"I have no right to comment on how much the entire Tomb Raider series has ended up smelling like moldy catacombs. I have not played a Tomb Raider game since the third installment, I believe it was. I think Lara went to Area 51 or something, and that is where I bid the lass adieu. Just like most people, I enjoyed the first game quite a bit and was also satisfied enough with the first sequel. The third one did not have enough new material to keep me interested and the new material that it did ..."
I have no right to comment on how much the entire Tomb Raider series has ended up smelling like moldy catacombs. I have not played a Tomb Raider game since the third installment, I believe it was. I think Lara went to Area 51 or something, and that is where I bid the lass adieu. Just like most people, I enjoyed the first game quite a bit and was also satisfied enough with the first sequel. The third one did not have enough new material to keep me interested and the new material that it did have caused me to roll my eyes and snicker. Reviews and demos from anything after TR 3 were enough to convince me that enough was enough and that I was not going to be able to stomach any more of this poppycock. So yeah, technically I have no right to express any personal opinion on the series as a whole, but let me ask you this: if your romantic interest wants to fist your butt on merely your third date, is there really going to be a fourth date? If your answer to this is "yes", you may well be a diehard Tomb Raider fan.
OK, hell, off the top of my head I don't even have any idea how many sequels there are. All I know is that for the past several months several major publications have been building Tomb Raider Legend (TR...L... oh, christ) up to be the savior of the series. For past installments, claims such as that have belonged to the developers themselves, while most folks have maintained an understandably cautious attitude. Even so, I can't imagine that there is anyone out there that would be opposed to Tomb Raider making a comeback, so the early word on the streets about Legend was enough to turn a few heads.
Since I have disliked Tomb Raider for so many years, I am quite comfortable with it sucking, therefore it really would not matter much at all to me if Legend was a dud. Life would definitely go on. Yet here is a concept: what would happen if Tomb Raider Legend ended up being absolutely amazing and captured my interest on a deeper level than most of the games I have played so far this year? Wow, what a concept indeed!
The previous paragraph is the most giddy I am going to get in this review.
I admit, my first impression when the game kicked into motion was, "Oh no, not again!". At first glance, it didn't seem to be the huge leap over the old tried-and-pew formula. Because I am a bit of a dick, I made it a point to immediately look for flaws in the graphics. For example, I wasn't satisfied with Lara's movements through ankle-deep water. I am sure I would have found more completely inane things to bitch about, but then I started to realize that Lara has a mad cool arsenal of moves at her disposal. There is definitely a compelling sense of style and grace in place here and once you master the moves, you feel like a god... with boobs! It did not take long as all for that initial impression to transmutate into a very joyful feeling that resembled excited curiosity mixed with nostalgia.
The graphical approach of TRL (I can't type that acronym with a straight face) is quite lush and stylish and has no glaring flaws. I am not sure why I was expecting it to be prettier than it is. It doesn't really lack polish, but, well, what happens when you polish an ugly shoe? Perhaps I am being too hard on it, but this site is called Honest Gamers for a reason. My opinion as an honest gamer is that the graphics in TRL did not blow me away or ever really impress me more than fleetingly. The most impressive bits have to do with the lushness of the environment, but the nature of this type of game requires climbable surfaces to be boxlike in shape. This makes perfect sense from a design standpoint, but it kind of takes away from the natural beauty of the environment. Character models lack a fair amount of detail for this day and age, but they get the job done, and the animation is for the most part superb. This paragraph might seem a little overly harsh. The freaking game is not ugly, OK?
I think that I would be more into the visual look of the game if everything wasn't so static pertaining to player interaction with the details of the environment. Part of the fun of modern gaming is putting design detail to the test to see exactly how much time, care and sanity that the developers have devoted to the game. Other than clearly marked items such as explosive barrels, there is really nothing in the environment that you can produce results from by shooting at. I mean, it is not like I expect every inch of every area to be shootable, but there were a couple of times when I was taken aback by things like taking direct aim at a bird and firing away to no response whatsoever. It didn't even fly away. It just kept sitting there. Chirping. Having a good old time. Am I really asking too much? Maybe. I think I have just been completely spoiled by the limitless interaction of games like MGS3. At the end of the day, however, the little stupid bird that made my gun feel very inadequate did little to detract any actual enjoyment from the game. This is what they call "nit-picking".
Nit-picking aside, the actual level designs in TRL are awe-inspiring. These levels take the very best elements of the old Tomb Raider recipe and beef them up beyond measure. There is nothing quite like entering a vast chamber full of massive mechanisms and traps, only to realize that where you want to be is at the highest possible point in the area. Sometimes this is quite intimidating at first and there were times when I felt initially overwhelmed by the task at hand. However, the beauty of TRL is that once you dive into the behemoth puzzles, there is a specific flow that reveals itself to you with an eloquence that most games could only dream of accomplishing (games are capable of dreaming, because I said so). There was never a single time when I was stuck on any certain puzzle for any annoying amount of time, but that super special genuine sense of accomplishment was definitely there. Crystal Dynamics really pulled this off.
Many have mentioned and praised the "physics-based puzzles", and I really had no idea what that meant until I actually played the game. Basically what this means is that if you push a block onto one end of a plank that is propped up like a teeter totter and then you jump onto the raised end, the whole device becomes a catapult of sorts and the block goes flying. This is a simple example of the physics-based engine. Oh yes, it gets much more elaborate than that. Sometimes these puzzles require some serious lateral thinking, but it was usually fairly easy for me to obtain my "aha!" moment and then follow through with the task with a smile on my face and a song in my heart.
Gunplay is a mostly fun distraction from the epic wall scalings and insanely creative puzzles. Lara has a very nice collection of moves, but I normally found myself sticking to the basics in a combat situation. Whenever I would find myself getting fancy, I would usually also find myself getting dead. All you really have to do is lock on to an enemy and strafe around them while they fail miserably at defending themselves. When the opposition is large in their numbers, just add some hopping and rolling to the routine. Of course this only applies to generic run-of-the-mill baddies and more inventive strategies must be developed for the bosses. These are the best Tomb Raider boss battles that I have ever experienced, and often require you to solve puzzles and defend yourself simultaneously.
If normal gunplay is a nice distraction from the puzzles, then the motorcycle levels should be considered a decent diversion from a nice distraction. I have heard some who lament their views that these levels feel tacked on, and I have felt the same about similar diversions in past games. However, I did not really have a problem with it in this case. At first the control feels entirely too loose on the bike, but the game gives you just enough time to become familiar with the wanky physics and throws in some pretty fun jumps and such later on, for good measure. All in all, the vehicle levels strike just the right balance between changing things up/keeping things exciting and being a legitimate part of the whole. After all, shooting people off the back of trucks at wicked speeds is a hard thing to screw up.
With all of that gameplay business out of the way, let's talk audio. I dig the music. It is not entirely memorable to me, but it did do it's job well throughout the game. It made my blood rush when it was supposed to and it made me feel things like "awe" and "wonder", not to mention feelings of "mystique" at appropriate moments. Did the music do it's job? Yes. Will I buy the soundtrack? Hells no. I would accept it as a gift, though, which is more than I can say for the Mario Party 7 soundtrack. Actually, perhaps in my most masochistic of moments I would find some kind of warped fascination in the MP7 soundtrack but now I am getting heinously sidetracked. Anyway, while the music is adequate, the sound effects are barely there. The voice acting is good and the guns sound enough like guns, but anything and everything else is bare minimum or less. Sometimes, Lara doesn't even make any kind of vocal reaction at all to plunging to her doom, while other times she lets out a halfassed yelp. Crystal Dynamics totally only used the bare minimum of 15 pieces of flair in the sound fx dept. If you don't get that reference, you are dead to me.
The storyline is a completely by-the-book treasure hunt "romp" complimented by characters that really try to be memorable. Kudos for the effort, but there is really nothing new or very interesting to be found here. While reading some GameFaqs reader reviews, I was constantly reminded of how delusional and fanboy-ish those little turds can be and was also happy to remember why I love HG so much. At any rate, if you read any review that claims that TRL's story is "outstanding", "amazing" or even "phenomenal", you can rest assured that you have a fanboy on your hands. TRL's storyline is not an atrocious thing by any means, but there is absolutely no good reason to cover it's description in wonderful words of glee and adoration. Any contempt in this paragraph is not intended to deface TRL's adequate attempt at narrative. However, if there is going to be any balance at all in this universe, blatantly sincere reviews like this must exist in order to combat the fanboyian race's meager attempts to will their delusions upon humanity.
I could end this review with overly excited phrases like "Lara is back!" or "Tomb Raider is fun again!", but instead I will just make fun of other people for saying those things and then I will say that Tomb Raider is definitely back on the right track and worthy of a few sittings. There is a ton of extra content (new outfits, concept art, all that good stuff) to be found by collecting various treasures hidden within the levels. This is the best reason to replay the game. Exploring Lara's manor itself can prove to be quite a fulfilling goal, as it is full to the brim with secrets of it's own. It is a pleasant thing to see Tomb Raider back on the playing field, and in a way, I can kind of appreciate the fact that the series had hit such a low point. To explain that strange statement, I will end this review with a quote from Vanilla Sky:
"And I know sour, which allows me to appreciate the sweet."
Community review by dr3wcifer (May 16, 2006)
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