I enjoyed Tomb Raider Legend, but having played and loved the earlier TR games, it was impossible not to get to thinking about how different Legend is from TR C|assic (=TR1-4, "The Golden Years", imo). Accepting that some things had to change, I tried to put my finger on just what it was I truly missed from the series' earlier games. So here's my rather lengthy comparative analysis :shock:, starting with Legend's strong points.
Things I liked about Legend
1. The story and pacing
The plots of TR C|assic games were little more than premise and only rarely were they advanced during gameplay; they were non-factors for me. Legend's was the first that really intrigued me and became part of my "gaming experience". Not so much the details of the sought-after artifact and its mystical properties -- no more or less interesting, not to mention preposterous :lol:, than in previous TRs -- but its connection to Lara's personal history. After all these years, we get a motivation for her obsession with tomb-raiding. I also started out liking the Angel of Darkness plot, with Lara accused of murder, but the game's considerable mechanical and design flaws detracted from any enjoyment of the story.
2. The environments
I'm glad Legend resurrected TR C|assic's mix of natural environments and ruins with a smattering of urban/industrial settings. The environments in TR Transitional (=TR5-6, Chronicles and AOD) were an odd assortment ranging from bland to bizarre. The next TR that has a level in an insane asylum will be my last!
3. The large-scale puzzles
Although they could have been more challenging, I liked the puzzles in Legend and how they were so well integrated into the environments. The landscape and the waterworks in the Ghana level, for instance, were spectacular. I do not miss the seemingly random "Insert Item A into Receptacle B, Insert Item C into Receptacle D" format of the old TRs at all.
Things I'm ambivalent about
1. Legend Lara and AOD Lara couldn't possibly be the same person!
I can hear in my mind AOD Lara say, "Deal with it, Werner!" while looking at Legend Lara and, well, something's not right. I guess I prefer AOD Lara's look and voice; the combo matched the game well. It followed the trend of making characters more and more edgy, but didn't go overboard in that direction. Legend Lara is quite a reversal, with her dulcet pipes and soft big-eyed look clearly influenced by Japanese-sty|e animated characters -- Pokemon Lara with a charm-school voice. Ugh!
And with that look and voice, Lara's comments about enemies often came across as smug or cavalier, when steel-minded toughness would have been appropriate. She redeemed herself somewhat at the very end of the game in dealing with Amanda, which I thought was quite good -- she was tough enough and believably so despite her soft look.
2. Legend Lara's movements -- Where have I seen this before?
Certainly not in TR C|assic. Sure, I miss Lara's distinctive jumping and tumbling, but I understand her movements needed to be "modernized". What I don't understand is why the developers couldn't have come up with something original and unique and preferably reminiscent of her C|assic moves, instead of just swapping them out wholesale with Prince of Persia moves. Okay, POP doesn't have a grapple. But that's not exactly original either, is it? Indiana Jones, whip, grapple, same diff! So basically, Legend Lara = POP+Indy. Fortunately, I like POP and Indy games, so I'll continue playing TR regardless of the moves.
3. Your Mission, Lara, Should You Choose to Accept it...
I don't really care for the mission-oriented format. When I clear a level and get a cut-scene, I want to go directly to the beginning of the next level. It totally takes me out of the game to see a screen saying "you've unlocked a new model profile" or whatever. Huh? I play racing games to unlock stuff. Who plays TR to unlock stuff? Again, it seems the developer/publisher just followed trends and tried-and-true formats of other high-selling franchises, like Star Wars and James Bond games. Then again I must say I appreciate being able to go back into a level to get what I missed the first time. So I guess this one's a wash.
4. Oh, It's Good to Have Friends
Playing Lara in TR C|assic was a solitary, conversation-less affair, and the cutscenes only really focused on Lara's confrontations with enemies. It was nice to have some of Lara's friendlier associates incorporated into the story. I remain ambivalent, however, about the constant presence of Zip and Alister. They were only occasionally obtrusive, but I would prefer that they not give instructions, like M and Q who direct James Bond at every turn. (So now it's Legend Lara = POP+Indy+007. :roll: ) On the other hand I have to say the "lads" were instrumental in advancing the plot at appropriate points, so I guess I learned to appreciate them. Another wash.
THE TR CLAS-SIC THING I MISSED MOST IN LEGEND
I'm not sure exactly what to call it, how about "level design that promotes exploration". I'm not talking about linearity -- all action-adventures are essentially linear. But what I mean is this: in TR C|assic when you entered a new area -- a huge room or a courtyard or a valley or forest clearing, etc -- you could look around and see various potential pathways. There's a high-up ledge I could probably get to somehow (and stand on to take in the view, not just hang from!), a door over here, an underwater passage there. Are those vines on the cliff climbable? Is that a hole in the ceiling? Is there a block I can move to get up there? Plus you could see some places you knew you needed to go but their entry points weren't entirely obvious -- maybe one of the visible paths would lead there, maybe not. You had to keep track of where you'd been and where you still needed to go, and I loved that!
I have played all kinds of action-adventures where I felt I was just being led on a string, and quite often that was the case with Legend. I have seen comments from Legend reviewers that praise the "exploration challenges", and I'm thinking, "What challenge?" There's always only one way to go! Only one path to follow, only one ledge/pole/rope is accessible. So you go there. And again, there's only one ledge/pole/rope you can go to from there. So you go there, and so on ad infinitum.
Again, I think this is the developer/publisher sticking to tried-and-true trends and being afraid to annoy reviewers and casual players. Because multiple pathways (again, I'm talking floorplan here, not alternative objectives) sometimes lead to confusion and backtracking, and those are dirty words in video games these days. But to me, the criss-crossing paths and hidden entrances are what made TR C|assic games TR and C|assic.
I hope Legend was a success and there will be TR games for a long time to come. I can learn to live with the lilting voice, unoriginal movements, Lara's crew, unlockables, etc. But please give me more challenging opportunities to explore those beautiful environments and get into the nooks and crannies of those fascinating ruins.