ability to make more varied jumps, learned a fast swimming stroke, and how to do a fast shimmy along ledges. Finally, Lara has gained some nice new items of equipment; the magnetic grapple in particular gives rise to a new form of puzzle where the solution involves pulling objects around, or pulling Lara towards fixed points. There's also a new light source, replacing the old diving flares. This is a Personal Light Source (PLS) that is attached to Lara's shoulder. It charges as she runs around, and lasts for around one minute before requiring recharging.

In the tradition of Tomb Raider games, the voice acting is very good throughout. I particularly like the choice of Keeley Hawes, a well-known TV actress in the UK (non-UK readers are welcome to check the BBC website for confirmation if you like), for the voice of the adult Lara – her voice really does fit the part. Everyone else is well cast too. This is just as well as there is a lot more talking in this game than in previous ones – mostly by radio so that it doesn’t interrupt the action. I quite enjoyed the banter between Lara, Zip and Alistair (her backup team). Zip has actually been with Lara since the later levels of Tomb Raider Chronicles.  Alistair is a more recent addition as a more cerebral walking library of literary and historical information. Similarly, the musical score provides notably dramatic backdrop, but it's not intrusive, adding very helpful emphasis and colour throughout the game.

Any other novelties?

Legend isn't the first Tomb Raider game to have binoculars – I can recall them being available in Revelation and possibly before that.  However, an analysis feature has been added so that Lara can get clues about the objects in her environment. The clues are restricted to categorizing objects as moveable, chemically unstable (or explosive), breakable or part of a mechanism.  So although you'll get a hint as to what you can affect in the environment, it doesn't tell you what you've got to do with those effects.

Another increase in the realism of Tomb Raider is the addition of limited magazine size in Lara's signature dual pistols. Her other weapons have always had limited capacity for ammunition, but the pistols have had infinite capacity and no need to reload. This has changed so that the actual amount of ammunition is still unlimited, but every thirty shots (forty, after the first pistol upgrade), Lara has to pause to reload. As I've mentioned, Lara's pistols can now be upgraded to have more capacity, better accuracy, and greater ability to damage. These upgrades just happen in the background without announcement.  However, the state of the pistols is one of the pieces of information available in the PDA.

The final new feature of Legend is the ability to replay levels in Time Trial mode. As is normal with Tomb Raider, the overall nature of the game is quite linear.  But once you've finished a given level in the standard order within the game, you'll find that you can replay it at a different difficulty level or in Time Trial mode – simply finish the level as fast as possible. This might give players more to talk about and compete over, but personally, I'm not sure how much it actually adds to the game.


The only complaints I have about Legend are relative to the older games. Regarding weapons, Lara can only carry two at a time and given that one of them is her pistols, that's actually just one extra. I found that the availability of ammunition is somewhat low for some weapons (specifically the shotgun) and magazine limits are rather low; my favourite, the assault rifle, being capable only of carrying 120 rounds. It was also frustrating to be limited to carrying only four grenades and three health packs (with no distinction either between small and large ones).

When I played the previous game, Angel of Darkness, my biggest complaint about it was the mess the developers had made of the control system for Lara. It was abrupt, disjointed, unnatural, and totally not Lara Croft. Although this issue has been almost completely solved in Legend there is still one transition that jars. When jumping forward during any slide down a steep slope, Lara appears to suddenly stop sliding, pause for a split second, and then make the jump forward. Formerly this was a smooth transition. However, if this is the only complaint I can find with such a complex movement model, I think Crystal Dynamics have gotten nearly a perfect grade!

I found Legend to be short compared to the earlier games, with Tomb Raider 3 being the longest. That one kept me occupied for days, whereas Legend was over after a few evenings, and with a score of 95% too, so I wasn't exactly skimming through. I won't say that Legend was too short, just that it would have been good to continue for longer.

On a closely related issue, the ending of the game is rather abrupt – without wishing to spoil anything, Lara battles what turns out to be the final boss, followed by a denouement that's seriously lacking in closure ... methinks there's a Gold expansion pack in the pipeline, if not another entire game! Or perhaps that is an “I hope.”


This is a fine addition to the Tomb Raider stable. We have plenty of game play (though I would certainly have enjoyed having more), technical innovations, a decent story and challenging puzzles. The graphics are definitely up to scratch with the current competition, even without the so-called 'Next Generation' content (I don't own a nVidia GeForce 6-, 7- or 8-series graphics card so haven't seen said content). Legend isn't the best ever of the games (as reflected in my grade).  The best is probably always going to be the original.  But given the technical advances since then, this is a nice version, consistently extending the original story and returning to what Lara does best … raiding tombs.

Grade: A-

What do you need to play it?

Minimum Requirements

Microsoft Windows 2000, XP

Pentium 3 1.0Ghz or Athlon XP Equivalent


100% DirectX 9.0c compatible 64MB 3D Card with TnL (GeForce 3Ti / Radeon 9 series)

Microsoft Windows 2000/XP compatible sound card (100% DirectX 9.0c -compatible)

Quad-speed (4x) DVD-ROM drive

9.9GB free disk space (this is an over-estimate, my full installation only used 7.2GB)

100% Windows 2000/XP compatible mouse and keyboard


Recommended Requirements

Pentium 4 3.0Ghz or Athlon XP Equivalent


100% DirectX 9.0c compatible 512MB 3D Card (nVidia GeForce 7800 / ATI X-1800)

Microsoft Windows 2000/XP compatible sound card (100% DirectX 9.0c compatible)

Eight-speed (8x) DVD-ROM drive or faster

9.9GB free disk space

(I used a desktop PC with Win XP Pro, AMD XP 2400+, 512 MB RAM, and ATI Radeon 9000 Pro 128 AGP, and a laptop PC with Win XP Home, AMD Sempron 2800+, 512 MB RAM, and nVidia GeForce FX Go5200)


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