I can’t believe it’s been nearly 7 years since I played a Tomb Raider game that had any kind of self respect, believability or even, something new to titillate (excuse the pun) my senses!
It’s been a long wait, but at last… Lara Croft has once again found her form, not only in the number of gorgeous polygons she is carrying around improve her form, but now, finally, in a fluid, well planned, excellently developed and executed design.
.Back to Basics
So, we’ve established it’s been 7 years. 7!! This was when Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation was released. Some people didn’t even like this, but I still feel like it had something, albeit dated. Then there was Chronicles (ouch!) and then… dare I say it, Angel of Darkness. This game almost ruined the thought of ever seeing Lara do anything Tomb Raider like ever again.
Every time I have put a new Tomb Raider game into the console I have a feeling of anticipation in my hands as I gripped the controller; hoping I would once again be given the sense of awe that the original Tomb Raider gave me as I stumbled into a huge cavern, then, stepping a little further, a giant T-Rex appeared from nowhere! Or, the atmosphere I felt when I first walked into that roman style coliseum, and the enormous surprise as I walked up to the entrance of a tomb with two statues outside, that suddenly burst out of their stone caskets only to start firing crazy shit at me as mummy like horses!! Wow!
Well, Tomb Raider: Legend almost does it, almost. As I put that game in my 360 I had my doubts and reservations obviously, but I have been incredibly surprised.
The first thing I noticed (and I’m sure you will too) is how nice it is to simply move Lara around. She had always been so sluggish in the past, but we let her get away with it. But now, she is just a delight (most of the time) to move around the environment.
The animation system has been given a huge upgrade and the camera relative controls make it much nicer to get around. It can get a little fiddly and annoying when clutching ledges at odd camera angles, but on the whole it’s a big step in the right direction for the series. Her animations are generally very smooth, fluid and blended well. The only thing I didn’t like actually was the decision to make her go rag-doll when she dies.
They added some sweet little touches like the gymnastics you can get Lara to do if pressing the jump button multiple times in a row while running forward. And of course, the classics remain, sexy handstand and… of course, the swan dive. And, to perfectly hark back to the original Tomb Raider they put you at the top of a cliff with a perfect opportunity to try it out (and they even tell you how to do it)
The platforming mechanics and design are implemented wonderfully. It was really fun to jump around and Lara is so much more forgiving than in older games. I was hardly ever scared to leap from one ledge to another. She will effortlessly reach out and grab a ledge if you haven’t quite made it, giving you a chance to press a button to get Lara to sort herself out.
The level design is varied enough to offer platforming in tombs and caverns to offices and factories. There is some beautiful use of her abilities and it never ceases to be fun to do, even on the second or third play-through. I was disappointed with the lack of actual ‘Tomb’ raiding, but… there was still enough to keep me engaged.
One of the things that made me happiest was the grappling hook they implemented. It isn’t the most amazing tool ever made in a game, but… the point is, they used it! Everywhere. Games too often come out with a great tool for the player to use but then only allow you to use it once or twice in the entire game. Not the grappling hook, it’s wonderful. You use it to get around and swing across areas you are unable to jump across, but you also use it to solve puzzles by pulling objects around. It’s a simple but awesome addition.
.FAILURE TO RIDE
The one thing that stood out as weak in among all the good were the motorcycle sections. They were a nice idea, but too basic and rigid in comparison to the rest of the mechanics and design. Each one felt too like the last and it never really asked me to do anything tough or particularly cool or engaging. I was just following a route and shoot the occasional bad guy. It’s certainly nice to have the rest of the game broken up, but I’m just not sure these were solid enough sections to compete with the rest of the game. When compared to the movement system for Lara to the physics system used for the motorcycle sections it’s amazing they are part of the same game. It is not smooth or elegant like Lara and might have actually been better if it was an 'o-rails’ experience, they could have made it feel a lot cooler at least. However, like I said… it did still help to break up the flow of the rest of the game.
The only other thing that stood out as weak were the ‘interactive cut-scenes’, or Quick-Time-Events (QTE's). Don’t get me wrong, I loved it in Shenmue, and even in Resident Evil 4. However, I just don’t think it was as well implemented in Tomb Raider, and felt more like a last minute addition. Don't get me wrong, it is still cool to watch Lara get crushed by a train when you make a mistake, just as it was always fun to swan dive Lara off a cliff into the floor to hear that unpleasant, but oh so pleasing, bone crunching sound!
The story was actually okay this time. It was certainly better than many of the other games, but then, that is to be expected in this day and age of the industry. That said, it was still fairly derivative and didn’t really add anything amazing to the overall experience. I’m not even sure I truly know what was happening and I’ve completed the game three times now. Perhaps it’s because I was more interested in leaping all over the place than paying attention to who was doing what and why they were doing it.
I liked the idea of using the King Arthur legend however, and I believe it gave the development team some great chances to play around with the mythology in both story and gameplay terms. The addition of a female nemesis for Lara was kind of refreshing, but I felt the reason she was a nemesis a little strained at best.
.Who's the Boss?
Bosses. Oh yes… bosses. Some are actually pretty good too. One in particular is awesome (I’ll not spoil anything though) and I loved the different ways you were given to beat each one. It wasn't just about brute force; leaping and shooting your guns like a crazy person. It made them a lot more interesting and even a little cerebral. They are very diverse and really make you stop and think the first time you are faced with most of them.
It would definitely have been awesome to have been able to fight a boss where Lara could attach to or climb on it in some way, a bit like Shadow of the Colossus, but you can’t have everything.
Nonetheless, they are well designed and interesting which, when combined with everything else they have put together makes them a welcome addition.
.On the Whole
As I have said, I have played through every level the game has to offer three times now (turned out to be quite an addictive game). They are just the right length and offer you plenty to do and explore if you love finding all the hidden stuff, as I do.
The first time you play most levels you’ll be spending at least a good 45 minutes to an hour in each one. But then you have all the bronze, silver and gold artifacts to find in each one, as well as a time trial. Each one you complete will open up all sorts of different costumes for Lara (a goth suit for example) as well as other neat little bits and bobs. Not only that but they have given us yet another Croft Manor to play around in which has a great treasure hunt to do.
Basically, it’s simply the best platform game of its style that I’ve played in a very, very long time. And, I think I will now go outside and set fire to and then bury my copy of Angel of Darkness so that it might find its way to hell where it belongs.
If you like Tomb Raider, or ‘liked’ Tomb Raider, get this game, you simply won’t be disappointed.