Earlier today, during an Eidos press event in San Francisco, we had an opportunity to spend some quality time with the PlayStation 2, Xbox, Xbox 360, and PlayStation Portable versions of Tomb Raider: Legend. It was only a couple of weeks ago that we got our hands on a playable PS2 demo of Lara's upcoming adventure, and this time we got to see and play through plenty of new stuff. The controller had to literally be pried away from us once we got our hands on it.
The first version of Tomb Raider: Legend that we checked out today was running on the Xbox 360, and it appeared to be a very similar demo to the PS2 version we played of a couple of weeks ago. The main difference, of course, was the quality of the visuals, which appeared to be taking advantage of just about every graphical bell and whistle that Microsoft's new console can offer. The standout feature of the visuals was undoubtedly the normal-mapping techniques used to add detail and textures to what would otherwise be artificially smooth surfaces. This was evident not only on cave walls, ancient tiled floors, boulders, and such, but also on the delectable Lara Croft, who now boasts realistic skin textures that look good even when you give into temptation and zoom the camera in for a close look at her. Other eye candy that we found particularly tasty during our presentation included the realistic shadows being cast by each and every object, and the convincingly animated pools of water, which performed their reflecting and refracting duties with aplomb. We played the game on a 720p HDTV, incidentally, and although we only got to see it running at 4:3, we were told that widescreen support will also be included.
After being dragged away from the Xbox 360 version of Tomb Raider: Legend, we were ushered toward the PSP game, which was perhaps the most surprising of the bunch given that we'd never seen it in action before and weren't really sure what to expect. It seems that the days of handheld games bearing little relation to their home console counterparts are well and truly a thing of the past, because the second that we saw Tomb Raider: Legend in action on the PSP we recognized the location that Lara was exploring from our PS2 demo. Very few compromises appear to have been made on the PSP as far as the PS2 visuals are concerned, though the layout of the handheld's buttons and the lack of a right analog stick have obviously made translating the controls something of a challenge. We weren't able to get hands-on with the PSP game on this occasion, but the most obvious differences appeared to be that the directional pad is used to access a larger number of items due to the absence of rear shoulder buttons, and that holding down the square button effectively turns the PSP's "left" analog stick into a "right" analog stick so that the camera can be moved around.
Although we weren't able to play the PSP version, the Eidos representatives were good enough to tell us about a number of all-new features that will be exclusive to the PSP game. In addition to unlockable production images and such, the PSP version of Tomb Raider: Legend will boast three gameplay modes not found in any other versions--two of which we were told about today. Master circuit mode will task you with completing a randomly generated obstacle course either against the clock or against a second player if you take advantage of the PSP's wireless functionality. Raid and seek mode will be a two-player game in which both of you get to hide objects in an environment and then race to find the other player's objects before he or she finds yours.
The remainder of our time with Tomb Raider: Legend was spent playing the Xbox version, which is slightly behind the PS2 version in terms of development at this point, but it is nonetheless scheduled for release on the same day. We got to check out portions of three or four levels that we hadn't seen previously, as well as watch a handful of cutscenes that hinted at a strong, character-driven storyline. The first level that we checked out was set in a seemingly deserted small town in Bolivia, and it was essentially a combat tutorial in which we were shown how to perform all of Lara's offensive moves on a target dummy. After successfully completing all of the moves, we were free to explore the town for all of about 30 seconds before soldiers started firing on us from positions they'd taken up behind pillars, in doorways, and on balconies. This, of course, afforded us an excellent opportunity to put the skills that we'd just learned to the test, as well as to check out all three of Tomb Raider: Legend's different targeting control options.
What followed was a deadly gymnastics routine that saw Lara gunning down the soldiers while performing rolls and somersaults to evade their fire. We were armed with only Lara's dual pistols at the start of the encounter, but it didn't take long for us to retrieve automatic weapons (and later a shotgun) from the bodies of fallen enemies. Lara's grappling hook was also put to good use during the fight, since she was able to grab enemies with it and yank them toward her, stunning them for a second and, in some cases, pulling them down from their high vantage points. While in combat, we also had to look out for the "targets of opportunity" that presented themselves when it was possible for us to use the environment to our advantage. Our targets of opportunity invariably took the form of objects that could be shot at using a specific action button, and which would then explode or topple over--hopefully taking out an enemy or three in the process. As we progressed through the level, we also procured a handful of grenades, which came in very handy as the enemies on the streets became more numerous. At the end of the level--which we were told might be made somewhat less challenging in the finished game since it appears near the beginning--Lara hopped onto a sporty-looking motorcycle and raced off into what we suspect will be the first vehicle-based mission.
We weren't able to play or record any footage of the motorcycle level, unfortunately, but we did get to watch an Eidos representative play through a large chunk of it, and we were pretty impressed with what we saw. The level tasked Lara with negotiating a largely linear route through a desert that was littered with hazards for her to avoid, jump over, or shoot out of the way. Also littering the desert trail were propane tanks, which Lara was able to blow up by targeting them with her pistols. Enemy motorcycle riders needed to be taken out in much the same way, and the aforementioned propane tanks came in handy on more than one occasion when there were three or four riders on the screen with Lara simultaneously.
When we next got our hands on the Xbox controller, we found ourselves in control of Lara right in the middle of one of her flashbacks--reliving a painful memory in which she's forced to leave one of her friends for dead while exploring ancient ruins. Lara was wearing her old-school outfit from earlier Tomb Raider games for the duration of this level and, because it took place a few years prior to the present day, she wasn't equipped with her R.A.D. binoculars or her personal light source. We were able to light up the dark caves by tossing a few flares around the place, though. After playing through a number of classical Tomb Raider puzzles involving boulders, pressure switches, and plenty of acrobatics, and then watching a particularly moving cutscene, we understood the reasons why Lara had felt it necessary to return to Bolivia in the present day.
Back in the present day, we got to explore the same ruins that we'd just escaped from in the flashback sequence, except that they were now mostly underwater. Navigating the underwater tunnels and solving one relatively simple but time-based puzzle was made somewhat challenging by Lara's regular need to come up for air. And we couldn't help but smile a little later on when all of the water was drained and the locale took on a very different appearance--bringing back fond memories of a similar sequence in the original Tomb Raider.
Although Tomb Raider: Legend is obviously a very different game from Lara's first adventure, its puzzles and locations evoke memories of everything that made that game great. Add today's graphics, much-improved controls, enjoyable combat, and what looks to be an intriguing storyline into the mix, and Tomb Raider: Legend looks almost certain to be Miss Croft's finest hour. We look forward to bringing you more information on the game as its April release date approaches.