Patrick Baggatta Had the Right Idea, 10 Years Ago
songsohia wrote this review on .
Mr. Baggatta lavished some serious hype on the first Tomb Raider game in this issue of Ultra Game Players, but he wasn't clairvoyant. The most intriguing quote from the review is Baggatta's hypothesis as to why Tomb Raider was such a successful game: "What's most impressive about Tomb Raider, however, is the fact that the game engine was a sure hit from the start and a more fiscally cautious publisher might have rushed the product in an effort to cash in on the novelty factor, but this was not the case." Hindsight, they say, is 20/20. Eidos has done almost nothing but cash in on the novelty factor of the Tomb Raider games (so they could fund the development of winners like Omikron: the Nomad Soul?), shipping a new game to Electronics Boutique every year even though consumers had no genuine use for the product.. After something like a dozen million Tomb Raider sequels, each slightly worse than the last one, a slow but inevitable decline set in, until Tomb Raider was little more than a mildly retarded 3D adventure game-cum-stone block arrangement simulator. Remember, though - Tomb Raider was stupid big. Ginormous sales. Time Magazine articles, Wired cover stories, underrated Angelina Jolie feature films, you name it. It is arguable that Tomb Raider was the first game to get mainstream press not as a children's plaything but as a legitimate form of entertainment, however infantile the Mainstream Media portrayed us enthusiast gamers. Had the Tomb Raider series continued to take half as many risks as the first game did, who knows how many innovations the series could have introduced? By the fourth sequel or so we might have even seen Lara develop into a fully formed woman instead of a wet dream with snarky quips, a woman with a real personality, a woman whose actions would drive a narrative directly connected to her character! You know, the way narratives have been structured since the beginning of freaking time? At this point I need to accept videogame story lines as superfluous extras; if I want a story, I'll watch Gilmore Girls or something. Tomb Raider: Legend does not have the witty banter of Lorali and Rory, but it does involve Lara chasing down some kind of mystical sword before her mostly dead sister gets it... lest Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung's theories on shared subconscious and mono-mythology lead to the destruction of the Earth. Whatever. Lara Croft Tomb Raider Legend is not Metal Gear Solid 2. Heck, this game doesn't come close to Gamespot Username Songsohia's Favorite Videogame Plot Ever, Mike Tyson's Punch Out!!! -- there's at least 5 different layers of complexity to that narrative -- although Lara Croft Tomb Raider Legend tries pretty hard. It's just that the yarn spun during the cut-scenes is kind of disjointed, and it's told in the most histrionic way possible. Luckily, Lara Croft Tomb Raider Legend works so well as an action/adventure game, the extraneous story isn't much more than a nuisance.
Although Lara Croft Tomb Raider Legend is exponentially better than the last Tomb Raider game I slogged though (Last Revelation, on Dreamcast), the formula remains well intact: enter big room; look around big room; accidently step on a pressure plate which will be releasing spikes that instantly kill Lara; reload; enter big room looking to discover logical route to exit room; notice logical route requires Lara to make all sorts of effing crazy jumps and backflips; perform said jumps and backflips; enter smaller room crawling with things that want to kill Lara; kill said things with a shooting mechanic that can't help but feel a little naff; repeat. So why does Lara Croft Tomb Raider Legend fare so much better than all the other games in the Tomb Raider canon? Easy: Core Design wisely ripped off as many elements as they could from Ubi Soft's Prince of Persia series as possible. As Ubi Soft borrowed fairly heavily from Tomb Raider when they designed their first good 3D action/adventure title, so Lara Croft Tomb Raider Legend returns the favor. Complicating matters further, Tomb Raider was a 3D homage to the old roto-scoped Prince of Persia Broderbround games for the Apple II. I hope there is no shame in pinching some of the best parts of another' game; there would be much learning of new control schema otherwise. Sadly, Core also decided to graft on some Quick Timer Events for no readily apparent reason. Worse, they screwed the mechanic up. By giving the player absolutely no warning that a QTE is coming up, the player is almost certainly going to die half a second after that first unexpected green triangle pops onto the screen. Even Shenmue, a game that almost entirely revolved around picking stupid looking things up off the ground and looking at them (note: I effing hate Shenmue) warns you whenever some Yakuza battle was about to go down. There are only 3 or 4 moments where these QTE's happen in the game, as far as I remember. That further complicates the issue: if you're gonna put QTE's into your game, shouldn't you actually bother to build gameplay around the damn things? Outside of the QTE's and the asinine, nonsensical (and very unentertaining) plot moments, Lara Croft Tomb Raider Legend plays like a solid game. Some of the middle and late levels work like a robot programed to break-dance until the end of time, throwing fun puzzles and decently entertaining shootouts at Lara at a staggeringly consistent pace. Metriod Prime and the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time are the only two other action/adventure games I can think of off the top of my head that pull off the same vastness of scale that Lara Croft Tomb Raider Legend achieves. Three minutes into the game, you can move Lara right up to the edge of a tremendously high peak and stare straight down into the cloudy abyss below. It is a positively vertiginous little moment, a completely unnecessary gesture from the development team, the sort of thing that gamers racing to beat the game so they can post vulgar messages on forums telling the world how much better at videogames they are might never notice. It's a sign that Core cares again. Check out Croft Manor for another sign that the people who put this game together love this franchise. Historically, the Croft Manor has been an afterthought tutorial level hybrid Tomb Raider fans barely acknowledge. Not in Legend -- Ms. Croft's mansion is a sizable environment filled with secret passageways and ingenious gymnasiums -- a huge playground that is nearly as exciting to explore as the actual campaign missions. Patrick Baggatta was right, ten years ago -- Core built a solid engine this time around, and they were given the time and the space to develop a very quality game. It's a shame it took 9 years between good Tomb Raider videogames, but que serra, serra.