"Fortunately, the boring fights only make up a small part of the game. You've got exploration. You've got puzzle solving. 1/3 suck, 2/3 good."
I did not play the last Tomb Raider. Or the one before it. Or the one before that one. I played a demo on the Dreamcast for the one before that one, but only far enough that I got the chance to shoot a dog. And I didn’t play the one before that. Or the one before that.
And you know what? I don’t intend to ever go back and play them. All I ever hear about is how much they suck, how each new installment is going to correct all the mistakes the last installment, and how that new installment either doesn’t correct the mistakes or makes a whole batch of new ones. Even if word of mouth was working against the game, there’s always been the fact that I think the games look like utter crap.
Tomb Raider: Legend, however, doesn’t look like crap; this game takes you all over the world and makes every trip a memorable experience.
Scaling up the sheer mountain peaks of Bolivia, climbing past the clouds, no equipment needed or used. The sound of trickling water grows stronger and stronger with every stride you make upward, and you see the source when you reach the top: A thundering waterfall, cascading, rippling waters as you leap into the pool below, shimmering in the noonday sun. Green all around; plants running along the ground, up the walls, twisting around the remnants of some lost civilization, maybe the Aztecs, maybe the Mayans, whatever.
Working your way through an aerial maze above the darkened bustling metropolis that is Tokyo at night, navigating your way across the skyline as traffic streams below. Neon lights in the distance, glittering buildings all around you, a vibrant world to light your way as you leap and spin and ascend and swing around the concrete jungle.
Creeping through the icy catacombs of Nepal, a world of eternal white. Jumping from fragile edges, mounts that could give way at any second, at the slightest pressure. Hopping over ice fragments and navigating your way down a makeshift river, narrowly avoiding the frigid waters. Walking into a massive, spacious temple, working your way over every stone, each area unique, no copied patterns as near as you can tell, stunned by the incredible detail, and then getting jumped out of nowhere by a white tiger that could not have conceivably gotten into that unless it somehow did the acrobatic exploits you did.
Tomb Raider: Legend has some poor excuses for enemies. In order for you to get a good idea of just how lame and boring most of the fights in this game are, let me give you a ProTip that’ll get you through just about everytime, boss battles included:
Lock-on. Jump around. Tap R1. Maybe…drink a Coke or have sex or something while doing so. You’ll still win.
The enemies suck. It doesn’t matter how numerous or how well-armed or even how close they are to you, it is their eternal fate to job against the might of Lara Croft and her endless supply of bullets. They rarely hit, when they do hit you it does crap damage, they only have two varieties, so each gun battle holds the equivalent excitement of a water-pistol fight. Without water.
To make matters worse, the reasons behind the battles are less than riveting; the plot here is, in a word, weak. To sum things up, it all consists of Lara Croft traveling around the world with her friends Stereotypical-Smartmouth-Black-Guy-With-Dreadlocks-And-Hip-Happy-Attitude and Stereotypical-Whiny-British-Dude-Who-Looks-Like-Elton-John-And-Is-A-King-Arthur-Fanboy. The bad guys dress in black, there’s a race to collect the pieces of Excalibur, discover the truth of Arthurian lore, and…it stops. The minute things actually get interesting, the game…stops. See you next sequel.
Fortunately, the boring fights only make up a small part of the game. You've got exploration. You've got puzzle solving. 1/3 suck, 2/3 good.
The exploration is basically trial-and-error, the kind that I’m sure Prince of Persia fans are familiar with. You have to put Lara’s skills to full use; she can pole vault, climbing up walls, leap around buildings, go all over the damned place; the fun comes in when you look around, plan a route, imagine how you’re going to get where you want to be, and then actually get there in a series of crazy stunts, flipping around and moving around and jumping around in timed, planned, perfect movements.
And if you fail, no big deal. The game saves your progress after almost every stunt, so if you die, you get to start over with only a few moments spared. Minimal frustration.
Now, the puzzles…I usually hate puzzles. Nine times out of ten, I find puzzles to be boring sideshows at best, irritating distractions at worst. Here, though, the puzzles are engaging. I’m looking around the environment trying to figure out what I need to do, what I need to manipulate, what I need to use. I make the best out of the tools at hand; I use the grappling hook to pull things, the gun to shoot things, the binoculars to spy things. Whether I’m trying to manipulate the light in a room so it hits the exact spot it needs to, whether I’m trying to change the flow of a river so it lands on a wheel and jumpstarts the centuries-old mechanism in a decaying temple, every obstacle overcome requires serious thought time. It might take me ten minutes, it might take me twenty, it might even take me an hour, but when I finally figure it out and do what needs to be done, I feel accomplished. Rare for me. I like it.
I was going to use this space here to whine about how the game lacks any real longevity; while the puzzles stretch time out, eight levels is still eight levels, and the way it all just ends with few questions answered, demanding a sequel, doesn’t help the impression. But the game does have a lot of secrets. Hidden costumes. Bonus challenges. Things to unlock, spend your time with. Tomb Raider: Legend gives you some good time, maybe not enough time to warrant a buy unless you’re one of the two people on Earth who actually give a damn about the series, but definitely enough to warrant a rent if you’ve already played Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. And Warrior Within. And Two Thrones.
Staff review by Zack Little (May 19, 2006)
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