The original Tomb Raider was a phenomenal game that pushed the boundaries of what interactive entertainment was all about. No game had offered such well designed 3D levels that could be explored and enjoyed at the player’s discretion. There was little at the time that could match the sense of awe and wonder that accompanied Lara’s first voyage down the narrow cave into the first set of ruins. Yet as time went on, the franchise lost its way. It focused more on Lara Croft herself and less on actually exploring and raiding tombs. The last instalment of the game, the atrocious Angel of Darkness, became the epitome of everything that was bad about Tomb Raider, while omitting anything that was good. After lacklustre reviews and sales, publishers Eidos decided that the franchise needed a fresh look from a new developer, so it was stripped from Core and handed to Crystal Dynamics. Promises of a return to form surrounded the game. Original designer Toby Gard was brought back on board. Lara Croft herself was redesigned for a new generation. Control was going to be streamlined and refurbished. And, best of all, the streets of Paris and Prague were finally going to be replaced with ruins and tombs. And now the final product has finally landed on our shores, the real question is whether or not this is a glorious homecoming for Lara Croft, or whether this is the final nail in her coffin.
Those hoping for a return to form will be sorely disappointed. Not because the game is bad, but because the game bears little in common with the originals outside of its subject material. It seems that Crystal Dynamics wanted to start fresh, and start fresh they did. The freedom and the exploration are totally removed from Tomb Raider: Legend. Players enter at the start of a level and are ushered down a linear path until the end of a level. Progress is halted by a series of block puzzles and obstacle courses, rather than the relic hunting and switch finding that was present in the original. It is one of only two disappointments to be found in Tomb Raider: Legend; the gorgeous levels beg you to explore them, yet keep you on a ridiculously short lease. In addition, unlike the original game, Lara is no longer a solo agent. The magic of stepping foot in the forgotten wonders of the world is somewhat lost when two of Lara’s assistants are constantly yapping over the intercom. Their purpose is obvious: they help progress the story while also providing the most basic of advice for the most basic of puzzles. And while the discourse can be charming, especially Lara’s wit, the constant company detracts from the sense of adventure.
However, while Tomb Raider: Legend is not the excellent adventure game the original was, it is an excellent action-platformer. It’s somewhat amusing that the first game was essentially the original Prince of Persia in 3D and that Tomb Raider: Legend essentially follows the same formula that the new Prince of Persia games follow. There is a lot of acrobatic action – wall climbing and pole swinging – and most of the challenge in the game comes from needing the dexterity to pull off a series of timely-executed leaps. In some of the levels there is a real sense of vertigo, and palms can start to sweat under the threat that one misplaced jump can send Lara plummeting hundreds of metres to her death. It is relieving then that the control of the game is a large step up from the clunky, tank-like controls that existed in Lara’s past – no longer will Lara fall for the sake of a missed pixel. The combat, however, is rather bland. Gunplay exists as book ends on either side of the acrobatics, yet the enemies lack intelligence, and so despite refined controls and mechanics combat is unsatisfying. The puzzles are also hardly taxing. Initially they may prove difficult, but solutions are often recycled, meaning that progress is only really by death. And since the game has a checkpoint system, Tomb Raider: Legend proves to be a rather easy affair.
And ultimately that is the major undoing of the game. The linear levels are forgivable in the wake of some excellent platforming action, but the game is far too short, there isn’t enough variety, and the difficulty level means that it doesn’t take long to breeze through the entire game. There is a time trial challenge where players are encouraged to speed through the levels, and the achievement points provide a satisfying reward, but there is little incentive to replay the game. Despite everything on offer, it’s over far too quickly – something that is hard to forgive, especially when considering the filler fluff that involves the motorcycle. However, what is there can be extremely satisfying. It may be missing the exploration of the original, but the acrobatic action of the game is hard to beat and will provide a good few hours of entertainment. It is not a return to form, but an entirely new direction for Lara Croft. If it were longer, harder, and less linear, it would be easier to recommend. Tomb Raider: Legend does, however, provide an excellent point of reference for any sequels to the franchise.