Tomb Raider: Legend Hands-On

We put Lara through her paces in a playable demo of her upcoming adventure.

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Tomb Raider: Legend
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Currently scheduled for release in April--almost 10 years after Lara Croft's first tomb-raiding adventure--Tomb Raider: Legend is the first game in the series to be developed by Crystal Dynamics. Furthermore, Tomb Raider: Legend is only the second game in what was previously Core Design's trademark franchise with which Lara's creator, Toby Gard, has had any involvement. We recently received a playable PlayStation 2 demo of Lara's upcoming adventure, and having enjoyed playing through it numerous times, we're pleased to report that the game could well mark a return to form for a series that has appeared to be dying a slow and painful death in recent years.

The level in the demo that we were able to partially play through was set in and around the ruins of the prehistoric Bolivian city of Tiwanaku, where Lara is searching for an ancient stone dais. The route to the ruins was treacherous to say the least, and negotiating it gave us a chance not only to reacquaint ourselves with some of Lara's basic moves, but also to familiarize ourselves with her many new abilities and gadgets. If you're a fan of the Tomb Raider series, or at least familiar with Lara's earliest outings, then it will come as no surprise that we spent an awful lot of our time jumping between, pulling ourselves up onto, and shimmying along various platforms and ledges--all of which are accomplished in much the same way that they have been since 1996. Because self-preservation is an instinct that Lara possesses, she'll automatically grab onto anything that she can as she falls past it, so your only real concern when performing acrobatics with her is to make sure you get within reach of whatever you're aiming for.

What is somewhat surprising, given Lara's acrobatic history, is that she is far more maneuverable in Tomb Raider: Legend than she has ever been before. While hanging from a crack in a wall, for example, you'll not only have the option to shimmy along it, but also to jump sideways from it, jump backward from it, or propel yourself up to another crack or a ledge directly above. A similar number of options will be available to you when climbing vines and ropes, many of which you'll also be able to swing on. One particularly cool new feature of Tomb Raider: Legend is that when you're climbing or shimmying you can speed up Lara's actions by pressing a specific button in time with her movements. This action not only gives you the option to keep things moving at a brisk pace, but it is also the only way that you'll be able to beat certain areas in the game.

Lara Croft is more maneuverable than ever before.
Lara Croft is more maneuverable than ever before.

Lara will also be far more adept when it comes to interacting with movable objects in Tomb Raider: Legend than she has been in previous adventures. In the playable demo, there were a number of occasions where we were required to move large rocks and crates, which we accomplished simply by tapping a grab button and then moving Lara as we normally would. The irregularly shaped, movable objects and the freedom with which you'll be able to move them are certainly a huge improvement over the stone cubes and checkerboard maps of old. It's also noteworthy that all of the movable objects in the game have something resembling realistic physics now, so if you don't move them to a flat location, there's a good chance that they'll start to roll or slide without any further assistance from you. The first opportunity we had to see this in the demo was when we were instructed to try out Lara's new kick move on a small circular boulder that subsequently rolled into a pool of water. Toward the end of the demo, though, the physics engine was the key to completing a puzzle that, although it never would have been possible in the original Tomb Raider, was definitely reminiscent of some of that game's finest moments.

In addition to Lara's newfound acrobatic skills, you'll have access to a few new gadgets in Tomb Raider: Legend. The most interesting of these is undoubtedly the magnetic grappling hook, which can attach itself to any metallic object that has a distinct shine when you look at it in-game. The grappling hook came in handy on more than one occasion during the demo, because while its most obvious use is swinging over gaps that are too large for Lara to jump across, it can also be used to pull certain objects to the ground--a large metal disc blocking a doorway, for example. Lara's other new gadgets include a personal light source (PLS), which is essentially a shoulder-mounted torch; a PDA that holds information on current objectives, gear, rewards, and such; and a high-tech pair of binoculars that double as a remote analysis device (RAD). When in RAD mode, your view through the binoculars is tinted green and any object of interest is highlighted. You'll analyze objects of interest simply by steadying your binoculars over them, at which point you'll have to wait a few seconds before being told if the object is, for example, movable, part of a machine, or flammable. Lara's PLS and binoculars are accessed using the directional pad on your controller, which can also be used to access any medikits you're carrying and to switch weapons.

Enemies' weapons can be put to good use if you retrieve them.
Enemies' weapons can be put to good use if you retrieve them.

You'll start Lara's latest adventure armed with her trademark dual pistols, but you'll also be able to retrieve weapons, ammunition, and grenades from any enemies you're forced to kill. The only enemies that we faced during our time with the playable demo were uniformed mercenaries of some kind, armed with automatic weapons that we made a point of putting to good use once we got our hands on them. Locking onto enemies and shooting at them is achieved on the PS2 controller using the L1 and R1 shoulder buttons, respectively, which is a system similar to that employed in many third-person-action games. While shooting at enemies--which can also be done using a manual aim--you'll be able to perform many of Lara's trademark acrobatics to avoid enemy fire or to get closer to your targets, which you'll definitely need to do if you want to check out some of Tomb Raider: Legend's new attack animations.

When you get close enough to an enemy, the number of different attack options available to you will increase quite significantly. For starters, you'll be able to perform a sliding tackle or jump kick while running toward an enemy, and if he gets up after that, you might want to follow up with an especially painful-looking kick to the groin. Lara's most exciting new close-combat abilities are undoubtedly her rebound and head-stomp attacks, which are both performed using the jump button. Neither of these spectacular-looking attacks actually does very much damage, but they do stun the target for a few seconds so that Lara can shoot at them as she backflips through the air in aerial assault mode--which is bullet time, essentially.

Lara's aerial assaults are straight out of The Matrix.
Lara's aerial assaults are straight out of The Matrix.

The Tomb Raider: Legend demo that we played was unfortunately a little too brief to tell us an awful lot more about the game. However, after checking out some of the information available on the in-game PDA, we can tell you that there appears to be multiple difficulty levels ranging from Adventurer (easy) through Tomb Raider (hard). We can also tell you that you'll receive bronze, silver, and gold awards for your performance on each level, most likely based on the speed at which you complete them. Locating secret areas or items might also be a consideration, because although there is no real evidence of this in the demo, we did locate a couple of small rooms that we only spotted because we quite deliberately strayed from the obvious path. Finally, the documentation that we received with our demo included a list of the controls that will be used to drive vehicles and to shoot your pistols while doing so, although no vehicles were actually present in the demo. We'll bring you more information on Tomb Raider: Legend--which we're now officially excited about--just as soon as we get our hands on a more complete version of the game.

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