The Tomb Raider series is definitely one that divides opinion. When Lara first hit our screens a decade ago, she was seen as the character that would bring females to games and in many ways they were right. However it also brought with it a female character that had a lot of 'girl power' and clearly some of the finest character modeling we have seen. Unfortunately since then TR has focused on the latter rather than a playable game to sell. Eidos decided to dump Core Design and give the franchise to Crystal Dynamics, a team who plied their trade on first person shooters. Tomb Raider Legend is a fine achievement, and propels Lara from video game 'has been', to well on the way to legendary status.
As the name of the game implies, you explore Lara's past right from the tragic plane crash which almost claimed the life of her and her mother through to the present day as she searches tombs for answers. The storyline has enough twists and turns to keep you interested but also references some of the most famous times in history such as a few knights of the round table. We don't want to spoil it because unfortunately it's over just as the game is beginning, but we found the story to be a key reason as to why we wanted to keep playing.
As per the older titles the game is played from a third person perspective and you of course control Lara. At the core of the game, not much has changed - you traverse tombs, solving puzzles, killing animals and completing goals. However to base your impression of the game on that is doing it no justice as Eidos and Crystal Dynamics have worked extremely hard to produce one of the most playable games in the series, and have succeeded, as proven by the fact I didn't like Tomb Raider's previous adventures, but this one captured me hook, line and sinker.
Where CD has really succeeded is the level design. Borrowing a heck of a lot of ideas from Ubisofts sublime Prince of Persia series, most of the levels have Lara jumping from crevice to crevice to reach switches in the middle of no where. There is a smattering of puzzles to be found as well. The thing that works so well with Tomb Raider is that the puzzles are just tough enough that if you sit down and really work it out long enough, you will get through. It's not a game that you will get stuck on for weeks and weeks and while the TR purists may turn their nose up at this, it has helped immensely in how well this game has been put together.
The levels are nothing short of stunning either with huge tombs awaiting Lara and many challenges. One of the most interesting aspects has been borrowed from Shenmues real time events. During some cut scenes you have to press button combinations to escape debris which add to the atmosphere of the game ten fold. There are also a few vehicles to play around with during some levels and the game features two long motorbike levels to test your riding skill. This could have been a banana skin for Crystal Dynamics, but instead it has worked in their favor giving Lara back her bike, and taking the series even more so back to its roots.
The game also throws a lot of curveballs with levels not only featured in tombs and jungles, but urban environments as well. Surprisingly, these turn out to be one of the best features of the game and work really well. You still have your crazy jumping from high heights, but in a more familiar environment. The other thing is that the difficulty of the game does not suddenly increase to a ridiculous level during any point of the game. The difficulty does increase but only slowly, and you don't really realise it, until you get stuck on one of the games many puzzles. However for our liking the game is a little short. It spans eight levels plus the mansion but most can be completed in around an hour or so, depending on how stuck you get with the various puzzles. However we'd rather a quality short game, than a shocking long game and TR Legend is definitely the former.
Then there is, of course, the games heroine Lara. She's back and better than ever. Eidos obviously took a millennium to model this character as there is a huge emphasis on detail. One of the most stunning effects comes after having a swim. Lara will glisten in the sunlight with her drenched clothing. The animations are flawless as well, and the in-engine cut scenes on 360 really bring the character to life with a deep complexion and skin tone visible when close ups of Lara's face are shown. If you're not playing this on 360, you're not getting the full experience. There are a number of moves that you can learn as Lara but generally strafing and shooting is all you will do, as well as jump of course. Lara's enemies also are highly detailed but obviously not as much as the main character and the tombs.
Visually the game is incredible. From the very first scene with Lara climbing a huge rockface in Bolivia through to the end credits you will continuously be amazed at the detail levels (look out for the waterfall in Ghana). Crystal Dynamics have really used the 360's graphics well with as mentioned before some of the most complex and visually stunning Tombs we have seen in the series to date. Lara also moves sublimely well and would no doubt win a gold medal in the Olympics for Britain if given the chance. You can jump, drive, roll and somersault from enemy attacks and of course she has fingers like superglue for those dangerous ledges. Voice acting is provided by a British actress and the witty and youthful voice suits Lara down to a tea.
Tomb Raider Legend really has brought the series back from imminent death and revitalized Lara for perhaps a new generation of gamers. As mentioned before I never got the whole Tomb Raider thing but this game has changed my mind. Tomb Raider Legend is a brilliant game that no 360 gamer should ignore, and with a demo available on marketplace for free, there really is no excuse.