What is it?
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.
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?
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.
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.
goes on to weave in another thread based upon Lara’s tragic archaeological
experiences on a university expedition to
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
What do you need to play
Microsoft Windows 2000, XP
Pentium 3 1.0Ghz or Athlon XP Equivalent
DirectX 9.0c compatible 64MB 3D Card with TnL (GeForce 3Ti / Radeon 9
Microsoft Windows 2000/XP compatible sound card (100% DirectX
Quad-speed (4x) DVD-ROM drive
disk space (this is an over-estimate, my full
installation only used 7.2GB)
100% Windows 2000/XP compatible mouse and
Pentium 4 3.0Ghz or Athlon XP Equivalent
DirectX 9.0c compatible 512MB 3D Card (nVidia GeForce 7800 / ATI X-1800)
Microsoft Windows 2000/XP compatible sound card (100% DirectX
Eight-speed (8x) DVD-ROM drive or faster
(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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